Recently, I “tweaked” my back. Initially, it did not seem serious. I finished my task and went about my business. But shortly thereafter, my lower back seized up in a gripping spasm that stopped me in my tracks. I took some deep breaths, tried to relax my muscles, and continued with my day. I had been in this situation before and felt I could recover without seeking help or treatment, but I was wrong. Five days later, I was in excruciating pain and headed to the emergency room in search of relief. Through traditional and chiropractic care, I slowly began getting better. As I agonized in pain, I voiced this prayer, “God, if there is something I am supposed to be learning from this, please reveal it to me…and quickly!” I suspect I have other things to learn, but I believe God did reveal something to me, namely this: The defect in my back is to the physical what my sin is to the spiritual.
What are the parallels? First, I thought I could deal with the “sin” alone. I had strained my back before. I could deal with it. I did not need the help of others. But left unchecked, the “sin” took on a life of its own and quickly dominated my life. There is a reason James told us to, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.” (James 5:16) We need one another. We need people in our lives with whom we can discuss our failures and struggles. It is therapeutic and brings healing.
Secondly, the trouble area in my back was roughly the size of a pea—hardly anything compared to the size of my body. However, it crippled me. Pain radiated from my back all the way to my foot. I could barely get out of bed and needed the help of a cane to walk. Sin has the same crippling effect on our spiritual life. It hinders our prayers, withers our fruitfulness, and distorts our spiritual presence so that we no longer resemble Christ. The strength we should possess vanishes and leaves us barely able to care for ourselves, much less serve others. The book of Hebrews tells us to “lay aside…the sin” in our lives so that we can run the race of life well. It is speaking of all sin, not just the “big ones.” Sin does not have to be big to cripple us.
Another similarity between my physical ailment and sin is that we often medicate the symptoms, but until the root cause is corrected, we are only temporarily dulling its impact. When I went to the ER, I was seeking immediate relief, and thankfully, I received some. But within hours, the pain returned, and more medication was needed. We often treat sin the same way. When the results of sin surface, we take action to dull the pain…maybe through alcohol, an insincere apology, a gift to cover our wrong, or whatever means we feel will provide relief. Pain spurs us to action! However, if we avoid dealing with the source of the pain, it will surely return. Proverbs tells us that “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” (Prov. 28:13) Forsaking your sin may be a process. The healing of my back is weeks in and still not complete. I’ve had to adjust my old routine, regularly apply ice, and do exercises multiple times a day. It is not easy, but I am improving. Sin is often the same. Bad habits do not get undone overnight. We need a structured, disciplined approach that is supervised and monitored by others.
Finally, the impact of our injury reaches far beyond our own personal pain. My wife had to take on new and additional responsibilities. Work tasks went undone and co-workers had to shoulder my load. In Joshua 7, Achan thought a sin could be hidden and that no impact to others would occur. But his sin had far-reaching impact for his family and even his nation. In fact, it brought death, just as sin always does (Rom. 6:23). We can lie to ourselves about our hidden sin if we want to, but eventually, our sin will find us (Num. 32:23), and there will be collateral damage.
Will you take a lesson from my lower back and deal with sin in your life today? It may be bringing you pleasure for a season, but the pain and spiritual, relational, and possibly even physical death, will not be worth it. Do not leave a path of destruction in your wake. Seek help. Talk to a pastor, a spiritual mentor, or reach out to us. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.