Finding relief from sin instead of obtaining cleansing is a cruel trap. Like my situation with the pain pill, I am comfortably sick. Relief from sin allows me to be comfortably separated from God.
A follower of Jesus takes the subject of sin seriously. We do indeed face very serious social problems. If it is sin that is the cause, there couldn’t be any better news: There is a cure for sin.
Many years ago, I contracted malaria; I alternately perspired and shivered, my joints ached, and I struggled with a high fever. One of the missionaries said, “It’s only malaria. Take these pills and go to bed. Tomorrow you will be better.” Sure enough, it worked.
Several years later my wife and her friend, who traveled with us in a part of Africa, became very ill after we returned home to the United States. They had the same malaria symptoms that I had previously, and they tried to tell their doctor what it was. He wouldn’t listen, hospitalized them, and subjected them to a variety of tests and x-rays. In the meantime, they both suffered with high fever, chills, and pain. Three days later, the doctor consulted a tropical medicine specialist who diagnosed malaria. He prescribed the same pills I had taken and in one day they were better. They went through five days of unnecessary suffering because the doctor didn’t know what to treat.
Dealing with sin is like that. The cure is swift and sure if you use the proper diagnosis and proper treatment. You can suffer greatly from the ravages of sin while you are sincerely and carefully trying to correct the suffering by following the wrong diagnosis and the wrong treatment.
In the case of my wife and her friend, the doctor had never seen malaria and therefore tried to find a cause familiar to him.
The same can happen when one deals with symptoms the Bible calls sin. There is no debate about the symptoms; everyone agrees on what they are. What is debatable is the cause.
The Bible says contention and outbursts of anger are works of the flesh or sin. If one or both people in a disagreement accept this diagnosis, they will turn Godward, confess their sins, repent, and receive forgiveness, cleansing, and renewal.
If they reject the diagnosis as sin and believe the very same symptoms are socially or culturally caused, they will proceed to investigate exposure to family, friends, church, community, etc., for an explanation.
Dr. S. I. McMillen, a long-time friend of mine, spent many years studying the biblical principles and directions on living in Jewish and Christian writings. As a result of this research he wrote a bestseller called None of These Diseases, which describes the physical consequences of wrong living. He pointed out that there may be sin in the picture when aches and pains show up:
Peace does not come in capsules! This is regrettable because medical science recognizes that emotions such as fear, sorrow, envy, resentment, and hatred are responsible for the majority of our sicknesses. Estimates vary from 60 percent to nearly 100 percent. Emotional stress can cause high blood pressure, toxic goiter, migraine headaches, arthritis, apoplexy, heart trouble, gastrointestinal ulcers, and other serious diseases too numerous to mention.
As physicians we can prescribe medicine for the symptoms of these diseases, but we cannot do much for the underlying cause—emotional turmoil. It is lamentable that peace does not come in capsules. We need something more than a pill for the disease-producing stresses of the man has lost his life savings, the tearful feminine soul who has been jilted, the young father who has inoperable cancer, the woman whose husband is a philanderer, the distraught teenager with a facial birthmark, and the schemer who lies awake at night trying to think of ways to get even with his neighbor. . No one can appreciate so fully as a doctor the amazingly large percentage of human disease and suffering which is directly traceable to worry fear, conflict, immorality, dissipation, and ignorance—to unwholesome thinking and unclean living. The sincere acceptance of the principles and teachings of Christ with respect to the life of mental peace and joy, the life of unselfish thought and clean living, would at once wipe out more than half the difficulties, diseases, and sorrow, of the human race.²