The first device that Satan has to keep souls in a sad, doubting, and questioning condition, and so making their life a hell, is, By causing them to be still poring and musing upon sin, to mind their sins more than their Savior; yes, so to mind their sins as to forget, yes, to neglect their Savior.
The sight must have been unforgettable. The blind, the lame, and paralyzed, gathered in one place, each awaiting an opportunity to be healed. So many desperate outcasts wanting simply to be made normal. So many souls believing desperately a dip in a pool could make them well.
It was the week of the Passover festival, the time when the Jews celebrated God’s deliverance of their ancestors from slavery in Egypt. The Spirit of God passed over the homes that bore the mark of the sacrificed lamb. They awoke the next morning to freedom.
Jesus, the Lamb who was sent to take away the sin of the world, approached one man by the pool, asking a simple question. “Do you want to be healed?”
Of course he did. He had been an invalid for most, or all, of his life. He was there by the pool. The answer should have been simple. But he didn’t answer Jesus simply. Instead, he complained that no one would take him into the pool. The man focused on his inability rather than the source of his healing.
We are sometimes like the paralytic by the pool at Bethesda, lying dejected, consumed by our weaknesses, with the Source of our healing in plain sight. Satan blinds us against the power of forgiveness by shining the glaring light of our sins in our faces.
But as Brooks reminds us, “A Christian should wear Christ in his bosom as a flower of delight, for he is a whole paradise of delight. He who minds not Christ more than his sin, can never be thankful and fruitful as he should.”
And so we have six remedies available to us, weapons against Satan’s hounding our minds about the sins that so easily entangle us. It is in dwelling on our Healer rather than on our disease that we will be made whole.
Remedy 1: Remember that Jesus has freed us from the damning power of sin
You’ve probably seen a tree stump with a few measly twigs struggling to reach toward the sun. Although the tree is all but dead, the last vestiges of life force it to attempt growth.
Brooks likens the remnants of sin in our hearts to this pathetic stump. The presence remains though the power is gone.
Christians, it’s hard to hear but necessary to realize. Jesus never promised we would be free from sin’s influence in this life. But what he did promise is hope and joy enough to grant us endurance under sin’s nagging legacy.
“There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). No condemnation, no accusation, no judgment, no guilt. The sentence has been passed and we are acquitted. The record of our crimes has been blotted from the book. Where we stood as hopeless lawbreakers we now stand released as free citizens.
Freedom from eternal damnation is more than adequate compensation for a brief lifetime of struggle against sin’s remaining influence.
Remedy 2: Recall that Jesus has freed us from the reign of sin
The second season of the PBS Masterpiece series “Victoria” illustrates a tension between a would-be king and a sitting regent. Creative license aside, the story is worth noting as we consider who a Christian’s true Ruler is.
Queen Victoria of England ascended to the throne upon the death of William IV. Because her three brothers had all died, England’s law of primogeniture required she become the next regent. If Victoria had not been born, the throne would have passed to her uncle, the Duke of Cumberland who was also King of Hanover.
It’s complicated. Suffice to say the Duke of Cumberland would have gained immeasurably by Victoria’s death or non-existence. In the television series, Cumberland is played as a gruff, boorish man. His presence amongst the royal family and their residences is unwanted. He is a constant reminder of a reign that could have been, and would have been, if not for Victoria.
Regardless of Cumberland’s desire for England’s premier title, despite his jealousy and resentment, the nation was not under his rule. And Christian, despite Satan’s hatred of you and his schemes and tricks to lure you into his influence, you are not under his rule.
You were once under the domain of darkness. But thanks be to God, he has transferred you into the kingdom of his beloved Son. Christ’s is the true and perfect rule and reign. Jesus is the only begotten of the Father. The crown passes to him.
Remedy 3: Rely on Jesus’ promise of forgiveness while you guard against sin
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over transgression
for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in steadfast love.
He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.
(Micah 7:18-19, ESV)
This is the same God who punished Israel for her wickedness, her rebellion and idolatry. Whenever God promises retribution for breaking his commands, he always offers hope of redemption through repentance and faith.
Guarding against sin in our hearts and minds is a tiresome practice. We must fuel our spirits with the rich nourishment of the gospel to retain our strength in the fight. Thomas Brooks says failing to do this is akin to “dealing unkindly with God and injuriously to our souls.” These strong words are necessary because forgetting God’s promises is like denying our bodies nourishment.
Think of all the ways we humans have devised to punish ourselves. Inhaling smoke. Excessive alcohol consumption. Junk food. Lack of sleep. Overwork. Refusing to get fresh air and exercise. These inflictions war against the marvelous bodies God designed for us. We do these things because we believe the lie that they will provide more joy and comfort than the alternatives.
When we lament over our sins at the expense of rejoicing in Christ, we believe the lie that we deserve greater punishment than Jesus bore for us on the cross.
Remedy 4: Rest in Jesus’ complete atonement for your sin
Surety. We don’t use that word often in modern English. We may think of surety as leverage or collateral. It’s something we can put forward as a guarantee we are good for our responsibilities.
But surety can also be a person, a surrogate or intermediary, one whose performance or payment will satisfy the debts of another. An attorney may be the most recognizable form of surety today. Her advocacy for her client guarantees action and satisfies the court’s demand for a plaintiff to appear, or to pay, or to submit to a sentence.
The Lord Jesus is surety for the believer. He hands us the certificate of debt cancellation, proof that the payment he has made on our behalf satisfies the heavenly court of justice. Jesus not only appeared for us as our advocate, he bore the weight of our punishment as well. He served our sentence, completed our restitution, and cleared the record of our crimes.
If such an earthly surety paid all your financial debts – wiped out your mortgage, cleared your credit cards, and eliminated your car note – would you then sit and weep over all the bills stacked on your desk?
Remedy 5: Respond to Jesus’ greater purposes for our struggle against sin
Thomas Brooks provides a list of reasons why the Lord allows us to remain troubled for a time with the seriousness of our sins.
- Keep us humble
- Move us to cry out to God for help
- Depend more on Christ for sanctifying power
- Make us desire earthly things less
- Create in us a longing for heaven
- Give us compassion for those who fight agains the same sins
- Remind us we have not yet received our full reward from Christ
- Make glory seem even more glorious to us when we see it
Considering all the benefits to us that such troubles ultimately deliver, do we really have any reason to complain? The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, that
“this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18, ESV).
The “light, momentary afflictions” of which Paul wrote were true persecution, severe political and cultural opposition, and familial and social upheaval, all because of devotion to Christ. Remembering this should help us weigh our internal struggles against sin more rightly.
Remedy 6: Repent of your discouragement over sin
It may feel like adding injury to injury to say we must repent of our lamenting over sin. Isn’t it enough of a burden to repent of sin itself?
But remember that repentance is a grace, not a burden. Christ’s first command in the gospel of Mark is, “Repent and believe the good news!” Repentance is something the Father grants us as a gift, a desire for forgiveness we cannot muster ourselves, a longing for restoration we receive by faith.
Eventually, we must progress past regret. If we can’t, it’s time to ask what benefit is it to us to remain in sorrow?
We should close by remembering Thomas Brooks’ final admonishment: Why did God give you a new heart? To always be broken over your sin? No, but to rejoice in forgiveness, to feel compassion for other sinners, to enjoy the company of friends, to hold gratitude for immeasurable blessings, and to stoke the fires of love that drive us to do good to others.
Take hold of the grace that is repentance of sin. Then rise from your place of sorrow to take on the day with renewed hope.
Image: “The Healing of the Cripple of Bethesda,” Peter Aertsen, 1575.