Life, Hope & Truth

From the May/June 2017 issue of Discern Magazine

“If Your Right Eye Causes You to Sin, Pluck It Out”: What Did Jesus Mean?

Jesus used startling statements to make a vital point—that our spiritual condition is far more important than our physical condition. Sin must be removed!

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Jesus’ famed Sermon on the Mount is full of shocking statements that went against the grain of His society—and ours. Some of them have been repeated so many times that we might miss their full force. Focus on how these would have struck His audience:

  • Love your enemies (Matthew 5:44).
  • Turn the other cheek (verse 39).
  • Judge not (7:1).
  • “Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (5:28).

Jesus expanded on the letter of the law to show the spiritual depth and intent of God’s commandments. That last point greatly expands on the Seventh Commandment against adultery, and following it is a surprising statement that seems to encourage self-mutilation:

“If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell” (verses 29-30).

Wow! His listeners must have sat in shock and horror.

What He didn’t mean

Was Jesus literally advocating plucking out your right eye? No. How do we know? First, consider that Jesus said “if.” Does your eye or your hand actually cause you to sin? No. Sin starts in the mind and the heart. Removing our eye or hand wouldn’t prevent sinful thoughts.

“One might put out his eyes without in the least quenching the lust to which they ministered,” as the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary explains.

And there are no examples in the Bible of people of God cutting off their hands or plucking out their eyes. Consider two examples of sexual sin.

David was plagued by lust that led to his adultery with Bathsheba, but he didn’t blame his hands or his eyes. Instead, he repented and asked God to cleanse his heart (Psalm 51:7-10).

And when the apostle Paul reprimanded the adulterer (and the church) in Corinth, he didn’t tell the man to pluck out his eye. He told the congregation to put the man out of the church till his heart changed (1 Corinthians 5:1-5, 11; 2 Corinthians 2:6-11).

What we must really cut off—kill

God wants repentance—real change in our thinking and actions—not penance or self-flagellation.

God wants repentance—real change in our thinking and actions—not penance or self-flagellation.He wants us to have the godly sorrow described in 2 Corinthians 7:10-11: “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” (Read more in our article “Godly Sorrow.”)

Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary says, “Our Lord certainly means that we are to strike at the root of such unholy dispositions, as well as to cut off the occasions which tend to stimulate them.”

The Bible uses the analogy of killing the “old man” and replacing our old carnal life with newness of life—the “new man.”

“But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:20-24).

Through repentance, baptism and the gift of God’s Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38), we can start this new life no longer enslaved to sin.

“Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts” (Romans 6:11-12).

Study more about this in our article “Putting to Death the Old Man: What Does That Mean?

Dealing radically with sin

Jesus’ shocking statement about plucking out your right eye was meant to get our attention. It was meant to show how evil sin is! Sin causes death—eternal death! To make it possible for us to live, Jesus Christ gave His own life! He hates sin and loves us that much.

Talking about plucking out eyes and cutting off hands should impress us with the need to “deal radically with sin” (Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary).

Turn to God for the help to cut off the old man—to control our hands and turn our eyes away from sin. Cut out habits, entertainments, relationships, addictions—whatever contributes to sin.

Study more about this process of conversion in our free booklet Change Your Life!

About the Author

Mike Bennett

Mike Bennett

Mike Bennett is editorial content manager for the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, in the Dallas, Texas, area. He coordinates the Life, Hope & Truth website, Discern magazine and the Life, Hope & Truth Weekly Newsletter. He is also part of the Personal Correspondence team of ministers who answer questions sent to Life, Hope & Truth.

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