Sick or Sinful?

Is It Really SinBefore I went to college years ago, I spent a lot of time studying the Bible. I came across words like anger, resentment, fear, bitterness, rebellion, murmuring, dishonesty, lust, jealousy, fornication, and stealing. The Bible referred to these words as “sins,” or works of the flesh.

I shared this information with the restless, nervous people who crossed my path. As we talked, many of these people could see that some of these sins were present in their lives. They repented of their sins and their restless, nervous symptoms disappeared.

This happened often enough that I decided to focus my college and graduate studies on a Biblical approach to human behavior.

In my sociology and psychology classes, I learned that the same words the Bible uses to describe sin were used to describe personality or emotional disorders. In those days we frequently heard the term “nervous breakdown.” People who had nervous breakdowns would be quickly hospitalized. The patient was “sick” and required a psychiatrist who could prescribe medication and use a specialized form of treatment called therapy. The patient was struggling with what was called a “neurosis” (an emotional disorder with physical complaints without objective evidence of disease).

Ten years later, I hung out my first Christian counseling sign. A letter sent to a group of pastors announcing my availability resulted in a full schedule within a few months and a pattern emerged rather quickly. Many people were coming to find a cure for an anxiety state that was intolerable.

In the background these people would be struggling with a marriage problem, parent/child relations, difficulty socializing, or conflict at work. The responses to these problems were predictable: anger, resentment, fear, bitterness, rebellion, griping, yelling, dishonesty, lust, jealousy, sex, or stealing. The attempt to contain such emotions and desires caused these people to become highly excitable, unnaturally apprehensive, and/or very restless.

Curiously, these people had also acquired a new vocabulary. Ten years earlier it was not difficult for them to talk about sin and see their problems as such. Now my counselees would leave my office greatly relieved only as long as we focused on their circumstances past and present. They wanted to focus on what caused their emotional reactions, and not deal with the emotional reactions themselves.

My teachers in graduate school taught that a personality disorder is not a person’s own fault. The Freudian hypothesis is that neurosis stems from a too-severe handling at the hands of harsh, unloving parents and an irrational society. The individual has done nothing “sinful,” but rather is forced to repress what he wants to do. Thus he is sick, not sinful–the innocent victim of “the demands of the fathers.” Rogers, another leading psychologist, insists that we are inherently good and yet are corrupted by our experiences with the external everyday world.

Already years ago, these psychological explanations for personal unrest filtered down to the churches, and when I started professionally counseling, I was faced with the incredible fact that dealing with sin was totally ruled out in the psychological world and was rapidly disappearing in the church as well.

The emphasis among Christians was slowly changing from dealing with sins to coming to terms with past experiences. These people expected sympathy and acceptance while others around them lovingly helped them to recover from their sicknesses.

Many of these counselees required many months of “therapy” in order to get control of themselves. They would be taught to become aware of the people or circumstances that triggered their negative emotions or behavior patterns. They learned to interrupt a line of conversation when they sensed they were becoming “disturbed” and to avoid certain people or circumstances. One man was told that when he felt his jaws tighten he must interrupt whomever he was talking to. He would change the subject, leave the room, walk around the block, or go for a ride.

I became a partner with these counselees. They could share their failures with me and I was there to give them a warm, sympathetic welcome. After months of therapy we were not far from where we started. I guess therapy simply takes a long time, I told myself. All went well as long as the counselee could set the pace and determine the content of our conversations.

All too frequently, I encountered stiff resistance when I proposed that we take a look into the Bible to see what it had to say about emotions and behavior patterns. My dilemma was that my clients’ emotional problems were often coupled with a headache or abdominal pain. I felt the pressure of trying to decide if they should be sent to see a physician. On the other hand, some contacted me at the recommendation of a physician.

The prevailing psychological opinion these days is that we can get the sinner to love himself by loving him and accepting him. This flows from the Freudian assumption that the patient is not really guilty or sinful but only fancies himself so, and from Rogers’ view, that we are inherently good and are corrupted by our experiences with the external, everyday world.

I became a Christian because I understood that Jesus died to save us from our sins (Matthew 1:21) and I unquestionably needed to be saved from my sins. Isn’t this the issue that separates Christianity from secular humanism? The Person of Christ died for our sins and was raised to life again so that we could be victorious over sin!

I found that as long as someone remained, in old-fashioned religious phraseology, “hard-of-heart and unrepentant,” that person’s conscience would hold him in the viselike grip of “neurotic” rigidity and suffering. But the moment he (with or without assistance) began to accept his guilt and his sinfulness, the possibility of radical reformation opened up, and with this, the individual would begin the journey, though not without pain and effort, from deep, pervasive self-rejection and self-torture to a new freedom of self-respect and peace.

Tragically, many Christians turn to therapy (humanism) for relief from a sinful heart instead of turning to God for a cure. I listened to many counselees tell me their troubles. Most of them chose not to acknowledge, let alone seek, forgiveness of their sins. They chose to simply live with their sins.

I had to make a choice. Go with the flow, or go with the few who would seek repentance and forgiveness of their sins. After a little reflection, I made the decision that I would make the diagnosis of sin my primary goal in helping people. Sin (resentment, anger, hatred, rebellion) had nearly destroyed my own life and marriage. If I understood the Bible correctly, the “emotional problems” that plagued my counselees were sin.

Here are some of the Bible verses that guided me in those early days:

He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)

But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear. (Isaiah 59:2)

John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)

Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. (Psalm 32:1)

The bad news is, there is no human remedy for sin.

The good news is, repentance for sin before God brings instant cleansing.

To declare that man has sinned–that is, to say he is out of line with God’s standard–is not to condemn him. The Bible gives us the key to freedom from the severe ego insult (condemnation) that is the result of seeing one’s sinfulness. Sin is the simplest problem in the world to solve! The resources of God, the Creator of the universe, are available to anyone who asks–on God’s terms. A variety of Bible verses give some guidance:

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:17-18)

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:5)

Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

I spoke with a man who wished that he had love, joy, and peace in his home. While the man had great wealth, he realized that he could not find a doctor, counselor, or a retail store where he could buy love, joy, and peace. He admitted that everything he had tried in this world–money, fame, and power–had not brought happiness. These virtues are not available “over the counter.” Qualities such as love, joy, and peace are only available as a result of a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is a shame that many people in our world today will not accept this fact.

The Bible says these virtues are from a source out of this world. God controls an infinite supply. They will flow through the person who is cleansed from sin as his body is yielded to the Spirit of God. The result is access to a supernatural resource that a person can draw upon.

Drawing upon God can be compared to drawing water. When you open a faucet, water flows out. Water is made up of two parts: hydrogen, a gas; and oxygen, also a gas. These invisible units combine miraculously into a product called water. A glassful will quench your thirst. You can fill a tub and take a bath in it. You can irrigate a thousand-acre farm with it.

You can use all you want because you are drawing from a reservoir of water. All you need to do is to keep the pipes in good repair, and open the faucet. The water will flow. Amazingly, you can stop the flow of a massive reservoir of water by simply closing the faucet.

In similar fashion, when you allow Jesus to come into your body as your Savior, not only are you cleansed from your sin, but you also have access to the Spirit of God. Here is an invisible, unexplainable presence that produces visible, measurable changes in the way your body works. Your body is transformed.

Nothing in this world can cause a person to change so radically. No longer do circumstances or people determine the condition under your skin. You can now respond to the troublesome people in your life with unconditional love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Humanly speaking, this is an impossibility. But, by yielding yourself to the Spirit of God, an infinite, endless supply flows through you. There is enough for a minor irritation or a major tragedy.

Medical researchers have expressed the opinion that destructive emotions are caused by a chemical imbalance in the body. But I ask the question, is it possible that a chemical imbalance in the body can be caused by destructive emotions? It seems obvious to me that since sin is so easily cleansed, the presence of sin should be explored first.

A pastor questioned me about this issue. Someone in his congregation had suffered from severe anxiety attacks. His physician prescribed a drug that corrected the problem. After three years of treatment, it was clear that the patient was fine as long as he took his pills. Was I implying that the cause of these attacks was sin? I asked him, “Shouldn’t everyone be open to the possibility of sin in their lives?”

Later that day I was chatting with several people. A man interrupted our conversation. He wanted to talk to me immediately. He seemed disturbed, and paced the floor while he waited.

When we were finally able to talk, he wanted to know if I thought that anxiety was caused by sin. I replied that we can be both sick and sinful at the same time. I told him that if he cared to make an appointment, I would be pleased to talk with him more. We set a time and he left in a huff. When we met again I reviewed his reason for wanting to see me. He said he was on medication for stress and that it solved his problem. I then asked why he wanted to see me. He seemed abrupt and annoyed, and then it dawned on me. This was the man that the pastor asked about–the one who had been under treatment for three years.

I asked if he wanted to explore his spiritual life. Yes, he did.

I asked if there were any tensions in his marriage, family, church, or at his children’s school. His answer each time was a testy “no” almost before I finished the question. I remarked that he couldn’t possibly have given any thought to my questions. He admitted that was true, so I chided him for brushing off my questions. He left, again in a huff.

The next time we met, he seemed lighthearted and radiant. He decided I had been right. He had been nursing some nasty grudges in his heart, but now he had given them up. His wife wondered what happened; she hadn’t seen him so cheerful in a longtime. Clearly, his response to the people he held grudges against–bitterness, resentfulness, anger–was sinful, and repentance brought immediate relief. Whether or not he was also sick was a matter for his physician to determine.

Repentant people are free–cleansed, renewed, restored. Repentance restores your reason (conscience) and fellowship (with the Lord). Restoration brings wholeness to your being and to your relationships with others. Take time to evaluate your life. Is there a sin you need to confess to God and be free of? God is waiting to help you experience His freedom!