“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 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. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell.” (Mark 9:42-47)
Jesus takes sin very seriously. His words are so intense we might assume he is exaggerating. He is not. Jesus means exactly what he says.
First, he speaks of the danger of causing a child to sin. When he speaks of “one of these little ones,” he is referring to the small child who was sitting in his lap (Mark 9:36). And he does not mean any single sin, but, specifically, unbelief. Literally, he says, “Whoever scandalizes one of these little ones …” That is, if anyone causes one of God’s children to fall into unbelief, it would have been better for that person to have died before he had a chance to scandalize one of God’s children. There are things worse than death, such as falling away from the faith or causing another person to fall away from the faith. Jesus is jealous for his children.
Jesus goes on to speak of our hands and eyes. If these, or any other body parts cause us to sin, we should cut them off. Again, the literal word is “scandalize.” If your eye or hand causes you to fall into unbelief, you should cut it off … for real. However, it is not really our eyes or hands that cause us to sin or fall into unbelief. It is the devil, the world, and our own sinful hearts. When we pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” we are asking that the Holy Spirit would preserve us in spite of these dangers, and that he would strengthen us in the faith to fight against these things. Whatever sins our hearts tempt us to, we pray that God would strengthen us against them and forgive us when we fall. And whatever temptations come from outside of us, we pray that we would be strengthened to resist them, avoid them, and even cut them off. If some other activity tempts you to neglect worship or your devotions, cut it off. If a political loyalty puts you at odds with the Christian faith or leads you to hate your brothers and sisters, cut it off. If your friends draw you away from God’s holy will, cut them off. There are a great many things that may scandalize us. What’s really going on is that these are false gods, drawing our fear, love, and trust away from the one true God. Jesus is jealous for his children. This is why he gives us the Holy Spirit, to strengthen and preserve us in the faith, and he warns us not to imperil our own faith.
May the peace of Christ be with you,