My favorite sports team is the Pittsburgh Steelers, and back in the 70s, their coach was a man named Chuck Noll. Noll had a saying, “Whatever it takes.” In other words, “We do whatever necessary to win the game (within the rules, of course).”
Well here, we see that same kind of attitude. But it has nothing to do with winning games. It has to do with sin. And Jesus essentially says, “Do whatever it takes to get rid of sin in your life.”
If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (29-30)
Although some people have taken this literally, Jesus does not mean this literally. He doesn’t want you to literally gouge out your eye or cut off your hand.
What he is saying is to take sin seriously. Too often, we don’t. We just say, “Well, it’s okay. God will forgive me.” And unlike what Jesus taught in the Beatitudes, we don’t mourn over our sin. Instead, we continue on in our sin.
But Jesus reminds us here that sin is the reason that he went to the cross. Sin causes people to go to hell. You were going to hell because of your sin before you met Jesus. How then can you take it lightly and continue on in your sin?
And so Jesus says do whatever it takes to get rid of sin in your life. What does that mean practically?
First, it means prayer. We do not have the ability to fight sin on our own. We need the power of God working in us to conquer sin.
Second, it means avoiding problem areas in your life. In other words, if you have a problem with alcoholism, stay away from bars or parties where alcohol is served and you’ll be tempted to drink. If you have a problem with lust, stay away from anywhere that sells pornography. Cut these things off from your life.
Third, it means accountability. Share with someone you trust your struggles, and have them check up on you regularly. Not only that, have them pray with you and for you. James writes,
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (James 5:16)
But whatever you do, don’t take sin lightly. Jesus didn’t. He went to the cross because of it. So do whatever it takes to be holy as he is holy.