Trimming the Branches

“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’”—Mark 9:43–48 (NIV)

I’m allergic to cats. So, I generally avoid situations that involve me being around cats. You probably see where I’m going with this.

In today’s passage, Jesus shares the same kind of logic as it pertains to sin. You see, sin, like cat dander, is harmful and hazardous. Consider the words of the apostle James in James 1:14–15 (NIV, emphasis added): “After desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

Sin brings death to everything it touches. And so, while Jesus’ words here may seem extreme to some or even figurative, the fact is He’s correct: It is better to only have one hand or one eye­—or even no eyes— than it is to experience the destructive and deadly effects of sin in our lives.

Now, Jesus doesn’t expect nor want you to cut off your hands or gouge out your eyes! The fact is that wouldn’t be enough anyway. Sin is not a matter of the limb but of the heart. No matter what we cut off, if the heart isn’t dealt with, our sinful nature will find a way. If we cut off one hand, we still have another with which to sin. If we cut off all limbs, we can still sin in our mind and heart.

Steps should be taken to avoid temptation. If scrolling through Instagram is leading to bitterness or covetousness in you, pray, surrender this struggle to Christ, and by all means limit your exposure to it or delete it WHILE ALSO dealing with the heart matter in play—finding one’s contentment, fulfillment, and identity in Christ. If your phone, computer, or streaming services are causing you to stumble into porn, surrender the struggle to Him and create boundaries, safeguards, and accountability WHILE ALSO working with a counselor, support group, and/or pastor to deal with the heart issue. It’s logical to trim off the branches as you work on removing the root, but if you only trim the branches and think that’s enough, the strong root will grow one way or another.

Jesus’ greater point here is about sacrifice. He’s essentially reiterating the cost of discipleship (Matthew 16:24–26, Mark 8:34-35). To follow Jesus means to pick up our cross and follow Him, to be willing to lay down any and everything to live for Him who laid down everything to save us. Because at the end of the day, what profit is there in keeping both hands or eyes, or gaining the whole world and losing your soul? These things are simply not worth it! Instead, we must be willing to leave any and everything at the feet of Jesus who purifies and remolds our heart, mind, and life and transforms us from the inside out!

Pause: What is Jesus’ greater message here? Why is it important that we understand it properly?

Practice: If you’re reading this and you don’t yet know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, I must ask you is losing your soul worth the fleeting and temporary, self-focused pleasure sin brings? No! So, turn away and come to Jesus! In Him, you’ll find true peace, joy, purpose, salvation, fulfillment, freedom, and hope.

If you’re a believer, is that sinful vice, habit, practice, or lifestyle you’ve found yourself ensnared or trapped by (the Greek word for “stumble” in Mark 9:43, 45, and 47 is skandalizē, which means to set a snare, trap, hinderance, or stumbling block, to fall into a trap) worth the destructive, hurtful, harmful consequences that are guaranteed to come with it eventually? No! So, turn away, repent, take steps to avoid it, and seek help from the Lord in prayer and from pastors and trusted Christian friends and mentors to overcome this struggle.

Pray: Father, as Jesus showed me to pray, I ask that You lead me away from temptation to sin. I ask that You help me in my struggles with sin, that You give me the strength by the Holy Spirit to flee from sin and overcome the sin in my life. Sanctify me daily so I may be more like Jesus and less like my sinful nature. I want to be willing to sacrifice any and all things for the sake of Your kingdom and glory. Help me, Father, to be about Your kingdom. Amen.

About the Author

Danny Saavedra

Danny Saavedra has served on the staff of Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.