Both of your authors know what it is like to be ill. I (Bill) have been diagnosed with a progressive lung disease, while I (Henry) have suffered from Parkinson’s disease for years. For each of us, it was crucial to get an accurate diagnosis in order to begin the appropriate form of treatment for our ailment.
Equally, we both know what it is like to suffer from sin sickness—a more serious matter. And we know how important it is to get an accurate diagnosis for this kind of sickness as well. Sometimes the symptoms can be misleading. When it comes to sin, we often have to keep probing beyond the obvious explanation, because it may turn out that we have multiple cases of habitual sin at one time.
If you are reading Soul Prescription, chances are that you have one particular sin in mind that you want to deal with. Before you start trying to treat your troublesome sin, do a careful self-diagnosis. Consider whether there may be other sins in your life that you are overlooking or downplaying. Ask God to show you all that is wrong with your behavior. While we may have one dominant sin, rarely if ever do we have just one sin acting in our life at a time. We have many.
Sins often interact and feed on each other. It is best to treat them all, not just one of them. Otherwise, while one symptom may improve, others will likely grow more grave, and you could be worse off than when you started.
We cannot afford to take a simplistic a view of our sin problem. “The human heart is most deceitful and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Only God knows. With His help, we can keep testing and examining our lives to expose ever more thoroughly the wickedness that is lodged there.
The Bible as a Mirror
The sins in our lives are not like the stars in a constellation, with the number never varying and their positions remaining fixed. Instead, our sins are more like a flock of birds on a fence rail, with some birds joining their fellows, others flapping away, and the whole flock milling about. In other words, sins may disappear from our lives and then reappear, perhaps joined by others, recombining in a somewhat different form every time. There is, in fact, an infinite number of formations that sin may assume.
Because our sin diagnosis keeps changing, we need to constantly remain on the alert. First we need to be alert to what we are doing and thinking. Then we need to be alert to how our actions and thoughts line up with the Bible’s teaching.
We glance at ourselves in a mirror several times a day to see how we are looking. In the same way, Scripture is like a mirror that shows us who we really are. And we need to keep turning back to it to remind ourselves of how human beings are capable of going wrong.
The laws and commands of Scripture tell us what kinds of behaviors make God frown. The stories contained in Scripture show us the ways that real (that is, sinful) people like us have interacted with a holy God. In other words, both the Bible’s “prescriptions” and its “descriptions” help us understand our condition better.
Not only do we need to listen to what Scripture tells us; we also have to obey it. That was the apostle James’s point. “If you just listen and don’t obey, it is like looking at your face in a mirror but doing nothing to improve your appearance. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you keep looking steadily into God’s perfect law—the law that sets you free—and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it” (James 1:23-25).
The broad diversity of human sin appears in Scripture. These include sins of action, thought, and feeling. They also include sins of commission and sins of omission—that is, doing things that we should not and not doing things that we should do. “Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it” (James 4:17).
Identifying all our sins in a biblical way, then, is a prerequisite to successful healing of the soul. We have to know what sins to go after in our lives if we want to defeat them. What symptoms of a sin-sick soul have cropped up in your spiritual system?
One tool that may help you identify your sins is reflection on your own personality and how that predisposes you more to some sins than to others.