Hard words are not harmful words—when they come from Jesus. This is important to keep in mind when we read:
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. (Matt. 17:8–9)
Here, Jesus is calling us to personal holiness, however costly and painful, as His path for us “to enter life.”
The Lord is not telling us literally to maim ourselves. After all, the Apostle Paul condemned “asceticism and severity to the body” (Col. 2:23). But our Lord’s point is this: we must resolve that, whatever the personal cost, we will follow the upward call of God in Christ (Phil. 3:14). Yes, the Lord is working in us that which is pleasing in His sight (Heb. 13:21). We are trusting in His merit and power. But we are not passive in our sanctification. Our part is to oppose our sins with sharp discipline. And it isn’t optional. Our Lord is saying to us, “Whatever it takes, get free, follow Me, and enter life. The only alternative is hell.”
The gospel creates morally decisive people who hunger and thirst for righteousness—desires that God promises to satisfy (Matt. 5:6). “The grace of God . . . teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives” (Titus 2:11–12, NIV). “Strive for . . . the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:4). “I discipline my body and keep it under control” (1 Cor. 9:27).
Would it be good news if Jesus said, “However your worst impulses act out—we won’t discuss that. All I want to talk about is how much I accept you”? Could we trust such a Savior? The real Jesus loves us enough to accept us freely and confront us honestly.
Let’s pursue holiness—rigorously. By His grace and for His glory, we will enter the life that is truly life forever.
Dr. Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tenn., president of Renewal Ministries, and author of several books, including When God Comes to Church.