The new, popular doctor has a specific trademark: he never tells anyone bad news. He never makes patients uncomfortable with invasive tests or procedures, never makes them take unpalatable medicine, never advises them to change their ways. Any physical problem can be addressed with a cheery talk and a few pills that have no unpleasant side effects. Never mind that his patients are dropping like flies. He’s just so nice, and everyone leaves his office feeling uplifted and encouraged.
Most of us recognize that as a ridiculous scenario. Such a doctor would never have a successful practice. Over the long run, this physician’s patients would realize that avoiding bad physical news and treatment is not the way to a long and happy life, no matter how pleasant it seemed in the short run.
I’ve been reading through Jeremiah and then Lamentations in the last few weeks. God’s people had ignored His warnings and pleadings, and the time had come for judgment. Jeremiah told Israel that the only right response now was to surrender to the coming Babylonians. Such pronouncements sound like treason, though, and the people either ignored him or persecuted him. They preferred to listen to pleasant prophets with seemingly better news.
“Your prophets have seen for you false and deceptive visions; they have not exposed your iniquity to restore your fortunes, but have seen for you oracles that are false and misleading” (Lamentations 2:14, ESV).
We don’t like to hear about sin, but attempting to overlook or redefine it has the same results as ignoring the tumor bulging from someone’s body. The first step in dealing with either sin or cancer is acknowledging that they are present: then something can be done about them.
“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13, ESV).
We also don’t like to hear discipleship has a high cost or hard sayings. Jesus Himself lost followers when they didn’t like what He said. People loved Him as long as He healed and fed them and kept His message positive, but the crowds dwindled after hearing about sin, change, self-denial, and the like.
Preachers and writers who don’t expose sin gain a following, but they do their hearers harm in the long run. Ministers who highlight the benefits of Christianity while never teaching about its costs and mysteries make weak and even false disciples.
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 2:3-4, ESV).
We need to be careful that the preachers, writers, and churches we follow declare the whole counsel of God. We need to read it all for ourselves, not just for the parts that make us feel good. We need to believe in God as He presents Himself in the Bible, not in our own images we make of Him.
It’s true that the Christian life is more than just avoiding sin. My husband observed at one church we attended that the primary conclusion of any message was “Don’t sin.” We rarely if ever heard about the joy in following Jesus or pursuing our relationship with Him. A family member recently told us that conversation with a certain group of friends seemed to always center on what awful sinners we all are and lacked the joy of walking in grace and forgiveness. God doesn’t want us to grovel or wallow in our sinfulness. He wants us to acknowledge our sin and come to Him for forgiveness and cleansing, yes, but then we pursue our relationship with Him and grow in love for Him. Our earthly fathers wanted us to obey them, but that was not the whole focus of our relationship: they wanted their children to enjoy their love and the rest of their interaction as well.
When we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, the sins that came between us and God are forgiven. We’re born again. When we sin afterward, we’re not unborn, just as a child born into a family will always be a part of that family. But, just as a child’s disobedience mars the fellowship he has with his parents, so our fellowship with God is not what it should be when we sin. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, ESV). A good parent disciplines his child for the child’s good and growth in maturity. Our heavenly Father does the same. So sin isn’t the entire focus of the relationship, but it does affect the relationship.
The focus in our relationships with both our heavenly Father and our earthly one is love. Love does not overlook sin. But love motivates us to avoid sin or confess and forsake it when we do yield to it.
And as for hard sayings and hard-to-understand concepts in the Bible, we have the same reply Peter did when Jesus asked the disciples, “Will ye also go away?”
“Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:68-69, KJV).
We won’t understand everything, but we know Him, and we can trust Him.
“Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away” (Luke 8:18, ESV).