I regularly predict that something will only take me an hour when it actually ends up taking two. I’m beginning to think that this is a sign of a larger issue: the tendency to underestimate the severity of a problem. In medical offices, this is called treating the symptoms and not the disease. In street ministry, it’s known as getting addicts off the street rather than helping them understand their addiction.
Addicts rationalize sin. And eventually, sin becomes everything in their lives, which means they rationalize away who they are. If we’re all honest with ourselves, we would see that, like the addict, we like the “gray” area far too much. We want to push the boundaries in the name of freedom, rationality, or cultural appeal.
In Deuteronomy 7:1–8:20, Moses was uninterested in pushing boundaries. He even told the Israelites to stay away from foreigners who worshiped other gods because they would corrupt the fledgling worship of Yahweh (Deut 7:3–4). Paul makes a similar point in 2 Cor 6:14: “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers, for what participation is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness?” Paul’s statement is part of a larger discussion on why the world is as black and white as God makes it out to be. In 2 Corinthians 2:15, Paul writes, “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”
Christ followers are meant to be a good smell to the world of God’s work and goodness, and it’s impossible for them to do this if they are not living in His “light.” Corruption infects everyone affiliated with it. We are meant to bring the light into the darkness, not become part of the darkness. Interacting with culture and those who don’t believe is not the same as becoming one with culture and those who don’t believe. When we see a symptom, we need to recognize there is a disease behind it. We’re all metaphorical addicts. The difference between Christ followers and the rest is that we recognize the condition and seek Christ, who can heal us and save us.
In what ways are you rationalizing your sin or problems? What can you do to understand it the way God would like you to, and what can you do about it?
John D. Barry
Treating the Symptom