“I admit fully that man has many grand and noble faculties left about him, and that in arts and sciences and literature he shows immense capacity. But the fact still remains that in spiritual things he is utterly ‘dead’, and has no natural knowledge, or love, or fear of God. His best things are so interwoven and intermingled with corruption, that the contrast only brings out into sharper relief the truth and extent of the fall . That one and the same creature should be in some things so high and in others so low—so great and yet so little—so noble and yet so mean—so grand in his conception and execution of material things, and yet so grovelling and debased in his affections—that he should be able to plan and erect buildings like those of Carnac and Luxor in Egypt, and the Parthenon at Athens, and yet worship vile gods and goddesses, and birds, and beasts, and creeping things—that he should be able to produce tragedies like those of Æschylus and Sophocles, and histories like that of Thucydides, and yet be a slave to abominable vices like those described in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans—all this is a sore puzzle to those who sneer at ‘God’s Word written’, and scoff at us as ‘Bibliolaters’. But it is a knot that we can untie with the Bible in our hands. We can acknowledge that man has all the marks of a majestic temple about him—a temple in which God once dwelt, but a temple which is now in utter ruins—a temple in which a shattered window here, and a doorway there, and a column there, still give some faint idea of the magnificence of the original design, but a temple which from end to end has lost its glory and fallen from its high estate. And we say that nothing solves the complicated problem of man’s condition but the doctrine of original or birth-sin and the crushing effects of the fall.” —J.C. Ryle, Holiness
“He that wishes to attain right views about Christian holiness, must begin by examining the vast and solemn subject of sin. He must dig down very low if he would build high. A mistake here is most mischievous. Wrong views about holiness are generally traceable to wrong views about human corruption.
…Dim or indistinct views of sin are the origin of most of the errors, heresies, and false doctrines of the present day. If a man does not realize the dangerous nature of his soul’s disease, you cannot wonder if he is content with false or imperfect remedies.” —J.C. Ryle, Holiness
“Sin always comes with a smile; it is most ingratiating, it always pays us compliments; we are very wonderful—if we only listen! It plays on our pride in some shape or form, our appearance, our good looks, our nature, something about us—wonderful! And so it deceives us by flattering us. It is always attractive, of course. It is a very ugly thing in itself, but as I have said, it knows how to use the paint and the powder. That is how the Bible always describes the harlot. The paint and the powderl she always pretends to be something she is not. And she knows that if she does not appear attractive she will not entice. Sin does that in every realm, it always comes in an attractive form. And we are fools enough to look on the surface and to judge by outward appearance and not by the reality itself.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Darkness and Light
” It is people who have the deepest understanding of sin and what it means who have the greatest understanding and appreciation of the love and the grace and the mercy and the kindness of God. A superficial view of sin leads to a superficial view of salvation, and to a superficial view of everything else. So we follow the Apostle as he shows us the depths of sin and iniquity, in order that we may be enabled to measure the height and the depth and the breadth and the length, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Darkness and Light
There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me. —Psalm 38:3–4
In Evangelical, prosperity gospel-eschewing churches one may speak of sickness and offer comfort and one may speak of sin and aim at conviction, but should sin and sickness be mentioned together, we squirm. Fear of being misunderstood cripples us in communicating what we should. And what we should confess is this: all sickness, indeed all sickness, sorrow, and suffering are rooted in sin. They are the fruit of sin. Now, that does not say everything, but this much must be said.
Not all sorrows are due to a particular sin your life, but all your sorrows are rooted in sin. We can even say they are rooted in a particular sin—Adam’s. As sin multiplied, so did our misery. Look around. What you see is not just sin proliferated, but the woes of sin multiplied. True, many of your sins result in no personal sickness, at least as far as we can observe. But this fact allows us to draw this sobering conclusion: there is not a soul among us suffering even a billionth of what our own sins deserve. On this earth men do taste of judgment, but even in the worst judgment in this life, there is still a degree of mercy. Thomas Brooks warns, “He that hath deserved a hanging hath no reason to charge the judge with cruelty if he escape with a whipping; and we that have deserved a damning have no reason to charge God for being too severe, if we escape with a fatherly lashing.”
This connection makes us uneasy for how it can make us uneasy. Every time we get sick we might question whether or not our sickness is due to sin. As I see it, there are only two ways to know this information.
- The sin itself makes you sick. This can be more immediate, like a hangover due to drunkenness. Or it can be more removed from the sin, as with a history of drunkenness leading to cirrhosis of the liver.
As I already spoke of eschewing prosperity gospel heresies, I’ll take it you can understand why I’m not going to run with number 2. Even so, sickness can act like a smelling salt to rouse us to perceive sin that we have been ignoring. This is not to say that perception implies causality. You shouldn’t worry about sickness as though it were a puzzle to solve. You should repent of any clear sin. Done.
All this has been a set up for us evaluate yet another kind of sickness that is related to sin. In regard to the 38th psalm, some believe David is sick due to his sin—that the sickness is punishment for sin. I don’t buy that. I do believe David is ill. But David feels sick, not due to some virus as punishment, but due to conviction. God’s hand is so heavy on his soul, his body bows. The arrows of conviction so pierce that his bones ache. Child of God, have you never experienced conviction of sin so sharply, that you lose you appetite? Have you never felt like vomiting because of your sin? Such is the sin-sickness of David’s soul.
In our therapeutic age this kind of soul-sickness is too often chalked up to brokenness in the body or the mind. Sin has indeed broken the body and the mind. There is common grace to be had in medicine. But there is a kind of soul misery that we try to mask. Common grace is no substitute for special grace. Special grace will not heal your cold. Common grace cannot heal your soul. Sometimes man should feel miserable. There is a misery every soul outside of Christ should know. Many a man’s greatest problem is that he has not yet been made miserable enough to truly deal with his misery. We want to get over deep sorrows as quickly as possible to enjoy superficial joys. Try anything else, and whatever cure you may think you find, only makes you worse. And the worst cure is the one that makes you feel best, while your sin remains.
There is only one remedy for the sin-sick soul. You must cry out to the Great Physician; the very one who as a surgeon is causing your pain. If you are His child, those are not His arrows, they are His scalpel. He hurts to heal. He makes the scalpel feel like an arrow that you might fear God and cease ignoring your Father. God has told you how you must position yourself for Him to heal and until you bow on your knees in repentance, He will persist in causing pain of soul, precisely because He is good and He refuses to allow you to destroy yourself.
1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah 5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah —Psalm 32:1-5
While David keeps silent about his sin, his sin is loud. Sin has an echo and that echo reverberates louder the more you try to stifle it. David’s silence is an attempt at “deceit” (cf. v. 2). It is an attempt to “cover” (cf. v. 5). But our coverings of fig leaves don’t hide nuthin’.
When God’s children are silent, something is wrong. Silence is an attempt to muffle the echo of sin. John Goldingay comments, “Keeping quiet is not a mark of OT piety. OT piety makes noise, either in lament and prayer or in thanksgiving and praise. There is something suspicious about a person keeping quiet. It gives the impression that something is being concealed.” When the kids are silent, parents suspect. When God’s children are silent, God knows. Our silence doesn’t keep God in ignorance. It shouts to our own knowledge of our guilt.
Worse still, our silence is blasphemous. Our silence says we think God is a fool. We play mute thinking we’ve made God blind and deaf. We think ourselves more sly than God is wise. By silently denying our sin, we call God a liar. 1 John 1:10 – “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” Silence on sin is sin doubled down. We dishonor God by our rebellion and then we blaspheme Him with our ridiculing silence.
The only way to silence the echo of our sin is to let it reverberate to heaven with confession. The only way to cover sin, is to uncover it. Try to cover your sin, and it will be exposed by judgment or chastisement. Expose it, and it will be covered by mercy and grace. When you stop trying to cover your own sin, God will cover it. He will cleanse you by the shed blood of Christ and cover you with the robe of His righteousness.
“The fatal mistake is to think of sin always in terms of acts and of actions rather than in terms of nature, and of disposition. The mistake is to think of it in terms of particular things instead of thinking of it, as we should, in terms of our relationship to God. Do you want to know what sin is? I will tell you. Sin is the exact opposite of the attitude and the life which conform to, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.’ If you are not doing that you are a sinner. It does not matter how respectable you are; if you are not living entirely to the glory of God you are a sinner. And the more you imagine that you are perfect in and of yourself and apart from your relationship to God, the greater is your sin. That is why anyone who reads the New Testament objectively can see clearly that the Pharisees of our Lord’s time were greater sinners (if you can use such terms) than were the publicans and open sinners. Why? Because they were self-satisfied, because they were self-sufficient. The height of sin is not to feel any need of the grace of God. There is no greater sin than that. Infinitely worse than committing some sin of the flesh is to feel that you are independent of God, or that Christ need never have died on the cross of Calvary. There is no greater sin than that. That final self-sufficiency, and self-satisfaction, and self righteousness is the sin of sins; it is sin at its height, because it is a spiritual sin.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Way of Reconciliation, (Baker Book House, 1987) p. 11
“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” —Philippians 3:17
It is said that “imitation is the highest form of flattery,” and while this may be said in an innocent and even a good way, the fuller quote speaks to the fuller reality. It was Oscar Wilde who said, “Imitation is the highest form of flattery,” and he continued, “that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” That comes off the tongue a bit more sharply and grates on the ears. You sense the arrogance; yet it is a game the masses play along with.
The imitation that this world knows isn’t simply flattery; it is idolatry. We worship the gods, hoping to become one, or a demigod at least. We act as gods, desiring such “flattery.” Image is valued over integrity; coolness over character. Such is the imitation of this world. In contrast, Christian imitation, imitation as it is meant to be, is worship. This is because Christian imitation is an intentional imitation of imitators.
“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1, emphasis mine). We don’t imitate others so that others will want to imitate us. At least we shouldn’t do it for that reason. Sometime we do play the Pharisee, playing pious for self promotion, but in our best moments we imitate imitators because we want to look like the Jesus they want to look like. Christian imitation isn’t about idolatry committed and desired. It is about worship and sanctification.
All the imitations of this world, are cheap imitations. We were created in the image of God to image forth God. We were created as mirrors. We were created imitators. Imitation is. Because of sin, the image of God is marred. Man, in the words of Augustine, is “homo incurvatus in se,” that is, “curved in on himself.” Man has created gods in his own image and he is becoming like them—deaf, dumb, and dead.
But the saints have been renewed in Christ and are being conformed to His image as we imitate our elder Brother. A critical and commanded way in which this happens is by looking to those who imitate Him. Look to Jesus and look to those who are looking to Jesus.
Wilde was on to something; Imitation is a high form of worship that sinners pay to Greatness. The difference is that Jesus stoops to conform us to His glorious image and the saints would never dare to try to usurp or outshine their Savior. We want to be like Jesus, and we will be, but we would never dream of trying to be Jesus. Our goal is not to idolized in hope of becoming an idol, but to imitate as an act of worship. We are mirrors, and when it is Jesus who is reflected, no one is talking about the mirror, and this is just as we want it. So when you’re picking out a mirror, pick one that neither impresses you with the mirror nor yourself. Pick one that helps you look like Jesus.
“Furthermore, because man is in this relationship to God he is also in a state of enmity against himself. He is not only engaged in this warfare against a God who is outside of him;but he is also fighting a war within himself. Therein lies the real tragedy of fallen man; he does not believe what I am saying but it is certainly true of him. Man is in a state of internal conflict and he does not know why it is so. He wants to do certain things, but something inside him tells him that it is wrong to do so. He has something in him which we call conscience. Though he thinks he can be perfectly happy whatever he does, and though he may silence other people, he cannot silence this inward monitor. Man is in a state of internal warfare; he does not know the reason for it, yet he knows that it is so.
But in the Scriptures we are told exactly why this is the case. Man was made by God in such a way that he can only be at peace within himself when he is at peace with God. Man was never meant to be a god, but he is for ever trying to deify himself. He sets up his own desires as the rules and laws of his life, yet he is ever characterized by confusion, and worse. Something in himself denies his claims; and so he is always quarrelling and fighting with himself. He knows nothing of real peace; he has no peace with God, he has no peace within himself. And still worse, because of all this, he is in a state of warfare with everyone else. Unfortunately for him everyone else wants to be a god as well. Because of sin we have all become self-centred, ego-centric, turning in upon this self which we put on a pedestal, and which we think is so wonderful and superior to all others. But everyone else is doing the same, and so there is war among the gods. We claim that we are right, and that everyone else is wrong. Inevitably the result is confusion and discord and unhappiness between man and man. Thus we begin to see why the Apostle prays that we may have peace. It is because of man’s sad condition, man’s life as the result of sin, and as the result of his falling away from God. He is in a state of dis-unity within and without, in a state of unhappiness, in a state of wretchedness.”
—D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, (Baker Book House, 1979) pp. 38, 39
“Those who do not think about their own sins make up for it by thinking incessantly about the sins of others. It is healthier to think of one’s own. It is the reverse of morbid. It is not even, in the long run, very gloomy. A serious attempt to repent and really to know one’s own sins is in the long run a lightening and relieving process. Of course, there is bound to be at first dismay and often terror and later great pain, yet that is much less in the long run than the anguish of a mass ofunrepented and unexamined sins, lurking in the background of our minds. It is the difference between the pain of the tooth about which you should go to the dentists and the simple straightforward pain which you know is getting less and less every moment when you have had the tooth out.” —C.S. Lewis, “Miserable Offenders” in C.S. Lewis Essay Collection & Other Short Pieces (HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), pp. 464–465