“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 lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:27–30, NASB95)
In these passages of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount we find Him quoting an Old Testament commandment which had been handed down (and even added upon and twisted with new lines drawn by the scribes and Pharisees and others who Jesus referenced earlier in this message). In verses 27-30 Jesus referred back to one of the Ten Commandments where adultery was specifically prohibited (see Exodus 20:14 and Deuteronomy 5:18) and reinforced in other passages. This act is further defined in Leviticus 18:20 and an accompanying penalty for it and other sexual transgressions are specified later in 20:16. All of these violations of God’s law carried a civil penalty of death, which over time was removed by governments and by a lessening by man of God’s standard for sexual purity. But God has never backed off His standard for sexual purity, and specifically in regard to the people of Israel He said, “You are therefore to keep all My statutes and all My ordinances and do them, so that the land to which I am bringing you to live will not spew you out.”
Jesus moved here from the problem of the actual act of adultery to the process of seeing it through in our minds. He uses the word “lust” to describe this strong desire. It is such that the desire to have sexual relations is so strong in the mind that the individual most certainly has mentally worked through actually committing the act and fantasizing about it coming true. This lust is what the Bible describes as “coveting” in the last of the Ten Commandments—“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:17, NASB95)
It is this last commandment which deals with the sin of the heart where we strongly desire and chase after in our minds those things which God has not given to us, but has in fact given to someone else. Jesus’ answer to this is to not allow our bodies to be used to harbor such sin, to not give opportunity for it to grow in our hearts and minds. He gives the extreme example of plucking out the eye which is used to look on another in such a way or cutting off the hand which would actually be used to take action. While we don’t generally see a bunch of one-eyed and one-handed people walking around, according to the words of Jesus this would certainly be better than one who keeps both eyes and both hands and who blatantly rejects God’s standard for living. The ultimate of this is losing more than eye or hand but losing life itself for all of eternity.
God takes His rules for life and obedience very seriously. He takes them so seriously that violating the least of them results in judgment and death. It is because of this that all men have been declared dead in their trespasses and sins and are totally incapable of doing anything to rectify the problem. Just as the act of adultery cannot be undone, neither can any sin which man commits. It is also for this reason that God sent His Son to pay the penalty for our sins, to suffer death on a cross, to be buried in a borrowed tomb, and then to victoriously rise from the dead on the third day. It is this process of saving us that we remember during this Easter week and which we particularly celebrate on Easter Sunday. It is this Sunday when we specially commemorate that our Savior did indeed rise from the dead and bring to us newness of life. But it is in the power of this truth that we can daily walk victoriously over sin. And it is because of His righteousness credited to us, that when we do sin that we also know we have an intercessor on our behalf Who has forgiven us and declared us righteous with His own righteousness. In this we confess our sin, turn from it, and commit to seek and follow after Him with whole hearts knowing that His Word was given for our instruction and His Spirit for our enabling.
Job said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes, why then should I look…?” (Job 31:1, NASB95)
“Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.” … “I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.” (Psalm 119:5-6, 15–16, ESV)