Crime takes action, but sin only requires motive

May 10, 2014

Matthew 5:27-30 (in context)

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble,gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.


Are we really paying attention here? Do we really believe this?

Jesus raises the bar in a most astonishing way. Jesus says sin is not about outward behavior but inner corruption. In criminal law, in order to have a crime it takes two things: intent and action. Jesus says it only takes intent, or inner activity, as far as he is concerned. It’s not the act of murder but the inward anger he is concerned about. it’s not the act of adultery but the inward lust that concerns him. To be clear, murder and adultery concern him. It’s just that for him, anger qualifies as murder and lust qualifies as adultery.

Are we really paying attention here? Do we really believe this? Wesley took Jesus at his word as he interpreted THE SERMON.

And God admits no excuse for retaining anything which is an occasion of impurity. Therefore, “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” (Matt. 5:29). If persons as dear to you as your right eye be an occasion of your thus offending God, a means of exciting unholy desire in your soul, delay not; forcibly separate from them. . .   If any who seem as necessary to you as thy right hand be an occasion of sin, of impure desire; even though it were never to go beyond the heart, never to break out in word or action; constrain your- self to an entire and final parting; cut them off at a stroke; give them up to God. Any loss, whether of pleasure, or substance, or friends, is preferable to the loss of your soul. p.47

I would have to put myself in the category of those who take Jesus seriously along these lines at the conceptual level, but in reality. . . not so much. So how is it that I can excuse myself so readily? Here’s my theory. I can excuse myself for inward activity that does not lead to outward reality because I am deceived into believing it’s just about me; that it doesn’t hurt anyone else. My big problem is I think sin is more about my failure than another’s injury. I think purity is a personal issue rather than a relational one.  The presence of anger and lust in my inner person is the definitive sign of the absence of holy love there.

It’s really starting to bother me.

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J.D. Walt writes daily for Seedbed’s Daily Text. He serves as Seedbed’s Sower in Chief. Follow him @jdwalt on Twitter or email him at

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