“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.
Did Jesus mean that literally? Did he really mean for us to cut off a hand or gouge out our own eye? Actually, Jesus was speaking in hyperbole. He said that to show how much God hates sin and how serious we need to be when it comes to dealing with the problem of sin. The expectation is not that we should cut off parts of our bodies, but that we should do whatever it takes to cut ourselves off from whatever it is that entices us to sin.
In Colossians chapter 3, Paul put it another way, but the message is the same; cut yourself off from sin by any and all means:,
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
Some believers are more mature in the faith than others. And many have grown so strong in their faith that they are now able to resist the temptations that once ensnared them. But what about new believers and those who are less mature in the faith? What Jesus said and Paul affirmed is that we need to part company with the things we cannot keep without being entangled by them. Simply put, a Christian who once struggled with alcohol before coming to Christ should probably avoid going to a sports bar to witness to his friends. One who struggled (or still struggles) with lust should probably not go to the beach at spring break to share Christ, and he certainly needs to stay away from topless bars and strip clubs. A believer who used to have a gambling problem should probably not go to Vegas for any reason.
While we may or may not be expected to cut off a hand or a foot, we are expected to cut ourselves off from whatever it is that corrupts us and causes us to stumble. God is serious when it comes to sin. It’s nothing to be laughed at or laughed off. Though we will stumble occasionaly, we have a Savior to defend us when do sin. Even so, we have an obligation to the Almighty God to take seriously what His word says about doing whatever we have to do to avoid the temptations that drag us down into sin in the first place.