This essay has consumed my mind for about two months. That’s normally how I write. I stew on a thought for a long time before I am ready to spill it out in writing as a coherent thought.
Well, this one is a little different. I’m not ready to write it, because I haven’t yet come to terms with how convicting it is in my own life. I know it to be true, but man, is it hard to implement.
I’m reminded that all meaningful things are difficult and require effort. Life isn’t just a “one and done”. It requires focus, showing up daily, maintaining what you have, and consistently making good decisions.
Here’s the context of what I have been laboring over in my mind the last two months:
Mark: 9:43-48 – “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched— where
‘Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.’
And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched— where
‘Their worm does not die, And the fire is not quenched.’
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire— where
‘Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.’”
Taken literally this makes sense. It doesn’t matter who you are, you know that hell (or the idea of hell) is a bad place. Best to avoid it. We’re on the same page.
Where it gets interesting, is how Jesus is saying to cut things out of your life that cause you to go down the wrong path. That’s pretty radical.
It’s radical because the things Jesus is saying to cut off are useful and very good things. Your hands are incredibly useful, as is your foot, as is your eye. To remove any of these from your body would cause a severe limitation in your life.
And I think that’s the point. I don’t think the point is that you should literally cut off your hand. I think the point is that you should severely limit your life in order to stay on the right path.
The most useful things in life, if used for the wrong purposes, become detrimental and can lead to destruction. Money, sex, food, etc. In the right context, applied the correct way, all great things. Deadly when used the wrong way.
My goal here isn’t to remove the spiritual element of this passage. Clearly Jesus is talking about heaven and hell. But I want to expand the idea to other areas of life, because I believe it is a fundamental truth, and fundamental truths are true regardless of context.
I’m going to get to the worms too, don’t you worry. Let’s dig in.
You can do whatever you want (and that’s the problem)
As human beings we have free will. We don’t get to decide what scenarios we end up getting into, but we do get to decide how we respond and our actions moving forward.
Because of this, we can either make great decisions, or terrible decisions. Wise decisions, or foolish decisions. Selfless decisions, or selfish decisions.
If you want to boil the entire Bible down to a single idea it would be this: Our flesh wants to make selfish decisions, and it’s up to ourselves to deny our flesh and make better decisions.
Every story in the Bible is this, mixed in with supernatural and spiritual elements. The Bible doesn’t mince words. It tells you when people screwed up big time. But this is the concept it focuses on.
This was Jesus’ entire purpose as well. To completely deny the “self” and live a perfect, sinless life, to become a beacon of hope and salvation for all which empowers people to live lives in a way that is not only beneficial to themselves (getting to heaven through salvation), but also beneficial to others (peace on earth).
In every story in the Bible, the people who indulged on what they wanted to do, and caved to the lust of their flesh ended up in ruin.
The people who denied themselves, surrendered to God and his instruction, and made decisions centered around serving and loving others, led to the ultimate fulfillment of a life well lived, and a legacy that laid the foundation of the whole world and how human beings interact.
It goes all the way back to Adam and Eve, when they decided to eat the fruit of the tree of good and evil, the Bible is the redemption story of how we can get back to our true ideal selves, and it happens to be through Christ and His finished work on the Cross, because he was the perfect sacrifice without blemish, and the perfect example of our human potential.
You might think “yeah, that’s Jesus, but what about me?” Jesus was a human being, just like you and me. Jesus could have sinned, but he chose not to. The Bible says he was tempted in all ways and therefore can sympathize with us in Hebrews 4:15.
Let’s take a look at how he was able to do this.
Knowing the truth. Speaking the truth.
Jesus knew scripture inside and out. The Bible says that He was the “Word made flesh”. From a young age he taught other spiritual leaders in the synagogs.
It was this exact thing that allowed him to combat the lust of the flesh and to deny himself any selfish gain on this earth.
Let’s take a look at this passage in Matthew where the devil tempted Jesus in every way:
Matthew 4:1-11 – At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights and afterwards was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.
He said in reply, “It is written: One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and made him stand on the parapet of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, you shall not put the Lord, your God to the test.” Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain and he showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”
At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” Then the devil left him, and behold angels came and ministered to him.
So here we see that Jesus was put through the ultimate trial. He hadn’t eaten for 40 days and was offered food - yet he denied his flesh. Then, the devil instructs him to throw himself off of a roof and command the angels to save his physical body, but yet he denies his flesh. Then the devil tempts him by offering charge of all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus worships the devil, yet he denies his flesh.
Our flesh would want all of those things. If we’re hungry, we eat. If we’re fearful, we call for help. If we’re offered power, we don’t turn it down. It’s human nature. It’s what every person would do if they are led by their flesh (and most are).
I think it’s obvious to say that we “shouldn’t do that”. The whole premise of this post is to show you how denial of the self is the path to a better life. What’s not so obvious is how Jesus did it.
You see, with every temptation thrown at Him, Jesus retorted with scripture. He did not depend on his own strength - he outsourced it to a higher power, which is the truth.
And I’m not saying that with every scenario in your life you should just quote scripture - though, that might work well in a lot of scenarios, but rather it’s to unequivocally know the truth and know that you should be behaving in a way that denies your self.
You should know the truth in such a way that, when presented with ideas and thoughts that are antithetical to what you know to be true, you’re able to clearly see where those poor decisions would lead.
Once you know the truth you can stand on it with authority and it will lead you to make better decisions.
Once again, I am not trying to take away from the spirituality of the scriptures, but I want to expose how this looks for you and me in our every day lives. We’re not out in the wilderness for 40 days being tempted by the devil.
Or are we?
What cutting off looks like
Sometimes in life we are in the wilderness. We’re not led in any specific way, we don’t have a specific purpose, we don’t have a direction. Hopefully that’s just temporary, but nevertheless it happens to all of us.
It’s during these times we need the foundation of cutting off what is detrimental to us, because we are weak and unguarded.
It’s easy to focus and not be distracted when we have clear purpose.
You’re engaged to be married, and your wedding is in two weeks. You’re not out dating other people and swiping on dating apps.
You earn a decent living and have a good budget in place to both save and invest for the future so you can reach retirement at an early age. You’re not out spending money you don’t have.
You spend lots of time with your kids and help educate them and mold them into successful and honorable humans. You’re not letting them be raised up by others to be undesirable.
But when you lack vision in any area of life, you’re leaving options on the table. You don’t cut off the things that might lead you to ruin, and then you fall into traps that lead you down paths to destruction.
When you lack vision and purpose, distraction runs rampant in your life, because it’s not clearly defined as something that is detrimental to your future.
Distraction is what is detrimental to us. Cutting off means cutting off distraction from our lives so we spend them in ways that are meaningful and avoiding destruction.
Distraction is unending in it’s ability to throw us off course. This is what Jesus talked about in the beginning of this writing: “Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” When you indulge in distraction it only leads to more distraction. You quickly lose control. It consumes you.
In most cases it’s much better to do nothing than to leave distractions on the table. It’s much less destructive for you to be patient and still instead of indulging in what your flesh desires.
We should be ruthless about routing out these distractions in our lives. Like mentioned in the beginning of this writing, Jesus talked about cutting off your hand, foot, and eye. That would be completely ruthless, but nevertheless necessary in some cases.
And so, it’s up to you to establish vision and purpose in your life. If you’re married, cut out anything that might interfere with your marriage. If you have kids, cut out things that might keep you from spending the time that you want with them. In your finances, cut out things that lead you to spending instead of saving.
If you struggle with weight gain, pornography, insert your addiction here, cut off anything that would lead you down that path towards something that will ultimately destroy your life.
Only when you have successfully cut off what can lead you to destruction can you successfully traverse through times in your life where you are tempted and tried.
It’s really easy to sit here and write and pretend like I have it all put together. But the truth is I don’t. I am still routing out distractions in many different areas of my life, and it’s part of what kept me from writing this post for so long. No one is perfect, not even you. But, we can be better and we can hold each other accountable to be better.
What do we add in?
So you’ve successfully cut out all distractions and have full denial of yourself. Congrats on your new boring life!
That honestly would be boring, and purposeless. The point of life isn’t to only deny yourself, it’s to deny yourself for the benefit of everyone around you.
If you only deny yourself you become a monk. If you deny yourself for the benefit of those around you it can lead to a life full of quality time with people who love you, and adventure.
What we add in is the Golden rule – “Do unto others as you would do unto yourself”. More specifically, in Matthew 7:12 Jesus says: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must do to them. This, in fact, is what the Law and the Prophets mean.”
What’s so interesting about this passage is that it not only points to how we can avoid destruction, but it also points to how we can serve others and also be served ourselves.
If you want to be loved, love others. If you want to be rich, make others rich. If you want to have friends, be a friend. Within the vision that you adopt to stay on the right path, you can use the golden rule to make sure you stay on that path and you’re consistently looking to serve others before yourself.
It’s easy to see who is living to serve others and are completely denying themselves. It’s clearly outlined in the list of the “fruits of the spirit”. Galatians 5:22-23 says:
Galatians 5:22-23 – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
If you are not displaying these characteristics in your own behavior, then it means you’re still serving yourself, which means you’re indulging in what your flesh wants above what you should be doing.
I love how it says “against such there is no law”, because it’s completely true, and it’s how you can avoid destruction. When you live in a way that portrays these characteristics, you cannot be destroyed, because you would be blameless. No one would have any way to take you down, and you would have no chance of taking yourself down.
The takeaway for you
- Distractions lead to destruction. Have a clear vision and purpose for every area of your life.
- Cut off things in your life that can lead you to destruction, even if they are useful.
- Severely limit your life in order to stay on the right path.
- Use this to make great and wise decisions, and to serve others, and live an amazing life.
I don’t think that’s everything I wanted to cover in this post, but I gave myself a limit of three hours to write it. I wrote it in two hours and twenty minutes. I’m sure I’ll be back with more.
But for now, I hope this helps you and I hope it helps you on your journey to becoming a better person.