“And if you 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.” Mark 9:43-44
Hyperbole, over-exaggeration, was a typical style of Jewish communication, and Jesus used it here not to advocate self-mutilation, but to call His followers to the ruthless removal of sin. Paul was getting at the same thing when he writes to the Corinthians and tells them, “No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Cor. 9:27).
This brings us back to the consideration of the relationship between the body and the heart when it comes to avoiding sin.
Paul addresses just that in his letter to the Romans. Paul teaches us that sin, the impulse to live apart from and against God, is like a systemic disease that infects every human being. Even though Jesus has set us free from the grip of sin through His death and resurrection, sin still dwells in us, and it will until we die. When we put our faith in Jesus, though, we begin the lifelong process of sanctification wherein the Holy Spirit cleanses us from sin.
So what are we to do? “For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (Rom. 6:19). The more we “cut off” the sinful desires of the flesh and offer our whole selves to the leading and empowering of the Holy Spirit, the more we will become like Jesus.
I would suggest that we actually consider imaginatively offering each part of our body to God’s service. Imagine cutting off that part’s participation in things that do not please God. Imagine offering that part’s active service to God. For example, imagine the tongue being physically held from hurtful words and gossip and instead speaking life and blessing to those in our lives.
I would also suggest we pay attention to Jesus’ mention of our motivation. There is certainly a negative motivation mentioned here, namely avoiding the punishment of separation from God. But I think Jesus’ emphasis really is meant to fall on the positive motivation, the greatness of what we stand to gain: entering into life! When we consider all we stand to gain, we are more willing to sacrifice the momentary fulfillment of bodily desires.
One of the struggles I think we often have in this regard, though, is that we don’t really cultivate our vision of what we stand to gain. We don’t want to sacrifice the fulfillment of our appetites in part because our hearts are set on them and not on our eternal home. That doesn’t mean that engage in some kind of spiritual-delayed-gratification scheme – pain now for gain later. What it means is that if we love Jesus now, then we should long to be with Him face to face in our heavenly home, and that longing should be powerful motivation to cut off and starve our bodily appetites.
We need to cultivate our vision of heaven and all that stands in store for us. Read the glorious scenes of worship around the throne in Revelation (5, 7, 21, 22). Meditate on images of the Kingdom from Isaiah (9, 11, 65). But above all else, cultivate your vision of Jesus, and grow in your appreciation of His infinite and unstoppable love for you. As you do, you will cultivate your longing for Him and your motivation to offer your whole self to Him.