We want rules so bad we can barely stand it. Well meaning people just want to know what it means to do well, and they’ll do it. If they do it, then they are covered and they want to be covered. A list of rules, a strong effort to be good, maybe an accountability relationship and occasional social affirmation and we’ll do the deal long-term.
When we do step out-of-bounds, ideally we’ll be able to identify a cause to the effect so we can punish and/or blame to shift the responsibility. As long as there is rationale for the thing or an acceptable penitence to pay, we press on. Trying harder, justifying further and hiding more.
Check out this passage from Matthew 18; “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 . . . ”
Tough standard, huh? Cutting off body parts and gouging out eyes? Not sure I can pull off what Jesus is saying here. The reality is that Jesus isn’t saying what most of us think He’s saying, at all.
We jump right on the cause and effect blame train and think of our problems as things that we do. Since our hand or foot did the thing, then the thing makes them guilty. The question isn’t one of doing, though, it is one of cause. Read it again . . . it says, “if” it “causes.”
At the end of the same chapter Jesus wraps up a point He is making about forgiveness and says, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Jesus takes us to our core and says that the forgiveness is a question of the heart. In the exact same way, the cause of our sin isn’t our eye or foot or hand, but it’s our heart. Jesus isn’t calling for us to self-mutilate, He’s inviting us into a heart change; a transformation from the inside.
It’s all about the heart. It’s always a question of, “Lord, in the middle of these circumstances, what is it about my heart that needs to change?” It’s the heart that is the cause and He wants to restore the heart to its original design so that from it flows a wellspring of abundant life. To give forgiveness from the heart requires realization of forgiveness of the heart. At the core of our identity, Jesus makes us new. From that newness, our hands, eyes and feet will follow.