It can be a challenge to see sin for what it is—especially when it’s our sin. Sensitive people fight the tendency to make too much of their sin and see themselves as the chief of sinners while the less sensitive struggle not to trivialize their transgressions. For all of us, there’s the need for a healthy perspective on an unhealthy subject.
When Jesus spoke in Matthew 5:29-30 about gouging out an offending eye or removing your hand if it caused you to sin He was speaking in obvious hyperbole. After all, you could do all of that and still have the problem eating up your heart so it won’t do to approach His words from a strictly literal perspective. Having said that though, we need to appreciate why he used such graphic speech—He was making the point that sin needs to be dealt with radically. It is not something we are to be casual about.
And this is where we need to see our sin for what it is. All of us sin and there will never be a time on this earth when we reach the point of not sinning. And many of these sins have nothing to do with serious heart issues—they are just mistakes we make as a result of momentary lapses of behavior, judgment, control, etc. They are the same thing that happens when we are driving and drift on to the shoulder or a little over the speed limit and have to make a correction. I don’t think this is what Jesus is talking about in this text.
Then there are those sins that seem to have a special hold over us and who can say exactly why? We know they are wrong. We’ve totally renounced them. And yet they keep trying to worm their way back into our life. This is the person who gets a special thrill out of weaving in and out of traffic at high speeds. This is a different “class” of sin and the kind we must be especially vigilant in regard to it. I think this is what Jesus is addressing in Matthew 5.
Cain and Abel offered sacrifices to God and Abel’s was accepted while Cain’s was rejected. God said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:6-7). Cain’s struggle wasn’t with sin in general—it was with his anger. God told him it was like a wild animal crouching at his door waiting to devour him. In other words, it had gotten into his heart and was threatening to take over his life if he didn’t take decisive action against it. Cain ignored the warning and sin devoured him.
We don’t get to choose our temptations but we can see them for the danger they represent and take decisive action. This is what God was telling Cain. This is what Jesus is telling us.