“Faith and unbelief are the deepest themes of the history of the world.”
We are well accustomed to speaking about bodily diseases. Conditions such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and many others are regular topics of everyday conversation. The same cannot be said about ailments of the soul.
With the removal of sin as an acceptable explanation for the human condition, there has been a corresponding loss of recognition of the various maladies that afflict the soul. As a result, we have a harder time identifying what ails so many people and what can be done to help them.
Through history “soul sickness” has been understood to be a reality that affects people in every era. It’s been regarded as part of the human condition, and traced to what theologians call “original sin.” Postmodern society is no exception.
One of the best known catalogs of the soul’s most common sicknesses is the one compiled by Gregory the Great. It’s known as the “seven deadly sins.” The conditions that Gregory noted include pride, covetousness, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth. While there is no specific Bible passage that directly speaks to all of these problems in one place, they are addressed in passages like Proverbs 6:16-19 and Galatians 5:19-21, among others.
It is not hard to see that though these conditions of the soul are little discussed, they lie at the root of much human misery today. Everyone can identify with these problems and will likely find himself especially vulnerable to a few of them. Recovering an awareness of the sicknesses that afflict the soul (starting with those identified by Gregory) would go a long way to restore countless lives. And as lives are restored, it would also improve the state of families and society as a whole.
In the Bible we find God’s prescriptions for the soul’s ailments. Here you will see activities such as confession, prayer, praise and service among His ordained means to bring healing to the soul. When these means are combined with faith in the Great Physician, Jesus Christ, they are found to be effective beyond anything else this world can offer.
The book of Genesis tells us that the Lord gave man a woman so that he would have a helper suitable for him (Gen.2:20-25). But unfortunately, many husbands do not welcome the help their wives have to offer. Instead, they see every comment, suggestion, or reminder as a form of nagging. This is not to say that a nagging, contentious wife can never be a problem — it surely can (Pr.27:15). But that’s not the problem we are addressing here. The problem we are addressing here is that of a husband who is too proud and stubborn to receive the assistance and even wisdom of his wife.
The book of Proverbs tells us that a virtuous woman is a crown to her husband (Pr.12:4). One application of this is that a good wife helps her husband rise from the crowd and stand out — like a man wearing a crown. One of the ways a good wife accomplishes this is by graciously helping her husband see the back of his head. In so doing, she makes him a better man. The wise husband receives this kind of help because he knows that by seeing his blind spots he is able to excel farther and faster. The fool, on the other hand, will never receive what his wife has to say, no matter how much good it may do him.
When the Apostle Paul found himself preaching before the Roman governor, Felix, he spoke of three themes: righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come.
When Felix heard these themes, his conscience was pricked. The Bible tells us that he trembled, and sent Paul away until another time (Acts 24:25).
What is it about these themes that caught the attention of Felix and provoked his heart to fear? And so much fear that he could not bear to hear of them further until later? Let’s take a closer look.
Righteousness has to do with God’s standard for how we are to conduct our lives. When we live according to His standard, we do what is righteous. And those who practice righteousness manifest themselves as children of God (1 Jn.3:10).
Self-control has to do with the need to govern one’s life in such a way as to pursue what is righteous rather than one’s own desires. Those who have self-control make it a practice to deny worldly lust and live soberly in this present world (Tit.2:12).
The judgment to come points to the day when all men will give an account of themselves before God. The Bible tells us that on this day those who did good will experience a resurrection of life, while those who did evil a resurrection of judgment (Jn.5:29).
These three themes can be easily summarized. God has a standard. We are to live by His standard. And the day is coming when we will be evaluated by this standard.
Felix understood this message, and that’s what troubled him. He knew he had fallen short of God’s righteous standard. And he also knew that he could not escape the reality of the themes that Paul preached about.
As righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come were themes that Felix could not avoid, neither can we. They are themes that won’t go away. Try as you might to ignore them, you cannot. Like the beach ball you try to submerge under water, these themes keep bouncing up again and again.
The recurring way that these themes keep coming before the conscience shows us our need for God’s grace.
There’s a sense in which we are all like Felix. We know the deficiencies of our lives, and thoughts of righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come are alarming. But instead of ignoring the reality of these themes, we should seek the grace that is found through faith in Jesus Christ.
Jesus came in order to remedy the failings of human souls. Though all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom.3:23), He provides salvation for whosoever shall call upon His name (Rom.10:13).
The themes of righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come will not go away. They are always looming about us. But Jesus has come and will not go away either, and through faith in Him we can think of these themes with hope and not fear.
“The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”
A problem faced by many people in our day is a lack of vision for their lives. Those facing this problem get up every day without any sense of purpose, and as a result find that the only thing that keeps them going are the forces of necessity.
When the ongoing concern of one’s days becomes what must be done in order to survive, life itself becomes drudgery. And those in the midst of this drudgery feel themselves to be more dead than alive, even though they know they are still breathing.
These people need vision.
The Bible addresses the importance of vision in The Proverbs. There we read, “Where there is no vision, the people perish; but happy is he who keeps the law” (Pr.29:18). From this verse there are a few points to observe when it comes to living life with vision.
The first of these has to do with the source of vision. A vision for life that satisfies cannot be manufactured by our own efforts. It comes to us as a gift from God.
The word translated “vision” in the Bible literally means “revelation,” and it refers to direction given to us by God. In biblical times, such direction came through living prophets. Today it comes through the living Word of God. From this it becomes clear that if we are going to have vision in our lives, we must attend to God’s Word.
The second point that comes from this verse has to do with the peril of living without vision. I have already mentioned that living without vision makes you feel lifeless. But it is actually worse than that. When people forsake God’s Word and lose their vision, it eventually leads to death and destruction.
Whenever vision is lacking, there is also a lack of restraint and guiding principles. A personal anarchy begins to take over, with the senses gaining greater and greater control of the personality. More and more, life becomes all about getting one’s feelings satisfied. When this becomes predominant in a society, it begins to run wild, with everyone doing what is right in his or her own eyes. And this leads that society to ruin.
The third point of the verse, however, brings us hope, because it shows us what happens to those who order their lives according to God’s Word – it brings them blessing and happiness.
God in His kindness has revealed in the Bible what we need to have a robust and satisfying vision for our lives. When we follow that vision in obedience to Him, we find our greatest fulfillment.
Get involved in a church that teaches God’s Word and applies it to daily life. Spend time also reading and hearing the Bible on your own for further nourishment of your soul. As you approach these activities with a believing heart, you will find yourself inspired by a vision for your life. God will make it clearer what it is for you to have a meaningful place in this world.
The late D. James Kennedy lived out his life and ministry as a lamplighter for Christ. He faithfully and effectively brought the light of Christ through all that he did. Unfortunately, Dr. Kennedy’s message, “The Lamplighter,” is no longer available online. But you can read of Dr. Kennedy’s life and ministry here.
Some choice quotes on habits by J.C. Ryle from his book Thoughts for Young Men. . .
“Habits are like stones rolling down hill — the further they roll, the faster and more ungovernable is their course.”
“Habits, like trees are strengthened by age. A boy may bend an oak when it is a sapling — a hundred men cannot root it up when it is a full-grown tree.”
“Custom is the nurse of sin. Every fresh act of sin lessens fear and remorse, hardens our hearts, blunts the edge of our conscience, and increases our evil inclination.”
“You cannot stand still in the affairs of your souls. Habits of good and evil are daily strengthening in your hearts. Every day you are either getting nearer to God, or further off.”
Shakespeare’s oft quoted phrase “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all” reveals a vital spiritual principle: the well-being of the soul depends on a good conscience. When the conscience is clean, it leads to confidence and the moral strength necessary to take noble action. When the conscience is sullied by guilt, it paralyzes with doubt and fear.
Over time, this principle works to shape the personality toward either a disposition of assurance or defeat.
Consider what the Bible tells us along these lines. Proverbs tells us, “The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, but the righteous are as bold as a lion” (Pr.28:1). And, those who are disobedient will be chased by the sound of a driven leaf (Lev.26:36), while those who trust in the Lord have a steadfast heart and do not fear evil tidings (Ps.112:7).
The Apostle Paul presents us with a good case study when it comes to the relationship between the state of one’s conscience and the state of one’s soul. Paul was a hearty, well-developed soul known for his willingness to stand for what is righteous and act on behalf of the kingdom of God. And it is not surprising that he had the character to do so, because he made it a practice to have a conscience without offense toward God and men (Acts 24:16).
We would be wise to adopt the same practice.
Pay close attention to your conscience. Keep it unstained before God and others. When you know you’ve done wrong, go to Christ with a repentant and believing heart, because He alone is able to cleanse your conscience with His shed blood (Heb.9:14).
Ignoring your conscience is neither healthy nor wise, since the development of your personality and the well-being of your soul depend on its faithful care.
Ever since mankind’s fall into sin (described in Gen.3), people have sought to live their lives independently of God. Like Adam and Eve (and all who have come after them), we too continue to seek to avoid God and hide ourselves from Him.
But trying to hide from God is a futile task. There’s no escaping His place in our lives. We are all hemmed in by His presence. Put another way: He’s got us surrounded.
According to the Bible, God’s got us surrounded on several fronts. (You can read about this yourself in Psalm 139).
First, God knows everything. He knows everything about heaven and earth. He knows everything about history and science, and all the great subjects that occupy us. But most significantly, He knows everything about people – in general and particular.
This means He knows everything about you. He knows when you sit down and when you rise up. He knows your thoughts from afar, and is intimately acquainted with all your ways. Even before a word is on your tongue, the Lord knows what you will say. “He knows the hearts of all the sons of men” (1 Kgs 8:39).
God has us surrounded further in that He is present in every place. There’s nowhere you can go from His Spirit. If you ascend to heaven, He’s there. If you went to your grave, He’d be there too. When you wake up in the morning, there He is again. If you instantly went to the place where the morning’s first sunbeam appears on the horizon, sure enough, He’d be with you. “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good” (Pr.15:3).
If this were not enough, God also has us surrounded because He is all-powerful. He is the one who sets the borders for the oceans and the constellations in their courses. His power is that vast. And He applies that power to you and me.
When you were just an embryo, His eyes saw you. When your bones and kidneys were being made, He was the one skillfully at work, all according to His power. A power so great that even your days were ordained before you had one of them.
For many, God’s inescapable involvement in life brings great discomfort – leading some to be overcome by dread. The thought that God knows everything about them, is always with them, and has complete power over them makes them shudder.
But God does not reveal these truths about Himself that we would be driven mad. He reveals them so that we would be driven to Himself through His Son. By His death on the cross, Jesus Christ removes the terror of living in the presence of a holy God. In its place He provides the assurance that there is One who in His mercy will never leave us nor forsake us.
God’s got you surrounded. If you fight Him, it will surely catch up with you. But if you submit to Him, you will live your days with the blessed promise of His presence.