Q. What does Matthew 5:30 mean? “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away”. I’m sure Jesus didn’t mean that literally, but what did He mean?
A. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus was teaching us that it’s impossible for a person to keep the commands of God. He said even the Pharisees weren’t righteous enough for God (Matt. 5:20) and they were the most obsessive of all the Jews about keeping the Law.
As examples, Jesus said according to the Law anger was as bad as murder (Matt. 5:21-22) and just by looking lustfully at someone we’re violating the commandment against adultery (Matt. 5:27-30). His point was that being righteous before God is not just a matter of never doing certain things, it’s a matter of never thinking certain thoughts.
Therefore, when He said if your eye causes you to sin to gouge it out, or if your hand causes you to sin cut it off (Matt. 5:29-30), He did so knowing full well that sin doesn’t originate in our eyes or hands, and mutilating ourselves would not prevent us from sinning again.
Sin originates in our heart which is incurably wicked (Jeremiah17:9) and as soon as we’ve entertained a sinful thought we’ve broken God’s Law.
In telling us to gouge out our eyes or cut off our hands he was exaggerating in the extreme to dispel the notion that man could somehow make himself righteous enough to earn his own salvation. In so doing He was pointing out the inescapable need we all have for a Redeemer who can save us from our sins.
“Therefore, no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the Law; rather, through the Law we become conscious of sin” (Romans 3:20). “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18).