Authors: Paul Ellis
Tags: #Chistian Grace
and cares for you, and he doesn’t want you to wreck your life over some death-dealing
Here’s a question to see how well you understand this: What comes to mind when you hear
? Do you think of a mistake that needs to be punished? Do you think of the
rod of correction and naughty boys in need of a whipping? If you do, God bless you but your
thinking is influenced by the old covenant (see Proverbs 22:15).
In the Old Testament the word for correct can mean “to chastise with blows.” It’s applying
the proverbial rod to the seat of learning. In grown-up terms it means plagues and punishment
sent in response to sin. At least that’s how David saw it:
Remove your plague from me; I am consumed by the blow of your hand. When with
rebukes you correct man for iniquity, you make his beauty melt away like a moth. Surely
every man is vapor. (Psalm 39:10–11, NKJV)
5 See chapter 4, “Ten myths about the Holy Spirit,” in
Grace Classics: Escape to Reality
Greatest Hits, Vol. 2
Under the old covenant the chastisement of the Lord was sometimes fatal. Get it wrong and you
were toast. Thank God for Jesus! Thank God that “the chastisement for our peace was upon
” (Isaiah 53:5). Jesus died for our sins so that we don’t have to. Because of Jesus we need a new definition of correction.
When I hear the word correction I think of a sailboat heading in a dangerous direction. A
course correction needs to be made. The sailboat isn’t necessarily sinning or wrong, it’s just
going the wrong way. We could curse the map or apply the rod of correction to the sat-nav, but
what will that accomplish? Far better just to get back on course.
All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in
righteousness… (2 Timothy 3:16)
In the new covenant the word for correction means “a straightening up again.” Isn’t that
wonderful? All is not lost. You are not toast. You can be straightened up again. You may be
heading towards the shoals or you may have already hit the shoals and sunk your boat, but the
Holy Spirit who raises the dead can still lead you back to the way of life. Your life is not over.
Case study: The Galatians
You were doing so well until someone made you turn from the truth. (Galatians 5:7, CEV)
The Galatians had started well but they veered off course. They needed to be straightened up
again and the Holy Spirit worked through Paul to bring about that needed course correction.
In the Bible correction (gentle warnings) and rebuking (big warnings) are often mentioned
together. This is how a loving Father trains his sons—not through sickness or other tribulations
and certainly not through blows! The word discipline means discipling or training and God
does that primarily by giving us a revelation of his righteousness through the word.
Preach the word in season, out of season. Reprove (admonish), rebuke (announce those life-
saving course corrections), exhort (invite, implore, beseech)… (2 Timothy 4:2, my
Your loving Father is not interested in fault-finding and sin-hunting. However, he loves you too
much to stay silent as you sail towards the hidden shoals of life. If you are making poor choices,
your Father will definitely seek to bring about a course correction and lead you in the life-
giving way of righteousness.
Our problem is we often confuse behavior with identity. When we screw-up we think, “I’m
a screw-up.” When we sin, we think, “I’m a sinner.”
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“Not true!” declares the Holy Spirit. “Just as your righteous acts never made you righteous
in the first place, your unrighteous acts don’t make you unrighteous. Even though you did
something dumb, you are still righteous. Now let’s go and reveal the life of Jesus into that
When you act out of the false identity of who you used to be (independent and faithless),
the Holy Spirit will always seek to remind you of your true identity in Christ. “You are holy
and righteous, so act like it.”
Look at how Jesus related to the disciples and you will find him doing all the things the Holy
Spirit continues to do: guiding, correcting, and rebuking. Not once do you find Jesus saying,
“Peter, you’re an idjit. Have some cancer, it’ll give you character.” And look at how Jesus
related to Judas. Did he call him sinner and traitor? No, he called him friend (Matthew 26:50)!
I am so thankful for the gentle correction of the Holy Spirit. When I have gone astray he has
consistently brought me back to the way of life. Without the Holy Spirit’s help I would have
chosen the wrong career and I’d still be preaching the wrong message. Walking by sight I
would have sown death left and right. But by the grace of God I am who I am because my
Father loves me and he cares about the details of our lives.
And the good news is that if you do make a mess of your life, he still loves you, he still cares
for you, and he will never kick you out of his family!
Here’s a multiple choice question to see whether you’ve got this. When I sin, the Holy Spirit: (a)
chastises me with sickness, (b) accuses me of wrong-doing, (c) dumps a bucket of guilt over me,
(d) condemns me as a sinner, or (e) none of the above.
If you answered anything other than (e), you need to reread the article. The Holy Spirit will
never accuse you, condemn you, make you sick, or send you on a guilt trip. But he will let you
know when you are sowing death into your life. Like a lighthouse-keeper he will turn on the
light revealing the danger ahead of you.
After reading the article an E2R reader asked me a question. “Where does rebuking fit in?
How do we know when we are simply being set back on the right path or rebuked for our poor
The word which is normally rendered rebuke in our English Bibles means admonish. It is to
urge earnestly or issue a strong warning. Don’t think of it as God screaming, “Look at what you
did!” but “Watch where you are going. Look out for those dangerous shoals!”
The Holy Spirit is not a faultfinder, but he will warn you when the sailboat of your life is
heading towards trouble. He does this not to judge or punish you, but because he loves you (see
Revelation 3:19). You are the apple of his eye and he doesn’t want you to shipwreck your life.
11. Chop Off Your Hand?! Was Jesus Serious?
If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off 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 5:30, NKJV)
I doubt there’s a Christian alive who hasn’t wondered about this verse. It’s one of those
scriptures that causes you to do a double-take. What?! Did Jesus really say that? Was he
serious? I’d better ask the pastor.
I’ll guess the odds are ten to one you came away thinking that Jesus
serious. After all, Jesus is the kindest person there is. He healed people. Surely he doesn’t want us to go around
maiming ourselves. Then you looked around your church and saw that no one had actually
chopped off their hands and so you took comfort in the fact that others thought the same way as
you did. There’s safety in numbers.
No doubt these words of Jesus are uncomfortable. Maybe you don’t think about them much.
But Jesus’ words are important. Those who don’t heed what he says are building on sand.
So let’s cut to the chase: was Jesus being figurative or literal when he spoke about chopping
If you think he was using a figure of speech, how do you know that Jesus wasn’t speaking
metaphorically all the time? Do we just assume that anytime he said something hard to swallow
that he was speaking figuratively?
Or perhaps you think Jesus was being literal. Okay, so what are you going to do about it?
Have you done what he said or have you ignored him? It seems our choice is presumption or
disobedience or amputation. Is there any other option?
Was Jesus speaking figuratively?
“Jesus is using strong words to convey something about the seriousness of sin,” says the
theologian. “He’s not really preaching self-mutilation but self-denial. What he means to say is
we must be sensitive to sin and renounce it and run from it and do whatever it takes to avoid
Does this sound familiar to you? It should, for this has been the standard interpretation for
most of church history. But there are two fatal flaws with this conclusion. First, it assumes that
Jesus was exaggerating and
Jesus never exaggerated
. Preachers sometimes exaggerate to make a
point but Jesus always meant what he said and said what he meant. He is Truth personified. It
is inconceivable that he would play with words for the crude purpose of ramming home a
lesson. When Jesus spoke in parables he did so to conceal truths, not to stretch them (Matthew
13:13). In any case, the passage above is not part of a parable. The context is the Sermon on the
Mount and Jesus has just been speaking about anger and lust. His language is plain because the
issues are serious. There is nothing metaphorical about his choice of words.
The second flaw with this interpretation is that it suggests we can do stuff to save ourselves
from hell. Maybe we don’t have to self-amputate, but we can confess, abstain, renounce, run
from, and what have you. There’s nothing wrong with these things. The error is in thinking we
can save ourselves by doing them. No doubt it is better to enter eternal life handicapped than
for your whole body to go to hell. But it does not follow that there is anything you can do to
earn eternal life.
Was Jesus speaking literally?
Most people think Jesus was speaking figuratively because they do not believe for a second that
he meant what he said. But what if he did? Does it then follow that he actually wants us to chop
off our hands? Of course not. We are sanctified by the blood of the Lamb, not our severed limbs.
Self-mutilation does nothing to deal with sin for sin is conceived in the heart not the hand
(Matthew 5:28). Besides, if you chop one hand off you’re left with another. You can still sin!
So what’s going on here? Why would Jesus tell us to do something he doesn’t really want us
He’s doing it so we will realize the absurdity of trying to impress God with our acts of self-
righteousness. He’s preaching the law on steroids, not so that you will try to keep it, but so that
you will quit pretending that you are.
It is hard for some to grasp that Jesus could preach both grace and law without confusing
the two, but he did. Jesus is the perfect physician. He knows exactly what medicine you need. If
you’re broken and hurting you’ll get grace, but if you’re confident of your own self-
righteousness you’ll get law.
A self-righteous person thinks they can impress God with their religious performance. The
only language they understand is law. They say, “all these commands I have kept from my
youth, what else do I lack?” And Jesus responds, “Okay, you asked for it, receive some more
Why preach the law?
The law is not a standard to live up to, but a mirror that reveals our faults. The law was not
given to help you overcome sin, but to help sin overcome you (Romans 7:8–9).
Jesus met people who thought they would be judged righteous if they kept the law. But
instead of being silenced by their inability to do so, they lowered the standard making it easier
to keep. Jesus didn’t like this one bit. In the Sermon on the Mount he took the watered-down
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law (“You have heard it said”) and raised it to a higher level (“but I say unto you”). In other
words, he polished the mirror.
Why did Jesus do this? Because some people will never appreciate the good news until
they’ve heard the bad news, which is this:
Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you
will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20)
The law is holy, righteous and good, but try to live by it and it will condemn and kill you (2
Corinthians 3:6,9). The purpose of the law is to bring you to the end of yourself and reveal your
need for a Savior (Galatians 3:24). If you are self-righteous, you will never appreciate Jesus until
the law has plowed the pride out of your heart.
You may say, “I’m a decent person. I’ve never killed or committed adultery.”
“Not good enough,” says Jesus. “God knows your heart. If you’ve entertained murderous or
lustful thoughts you’ve as good as done it. This is a serious business. If you persist in this
pathetic course of self-reliance, you had better be prepared to go the whole way even if that
means sacrificing an eye and a hand.”
And to ram home the point, Jesus says this:
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
God expects perfection and nothing less. If you’re not perfect, twenty-four hours a day, seven
days a week, you’re in serious trouble. That’s the bad news. Now here’s the good news: