In John chapter 5, we read the story of a man who had been an invalid for 38 years (v. 5). Jesus approaches this man and heals him. Amid the commotion, Jesus slips away into the crowd. Later, after the man has been accosted by religious people that are upset with the fact he is carrying his mat (at Jesus’ direction), it says that Jesus came back and found him again.
And this is what Jesus says to him: “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (v. 14)
I’m so curious here about what Jesus is referring to. Did the man become an invalid through sinful action? Or is Jesus indicating his sinfulness while he was apparently unable to do more than lay next to a pool, hoping to be healed?
I have no idea. There’s simply no way to know for sure.
But the fact that Jesus tells him to ‘stop sinning’ tends to indicate (at least to me) an active continuance as opposed to something that happened long in the past.
But without the physical ability to do much more than talk and lay around, it seems that any sin he was committing was internal.
Was the man full of bitter and anger over his condition? Or perhaps lustful or greedy for what he could not have?
This hammered home to me a point I read in Psalms this week. In Psalm 24, David asks who is able to be in the Lord’s presence. He then provides an answer to his own question in the next lines of the song:
“Only those whose hands and hearts are pure” (v. 4)
People who are pure, inside (heart) and ouside (hands). What we think/feel (heart) and what we do (hands).
We put a lot of emphasis on whether what we do is sinful. But honestly, I think our actions and words aren’t the issue. Those things come out of who we are.
We spend so much time trying to change our fruit, but we do it in silly ways. You can’t glue oranges on an apple tree and think that the tree has changed.
I think the work the Holy Spirit does within us is about planting new trees. God’s not after lip service. He’s not after us doing stuff to get points from him. He’s about us acting out of the resurrection life he is creating in us. Rather than attaching oranges to an apple tree, he’s taking the time to uproot the apple trees and plant orange trees in their place.
That process takes time. For the first few seasons, my orchard is still going to produce more apples than oranges. But as the work continues, as there are fewer apple trees and the orange trees mature, slowly but surely there will be evidence that this orchard creates oranges, rather than apples.
Just because the invalid may not have been able to act on his sinful nature doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. And Jesus was warning him, not as a threat, but in love. The man had just been given the ability to but action behind his desires. If his desires aren’t corrected, that only gives him the ability to head headlong into his own destruction.
What Jesus did seems dangerous to me. Why heal a guy that may end up being a real jerk?
Clearly, God’s respect for our free will is astounding. He gives chances that may be completely squandered. I make stupid, selfish, shortsighted choices all the time. I wish there was an easy way where I could turn off the part of me that wants to find spiritual shortcuts or loopholes. But instead, God insists that I should have the ability to frustrate or ignore or undo his work.
What an amazing God we serve. That he lets us co-author the story of our life to such a degree. A God that offers us new and abundant life, instead of mandating it.