Thursday, October 27, 2011

I'm Cured (except I'm still always sick)

One day my doctor told me I was sick, but I wasn’t sure if I believed him.
“Believe me,” he said. “You’re sick, and you’re going to die without the cure.”
“I don’t feel sick.”
“And you won’t. Right up ‘til when you die.”
It went on like this week after week. He wore me down. Then I took the medicine.
But something strange happened: just about the time I took the medicine I became convinced I was sick. Sure, I took the medicine, because that’s what sick people do. My doctor tried to tell me the medicine had worked.
“OK, then,” he said. “All finished. Off you go. You’re healed.”
“But you told me I was sick.”
“Yes. You were, but now you’re healed.”
“I’m pretty sure I’m sick. You said I would die without the cure.”
“And so you would have. But you took the cure. It did its work. You’re all better. In fact, you’re better than better: it’s exactly like you’re completely new.”
I argued with him for a while because I knew I was sick. Deep down. I’d need the cure every day. Because I’m a sicko. That was 41 years ago, ever since I took the cure. But this is my story, in fact, it’s my song: I’m sick and I’ve taken the cure. I’ll always be sick because that’s what sick people do.

All right. Time to come clean. I made that up. Or did I? Because I’ve overheard people who have taken the cure, and they still talk like they’re sick. Perhaps you’ve heard them, too.
“I’m just a sinner saved by grace,” they say (or sing). “There’s nothing good inside of me, I’ll always be a sinner, because that’s what I always do.” I’ve known people who have sung the same song for 40 years. It seems when they agreed with the sin-diagnosis, they apparently thought it described a permanent condition. I know one guy who has memorized Jeremiah 17:9. He apparently made it the signature theme of his walk with God. Funny, I thought the cure included a heart transplant.
Dr. Willard, my family physician, agrees. He warns us against the idea “that the low level of spiritual living among professing Christians is to be regarded as ‘only natural,’ only what is to be expected.” He taught me to reject the notion that our destiny is constant failure and that Christ’s ministry is nothing but unending forgiveness. Many believers have experienced the new birth and are convinced their cosmic state is forever a babe. 
We have over-talked about what sin takes away and under-talked about what the Spirit has put in us. Dr. Willard is concerned with more than the cure. True, our life with God must start with the cure, but the possibilities of new life in Christ are--quite literally--endless. 
Make no mistake: sin is cancer, and it will kill us in this life and the next. It’s serious business, so the Father has provided a serious remedy. It’s called the new birth. Paul calls it the new creation, Peter calls us new-born babes. We must determine whether these phrases are merely religious metaphors or if they depict a spiritual reality. The image of spiritual birth also contains the hope of spiritual growth. Are we forever trapped within the cancer of sin?
There’s a cure, not just a treatment. Our challenge is how we see Jesus, and for many of us, he is only a treatment. When we limit the work of Jesus to nothing but forgiveness, we lose sight of the possibilities of experiencing a new kind life with him here and now. That would be a shame, because the Cure really does work: not only in the next life but right here in this one as well.
So--how are you feeling now?


  1. Thanks. Thanks. Thanks.

  2. Good word, P Ray. That's always been something that I haven't understood; how people run around saying there's nothing good in me! It's impossible that God could have saved someone like me! Well, yeah, someone like you used to be, but (hopefully) not someone like you are now. I have never been able to relate to Christians when they talk about their total depravity. I used to think that I just wasn't humble enough with God. But that's not really what the case was. I simply wasn't depraved any more. I wish Christians would stop running around calling themselves misserable sinners. I'M not a misserable sinner, so don't try to lump me into that category with all of you. I'm a once-sinner now forgiven. You can be a sinner all you want, but I'm a Saint! (who just happens to sin a lot.)

  3. There *is* a place for humility and contrition before God, but that same humility should cause us to lean into God's view of us. The love of a spouse can lift the other person, how much more the love of God? I like your last line: "You can be a sinner all you want, but I'm a Saint! (who just happens to sin a lot.)"

  4. "We have over-talked about what sin takes away and under-talked about what the Spirit has put in us." Preach it!

    I wish you had published this post a day early—it would have been super helpful in a discussion we were having at small group last night. (As it turns out, people raised in Catholic and Reformed backgrounds seem to have an especially tough time believing they are cured.) I'll definitely share the post with them today.

  5. It's probably for the best that you didn't have this silly post available yesterday: your friends don't need a know-it-all Baby Boomer telling them what to think. I suspect your discussion was earnest without my help--but still, thanks for the encouragement.

  6. Love this. There is a huge difference between a cure and treatment, and your original parable was... inspired.

  7. Thanks, Ed! Inspiration is a funny thing--I just thought I was going to the doctor :-)

  8. Awesome!!! I hear people pray and ask for God to forgive us for their sins....when they've been forgiven since the new birth occurred.

  9. Thanks, Deuce. Just to be clear, confession is part of our life with God: 1 John makes it clear that we do sin, and we should confess our sins as part of the way to walk in the light. Yet, I think you mean to say that when people constantly (as a matter of habit) ask God, "Please, please, forgive me" they underscore their identity as "sinners."

    Thanks for your comment!