What happens to our hearts and minds when we ignore small sins or delay dealing with embarrassing immoral habits?
“One summer’s morning Paniya Sardar noticed a strange mark on her leg. It was the size of her palm, light in colour and felt numb to touch. She had no idea what had caused it,” Rebecca Ratcliffe wrote for The Guardian in an exposé on an ongoing and widespread disease that the World Health Organization declared eliminated in 2000.
“The family took Paniya, then 14, to a private clinic near their home on the outskirts of Biratnagar, a city in southern Nepal, where they were sold lotions and pills and told not to worry. Three months later, a deep wound appeared on her foot. ‘This particular blister was pretty big and wouldn’t heal,’ her father, Sita Sardar, says through an interpreter. Six months later, it was still there.
“Paniya was eventually diagnosed at a local hospital with leprosy, one of the oldest recorded diseases.”
Despite modern medicine’s great advances, leprosy is still not well understood. Studies have found that nearly 95 percent of people are immune to it, and yet doctors are unsure why certain individuals are vulnerable and how they come into contact with the bacteria.
While leprosy can easily be cured with antibiotics, it’s often misdiagnosed and the nerve damage it causes is permanent. People who have experienced this nerve damage are more susceptible to injuries and infections because they cannot feel the pain and protect themselves.
Open Bible lists 100 scripture verses about leprosy, ranging from the Old Testament laws about how to handle this disease all the way to New Testament records of Jesus healing lepers. The Bible seems to discuss leprosy at such length because it easily becomes an allegory for the frightening destructiveness of sin, the numbness that sin causes to the damage that is being done to us and the power Christ demonstrated to reverse and erase this terrible disease.
Not Uprooting Our Sins
In his sermon “The Making of a Hard Heart”, David Wilkerson talked about how permitting even one ‘pet’ sin in our lives could derail our spiritual walk and eventually deaden our consciences to the Spirit’s convictions.
As an example, he pointed to the conflicted relationship King Herod had with John the Baptist. “For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.’ And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly” (Mark 6:17-20, ESV).
Herod had arrested John — eventually, he went so far as to order John’s beheading — but he also listened to John, feared his message and yet also seemed to long for this conviction. In many ways, Herod is the archetype of many believers today.
In discussing this passage of scripture, David said, “I have a feeling in my heart that Herod had grown cynical. He had administered government to the Jews, and I'm sure he was tired of the phony priests of that day. He was tired of the Pharisees who made long prayers and yet robbed widows’ houses. He saw the hypocrisy. He heard their crazy messages; he saw infighting among the different religious sects, and I'm sure he was cynical….
“One day he came to hear John the Baptist…but he had stolen his brother Philip's wife, and he's living in adultery, and in that society among the Jews, that's the worst thing he could have done, an unforgivable sin. John the Baptist points a finger right at the king. He says, ‘King Herod, it's not lawful for you to have that woman. Give her up, and do what’s right. Repent!’”
David lamented, “This man [Herod] had a hunger in his heart. He couldn't come live with something in him that really wanted reality. This is the tragedy. This is where hard heartedness begins with many people who start with a hungry heart.”
Despite the hunger, there was a fatal attraction in Herod’s heart that he was convicted about and yet still wouldn’t lay down.
He longed for the truth on some level and wouldn’t immediately dismiss the person who was sharply calling out his immorality. This sin, however, would be immensely painful and publicly embarrassing to give up, so he held onto it. He kept the woman who was someone else’s wife. He tried to find relief from a burdened conscience without going through the ugly process of uprooting a sickly desire.
Sin Giving Birth to Death
Having a pet sin is nothing new to humanity, and the early church fathers knew it well. Paul issued several stern warnings in his New Testament letters about the consequences of coddling immoral behavior.
In the book of Romans, he wrote, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools….
“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1: 21-22, 28-32).
David Wilkerson had sadly witnessed this often in his ministries to addicts and those who came from Christian homes but were struggling with their faith. “You walk some of these filthy streets of immorality, and you see what some people are capable of. You read about it. You hear about it, and at one time you would have scratched your head and said, ‘How could anybody do that?’
“Then in short time you’re doing exactly everything you've heard of. Every sin that's named, you are going to be guilty of it because you now have a closed mind. You're following after your lust; you have been given over to your idolatry, until finally you not only do what they're doing, but you enjoy seeing others do the same thing. You take pleasure in that kind of wickedness….
“A preacher's wife at one time would’ve rather died than given up one of her children, but she falls into an adulterous affair, falls in love with a young man half her age, runs off, leaves her kids. Her heart's heart she’s never viewed. If you’d told her five years ago, ‘One day you're going to run off. Leave all your children, leave the ministry and you're going to wind up drinking and going to bars,’ she would have laughed at you.”
David pointed out, “Anything goes when that hardness sets in. Anything.”
When the numbing effect of sin is full force, the person in its grip rarely notices any of the worst damage that is being done to them anymore.
Counting the Heavy Cost
Indulged immorality, no matter how small it seems, and the consequential hardening that it produces in our hearts will only be allowed to continue so long. Scripture points to its natural end in a passage that should give every believer pause.
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:9-13).
Based on this verse, David challenged his listeners, “How are you going to face Jesus on the judgment day? Do you think that hardness is going to stand before the throne?... Where are you at and what stage are you in this process of hardening? Is there still time?
“Let me tell you when you could know if there's time. If you sense a stirring in your heart right now, there's something still moving. That's the Holy Spirit.”
Even if giving sin up will be humiliating or painful, nothing can be worse than facing Christ at the end of time and having the hardness in our hearts broken rather than surrendering it up. No pet sin is worth keeping in the end. The cost is too high.