The Gospel Cures The Illness and The Church Addresses the Symptoms
There is a lot of talk these days about viruses, diseases, fevers, symptoms, and physical illness in general. When you start feeling sick, there are several different diagnostic actions to determine what is the cause. You could be sick because of something you ate, or as a result of greater illness, condition, or infection in the body. Most often, our first course of action is to go to the cabinet and pull out the thermometer and check to see if we have a fever or not. If you grew up like me, maybe the first step before the thermometer was to have your mom put her forearm to your head and see if you were “hot.”
Having a fever is a sign that something out of the ordinary is going on in your body. It is in and of itself not an illness, only a symptom of a greater condition. Usually, a fever is accompanied by sweating, aching muscles, headaches, but most often chills and shivering. You feel extraordinarily cold. The chills and the infection are connected but they are not the same thing. A failure to address both can be problematic. Imagine going to your local doctor with fever symptoms and he simply instructed you to wear warmer clothes, turn up the heat, and did nothing to address the infection that was causing the fever! Likewise, imagine that your doctor simply prescribed medication to address your infection, but left you shivering cold on the examining table with no blanket, aspirin, or way to address the chills.
You would find another doctor who would have enough sense to address both the illness and the symptoms.
WE ALL HAVE AN ILLNESS
This same principle is true concerning how we address sin. Both the illness and the symptoms need to be addressed. The root cause of our disobedience toward God is sin. It is our greatest problem. Before we were converted by Christ, through faith, in the work of the Holy Spirit our hearts are completely sick and corrupt. The heart does nothing that pleases God. It is diseased and sickened according to the Bible.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? – Jeremiah 17:9
We are sick with sin. All of us. Paul makes this clear in Romans 3 by quoting a string of Old Testament scriptures.
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” – Romans 3:10-18
Paul is not just talking about “bad people”. Turgenev, the Russian poet, astutely stated, “I don’t know what the heart of a bad man is like, but I do know what the heart of a good man is like and it is terrible.”
We all have an illness called sin and there is only one remedy. A heart transplant. We need new hearts. This comes by way of believing and receiving Jesus Christ. Believing that He willingly died on the cross to be a propitiation in our place for our sins.
Propitiation is the removal of the wrath of God against sinners by the death of Jesus. The ultimate problem that all human beings face is that God's omnipotent wrath is against them. The ultimate good news is that there is a way to have the wrath of God averted—and that God himself has made the way.[i] Jesus is the answer. The gospel is the answer. It is the ONLY answer for our diseased hearts and sin.
When we believe Christ through faith and what He accomplished for us on the cross, God does heart surgery.
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. – Ezekiel 36:26
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. – 2 Corinthians 4:6
The only cure for a sin-sick heart is the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the only truly transformative remedy for sin. We must preach the gospel, for it is the power by which we are being saved and the only power by which sin-sick hearts are changed. (Romans 10:14, Acts 10:36, 1 Corinthians 1:23, 2 Corinthians 2:12, Ephesians 3:8, Galatians 1:16)
When I say, "preach the gospel," that does not mean that we should not be active in working in our world to help address the symptoms of sin and those who are affected by sin in our world. We do preach the gospel as of first importance because we know that the poorest, most oppressed, are those who have yet to be reconciled to God. As Jesus said, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Mark 8:36-37) What good is it to have full bellies, big bank accounts, reconciliation with humans when you don’t have reconciliation with God?
Our slavery to sin far outweighs that of any other oppression. Before Christ our spiritual position was death. Paul makes it clear, that we were “dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” (Ephesians 2:1-3)
As Jesus said, He came to set us free from our greatest captivity; “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,” (Luke 4:18)
SIN HAS SYMPTOMS
Now with sin comes the symptoms of sin in this world.
Jesus gave a shortlist of these symptoms in Mathew 15:19, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”
Let me put these symptoms into 2020 terms; the murder of 900,000 babies through abortion each year, overt racism, obscure prejudice, rampant divorce, debauchery, human trafficking, and glorified sexual perversion of all kinds.
Just as a good doctor wants to be sure to address the illness and protect against the symptoms, so should a Christian share the gospel but also work in our world to protect against the destructiveness of the symptoms of sin. While, the root cause of abortion and racism is sin, and for this, we need to preach the gospel, but we also act to save and protect lives.
True faith is accompanied by deeds.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. – James 1:27
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. – James 2:18
Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. – 1 John 3:18
Every single human being lives by faith, it is just a matter of what and who that faith is in. If you want to know what someone believes and what is the source of their faith, watch how they live. Maybe a good question for you right now is “What is your life and actions telling others about your faith?”
As a result of our faith in Christ, we should preach the gospel and take action in our world. We should help the needy, fight to protect the oppressed, and speak the truth against injustice and sin. Let me be clear, we act in this way knowing that this does not solve the world’s greatest illness which is sin, but to glorify the Father, bring peace to the broken, and share the gospel with our actions.
Each time we respond to injustice in our world, we point to our God who has displayed his perfect justice and his goodness on our behalf, giving guilty sinners the opposite verdict than what we deserved for our crimes, while at the same time remaining perfectly righteous.[i] When we help others we show the gospel and win the right to share the hope that we have in Jesus Christ to solve our greatest sin disease.
WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
PRAY. Jesus gives us the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18 to remind us of the importance of remaining faithful in prayer. Don’t forsake praying. So many would protest, punch, preach, pontificate instead of or before time spent in prayer. Jesus reminds, “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.” – Luke 18:7-8. Pray for the countless victims of trafficking, abuse, those who would participate in abortion, and those who are oppressed by others because of racism. We pray that God would reconcile men to Himself in Christ Jesus and that he would heal the divisions that exist among us. We pray for racial reconciliation and gospel reconciliation in our homes, churches, and community. Pray that God would end injustices for His glory and His namesake.
DON’T IGNORE. Injustice and all manner of sin exist in our world, our homes, and even in our churches. Sex and work trafficking is a problem in Northern Virginia. Murder and sexual immorality are rampant. Racism exists inside and outside the church. There is real prejudice, bias, and partiality that exists based upon skin color and socioeconomic status. If we are going to make progress on behalf of those who are affected by the symptoms of sin in our world, we cannot pretend these issues don’t exist.
USE YOUR VOICE. Preaching the gospel will involve using your voice. (Romans 10:14-16). Speaking truth in love involves using your voice. (Ephesians 4:15). Patiently and honestly calling out sin in love involves using your voice. (2 Timothy 4:2, Matthew 18:15, Ephesians 5:11, 1 Timothy 5:20). Do not be afraid to use your voice to openly share the gospel. There should be no shame in your game. As Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Do not be timid in exposing sin. We should be patient, we should be honest, we should be loving, but we should not be timid.
Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. - Ephesians 2:11
Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. – 2 Timothy 4:2
Do not be afraid to rebuke, exhort, and encourage your friends, family, fellow Christians, even yourself when they utter prejudiced or racist language. Do not hesitate to exhort those around us when they glorify the sinfulness of abortion and abuse. Have conversations and speak directly. Do not remain silent. If we are called to be salt and light, we cannot exist in the shadow and give the appearance that we are partnering with the darkness.
USE YOUR GIFTS, SKILLS, AND ABILITIES. God has made provision for us all in so many different ways. God has given His body so many gifts, skills, means, and abilities. He expects them to be used for His glory. We ought to use our votes to enact protective changes in the fight against abortion and injustice. We write letters to our representatives and advocate for the issues. God has given us earthly wealth, we can help address those who are most impoverished among us. Use your time to encourage those who are suffering. Bring a blanket, meal, or supplies to those who you know are living all around us without homes. Use your phone to call those you know who may feel isolated, frustrated, and angry with being ostracized, and treated with inequity. Let them know you care. Let them know you are with them. Let them know you see them.
One of my favorite accounts from Jesus’ life and ministry is the story we find in John 5 of Jesus healing the invalid at the Pool of Bethesda. This is the place that scripture says a great number of people came to lie. Blind, lame, and paralyzed. This is the one place on earth that no one wanted to go. These were a group of people that no one wanted to see. I love that Jesus healed this invalid, but also love that Jesus, on a holiday, when He could have chosen to be anywhere in the world, chose to be with these people. He chose to see the people that the rest of the world considered invisible. Use your eyes, time, skills, abilities, and gifts.
USE YOUR GUTS. Having guts is just another way to call Christians to be courageous. As our parents always told us; guts are what is called upon to do the right thing even when it may cost you. For Christians, this word is also called faith. Living according to God’s Word, living as He expects, will be painful at times. Sharing the gospel, speaking up for those whose voice is silenced, standing up for the abused, mistreated, and oppressed may involve physical, financial, emotional, and mental pain. Take heart fellow brother and sister, our greatest treasure, Christ Jesus can never be taken from us. Our reward is in heaven.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:31-39
BUILD EACH OTHER UP. This world is indeed dark, depraved, crooked, and twisted. It is a harsh place to live in. In every direction are people who want to attack, divide, eviscerate, and destroy. We know we have a great enemy who is prowling and pursuing us. Praise God He gave us the church. We are not alone. We are a body and people. Let us encourage one another, lift each other, root each other on, and stand in solidarity with the body of Christ. Scripture is clear that this is one purpose of our corporate gathering.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. – Hebrews10:24-25
One of the greatest attacks from Satan is to distract the church to fight against one another instead of sin. Let there be no divisions among us. We are not those who heap guilt upon one another but build each other up in honesty, love, and compassion. Praise God for giving us the Great Physician with the power to conquer our sin and the power to move the church in this world to fight against sinfulness.
[i] Rayshwan Graves. “Nothing Less Than Justice.”
[i] John Piper. “Jesus Christ Is An Advocate For Sinners.” (Sermon)