Tough Passages #16: Mostly Armless (Mark 9:43)

In “Tough Passages,” we’re looking at the difficult verses in the Bible that are often brought up by secular people as reasons the Bible doesn’t make sense, and discovering how they actually reveal the character, love, and glory of God in a beautiful way.  Last time, we looked at what it means to provide help for those who need it.  But this time, we’re going to do some major bodily damage.

The Verse

And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.

Mark 9:43, ESV

The Secular Response

If your irresponsible hand reaches out all on its own to steal some sunglasses or touch another man’s wife, the Bible requires you to cut it off. […] Kind of like in that one SNL skit where Chris Farley gets on a Japanese gameshow, where everyone has to cut their hands off when they get wrong answers.

Ivana Wynn, ranker.com

Our Reply

You may have heard this one before.  “Cut off your hand if it causes you to sin.  Pluck out your eye if it causes you to sin.”  If you’re like me, the idea was pretty scary.  I don’t like pain.

Here’s the thing: God doesn’t want you to mutilate yourself.  There are three big reasons why.

“Sin must die, or we must die.”
—Matthew Henry

First, the warning isn’t given as a threat, but as medical advice.  You’re evil, and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23)!  Not because God is capricious or cruel, but because sin is a literal treason, deciding that you know better what you should do than the King who created you.  It’s not a single mistake, but an illness; like a cancer, that sin must be removed before it kills the rest of you.  As Matthew Henry said, “Sin must die, or we must die.”

So, if you’re a sinner, you have to remove the thing that causes you to sin.  It’s that important.  Cut it out at the source, destroy it, get rid of it, because otherwise, you die.

Second, can your hand sin on its own?  When does your hand ever sinned without your input?  Can your hand do anything on its own?  It’s not your hand that sins.  No, your body is controlled; and the responsibility doesn’t fall to your mind, either, since it can’t stop you from sinning.  The weakness lies not on you, but in you.

The weakness lies not on you, but in you.

It’s your heart.  Your heart, which is deceitful and dreadfully sick.  And if we go back to the verse, that means that you have to cut out your own heart, to destroy the curse of sin in your life.  “And if your heart causes you to sin, cut it out.”

You don’t tend to come back from a heart-ectomy.

All of this is meant to underscore a basic fact:  aside from Jesus, we are dead in our sins; the illness has won.  We’re not sick, or weak, or primitive in our sins.  Dead.  Dead people don’t do much, and they can’t stay away from sin on their own.  They certainly don’t perform open-heart surgery on themselves.

Dead people don’t do much, and they don’t perform open-heart surgery on themselves.

Third  well, it is still a command.  Why did God write it like this?  Why did Jesus choose to say this?

Well, if we realize that the heart is truly the source of our sin, we come to realize that we need to get rid of it.  And if we are to go on living, we need a new one.  And I think Jesus intended for us to look back into the Old Testament:

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:26, ESV

God, through Christ, offers us a heart transplant.  He scrubs for surgery and raises us from the dead through the power of Jesus’ blood.  The infection stops, the angels rejoice, and we get up and walk – for we are cured and free!

• • •

Next month, we’re going the extra mile for you.

Thanks for reading Redeeming Culture; we hope you stick with us. If this isn’t a satisfying answer to you, please comment below. I’d love to talk it out.

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