Practical Christianity (VIII): Sin Can Make You Sick
Anyone who has ever had experience with people has observed how sin affects physical well-being. Apart from the obvious effects of sin such as obesity through intemperance, drunkenness through drinking, birth defects, and brain damage through drugs or smoking and its attendant damage (emphysema, cancer, heart disease etc.), our bodies react to sin. Our bodies react very definitely to what our conscience condemns. Stress through fear, anger, resentment, or anxiety' produces a slow breakdown of our bodies.
Have you ever been caught in a sin, or done something you were deeply ashamed of? What did your conscience do to your body? Your mouth became dry, your heart began to pound in your head, your face flushed, and a "nervous sweat" broke out on your body. Your throat constricted, your ears roared, your eyes watered, your knees felt weak, you may even have become nauseated. You did riot like the reaction, and may 'have thought, "I have a bad case of 'nerves'. " There is nothing wrong with your nerves or emotions-they, are working just as God designed them to work. They are confronting you with a definite rebuke, and instant recognition that you have sinned. Often people who fall apart at the seams are said to have "emotions that are not working well." Their emotions work only too well. The answer is not in prescribing tranquilizers and drugs to mask the feeling -- but to remove the sin that produced the feeling to start with.
Actions Produce Feelings
Many feel that feelings precede actions, but this is not the truth. We act, and the action produces the feeling. Confidence proceeds from preparation. The college student studies for the test, knows the material, and enters the testing room with a feeling of confidence. The indolent student can only wonder at this confidence, for his only feeling on entering the same room is fear, depression, and dread. The housewife who is diligent in her housework is confident and unafraid when the doorbell rings. But, have you ever answered the doorbell at ten o'clock in the morning in your housecoat, patting your hair into place, and kicking dirty clothes and toys under a chair? The feeling is hardly one of confidence and assurance. The man who knows his job and does it well falls into his bed each night with a sigh of satisfaction and contentment. But, the idle man, though he have all he could want physically, tosses and turns upon his bed (Ecc. 5:12). The feeling always follows the action.
The Lord said to Cain, when he saw that Cain was discouraged and depressed, "Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? And why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him" (Gen. 4:5-7). If Cain had offered what God had demanded, he would have had no cause for his fallen expression and behavior. God pointed out that if he "doest well" (present tense), or stopped feeling so angered with his brother and made a proper sin offering, God would lift the feeling of guilt and anger through his forgiveness. But, if he continued in his sin, sin as a beast of prey would continue to lie at his door (the conscience) to devour him every time he sought to step out. Rather than let sin devour you in guilt and anger, repent and do right, that "thou shalt rule over him" or control the passions that produce sin.
Jay Adams in his book Competent to Counsel points out the problems that arise when people elect to follow the feeling rather than the commandment. God demands obedience, even when we do not feel like it: "Often the argument takes a subtle form, which at first seems plausible, even pious. For instance, a husband and wife may say, "I guess there is nothing left to our marriage-no love-no feeling-nothing," and thereby hope that the Christian will concede that a divorce is allowable on other than scriptural grounds. If they can get him to agree on this, they hope that their bad consciences may be salved in that which they have already determined to do. But instead the Christian must respond, "I am sorry to hear that. I guess you will have to confess your sins and learn to love one another, then." The reaction to this is usually pure astonishment.
"But," they protest, "we told you that we don't feel anything for each other anymore!"
"I understand, but that is irrelevant; God says that you must love one another. When you learn to do so, the feelings will follow. Love is not feeling first; it begins with obedient living."
"What! Do you mean to say that we must try to love one another contrary to all of our feelings?"
"But, wouldn't that be hypocrisy?"
"No. That would be obedience to God, who has commanded, 'Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it' (Eph. 5:25). God says that you are responsible to love your wife. Love begins with the husband, whose love reflects the love of Jesus Christ (1 Jn. 4:19)."
"Oh, I couldn't love her that way."
"Well then, start at a lower level. Christ demanded "love your neighbor as you love yourself" (Matt. 22:39). As Paul observed, she is your closest neighbor; you live with her (Eph. 5:28-31)."
"I don't think I could do that either."
"All right then, we will begin at the lowest level of all: 'Love your enemies' (Matt. 5:44)! You see, there is no escape; God commands love, even toward an enemy. The two of you must repent of your sins and by the help of God learn to love one another, even if you begin by loving as enemies."
"But how can I love an enemy?"
"Love is not feeling first. Hollywood and TV have taught us that fallacious doctrine. Christians must reject it. Love is not getting but rather is giving: "For God so loved the world that he gave . . . " (Jn. 3:16). "He loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). When you invest enough of yourself in another person, you will feel what you wish for him: "Where your treasure is, there will be your heart also" (Matt. 6:21) (Adams, The Christian Counselor's Manual, pp. 119, 120). Brethren, if you feel badly about yourself, if your "nerves" are killing you, then the time has come for change. Sin is killing you-physically and spiritually.
David spoke directly from experience and Divine revelation on the relationship of sin and physical well-being. "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile" (32: 1,2). It is a happy man who is not secretly guilty of sin, in whom there is none of the deceit necessary to cover and conceal sin. Those who must constantly keep a facade erected to protect the rottenness behind can never be secure or happy. Indeed, "The wicked flee when no one pursues: But the righteous are as bold as a lion" (Prov. 28:1). A guilty conscience leads to guilty behavior. A righteous man, with a good conscience is confident and bold in his behavior.
The wicked flee in many different ways: by over sensitivity, by aggression, by withdrawal, or by attack. Unforgiven sinners are very vulnerable people. Those who rebuke their sin, or rebuke them personally become stressors. They cannot be around the preacher, elder, or mature Christian whose example, teaching, or rebuke they despise without a feeling of great stress. They will either withdraw in hurt silence and sullen murmuring, or they will become intensely combative and defensive, looking for opportunity to make a personal attack. Sometimes, lacking the courage for a direct confrontation they will "snipe" or attack incidentals-family, "attitude", mannerisms, or minor mistakes and slips.
However, the man who is at peace with God is confident and invulnerable. Unfair, or incorrect criticism, personal slights, unfairness, injustice, and personal wrong do not overly concern him, except as he is concerned for this sin's effect on the sinner. If convicted of sin, the righteous man repents and seeks reconciliation, thus returning to peace with God and man.
But, David tried to conceal his sin. "When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all day" (Psa. 32:3). David, quite aware that he had sinned grievously, did not confess it, not even to himself. He suffered greatly in conscience. It was not till Nathan said "Thou art the man!" (2 Sam. 12:7) that he admitted his sin. So he suffered much real, physical pain because he sought to suppress his sin. His bones ached because he was groaning and grieving in his heart for his hidden sin.
"For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me. My moisture is turned into the drought of summer" (32:4). God brought depression to David-his hand literally pressed him down. Both day and night he was pressed his sleep was destroyed from worry. Crushed by guilt, David felt as dried up and worn out as a half dead tree in a hot dusty land.
In Psalms 38 the Holy Spirit gives us the perfect picture of one loaded down by a load of unrepentant sin: The sinner is depicted as one with barbed arrows sent from God pricking his body. His wounds (conscience irritated sins) stunk and were putrid, giving off a foul odor. He was wrung out, bowed down, felt feeble, and broken. His bowels were "in an uproar"-- as a "loathsome disease" he had a kidney infection. His heart raced like after a run, even the pleasure ordinarily found in the environment was passed away as if he were blind (Psa. 38:1-10).
How were these debilitations overcome? How was the depression lifted? David said "I acknowledge my sin unto thee and my iniquities have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin" (Psa. 32:5).
After his confession David said it was as if God had taken him from his trouble and surrounded him with those who sang the joy of his deliverance. "Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall compass him round about. Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, ye righteous and shout for joy, all ye that are of upright heart" (vss. 10,11).
Sin -- unconfronted, unacknowledged, unconfessed, and unrepented will bring depression, sorrow, and pain. Confession and reconciliation brings relief, happiness, joy, and peace (cf. Prov. 3:1, 2, 8, 16; 4:20-22; 1 Pet. 3:10-12 etc.).
Our responsibility to one another includes a godly rebuke, confrontation with a push for change in behaviour (Heb. 3:12, 13; Jas. 5:16; 1 Jn. 1:9). We need to pray for one another that we might be healed, not only of the spiritual damage caused by sin, but the physical as well.
Truth Magazine XXI: 26, pp. 405-407