When one’s sickness is severe, and one’s condition is terminal, then the need for radical measures is clearly called for. Any doctor knows that: the more radical the illness, the more radical is the needed cure. It is the same in the spiritual life. The more severe our spiritual disease, the more radical the remedy will have to be.
The Bible makes this clear from cover to cover. Sin is such a radical spiritual ailment that only the most radical solution will avail. Sin is so malignant, damaging and devastating, that a realistic diagnosis of the problem is the first requirement to achieve spiritual health and well-being.
But sadly many will never appreciate the cure, because they have a deficient understanding of the problem. We fail to see just how serious the sin issue is, so we fail to appreciate the great lengths God had to go to, to make provision for our sin.
Indeed, with physical ailments, if we get the diagnosis wrong, we will not seek out proper treatment. We will think we can get by with superficial remedies and cures which cost us little. But if we have a terminal condition, such as many forms of cancer, only a most profound and often painful treatment will do us any good.
It is the same in the spiritual arena. Until we realise the real nature of our sinful condition, we will never avail ourselves of the necessary measures to bring about wholeness. And the biblical view of sin is ruthless and savagely honest. Consider a few passages which speak about our spiritual condition without Christ:
Is 64:6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
Jer 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son
Rom 3:10-12 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
Eph 2:1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins
Eph 2:3 Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.
Eph 5:8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.
Col 1:13 Who has delivered us from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son
Given such a damning indictment of our spiritual state, we are of course in desperate need of radical measures to get us out of this state. Yet we will always prefer band-aid solutions and superficial remedies. That has always been the case. Consider what Yahweh said about Israel’s leaders through the prophet Jeremiah:
“They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14; 8:11, KJV). This is the way the NIV translates the Hebrew in both passages: “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.”
The word translated ‘hurt’ or ‘wound’ can also be rendered ‘breach’. There was a serious breach between God and his people, but the religious leaders wanted to whitewash this, paper it over, and pretend it was no big deal. But it was and is a very big deal indeed, one which is life-threatening.
Unless radical surgery is performed soon, the patient will die. But the false prophets simply want to proclaim peace when there is no peace. They are deceiving God’s people into thinking everything is just fine when in fact things are at a critical stage.
We all tend to be like that with physical injuries. We don’t want to go to the doctor and get a realistic appraisal. We hope that things are not too serious, and that this ‘minor’ injury will simply heal itself. We deceive ourselves, and pretend everything is fine when in reality we may be in a perilous condition.
And if we do trot off to the doctor, we hope that he too will agree with us. We hope he will say what we want to hear, that the injury is only slight, and nothing radical is needed to deal with it. But while we may hope the doctor will go along with our deception, what we really need is a doctor willing to tell us the hard truth.
Indeed, what kind of doctor would lie to a patient and tell them they are just fine when in fact they are facing life-threatening wounds? Such a doctor would be expelled from the profession for gross malpractice. Yet just as in Jeremiah’s day, so too today, we have religious leaders telling their people that all is well and that everything is just fine.
Instead they should be telling their flocks that they must be on guard for spiritual wounds which will get worse, unless radical spiritual surgery is undertaken. But sadly far too many modern preachers would rather tell their people what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear. They are guilty of gross spiritual malpractice.
Just as Israel’s false prophets and shepherds were judged by God for proclaiming a false message, so too religious leaders today will be judged by God when they fail to offer a correct spiritual diagnosis, and instead seek to ‘dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious’.
As the noted missionary to India Amy Carmichael once said, “If I am content to heal a hurt slightly, saying ‘Peace, peace,’ where is no peace; if I forget the poignant word ‘Let love be without dissimulation’ and blunt the edge of truth, speaking not right things but smooth things, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”
Commenting on this passage, Philip Graham Ryken said, “This is the ‘Big Lie’ of liberal theology – that God does not punish sin. Liberal theology tries to reassure people that everything is okay, even if everything isn’t okay. . . . Prophets ought to be surgeons of the soul, correctly diagnosing the spiritual condition of God’s people. In Jeremiah’s day surgery was needed, but the prophets turned out to be quack-doctors; they did no more than apply a tourniquet.”
And as he says on the Jer. 8 text: “More than anything else, failing to take God seriously is the problem with the contemporary church. We trivialize the holiness of God, so we end up with a trivial view of sin. We trivialize the majesty of God, so we end up with trivial worship. We trivialize the truth of God, so we end up with a trivial grasp of his Word. We trivialize the judgment of God, so we end up with a trivial appreciation for the atonement of Jesus Christ.”
George Whitefield said this in a sermon on the Jer. 6 passage, “As God can send a nation of people no greater blessing than to give them faithful, sincere upright ministers, so the greatest curse God can possibly send upon a people in this world is to give them over to blind, unregenerate, carnal, lukewarm, unskilful guides.”
Lord, please send us scrupulous and honest spiritual doctors, not phonies who will lead your people astray.