A man started coughing in church on Sunday, and I must admit, I got a little twitchy.
I tried not to look, but when he didn’t step out, I got concerned he might be spreading something. After four or five coughing fits that sounded like he might actually lose a lung, I wanted to yell, “Stop!”
Of course, he couldn’t.
I’m sure he would have liked to, but his cough was just a symptom of something deeper that couldn’t be willed away or overcome by practice. He was a slave to it.
It got me thinking about other things we can’t control. Sin, for instance.
When I hear people say and do things that hurt each other or themselves or make God look bad, it grates on me. Mostly because I know I do the same things, and that’s embarrassing. By the end of any given day, I’m ready to yell to all of us, “Stop!”
The problem is we can’t, not on our own.
Thanks to Adam, every single one of us is born with a sin nature that predisposes us to sin (Romans 5:12; 3:23). We can’t help it. It’s in our spiritual DNA. This sin nature compels us to rebel against God’s will and character in word, thought, deed, attitude, etc. This state of rebellion against God is sin, and it’s our default. We are slaves to it (John 8:34). This sin condition (slavery to our sin nature) produces symptoms such as rage, slander, malice, greed, arrogance, self-righteousness, pride, gluttony, sexual immorality, idolatry, etc. These manifestations of sin are called “sins.”
Because sins are often visible, we tend to focus more on managing them than the underlying cause, but such effort is futile if no attempt is made to treat the condition itself. You see, we humans aren’t just sick. Our sin isn’t just irritating, disruptive, and harmful to ourselves and others. We are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1), and unless we are cured before we physically die, we will spend eternity separated from the God Who made and loves us (Isaiah 59:2; Romans 6:23).
Unfortunately, we can’t cure ourselves.
Fortunately, Jesus can.
During His time on earth, Jesus was fully man, but He was also fully God (John 1:1-14). He lived the same life we live and was tempted in every way we are tempted, but He never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). Why? Jesus did not share our sin nature. Jesus is able to sympathize with our weaknesses because He lived in this fallen world for a while and suffered the effects of sin, but Jesus never rebelled against God in any way (Hebrews 4:15). “Being in very nature God,” Jesus was born predisposed to holiness (Philippians 2:6).
Then a miracle happened.
“God made Him Who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him, we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21
When Jesus died on the cross, He didn’t just pay for our sins. He put sin itself to death (Romans 8:3). He didn’t just ease our symptoms. He completely eradicated the disease that holds us captive. Now, anyone who wants to be cured of their sin condition and set free from slavery to their sin nature can be.
All we have to do is put our faith in Jesus’s death and resurrection for deliverance from sin and for new life by surrendering control of our life to Him (more on that below). When we do, the Holy Spirit—Who is also God—comes to live inside us (Galatians 4:4-7). When He comes, He brings God’s divine nature with Him, the same nature that predisposed Jesus to holiness. God’s divine nature inside of us gives us victory over our sin nature and makes it possible for us to submit to God in word, thought, deed, attitude, etc. and obey Him so we can show the world Who God really is.
So why aren’t we doing a better job of it? Why the persistent spiritual cough?
Well, there are a couple of possible reasons.
Some people cough (commit “sins”) because they haven’t put their faith in Jesus yet. They might believe that His death and resurrection were enough to pay the price for their sin, but they haven’t put their faith in this gospel (good news) by surrendering control of their life to Him. Belief is good, but it isn’t enough. The Bible says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6), and faith requires surrender (Romans 1:5). See, there’s only room for one on the throne of our hearts, and that One must be God for us to be cured of our sin condition and set free from slavery to our sin nature.
Other people cough (commit “sins”) because they are struggling to maintain a posture of humility and submission before God. They have put their faith in the gospel of Jesus by surrendering control of their life to Him, but being cured of our sin condition (slavery to our sin nature) doesn’t make that sin nature (predisposition to sin) go away. Because our sin nature is tied to our flesh, we won’t be rid of it until our physical bodies die and we are reunited with Jesus. Until that day of completion comes, we all have to deal with the temptation to rebel against God (Romans 7:15-25).
We don’t have to give in, of course. Not anymore.
Thanks to Jesus, those of us who have put our faith in His death and resurrection have the power to resist temptation and live holy lives, but we have to claim this victory day by day, minute by minute, and second by second. We do this by relying on the power the Holy Spirit provides to bring our sin nature into submission before God, taking the way of escape God always provides (1 Corinthians 10:13), and obeying Him. If/when we don’t do these things, we start to cough (commit “sins”).
Honestly, in many ways, the spiritual cough of those who belong to Jesus is even more grating than the spiritual cough of those who don’t because it grieves the Holy Spirit inside us (Ephesians 4:30), causing us pain, and because it gives those who don’t know God yet reason to doubt the gospel.
Whatever the reason for spiritual cough, it’s definitely no way to live!
Thankfully, we don’t have to.
You know that relieved feeling you get deep down in the sore muscles of your belly and rib cage when your body finally stops trying to cough up a lung?
We can have that in our hearts! We can have it in our spirits! We can have it in our souls!
And we can have it today.
All we have to do is bring the battle to Jesus, the only One qualified to cure and manage what we know deep down we cannot.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” -1 John 1:9