But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. (Matthew 5:27–30—NKJV)

It was not that long ago that my wife and I shared our household with our teenagers. Somewhere along the line, they had transformed themselves without our noticing, much less permission. They had once been innocent, adorable little people who loved to cuddle up in the evening and have an adventure story read to them. Together we traveled around the world from colonial America, to frozen Alaska, to deepest, darkest Africa, to Caruso’s island, to Polo’s China, to Twain’s Mississippi, to cowboys on the purple sage, to Boonesborough, and to the center of the earth. All of a sudden those traveling days of wonder became traveling days in the “soccer van.” The van was not filled with sweet little urchins; it now contained big, demanding, hungry teenagers. As their voices deepened, their opinions grew more articulate and their needs grew more expensive.

Our children introduced us to the world of bargaining and negotiating in matters of real potential consequence. They had the goal of breathing the stimulating air of freedom; we had the goal of maintaining family order and some measure of protection, while keeping a constant eye upon future consequences of decisions made today. We soon discovered that reason and maturity had nothing to do with their insistent pleas for greater trust on our part and less accountability on theirs. In fact, as my bride is fond of saying, “the best way for any politician to learn to deal with terrorists is to raise teenagers.” When my children would ask, “Why don’t you trust me?” the stock answer that I know they grew to loathe was, “Because you are a teenager, honey.”

As with teenagers, no politician should ever negotiate with terrorists. Terrorists do not “fight fair.” Hatred and lies are their oxygen. They honor no rules but that suit their own whims and bellies. They do not negotiate in good faith, but they learn what behaviors get rewarded to their advantage and continue to pursue that course until they reach an exacted price they are not willing to pay. There is a vast difference between a dominating, unrestrained, low-information “boy-terrorist” who’s only motivation is destroying convention, reason, and goodness, and a real man who has matured his domination to the point of taking charge of himself for the sake, interests, and safety of others. In our Lord’s instruction, he is speaking of taking spiritual charge of oneself.

I am a literalist in my interpretation of Scripture, but that does not prohibit me from recognizing that our Lord was teaching a very concrete truth (do not negotiate with sin) by illustrating the seriousness of the matter with a very graphic word picture which was never intended to be taken as a literal command. Literally complying would obviously not change the head and the heart where the true cause of the sin resides, He must have meant something else, and He did. In chapter 5 (during His Sermon on the Mount) Jesus was making a comparison between the way Old Testament law was taught by the religious leaders of His day and the letter and spirit of the Law as God had delivered it.

Rabbinic instruction (Matthew is a very Jewish book; Matthew alone quotes this advice) declared that the eye and the heart were the brokers of sin and so our Lord seems to be saying, if that is the case, then pluck out the eye and the problem is solved. But that is obviously not the case since the adultery is committed in the heart already. It is not the eye that has become the sin (stumbling block—scandalon, the stick or the part of the trap to which the bait is attached in such a way that the stick triggers the trap to be sprung and you find yourself ensnared); it is what the impure mind does with the “bait” that ensnares (James 1:12–15). Our Lord is simply pleading for self-mastery. There is no wisdom in negotiating with sin any more than with a terrorist who hates you and wants to see you eliminated. Never give sin a pass, or an advantage, much less an inch—every single sin wants to see you crushed! Instead, you must subdue your heart for the glory of God.

Every true man knows that self-mastery is the greatest test of manhood. Romans 6:16–18 states, “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?… Having been set free from sin, you became slaves to righteousness.” Be serious about total victory over sin (1 Corinthians 9:27). Trust and obey.