Theodore Dalrymple is a British psychiatrist. His clients are the slum-poor. His clinics are in a busy general hospital and a nearby prison. In his book Life At The Bottom, Dr. Dalrymple tells of a young patient who had been imprisoned for repeated assaults on his girlfriend and his mother.
Rather than taking personal responsibility for his destructive conduct, the man explained that he was unable to control his anger. He had requested anger management therapy. Dalrymple writes, "I remarked that his behavior in prison had been exemplary; he was always polite and did as he was told. The prisoner/patient replied, 'I don't want to be taken down the block [to the punishment floor], do I?'"
It was evident the man could control his anger. His violent behavior had been the means of gaining personal advantage. But when the personal disadvantages were greater than the advantages, he became a model of good behavior.
Healthy humanity is motivated by self-preservation. We live for person advantage. Our decisions lend themselves to our wellbeing. That being said, what the Bible says about sin and the consequences of sin ought to arrest our attention.
Romans 3:23 tells us that we've all sinned. We come up short of the moral perfection that is required if we are to enjoy spiritual life friendship with God and the hope of heaven when this life ends. Romans 6:23 describes our moral condition with a foreboding forecast "For the wages of sin is death." The just and expected earnings of our rebellion against God and rejection of His grace is death.
While some deny its existence, the Bible contains a clear description of hell separated from God forever, existing in a place of unimaginable torment. Sinners have hell to pay. Those who believe that and who have any sense of self-preservation begin to look for a way out. The strong-willed may "turn over a new leaf." Those of lesser-will and stamina may seek out a variety of supports.
But even then, when honestly evaluated, we continue to come up short. Morally, we remain sinners maybe not as a practice, but we continue to sin. We may bring all the energy of heart and mind, soul and body to the endeavor and still not get our spiritual life right.
And what about the sins we committed against God and our fellow man before we became concerned about the consequences of sin? Will our new-found honesty outweigh the past thievery and lies? Can our new-leaf of kindness make up for the years of selfish abuse?
Again, the Bible teaches that where there is sin, there is a debt to be paid. The wages of sin is death, somebody is going to die. It's not a matter of doing more good than evil. It's not a question of tipping the balances in our favor by something we generate.
This is a matter of faith in Jesus Christ. You see, Romans 6:23 continues with this resounding message of hope while the "wages of sin is death," "the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus our Lord." Romans 3:24 talks about those who trust what Jesus accomplished in His death on a cross, believing Jesus' sacrifice to be God's means of paying our sin-debt. When sinners believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ, God pardons from guilt and the penalty of sin.
This is the active work of God's grace. All who believe that good news are saved from the consequences of their sin. Ephesians 2:8 offers this summary, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves it is the gift of God." There is no more hell to pay advantage to all who believe.
Barsness is the associate pastor of Calvary Evangelical Free Church, and the former chaplain at the Heart of America Medical Center in Rugby.