Analogies are a wonderful teaching tool. Jesus used them often in the form of parables: stories that teach a lesson. We use them with our children, with students and with one another when we want to soften a blow or paint a word picture to help someone remember a point. And pastors do it often with their congregations. All analogies fall apart if you push them to their natural end. Their purpose is not to be exact, but to offer and example.
There is one analogy that I have heard for years that I fear has led and will continue to lead people into a false understanding of the human condition. And that is this:
Sin is a disease.
Sin is most assuredly not a disease. Sin is not a virus – an outward source – that infects our otherwise healthy, vibrant bodies. Sin is not a bacteria that gets into our blood or skin or other body part and eats away at us, as our immune system puts up a battle.
The reason that this analogy is so dangerous is because it presents the misconception that humanity, in and of itself, is good. And alive! Diseases have to feed off a life host. The Bible, however, states that apart from Christ we are dead (Eph 2.1). Spiritually dead. Apart from Christ, we are not Spiritually alive with a virus or bacteria or even a flawed gene within our Spiritual DNA causing us pain or sickness. No. We are dead. There is no life.
And sin is the outworking of the Spiritually dead person. It is our human condition. Everything anyone does apart from or without faith is sin (Rom 14.23). It is the natural outpouring of who we are, our internal disposition.
“No one 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.”
– Rom 3.10-18
There is no human being who has been born that is Spiritually healthy and then corrupted by the world. We are not even spiritually neutral and being affected by two opposing forces of good and evil. We are all born without spiritual life, and it is of Jesus to give us life through His redemption by the power of the Spirit. As I reflected yesterday, He is the bread of life – and by abiding in Him, he gives us Spiritual life (John 6).
Jesus also says that when we are dead, in sin, we are slaves to sin (John 8.34). A slave is one who has no choice, he does what his master says. Left to our own devices, we have no option but to sin. Everything that we do is a sin. And we will only sin. We desire only sin.
Paul defines our dreadful estate before salvation: we are hostile to God (Rom 8.7) and enemies of God (Rom 5.10).
Moses, when accounting the flood and God’s reasoning behind it, states that “The intent of man is evil from his youth” (Gen 8.21). “That every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6.5).
And once we are born again (John 3.3), we are to consider ourselves dead to sin (Rom 6.11). We have been set free from its bondage, from its mastery (Rom 6.18). And it is at this point that the analogy of sin as a disease can be useful. If we have been born again, if the Spirit is alive within us, if we have have been given the gift of faith (Eph 2.9), the gift of life, then we begin the battle with sin. John Owen made a very famous statement which has impacted the Church for the past three hundred and fifty years:
“Be killing sin or it will be killing you”.
As believers, we can grieve the Spirit (Eph 4.30), we can stunt our spiritual growth and be left in immaturity (Heb 6.1) if we continue in sin and do not purposefully fight sin in our lives. And in this sense we can observe sin as a disease. But only if we account it as one that is generated from within ourselves, such as cancer, a faulty gene or any other disease that has no outward cause. Yes, we can be tempted from without, but our desire and choice to sin is of our nature; it is blamable upon no one else. No virus. No bacteria.
We can only fight this battle as with a disease if we have been given Spiritual life. Morality apart from faith is still damnable, as to fight the outward appearance of sin without being given life is to whitewash a tomb (Matt 23.27-28).
So whatever you want to call it, if you are a believer, fight sin. Take your chemo. If you have not yet been saved, do not waste your time fighting sin. Because sin is not a disease trying to corrupt your good nature, it is your condition. And your only hope is the gift of eternal and Spiritual life from Jesus Christ through the Spirit. Turn to God. He will bring you to life. And then give you the power and strength to repent and fight sin, that only then, can be considered an enemy, fighting against your new Spirit: The Spirit of God.