To Follow or Not to Follow
Responsibility for your own conduct is illustrated in the area of physical health. The medical books explain the laws of good health. If you don’t want to be tired, you must get enough sleep. If you wish to control your weight, you must not eat large quantities of certain foods. Often these rules interfere with your plans. You may have too many interesting things to do to make time for enough sleep. You may like mashed potatoes covered with gravy, and a pie a la mode too much to push away from the table.
Whether you follow the rules is your choice. The medical books did not create your problem of tiredness or overweight. They only provide the description. It is futile for you to complain about such rigid rules. They may upset you, or cause you to suffer, but the physician cannot repeal them. He can only state them.
“Why am I built so that I must get so much sleep and eat properly?” you may demand to know. “I want to change the rules. ”
Can you eliminate your problem by ignoring the laws? Of course not. The man who transgresses the law of sleep is tired; the one who disobeys the rules of proper diet is overweight. Granted there may be other causes of fatigue and being overweight; when these are present, the medical books will help you discover them. But if the medical books do not make a man tired or fat, neither does the Bible create anxieties and frustrations by setting a standard for living. It only describes the standard.
Why must we live by it? The rules are so upsetting you’d like to change them. But the Bible warns: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life” (Gal. 6:7-8).
You can enjoy a full life and a lavish table of food. The process will give you much pleasure. But expect a tired and overweight body. You can ignore the principles of biblical living and enjoy yourself, but don’t be surprised at the anxiety, tension, worry, unhappiness, conflict, or misery. We have not freed ourselves and found a life of ease and relaxation by writing off the Bible.
But, you say, there are other causes of these painful symptoms. Of course there are. Your physician can help you discover if there are medical problems involved. These can be corrected by medical means. If the symptoms remain, however, then consider a return to a way of life that is charted in the Bible.
The Bible tells us that we are responsible for the way we treat others and for our own attitudes and conduct. You may be tempted to neglect your health because of the people around you. But you, not they, will suffer illness if you do. You may have been mistreated in the past and are greatly tempted to hate, to rebel, to refuse to forgive, to insist on your own way, but it will be you who will be miserable and at cross-purposes with others.
Transgression of God’s laws is called sin (1 John 3:4). This word need not disturb us. It simply means that you have violated some divine principles of spiritual living, just as the word sick means you have disobeyed some medical rules of physical living. You may not have been aware of the rules, but the results of your transgression do not take into account your ignorance. Any amount of reassurance of your innocence will not change the results.
Why are people uneasy? Turn again to the Bible:
The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. “There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked” (Isa. 57:2021). The wicked flee when no man pursues; but the righteous are bold as a lion (Prov. 28:1).
He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy (Prov. 28: 13).
Salvation is far from the wicked, for they do not seek Your statutes (Ps. 119:155).
It is personal sin, or wickedness as the Bible often calls it, that causes a man his misery, not the unrighteousness of someone else.
We are no more free to chart our own course for mental health than we are to lay out the road to physical health. No one condemns a man who gets sick because he unknowingly exposed himself to disease or was unaware that he had violated the rules of good health. But we are less sympathetic and call him foolish if he deliberately risks sickness. No one would condemn a man because he was exposed to mean and hateful treatment. But deliberate violation of biblical principles is another matter.
There are degrees of wickedness. Obviously, to steal a nickel out of mother’s purse is not the same as robbing a bank, but both are cut from the same cloth. For a child in a temper tantrum to hit his playmate on the head is not the same as a man having a grudge against an enemy and murdering him, but the spirit is the same. The high schooler who tells his parents he is going to the library to study, but who sneaks in a date with his girlfriend instead is not the same as the man who tells his wife he has an appointment and slips away to see another woman. But they are closely related.
Doing Something about Sin
Just as a slight cold is a warning that all is not well in the body, so unrighteousness, however slight, is a warning that all is not well with a person’s morality. “Where envy and self-seeking exist,” God says, “confusion and every evil thing will be there” (James 3:16). This is why such reactions within a man should be noted and taken care of. These reactions are within him, even though they were stimulated by some circumstance. They can lead to great evil.
We tend to ignore or excuse the inner life. God spoke through the Prophet Ezekiel, saying: “They come to you [Ezekiel] as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain” (Ezek. 33:31).
If your anxiety is due to your violation of a biblical principle, then this is good news. It is good news because you can do something about such a violation. You can confess your sin, acknowledge it before the Lord, look at it the same way He looks at it–with hatred and disdain. David admitted his sin before God and asked for cleansing from it: “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions… Create in me a clean heart, O God… Restore to me the joy of Your salvation” (Ps. 51:23a, 10a, 12a).
You cannot erase the past. You cannot decide what your marriage partner will do. You cannot control the conduct of your associates or the turn of world events. But you can do something about your sin, which cuts you off from personal inner peace.
This is indeed good news. It is not someone else’s wrongs toward you that cause your anxieties and tensions. It is your own sin. And you can do something about it by coming, just as you are, to God for His forgiveness and cleansing.
The choice is yours.
Questions for review:
- What was Jerome Weller’s key to finding peace?
- To forgive is a mark of ____________________.
- This is the essence of good mental health: _____ ___________________ _____ ___________.
- An unhappy person must come to terms with the people in his past, forgive them, and seek to understand the effect they have had on him. But Romans 2:1 says he has no grounds for _________________________________________________ _________________________________________________.
- Why should unrighteous and sinful reactions within a man be noted and taken care of?
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