Sanctification by Mutilation?
“If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut if off, and cast if from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” --Matthew 5:29,30
What a horrible prescription! These words come from the mouth of Jesus Christ Himself; those who believe Him to be the Son of God must have their hearts filled with horror and despair.
A misunderstanding of these words has led to acts bordering on insanity in the hearts and souls of some of the most serious exponents of Christianity. Origen, for instance, emasculated himself because he could not overcome lustful thoughts. St. Anthony, the father of monasticism, spent a good bit of his life out in the deserts fighting the devil because of the lusts in his flesh.
St. Benedict lived in a grotto [really, a hole in the ground] with food dropped down to him from a compassionate monk. He once rolled his naked body in a clump of thorns, trying to escape lustful thoughts.
Whatever did Jesus mean?
The context shows that He was giving the true meaning of the Seventh Commandment (Matthew 5:27, 28): “Ye have heard it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: but I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye... etc.”
Jesus, the eternal Son of God, is setting forth the absolute claims of the law of God. The law is spiritual, and applies to the inner man, not just the body. Those who expect to be made holy by the keeping of the law must be serious about it. Any instrument of sin must be destroyed. Jesus did not say that we must be willing to do so (This is a pious evasion of His words), but that we must take the knife to the flesh.
But what good will cutting out the right eye do, if the heart is filled with sin? The sinful man will just use the left eye. If the right hand is amputated, he will use the left. The courts of the ancient corrupt kingdoms were filled with eunuches that were notorious for their cruelty and sexual perversions.
What Jesus is underscoring is the absolute hopelessness of trying to be justified or sanctified by faithful adherence to the law of God. The Apostle Paul would summarize Christ's teachings later with the principle: “When we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death” (Romans 7:5); and the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
The law considered as “Torah” or instruction, is one thing, and brings the knowledge of sin. Considered in this way, it is perfect, it includes the gospel and faith, as well as the rule, and converts the soul. (Ps. 19:7-9).
Considered as a means of righteousness it simply energizes the flesh and produces sin and death. Those who look to the law as a means of sanctification must take the knife to their flesh, and not stop until every instrument of sin is cut off. This is what Paul meant in Romans 7:10, 11. “The commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.”
Paul came to realize that the problem was not with his eye, or with his hand, or with any part of his body. Paul, himself, was the problem. “The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.... We know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin” (Romans 7:12, 14). I am carnal, sold under sin! The problem is with ME, not my body.
Those who labor under bondage to the law as a means of sanctification think that people will be made good by laying down the law. They multiply rules and regulations. Not content with even the Ten Commandments, they scour the Scriptures and add regulations and precepts, thinking to produce a perfect church and a perfect humanity.
They seek to cut off those that do not abide by their rules. They “break fellowship”; they “excommunicate”; they boast in their “strictness.” But they do not get what they hope to get. The multiplying of rules simply energizes the flesh and they get more sin, not more holiness. They promote strife and discord, and rend apart the body of Christ. They seek to sanctify by amputation.
A far better way.
This way is described by the Apostle Paul: “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). Trusting in the law as a means of sanctification simply energizes the flesh, so that we do not get what we expect to get.
“O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you. Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh” (Galatians 3:1-3) Paul clearly sets forth the principle.
Sanctification (Perfection) comes the same way as justification: by the hearing of faith. We receive the Spirit by the hearing of faith, not by the works of the law. The flesh always produces the same thing: adultery, wrath, strife, idolatry, envyings, etc (Gal. 5:17-21). Laying down the law produces the very opposite of what is hoped, for the flesh (natural ability) cannot do anything but that which is contrary to God.
This is the horror and the beauty of Christ being evidently set forth, crucified among us. (Gal. 3:1) The crucifixion of the Lord Jesus declared once and for all that the sinner is condemned to death by the law, and that he is utterly without hope or merit. His flesh has no power to do anything but amputate until sin is finished in the horror of eternal death, misery, and damnation.
The cross of Jesus Christ demands a verdict from us, a verdict that agrees with the verdict of God. The sinner is utterly without hope, and utterly without strength. This is the beauty of the cross: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
Sanctification and perfection come the same way as justification: it is only in Jesus Christ and in His gospel. Jesus Christ is “made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (I Cor. 1:30).
My boasting is to be in Christ. I am complete in Him. He was cut off, so that I might not be cut off. Baptized into Him, I am baptized into his death, that I may also be a partaker of His resurrection.
Because we are in Jesus Christ, we do not cut off our members. We are not made holy because we have cut something off, but because we have been renewed by the power of Christ's resurrection. Because we belong to Christ, we have received the Spirit of Adoption, who comes not by the law, but by the Gospel. This renewal is by the Gospel, not by the works of the law.
We do not cut off our members, but yield ourselves to Jesus Christ! This is our only hope. “As ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness” (Romans 6:19).
A believer who seeks to be sanctified by amputation, either literally or spiritually, is doomed to death and misery. So is a church and a denomination. When a church starts cutting people off in a legal spirit that abandons mercy and grace, because of bondage to the law, the church and the denomination will cease to be a church. “If ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Gal. 5:15) is the warning of the apostle.
Pastor C. W. Powell
Trinity Covenant Church, RCUS
Colorado Springs, CO. 80918