How do I get rid of a sin I keep slipping back into?

There are two things that lead to persistent sin: our habits and our hearts.

That’s what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:

If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30)

We know Jesus wasn’t speaking literally, or else we would have heard about all the apostles walking around with eyes gouged out. So it must be symbolic. But how?

In the Bible, your eye is how you find salvation, comfort, pleasure, security. As the psalmist says, “I lift my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalms 121:1-2). In biblical symbolism, whatever your eye is on, that’s where your heart is.

So the question we first need to ask is, “Am I looking to the Lord for help, fulfillment, and security?”

Remember the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife? He was a slave in Potiphar’s house, but Potiphar had taken very good care of him, and put him in charge of everything in the house. But Potiphar’s wife took a liking to him, and in Genesis 39 it says, “After some time his master’s wife looked longingly at Joseph and said, ‘Sleep with me.’”

Where were her eyes? On what she could take for herself! But Joseph said, “Look, with me here my master does not concern himself with anything in his house, and he has put all that he owns under my authority. No one in this house is greater than I am. He has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. So how could I do this immense evil, and how could I sin against God?” (Genesis 39:8-9).

Joseph fully appreciated everything God had given him, so he didn’t have any problem turning away from immorality. He’s saying, “I’ve got everything I need! Why would I risk all that just for a few moments of pleasure?” His eye and heart were on God, and his obedience came out of gratitude to God. 

But Potiphar’s wife wouldn’t give up. It says, “One day he went into the house to do his work, and none of the household servants were there. She grabbed him by his garment and said, “Sleep with me! ” But leaving his garment in her hand, he escaped and ran outside.” (Genesis 39:11-12)

Sometimes it’s not enough just to have your heart in the right place. It’s not enough just to cut out your eye. Sometimes we need to take urgent action to get out of a situation where we know our desires will overpower us. We need to cut off our hand!

In biblical terms, the hand is the symbol of action. As Psalm 9:16 says, “The wicked are snared in the work of their own hands.” So sometimes we need to lop off a hand. Get out of a situation, or out of a relationship. Get rid of whatever’s leading us to act on our desires. I knew one guy who threw his laptop off a second-floor balcony after it became clear that it was a source of overpowering temptation.

The second question we need to ask ourselves is, “What do I need to cut out of my life?” If you’re giving in to porn, get rid of the phone or the laptop. If you’ve been going too far physically in a dating relationship, take a break from the relationship. If you’re married, and you feel your heart fluttering when you’re around someone who’s not your spouse, stay away from that person.

Jesus says it’s “better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” It’s just your hand, it’s not your whole body. It’s just a phone. It’s just an unhealthy relationship. It’s not your whole life.

But take notice that Jesus mentioned the eye before the hand. That’s because the heart is the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23). You can put every filter in the world on your phone, and walk around with horse-blinders on, but if your heart isn’t grateful to God for everything he’s given you, you’re still going to want more, and you’ll find a way to get it.

So the first step in overcoming persistent sin is to be in awe of God’s blessings and grace, most especially the gift of his one and only son, who died on the cross to pay for your sin, and rose from the grave to give you power to overcome your sin.