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Radical Amputation: Finding the Right Treatment for Porn

Last Updated: September 8, 2022

Keith Rose
Keith Rose

Keith Rose holds a Master of Divinity degree and BA in Sacred Music. Keith worked with the Covenant Eyes Member Care Team for 15 years. He has also served as a Bible teacher, pastoral assistant, and music director at his local church. He's now the editor of the Covenant Eyes blog and the author of Allied: Fighting Porn With Accountability, Faith, and Friends. He lives in Hendersonville, North Carolina with his wife Ruby and daughter Winslow.

If you search online for “radical amputation,” you’ll find a list of articles about dealing with lust and porn, mostly for men. That’s because the Bible used the metaphor of “cutting off your hand” to demonstrate the radical measures required to overcome sexual temptation.

“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body 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 your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30).

You’ve probably heard it before. Maybe your pastor has been bold enough to preach about this from the pulpit.

But if you scroll down the list, you’ll see non-metaphorical entries—medical journal articles talking about the literal removal of body parts. I won’t go into the gruesome details here, but suffice it to say some serious conditions call for these procedures.

I get it…porn is really serious, so I have to do whatever it takes to stop watching it. I know.

I think we sometimes lose the force of Jesus’s metaphor because of its familiarity. But strip back the metaphorical meaning for a moment and think about the literal meaning.  

What is radical amputation?

We should not seek to hurt or damage our bodies. Although some fringe movements have glorified self-harm, we know that self-harm is a real problem for many. You should never intentionally cause yourself harm; this is not radical amputation.

(If you feel compelled to harm yourself, you should seek professional help.)

However, there are rare cases when it is necessary to damage a functioning part of your body to prevent worse damage—usually to remove malignant cancer cells. In order to prevent the spread of a tumor, a surgeon might remove part of the patient’s arm, neck, etc.  

The word “radical” in popular vocabulary just means “extreme” or “far out.” But originally, it meant “going to the root.” Unlike other forms of treatment, which target only the affected area of the body, radical amputation goes deeper, beneath the problem itself.

So a radical amputation isn’t just an extreme amputation; it’s one that goes to the very root to eliminate the problem.  

When is radical amputation necessary?

Going to the root is an extreme measure. By definition, it means sacrificing a working part of your body to eradicate the disease. A good doctor won’t pursue this unless other options have been exhausted.  If the cancerous tumor on your leg can be effectively treated with chemotherapy, he won’t chop off your leg completely.

This informs our understanding of the metaphor, as we’ll see in a moment. Nonetheless, if the disease is serious enough, a good doctor will recognize the need to sacrifice part of your body to preserve your life.

Some things can’t be amputated, but most can.

Another key aspect of radical amputation is that it’s only useful if you can live without the body part in question. No one would advocate to radically amputate your brain to cure a tumor, regardless of how malignant it is.

However, if it’s an arm, a leg, a shoulder, or even a major internal organ that can be replaced surgically, the amputation can go ahead as the last resort. We often don’t realize just how much we can live without until we’re faced with life or death.  

How should we understand the radical amputation metaphor?

So, having taken a step back and looked at radical amputation in the literal sense, how does this inform our understanding of Jesus’s words in Matthew 5? What takeaways do we find from the difficult procedures of quitting porn and overcoming lust?  

Radical Amputation Means Sacrificing Something Good

The radical amputation metaphor really isn’t about quitting porn or learning self-control with lustful thoughts—even if you love porn and it’s tough to give it up. Lust and porn are like the malignant cancer cells in your body. If you can, you’ll remove them without giving up anything else.

Radical amputation has to do with the good parts of your life—what are the good things, the convenient pieces of technology, or the relaxing past-times that might lead you to porn? For example, having a phone by your bedside table is a very normal part of being a functioning adult in our society. But if it leads to porn, you might need to “cut it off” by removing the phone from your room. Or, if it’s not just your room where you experience temptation, you might need to find ways to eliminate your phone altogether—purchase a “dumb phone,” or have a close friend lock it down to restrict web and app access.

OK, now that’s pretty extreme—I need those features for work and school!

Right, that’s the point. Radical amputation recognizes the dangers of the disease and chops off something good and useful in order to keep you alive. Try asking these questions:

  • Is there technology I need to sacrifice to keep myself porn-free?
  • Are there entertainment options I need to eliminate to avoid temptation?
  • Should I stop going to certain places that bombard me with sexual images?

Radical Amputation May Not Be Necessary

Just like chemotherapy may treat cancer cells more effectively than amputation, often the temptation to watch porn can be treated by less extreme methods.

For example, you can keep your smartphone with web access, but use Covenant Eyes to monitor your screen. On an iPhone, you might need to lock down other apps, but you can still browse your favorite (non-pornographic) websites, knowing that your ally will get the report of what you look at.

Know the Difference Between What You Can and Can’t Amputate

The application of the metaphor may get really subjective here. But just like there’s a difference between chopping off an arm and chopping off your head, there are some temptations that you can eliminate and some that you can’t.

For example, if you know that a popular social media site is kryptonite for you—Instagram or Youtube, for example—then you can (and should) cut these off. Use Covenant Eyes’ custom block list to remove your access to them completely.

However, if you have sexual images in your mind from porn you saw long ago, or if the women you see walking down the street are prompting lustful thoughts, you can’t just chop that off. Even if you locked yourself in a padded cell, you can’t perform surgery on your mind—only God can do that.

Accountability Is Not Amputation

Lastly, remember that making yourself accountable to other believers is not a form of amputation. Not according to the Bible! From the biblical perspective, it’s not even like chemotherapy treatment. Biblical accountability is a way of life for Christians.

Biblical accountability may include some amputation measures—limiting your access to certain areas of temptation and other restrictions. But we need to get out of the mindset that being accountable to other Christians is some kind of loss.

Instead, it’s the healthy way that God has provided for His people to live in community with one another—regardless of what other practical methods of treatment we pursue. It’s bearing each others burdens and encouraging one another daily. It’s confessing our sins and finding true healing grace in Jesus.