Sunday, September 25, 2011

Is Goodness Contagious?

Husband's hands look relatively good, small red blisters beneath tough outer callouses revealing the struggle within between virus and body. His feet? Much worse, too disgusting to look at, much less photograph.

The fever of hand, foot, and mouth disease now past, he hobbles around like an arthritic old man in obvious pain, all ten toes coated on top, between, and on the pads below with dozens of raised, white blisters, each more than half inch in diameter and all filled to the bursting point just waiting to spread the contagion.

With husband's case being so bad, we've read up on the disease, traced his infection back to our children who were all sick until this past Monday with inexplicable high fever and mouths so sore they wouldn't eat for days. They caught the same illness at a birthday party, a friend's children several days mended but the dad not knowing until 24 hours later that he was also infected, virus incubating in silence while we all ate chocolate cake and laughed loudly at kids running an obstacle course.

The timeline fits. Same symptoms. Same incubation period. Same fever & pain, albeit much worse in the two adult men than in the children.

Viruses are contagious. Modern society recognizes this and most people try to quarantine illnesses as best they can once symptoms are obvious. But what about sin? Is it equally contagious?

The answer is yes, maybe even more so.

After the children of Israel had returned from seventy years of captivity in Babylon, you would think the people would be done with sin, would seek with all their heart to be holy and blameless before their God, knowing how wrathful He could be in judgment. Yet, that wasn't entirely the case.

Not too many years after they arrived back home, the Israelites began facing much opposition to rebuilding the temple. After becoming discouraged, they simply stopped building, with the wealthy focused on self versus on God, creating their own luxurious "paneled houses" that were comparable to Solomon's richly adorned palace with its cedar-overlaid walls and ceilings (Hag. 1:4; 1 Kin. 7:37).

Because of Israel's disobedience in not relying on God to empower them to rebuild His house, God ignored their prayers, their sacrifices, their requests for blessings and, instead, intentionally thwarted their labors, causing the land to produce less and less as they toiled more and more.

When the people just didn't get it, God then did what He had done with their forefathers--sent a prophet. Haggai appeared on the scene to explain how individual sin was affecting the entire body: "Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'Ask now the priests for a ruling: If a man carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and touches bread with this fold, or cooked food, wine, oil, or any other food, will it become holy?' And the priests answered, 'No.' Then Haggai said, 'If one who is unclean from a corpse touches any of these, will the latter become unclean?' And the priests answered, 'It will become unclean'" (Hag. 2:11-13).

The question was clear--can holiness be transferred from one object to another? The answer was equally clear--no. But what about uncleanness? Can it be transferred from one person to another? Here, the answer is yes.

After Israel responded to these hypothetical questions, "Then Haggai said, 'So is this people. And so is this nation before Me,' declares the LORD, 'and so is every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean'" (Hag. 2:14).

In other words, a person's sin in one aspect of his life affects all of his life, makes his entire body unclean before the Lord, makes all his offerings and acts of service unclean before the Lord. The same seems true of the nation of Israel--as a corporate body, her sin made all of her unclean before the Lord.

The reason behind this is because sin left unchecked contaminates others, causes others to sin. Sin is contagious. For instance, before captivity, one man, King Manasseh, sinned, causing all of Israel to sin: "Thus Manasseh misled Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom the LORD destroyed before the sons of Israel" (2 Chron. 33:9).

Consider these concepts in relation to Christians today. Sin in one aspect of a Christian's life affects the Christian's entire walk with the Lord. Additionally, sin is still quite contagious, and in the body of Christ if not dealt with properly, can infect the whole body. This is why Paul was so adamant that a brother in Christ should be openly confronted in love about his sin and not allowed to remain part of the fellowship as long as he continued living in sin.

Paul writes, "Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Cor. 5:6-8).

Sin is contagious. Righteousness is not.

This isn't what the world teaches. It teaches a "Pass it On" mentality, that righteousness can be transferred from one person to another through random (or intentional) acts of kindness. Yet, while good deeds and a spirit of kindness, compassion, and generosity driven by one's conscience can be transferred, righteousness and holiness in one's soul cannot be transferred.

Holiness, righteousness are not viruses one can "catch" by simply hanging around holy people or doing holy things.

No. Holiness and righteousness are a state of the soul imparted to the individual by Christ through His sacrifice as the Passover lamb.

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