Summary: Overcoming sin in my life is more a matter of heart work than hard work
This morning we’ll wrap up our sermon series on the hard sayings of Jesus. Obviously in 8 weeks we haven’t covered all the hard things Jesus said, but I think we have looked at enough of what Jesus said to get a pretty good feel for why much of what He taught was so hard to understand and apply. Together these hard sayings reveal that becoming a disciple of Jesus and living according to the principles of His kingdom requires a serious commitment to let Jesus radically transform every area of one’s life. So it’s not surprising that both in Jesus’ day and in our present culture not a lot of people are willing to yield the control of their life like that.
As we saw a few weeks ago when Jesus talked about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, Jesus often used metaphors to explain kingdom principles, which made it even more difficult for His audience to understand exactly what He meant. This morning, we’ll see another example of that kind of metaphorical language. Unlike I’ve done in previous weeks, I’m going to begin this morning by reading the surrounding text along with the hard saying itself. So go ahead and turn to Matthew 5 and follow along as I read beginning in verse 27:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
(Matthew 5:27-30 ESV)
Obviously the hard saying here has to do with tearing out one’s eye and throwing it away and cutting off one’s hand and throwing it away. Unfortunately, throughout history there have been Christians who have tried to apply those commands quite literally in order to deal with some sin in their lives. But since they completely missed Jesus’ main point here, in every case they found that those physical actions were totally ineffective in trying to overcome sin in their lives.
That is because the main point Jesus is trying to make here is that…
Overcoming sin in my life
is more a matter of heart work than hard work
Although Jesus is specifically dealing with the sin of adultery here, the principles that we find in His words can be applied to any sin that we are dealing with in our lives. This particular passage is in the midst of a section of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus is pointing out that keeping the law is not merely a matter of what we do externally, but instead is primarily a matter of what is in our heart. Jesus began that portion of His sermon by pointing out that He had not come to abolish the law, but rather to fulfil it. And right before He begins to give some illustrations about the importance of the heart, Jesus sets the table with these important words:
For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
(Matthew 5:20 ESV)
Jesus is confirming here what we have learned as we have examined some of His hard sayings: External religiosity is inadequate as a basis for entering His kingdom. We tend to have a fairly negative view of the scribes and Pharisees because of how Jesus often confronted their external religiosity. But there is little doubt that these were some of the most righteous men in that culture, at least based on their outward behavior. But even that level of human righteousness was inadequate to earn entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
That is why, as we have seen, over the last 8 weeks, the only way to enter the kingdom is to place one’s trust totally and completely in the finished work of Jesus and to receive the righteousness that He offers through faith in Him. And, as we’ve seen, that kind of genuine faith will be evidenced by submitting our lives to the Lordship of Jesus and allowing Him to be in charge of our lives. While that kind of faith consistently results in an outward life that is consistent with Jesus’ teaching, it is still a matter of the heart and not a matter of hard work on our part.
So with that in mind, let me draw your attention to what I believe is the key to understanding what Jesus was teaching here. Look at verse 28 again: