The Requirements of Discipleship
July 28, 2019
Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” 
Prayer of Illumination:
Teach us your way, O Lord, and lead us on a level path. Teach us, O Lord, to follow your decrees; then we will keep them to the end. Give us understanding, and we will keep your law and obey it with all our hearts. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Jesus has been ministering for two, maybe two and a half years at this point. During these two years, he has given sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and he has caused the lame to walk. He has demonstrated that he is lord over all aspects of life, from the created world to life and to demons. Jesus is now making his way toward Jerusalem. He has set his face on her as the time approaches for his sacrificial death and resurrection.
As he has begins his approach to Jerusalem, Jesus has retreated from public life. He has been focusing on teaching his disciples instead of demonstrations of his power and glory. We saw last week that Jesus corrected their definition of greatness. The disciples had bought into the worldly definition of greatness but Jesus redefined greatness. He redefined greatness as serving others, even the least and the most insignificant.
After redefining greatness, the disciples report that they stopped someone from exorcising a demon in Jesus’ name because they were not part of their group. Jesus then corrects them and admonishes them to serve even those who are not part of their inner circle.
Here in this passage, Jesus gives some requirements for being his disciple.
A Warning Against Causing Other to Sin
Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.
The first requirement that Jesus gives for discipleship is a warning against causing others to sin. In the previous verse, verse 41, Jesus said that God sees when care for others and will reward us. Not even the smallest act of kindness and service will escape his notice. God sees all.
Just as he sees when we serve others, God also sees when we cause someone to sin. Jesus says “little ones” but he isn’t speaking just about children. He has used a child as an example to show that we are to serve the least and the most insignificant in culture. Here, he again points us to the least and the most insignificant and says that we are not to cause them to sin.
Alistair Begg notes that he is a “little one” even though he is an adult and pastor of a large congregation outside of Cleveland. That means each and every one of you here are “little ones”. And as such, it would wrong for someone to cause you to sin or you to cause another to sin.
Jesus doesn’t specify exactly what might cause someone to sin but there are a few thoughts. First and most obvious, Jesus is warning us not to tempt someone to sin. If we tempt someone to sin, we are the cause of their sin. Jesus says, “Don’t tempt them to sin”.
Secondly, Jesus is warning us to be conscious of how our actions can affect others. Brennan Manning, the author of The Ragamuffin Gospel, said “the single greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable”.
While I don’t know if I agree the entire quote, his point is still valid. But when someone says they’re a Christian but their lifestyle doesn’t reflect that profession that causes people to stumble and doubt Jesus. If someone says “I’m a Christian” but I’m carrying on affairs, people will doubt Jesus. If someone says “I’m a Christian” but treats others with contempt and belittles them, people will doubt Jesus. In doing those things, we cause someone to sin.
And Jesus warns us that if someone cause one of the least to sin “it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea”. Not exactly what you want to hear. Millstones were used to crush grain. There are small millstones that someone could use in their kitchen and there were larger millstones. Jesus is talking about the larger millstones. Those larger millstones were pulled by a donkey or an ox. They were huge. And Jesus is saying that it would be better for someone to wear one of those millstones like a collar than to cause one of these little ones to in. One of the commentators I read this week said it would be better for that person to drown than to face the consequences of causing someone to sin. This is a gruesome way to die.
The Godfather is a movie about a son of one of New York’s mafia families. At the beginning of the movie, the five mafia families more or less have a truce. One of the heads of the family decides to break the unwritten rule about selling narcotics. The Corleone family uncertain about whether or not dealing in narcotics is good for them decides to send an informant into the family that is pushing the deal.
When the informant fails to make contact, the Corleone family begins to get nervous. They worry that something has happened. Their suspicions are confirmed when the informant’s clothing is sent with a note that said he sleeps with the fishes. That rival mafia family put his feet in cement and threw him in the river, a modern version of hanging a millstone around someone’s neck and throwing them into the sea. What a gruesome way to die.
You cannot miss what Jesus is saying. We cannot be indifferent to how our actions affect others. We cannot shrug our shoulders and walk away if we actively tempt someone to sin. We cannot wash our hands of the matter if our actions and lifestyle deny Christ and cause others to doubt. If we shrug our shoulders at this, ultimately it says we do not care about the least and little ones. We are saying we do not care to see them built up and matured in Christ. Jesus is warning us that such actions ultimately lead to death and destruction.
- Kent Hughes says this about this verse. He says, “Few things disturb Christ more than causing new or weak or uninformed believers to sin. And those who do so, stand in the way of stern discipline from Christ. Jesus’ words are a warning to make sure there is nothing in our lives which would make one of his “little ones” stumble.”
This is especially true for elders. James, the brother of our Lord, says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1).The reason that elders are judged with greater strictness is because we are supposed to explain and apply God’s Word to people. If we are causing people to sin by defecting and heretical teaching, then it is far worse for us. Let us take seriously this warning not to cause someone to sin.
Jesus doesn’t just warn about causing someone else to sin, he warns us about sin in our own lives.
The Warning to Live Lives Worthy of Christ
And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’
Jesus warns us about sin in our own lives. Jesus says if something in our lives causes us to sin, then we are to forcibly remove it from our lives. He is being hyperbolic when he says “if your hand” or “your foot” or “your eye” causes you to sin then you should cut that part off. The bible is never for self-harm or self-mutilation. If that is something you struggle with, please talk with me.
But Jesus’ point remains. If there is something in your life that is currently causing you to sin, remove it. It doesn’t matter if that is something society and culture says is essential for life. Remove it. Hands, feet, and eyes are all important and necessary to daily life.
Maybe there is something in your life that society says is essential but it causes you to sin. Remove it. One of my good friends has struggled with pornography for most of his life. One of the steps he has taken to remove that sin from his life is to have a “dumb phone”. He has an old flip phone. It can receive calls and text messages and that’s about it. He has taken the drastic step of removing something most people say is essential for life today all so that an avenue for sin in his life is removed.
Maybe you’re sitting here thinking, “We’re justified by faith not what we do, so it’s ok if I go on sinning”. You’re right in thinking that we are justified by faith alone. But it is a faith that does not remain alone.
That line of thinking is called antinomianism. Antinomianism is the idea we can do whatever we want and no one can say anything about it. That is the spirit of our age. “Do what you want. As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, who cares? No one can tell you right or wrong. No one can tell you how to live your life.” That’s what our culture says. And sometimes that line of thinking seeps into the church. Every generation has to be on guard against antinomianism.
We are justified by faith alone. But that faith does not remain alone. If you truly believe in Jesus, you are justified by what he has done on the cross. You recognize that you cannot do anything to earn your salvation or lose your salvation in him. But that realization transforms you. It causes you despise your sin, the reason Jesus had to die in your place, and it causes you want to live a life that reflects him. You want to follow Jesus’ commands not to earn his love but because you love him.
If there is something in your life that is causing you to sin, remove it. Maybe it’s a smart phone. Remove it. Yes society says it’s essential but if it is causing you to sin, remove it. Maybe it’s listening to certain talk show hosts who just rile you up and leave you fuming with anger. Remove it. Maybe it’s over spending on your credit cards. Remove them.
Jesus tells us that if we do not remove sin and the things that cause us to sin from our lives, then we will go to hell. Maybe your translation says Gehenna. Gehenna was the valley on the southwest side of Jerusalem. During apostate kings, child sacrifice took place there. They would burn the child as a sacrifice to one of the false gods. After the Babylonian Exile, that valley was where refuse and garbage was continually burned. It is an apt description of God’s wrath because of sin.
I know this is not a popular subject. Many consider the doctrine of hell passé. I was recently talking with a fellow pastor and he told me he was uncertain over this doctrine. He admitted that many in his congregation don’t like the idea of hell and so he was starting to consider it passé. They say God is love and love and hell are incompatible.
Let’s think of it like this, there are people you love. Maybe you’re thinking of your children, parents, or friends. Now, if someone hurts them deeply, if they are violated, you’re angry. You want that person who hurt your loved one to be held responsible. You want the person who violated your beloved to pay recompense.
Now when we sin, we hurt God. When we sin, we violate God. When we sin we say, “I know how to better use your creation than you. I know better how to treat those who bear your image than you.” So when we sin, it is not a simple mistake like saying 5×4=9. Sin, even the most minute sin, is a violation of God. Sin is treason and rebellion against God, even a little lie.
Sin hurts God. Sin violates God. And because he loves his creation and he loves himself, he is angry at sin. And sin cannot stand in his presence. Hell exists solely because we have sinned. And each and every person deserves hells because of their sin.
The good news is that on the cross, Jesus Christ bore hell for each and every person who would ever believe. We say those words every month when we recite the Apostles’ Creed. “He descended into hell”. Those words are important because it teaches us that Jesus bore the consequences of each and every sin we’ve ever committed or ever will commit. The Heidelberg Catechism puts it like this:
Why is “He descended into hell” added?
That in my most painful and gravest tribulations I may be assured that Christ my Lord has delivered me from hellish anguish and torment by the inexpressible anguish, pains, and terrors which he suffered in his soul both on the cross and earlier.
That should be of great comfort for us. We should be comforted knowing that Christ has borne all of the consequences for our sins. There is not a single sin we suffer divine wrath for if we are in Christ.
If we do not repent and continue in sin, hell is what awaits us. Tim Keller says that hell is a trajectory. If we are on the path of sin and rebellion against God, that path only leads to hell. It is loving of God to tell us that so that we might repent.
The Church has historically taken this warning very seriously. And because the Church has taken this warning seriously, we have something called Church Discipline. I know many of us hear that and cringe. We do not like the idea of discipline. We think discipline is about being mean and punishing people. That is not the point of discipline. The point of discipline is to lovingly restore people to a right relationship; it is help reconcile people to God and to others. At time the Church warns people of the sin and if they are unrepentant in that sin, we discipline them so that they might turn from their sin and destruction.
Jesus warns us that we should be concerned about causing someone else to sin and he warns us about sin in our lives and where that leads. He also says that his disciples will be a preservative in society.
A Call to Preserve
For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
Jesus has given us two warning about being his disciples. He has warned us against causing others to sin. He has warned us about sin in our own lives and where it leads. Now he calls his disciples to be a preservative for society.
We often miss that when we read these verses. Salt in that day was a preservative. They didn’t have refrigerators so why would they keep their meat from spoiling? They would salt it. Salt slows bacteria from forming and preserves the meat from spoiling.
As Jesus’ disciples, we are supposed to salt. We are supposed to be a preserving influence in our community. That is why Jesus warns us against causing others to sin and about sin in our own lives. If we are causing people to sin or are living lives of sin, we cannot be a preserving influence in our community.
The way we are to be a preserving influence in our community is by caring for the least and the most insignificant. We are to serve the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the sojourner. When we serve them and care for them, we preserve our community. We are to engage in the marketplace in such a way that it reflects Christ and his kingdom. When we do that, we preserve our community.
Jesus has given us these requirements for being his disciple. He has warned us about causing others to sin. He has warned us about sin in our own lives and that sin leads to death. He has called us to be a preserving influence in our communities. These are some of the requirements Jesus has given to his disciples.
 Heidelberg Catechism Question 44