“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” Matthew 18:7-9 ESV
In terms of temptation, we live in a world of bright lights. The colors are vivid and pulsing and now, even retinal. Given their brightness, one would think it would be easy to avoid them. The problem, however, isn’t the lights. The problem is that we are moths. We randomly dart about the lights mesmerized by the colors and the sensations. We circle closer and closer and our caution is lost as we slowly become blind to everything beyond the lights. Even in the painful brilliance we find ourselves unable to look away. Eventually our fragile tiered wings literally catch fire.
Here in Mathew 18, Jesus expresses concern for protecting innocence. He puts a child in the center of his disciples as an example. This child, in fact, is what Jesus says we must become like and tells us that only the innocent enter the Kingdom of Heaven. So how does that bode for you and me, you might ask? Have we long ago traded our innocence for a glimpse into the internet? We think of innocence as something that, once lost, can never be regained. I think this a view that lacks hope and dismisses the redemptive power of the gospel. It is unchristian. The truth is, we, as believers, have not lost our innocence… we have found it. It springs from the only source on earth, from Jesus himself. Innocence is not the same as naiveté. Remaining naive about evil will not insulate us from evil nor will it preserve our innocence. Jesus left us here in the world to usher in the Kingdom of God, not to cower in monastic isolation. True, the world is often a sad and broken place but we are not here to hide from evil but to overcome it with sacrificial love. This love is our antidote for evil and it can never be threatened or deterred by evil. We must walk in this world remaining as harmless as doves yet as wise as serpents.
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16 ESV
Jesus proclaims woe upon the world as a source of temptation and especially woe on those who would bring temptation among the innocent. These are strong words for Jesus and essentially constitute a curse. Yet Jesus says that in some way this temptation is necessary. I think of Jesus’ words to Peter:
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32 ESV
However we view the role of temptation, Jesus is emphatic. What tempts us to sin, even if we think of it as indispensable, must be cut off. We sometimes hem and haw about those words of Jesus, but he said them and I think he means them.
It’s not that I believe anyone should even think about self-mutilation. While it’s true this may be preferable to hell, it’s also true that it really won’t get us into heaven. But I wonder… have we ever cut off anything? Have we ever left a party that’s going wild? Have we ever walked out of an inappropriate movie? Have we ever changed the TV channel? I predict that there will come a day when, if we wish to remain innocent, we will need to turn off our TV’s. I know what you’re thinking, “Now he’s gone too far! After all, what ever could be wrong with American Idol?… It’s… you know… American.”
Actually I don’t believe anyone needs to think about cutting off anything. Instead, why not chose to obey? Our faith isn’t really about sins we might successfully avoid. It’s about what we choose to do. Jesus would have us follow him — not spend our time trying to avoid following Satan. I would imagine that if we would find ourselves doing Kingdom work we would also find it easier to resist those temptations which inevitably come along. Remember the Lord’s prayer, “Lead us not into temptation…” Sadly, I often I forget to pray it.
The only way I know to remain innocent of bringing temptation into the world is to remain innocent of sin. Personally, the only way I’ve found to do that is to confess my sins daily. Only Jesus can save me from this body of death and he can only do it if I submit to him in humility and gratitude. I am unable to live the life he would have me live without his grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Even then, I must drink from that well daily. I do know this… we cannot call him Lord if we will not allow him to rule us.