Illness: it is something that none of us wants to deal with. We do what we can to avoid getting sick, and if we get sick, we will do whatever we can to just get better. Times of physical illness, however, provide great instruction as we consider the spiritual illness of sin and its effects.
Unfortunately, many of my thoughts here today are based upon recent experiences. Recently I was laid up for a day with a terrible case of a stomach virus or some such bug, and the dehydration that resulted compelled me to go to the hospital.
What illness does to human beings is something amazing. After all, we have small microbes– invisible to the human eye– that causes most illnesses. These small microbes multiply and multiply and the much larger human body is laid low. The ill person seeks to be made well, and will go to whatever length is necessary to be restored to health. However many thousands of dollars that need to be spent, or travels that must be made, or whatever risks may exist do not matter if someone seeks restoration of health. Many do get the opportunity to recover, and while in some cases the person will remember their illness and gain a better appreciation for life, many others entirely forget their experience with illness and live just as they did before. Unfortunately, for others, illness means the end of life at some point.
Nevertheless, physical illness can teach us much regarding spiritual illness that pervades mankind. As it is written in Luke 5:31-32 (cf. also Matthew 9:12-13):
And Jesus answering said unto them, “They that are in health have no need of a physician; but they that are sick. I am not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
Let us consider how the spiritual illness of sin is comparable to physical illness.
Even small sins can cause big problems. Many times sin can be rationalized when it is small, but even small sins are deadly. The human body is often felled by microbes many thousands of times smaller than it is. Sin is compared to leaven (1 Corinthians 5:6-7): just as a little leaven causes the whole lump of dough to rise, so a little bit of sin in life will lead to the whole person being condemned (cf. Matthew 5:29).
Many who know they have sin seek cleansing. Jesus Himself indicates in Luke 5:32 that He has come to call the sinners to repentance. When many people recognize that they have a problem with sin, they will seek out cleansing, just as those who are ill in the flesh seek healing. Hopefully this is true of you.
On the other hand, those who do not recognize that they have sin, or somehow desire to rationalize their sin, will not seek that cleansing. Even though no one is truly righteous (Romans 3:23), many consider themselves to have no need for God, or that God will accept them for who they are, and therefore they have no need for repentance. In reality, these “righteous” people have been so consumed by their spiritual illness that they refuse to perceive their condition. Such a one is like a person who is in denial about having cancer or a heart condition: they can deny the problem all they want, but in the end, it will lead to their death. All have the spiritual illness of sin: the many refuse to accept it for whatever reason, and their end is death (Romans 6:23). It is the few who know that they are ill, and desire to be healed, who will be saved (Luke 5:32)!
Many come to God in times of trial and forget Him when things are good. Just as many people will make changes in their lives when confronted with illness but will revert to their former ways once healthy, so many people will call out to God and humble themselves before Him in difficult times, but forget about God when He blesses them. God does not take well to people forgetting Him; He condemned Israel for forsaking Him when things went well for them (cf. Hosea 4:6), but rewards those who remember Him not just in their afflictions but also in times of prosperity (Psalm 103:2-5). We must realize that God has a plan for our lives, and is not a mere insurance plan (Ephesians 3:11)!
Sin leads to death. Newspapers are filled with obituaries noting people who have finally lost their battle with physical illnesses. We must remember, however, the real source of death, as it is written in Romans 5:12:
Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned.
Death is the consequence of sin. Paul is not teaching that we are sinful from birth, of course, but that death is in the world because sin is present. Unless Christ returns in our lifetimes, the death of each and every one of us is inevitable. The question, in the end, is whether we will die the second death or not. For, as it is written in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22:
For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
Although death came into the world by one man’s misdeed, by Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice, we can be made alive again in the resurrection. On the other hand, we ought to heed the warning of Revelation 21:8:
But for the fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, their part shall be in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death.
While physical illness may lead to physical death, we must take every care to make sure that sin does not lead to our spiritual death!
Illness is never fun, be it physical ailment or the sin that so easily besets us (Hebrews 12:1). Nevertheless, just as we must learn from physical illness that we must take care of our bodies, we must learn that because of sin we must be diligent to present ourselves to God as obedient servants of Him (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15, Romans 6). We must always remember that we are not above spiritual illness, just as we are always prone to physical illness. We are never truly healed; we are always recovering sinners (Luke 5:31-32). Let us in all humility seek after healing from our Physician!