September 11, 2022 The Dreadfulness of Sin

The Dreadfulness of Sin

September 11, 2022


Read Matthew 18:7-9.


This passage is the most radical thing that Jesus ever said. It is so radical that most readers of the gospels read through it quickly and barely give it any thought. It is so radical that the most devoted followers of the Lord find it frightening. It is so radical that almost all readers are inclined to think that it does not apply to them. Christians especially think this way.


Indeed, this is a radical and frightening passage. But, if Jesus is Lord (and He is!), if he knows all mysteries and all truth (and He does), if he cares about his own (and He does), then we have no option. We must receive his teaching. We must embrace his words. Every teaching of our Lord is significant and will help us to live. His teaching here is difficult. It is not that difficult to understand, but it is difficult to accept. Yet, we must!


Even the hardest things that our Lord taught will bless us greatly if we will but embrace them. What our Lord says here goes against our notions of what God is like, especially among evangelicals. But we must receive our Lord’s words, not the words of evangelical tradition.


Most Christians, I think, will find this teaching hard to accept. They may think it puts a damper on their living. They may think it is too burdensome. But know this! Both of those things are lies. Yes, to really take these words to heart will necessitate a change in how we live. It will mean living more carefully. But, in no way will this put a damper on your living. And, it is not burdensome. I will tell you why. It is because sin is always destructive. Even the so-called “little” sins, or those sins that seem common, have negative consequences in our minds and hearts. Therefore, when we really take sin seriously and make every effort to run from them all, we will discover that we are happier and have more contentment.


The reason why the Lord’s teaching here is so difficult to accept is that both the world and the church have been sold a picture of God that is not true to who he really is. In our Sunday night study we are reading an excellent book that is considered a Christian classic. The title is Knowing God and the author is J.I. Packer. Next year will be the 50th anniversary of its publication. If you haven’t read it, I would recommend it. In that book, Packer writes:


“To an age which has unashamedly sold itself to the gods of greed, pride, sex, and self-will, the church mumbles on about God’s kindness but says virtually nothing about his judgment.”[1]




“The fact is that the subject of divine wrath has become taboo in modern society, and Christians by and large have accepted the taboo and conditioned themselves never to raise the matter.”[2]


I am going to feel free in quoting from this book here at the beginning because it is so appropriate to our text. So, again:


“One of the most striking things about the Bible is the vigor with which both Testaments emphasize the reality and terror of God’s wrath. ‘A study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury, and wrath of God, than there are to his love and tenderness’ (A.W. Pink, The Attributes of God, p 75)”[3]


Remember Paul’s words in Romans:


Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.[4]


God is good! But he is also severe at times. This is his self-revelation. This passage is all about the severity of God. Just because it is, we ought not to shrink back from it.


Packer summarizes the situation fifty years ago, but it is exactly the same today, if not worse!


“The idea that God’s attitude towards me is affected by whether or not I do what he says has no place in the thought of the person on the street, and any attempt to show the need for fear in God’s presence, for trembling at his word, gets written off as impossibly old-fashioned – ‘Victorian,’ ‘Puritan,’ and ‘sub-Christian.’”[5]


He says this is about the person on the street, but this is pretty much true of the church, too. Christians want only to think about God’s kindness and love and very seldom his discipline or his anger. This problem is exacerbates by TV preachers. There are many, including the most popular preacher of all, who only talk about God’s goodness, kindness, and love; and never his wrath or anger.


He doesn’t love us less when we sin but, because he hates sin, he is displeased with us when we do. This teaching of our Lord is about the consequences to us when we sin.


Let us consider that. Because these words are so radical, the first thing that Christians want to do is assume that this is all about the lost. That it does not apply to them. One might even get that impression from something the Lord says. He starts by saying, “Woe to the world.”


Let’s back up a few verses to get the fuller context:


At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” [6]

It is his own disciples who come to him. He is talking to them. It is a continuous dialogue getting to verse 7 with no break.


Then, verse 8:


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.[7]


He is talking to his disciples and he says, “If your hand or foot causes you to stumble…” The hands and feet of disciples are the topic.


Take note that, when Jesus uses the word “life” here, he is not referring to eternal life but to the life of glory that comes to the faithful in the next age.


But here is the strongest proof of all that he is not speaking to the lost: He says that if there is a sin in your life, you must do something radical to cease from that sin and, if you do, you will be able to enter life, meaning the age of glory that is coming. Now, let me ask you, if an unregenerate person was able to cease from a certain sin, would they be allowed into God’s kingdom? No! Because, even if they could eradicate a sin from their life, even many sins, they would still be guilty of all the sins they have already committed! They need to have their sins forgiven, not just stop sinning. They will only have all their sins forgiven when the place their faith in Christ. Therefore, Jesus is not talking to the lost; he is talking to his disciples.


“Wait a minute, Pastor, it says that they can be thrown into eternal fire! I thought we had eternal security!” Eternal security is indeed true. If you have truly placed your faith in Christ then you will not end up in the Lake of Fire. But, isn’t that what Jesus is referring to right here? He uses the words, “eternal fire.” No, he is not speaking about the Lake of Fire. In verse 9 he says nearly the same thing only he says, “hell of fire” (in the ESV). The word hell here is Gehenna. Gehenna and the Lake of Fire are different places. We will talk about this momentarily.


Presently, we have only proven that Jesus is speaking to his disciples, which mean this passage applies to us!


Let us now consider what Jesus is teaching.


“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes![8]


Temptation often comes through another person. There are temptations that arise solely from our own fallen desires. But, usually, another person is involved. Don’t be that person! Our Lord pronounces a “woe” upon the one through whom temptation comes.


Woe is a warning of awful consequences. Some versions have, “How terrible…” Some have, ‘How horrible…” When our Lord pronounces a woe, we need to pay attention and be fearful!


He says, “It is necessary that temptation comes.” A better translation of necessary is inevitable. Because of the fallen state of mankind and the corrupt nature of the world, it is inevitable that sins will arise, really in everyone’s life. It’s inevitable! But, as he is about to teach, we must do everything in our power to flee sin!


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.[9]


Isn’t this a scary verse? It ought to be. Jesus is saying that if we find ourselves falling into a sin that seems as if we cannot help, then we ought to cut our hand off, if our hand is involved. We ought to cut our foot off! Are you ready to do that? Are you? You should be! Get the axe ready! Get it out of your garage.


Does our Lord really mean to cut off our body parts if they are instrumental in bringing us into a sin? I do not think so. Why do I think he does not mean to literally cut off your hand or your foot? Because, what is the true source of our sins? It is not our actual body parts. Our body parts are only instruments through which we function in the world, for either good or bad. In the same way we would not attribute honor to our hands if they do something good, we ought not to condemn our hands if they sin. The true source of sin, according to the apostle James, is the desire within us:


But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. [10]


So, even if we really cut off our hand, we would still have the sinful desire within us that we started with. It is our desires that our contrary to the will of God that tempt us to sin.


So, if our Lord did not mean to literally cut off our hands and feet, what did he mean? He meant that we must be willing to do the most radical, even seemingly self-destructive things imaginable, in order to avoid sin!


We must be radical. We must be ready to do anything to cease from sin!


Jesus thought that sin was far more terrible, far more evil, far more deadly than we think it is. It is a sad truth that most Christians in the modern era do not take sin seriously. If they do, they do not take sin seriously enough. This becomes obvious when we consider our Lord’s words here with the way Christians live today.


Disciples today will sin and then confess (as we ought!), but it won’t be long before they fall into the same sin again. They will confess again (as we ought) and then it won’t be long before they fall into the same sin again. I am not talking about those who name the name of Christ but then sin with impunity. By impunity, I mean those who are practicing[11] sin with little or no remorse. The apostle John makes crystal clear that those who live that way have not been born again (I John 2:4, 15; 3:6-10). There are so many  - I tell you – many(!)  who think they are Christians but who are not really.[12] If we practice sin then we may have thought that we were Christians but we were not. Someone may even be in that condition presently. If you are practicing sin then you are not a Christian. This is not my teaching. This is what the apostle John taught. “Practicing” means just what it says. If you are committing the same sin every week for weeks and weeks on end, then that is practicing sin.


But today, I am not talking about those who practice sin. I am talking about those who are true disciples but who struggle with a sin. When they sin, it weighs upon them. They hate it. But they keep falling into it now and then. I am saying that we are not taking sin seriously enough. We are not resisting it hard enough. And there is a price to be paid if we continue on this path. The penalty is terrible!


Jesus says that if we do not deal with our sin now then we, his disciples, you (!), will be thrown into the eternal fire!


We have already established that the “eternal fire” here is not the Lake of Fire. It is Gehenna. In order to be clear on this matter take note of this verse in Revelation which describes the final judgment:


And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.[13]


Hades and Gehenna are nearly synonyms. They are not the same word, but they describe the same place. That place is where the wicked go between the time of their death and the final judgment.[14] Actually, Gehenna was the name of the garbage dump just outside of Jerusalem. Jesus used it to give a picture of what Hades is like.


Further, Gehenna, or Hades, is not a permanent place. It is only a temporary place. This is made clear not only from Revelation 20:13-14 but also from the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount:


You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’

  22      “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before bthe supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the cfiery hell.

  23      “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,

  24      leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.

  25      “Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.

  26      “Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.[15]


Again, the Sermon on the Mount is a sermon for his own disciples, not for the lost.[16]


Verse 22, “the hell,” is Gehenna in the original language.


Notice verse 26: “you will not come out of there until…” Until! Jesus used the word, until! You can get out of Gehenna. But you cannot get out of the Lake of Fire. If the lost go to Gehenna they will simply be transferred to the Lake of Fire at the final judgment (Rev. 20:13-14) so, in a sense, it is eternal for them because their punishment will simply be transferred from one place to another. But for the true disciple who goes to Gehenna, it is temporary. Remember, in Matthew chapter five, Jesus is talking to his disciples. He is talking to his disciples! He says, “you will not come out of there until…” Verse 26 is too plain!


Now this is not a popular teaching nowadays. You will find many who try to refute it. But why? Its not because of the text of Scripture. It’s because of tradition. So many want to make the Sermon on the Mount for the lost. It’s not. But, the doctrine of Gehenna being temporary for the follower of Christ was not always so unpopular. In fact, through most of church history it was accepted. It was accepted for 1800 years. Only recently has it become unfashionable.[17] In fact, the great expositor and highly respected preacher of the 1800’s, Robert Govett, who was recommended and honored by Charles Spurgeon, taught this as did many evangelical preachers of his era.


And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. [18]


This verse only reaffirms what Our Lord said in verse 8. When Jesus repeats Himself we must pay attention. Again, the word hell here is Gehenna.


So, what must we do?


Every one of us, and I include myself, must take sin more seriously. We must believe what our Lord said to his own disciples, that unless we cease from sin we will not enter “life,” by which he means the glories of the age to come. (He is not teaching about eternal life in this passage.)


By taking sin seriously I mean that we do everything in our power to avoid it. The only way we will be successful in this is by the power of the Spirit. We must choose to walk in the Spirit and not according to the flesh. But there are also practical things that we can do that can be very effective in saving us from the power of sin right now. If there is a temptation to which you are particularly susceptible, plan ahead and do not expose yourself to it. For example, it’s not a sin to drink alcohol in moderation (Jesus drank wine!), but it is a sin to drink in excess. If you are prone to that sin, don’t purchase any alcohol at all. Don’t have it in your house. If you are prone to sexual sin then have a chaperone (a mutual friend) when spending time with someone of the opposite sex. If you are prone to gossip (make no mistake…gossip is a sin!) then never speak about another person unless they are in the room with you. These are all common sense practices that you can do. But, what did Jesus say? He said we must be ready to even cut off our hand or take out our eye! We ought to be willing to go much further lengths than the suggestions that I just made.


This passage is all about the wrath of God, the severity of God, to his own people! But Jesus is giving us this teaching so we can escape these things, so that we can escape divine discipline.


You might need to get rid of your mobile phone altogether because you might have a problem with what is on the internet. Wouldn’t that be extremely inconvenient? Yes, it would. But not as inconvenient as losing your hand or your eye!


You might need to marry when you feel you are not quite ready. (This is exactly what Paul tells the Corinthians to do if they have a problem with lust (I Cor 7:9).


You might need to fast and pray for days on end. Fasting is not easy, but it is better than losing your hand or your eye. (Share experience with the sin of laziness.)


Let us change our view of sin right now. We need to see it as to how awful it really is. When we eradicate a sin from our lives, do you know what we will experience? We will experience more happiness, more peace, more contentment that we had before. We will! Then we will see that the radical steps that we may have had to take to conquer a sin was all worth it. Then, more, in the age to come…even more enjoyment, more peace, more tranquility but with glory added to them!


The consequences of not conquering sin in your life will be Gehenna during the next age, which will last at least one thousand years. The consequences of being radical with your sins will be both happiness, peace, and contentment now and glory in the age to come. It is worth it to be radical with our sins.


It is not me…Jesus is calling you to be radical!






[1] J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL; 2021) p 148.

[2] Ibid, 149.

[3] Ibid

[4] The New King James Version. (1982). (Ro 11:22). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[5] Packer, 160.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 18:1). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 18:8). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 18:7). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 18:8). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jas 1:14–15). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[11] “Practicing” is not defined. It is one of those words which you can recognize in real life but cannot quantify. We know when someone, maybe we ourselves, are practicing something, yet we cannot define it. (The closest we can come is this: practice is something we do regularly. Even this is somewhat vague, but it is the best we can do.) When it comes to sin we must never find ourselves there! If we do, we must truly repent and experience the rebirth. Because, to risk being redundant, if we practice sin we do not belong to Christ even though we may feel like we love him, attend church regularly, etc. This is John’s clear teaching (I john 2:4, 15;  3:6-10). Similarly, “now and then” cannot be defined either. Maybe it is once or twice per month? It is something that is not regular, otherwise it would be practice.

[12] See the sermon, Signs and Leaven, Part Two, from June26, 2022 at, especially the last half of the sermon.

[13] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Re 20:13–14). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[14] There are a few places in the Greek translation of the OT, the Septuagint, where Hades is used to describe the intermediate state without distinction bewteen bad and good, but in the NT it always refers to where the disobedient go.

[15] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Mt 5:21–26). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[16] Matthew 5:1-2; 11-16.

[17] Fundamentally, there are only three ways to understand this passage. Either this teaching is for the lost, which we have refuted. Or, a true disciple can lose their salvation (because one understands Gehenna to be eternal). Or, Gehenna is temporary for the disciple of Christ.

[18] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 18:9). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.