November 14, 2016 • Life for Leaders
“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.”
This passage from Mark focuses on sin and its significance. Using a variety of striking images, Jesus repeatedly emphasized just how much sin matters and how bad it is. For example, “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out” (9:43).
How are we to understand this text? How are we to obey it? If we take Jesus seriously, does this mean we should seriously think about cutting off our body parts if they’re involved in sin? In fact, Jesus was not advising his followers to sever their hands and feet. He was using a rhetorical technique known as hyperbole (from the Greek word hyperbole, meaning “going beyond” or “excess”). Informally, hyperbole is called exaggeration. It makes a point strongly, colorfully, and memorably. When people say, “I could eat a horse,” they are emphasizing the greatness of their hunger, not their preference for horsemeat. Besides using exaggerated imagery, Jesus revealed his hyperbolic intent by saying, “If your hand causes you to stumble” (9:43). Jesus did not literally believe that hands cause us to stumble, that is, to sin. In fact, earlier in Mark he had taught that sinful actions have their origin in the human heart (7:20-23).
So what is Jesus’ point in Mark 9:42-48? He is saying that sin matters and in the worst way. When we say “No” to God and his ways, this is a big deal. It has major implications for our personal lives, for our work, for our families, and for our life in community. Some Christians have taken this truth about sin and made it the virtual center of their discipleship, almost forgetting the Gospel. These folk need to refocus on God’s grace in Christ without minimizing the wrongness of sin. Other Christians, in reaction to the excesses of sin-centered discipleship, have neglected or minimized sin altogether. This is “cheap grace,” as Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes it in The Cost of Discipleship. Our challenge as followers of Jesus is to take sin very seriously, to turn from it and even to hate it, but always in response to the love and grace of God.
Sin matters so much to God that he sent his Son to save us. Therefore, let us not ignore our sin, but rather confess it and turn from it in response to the grace of God. The Gospel of grace offers freedom from guilt, shame, and the power of sin to corrupt our lives.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Have you experienced Christian community in which sin was emphasized too much? Too little?
What helps us to keep a proper perspective on sin?
Is there sin in your life that you need to take more seriously, confessing it and turning from it?
Lord Jesus, your teaching about sin is incisive. It calls me to take my sin seriously. Forgive me when I rationalize my sin or treat it as if it were no big deal. By your Spirit, help me to confess my sin to you and turn away from it.
O Lord, thank you for caring so much about sin . . . and about us sinners . . . that you came to take upon yourself the penalty for sin so that we might be set free. Help me to live in the freedom of your salvation each day.
All praise be to you, Lord Jesus, my Savior, the Savior of the world. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: The Cost of Discipleship
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.