Worth Reading–December 7, 2011

by Steve

Here is a great post from Trevin Wax on the fact that sin is a worship issue.

Why Smoking Won’t End Because of Grisly Labels
By Trevin Wax

In June, the Food and Drug Administration announced that, beginning next year, cigarette packs will have graphic pictures plastered on them.

Rotting teeth and gums, people hooked up to breathing machines, a corpse, blackened lungs – these grisly images are the newest attempt by the government to curb smoking. Federal Law will require the warning labels to take up half of the pack, on both sides, by the end of 2012.

Are tobacco companies worried? Not really. Even though the FDA estimates that 213,000 people will stop smoking in 2013, the tobacco companies estimate that their loss of revenue will be less than one percent.

Who is right? The tobacco companies or the FDA?

I’m afraid the tobacco companies are right. Their leaders recognize something about human nature that the FDA does not: Unhealthy behavior cannot be eradicated by merely pointing to the consequences.

The problem of addiction goes much deeper than a warning label. And though the FDA is commendably seeking to put an end to a destructive habit that leads to the premature deaths of thousands of people each year, it is naive to think that grisly images will deter a large number of smokers.

The Church and the “Grisly Label” Approach

Too many times in our churches, when we talk about sin, we share the assumption of the FDA: that people, when given enough information, will make rational, healthy decisions.

Not so.

Sin is irrational. It doesn’t make sense. That’s the whole nature of sinfulness – it goes against the reality of the world we live in. It goes against the grain of our intended submission to the One who has created us.

We might be able to appeal to a person’s willpower to stop engaging in destructive habits. And through common grace, some people may indeed get up the nerve to stop a bad habit.

But we are foolish to think that most people are destroying themselves because they don’t know better. The truth is, we often do know better, and yet we continue on the road to destruction.

Though we know that sin is deep-rooted and irrational, we often act as if sin’s consequences will be the big deterrent to bad behavior. So in youth groups across America, we pass out nasty pictures showing the effects of STDs and tell kids, This is what will happen if you have sex. In marriage seminars, we tell the sad stories of men who lost their families because of a porn addiction, a sexual exploit, or a burst of anger.

We Are Silly Sinners

Now don’t get me wrong. I think we should remind people of sin’s consequences. It is crouching at the door. It has the desire to master us. Be sure your sin will find you out. And of course, we tell a little child to obey or else face punishment (a swift hand to the backside, a time-out, grounding, etc.). One of the ways we learn good behavior from bad behavior is by recognizing that our choices have consequences.

But we are foolish if we think that life change will be rooted in rationality. It’s simply not so. We are silly sinners, engaging in activities we know are destructive to our bodies and souls. Yet somehow we are deceived into thinking we are special, that we will escape judgment. And no matter how many friends die of lung cancer or how many friends contract sexually-transmitted diseases… no matter how many marriages break up because of porn or how many relationships end because of anger, we continue to sin, willfully and (worse) knowingly.

Scared by the Law; Changed by the Gospel

Speaking of the consequences of sinful behavior is good. It’s what the law of God does. It can scare us into temporary obedience. But even as it reveals sinful behavior, it can’t remove and replace a sinful heart.

Grisly images may warn us against the consequences of a bad habit, but they won’t change the heart of a smoker. Only the gospel can change a heart.

What the FDA doesn’t realize (and what many evangelicals forget too) is that sin is a worship-issue. Our destructive behaviors are not just behaviors. They are a symptom of a deeper problem, a root cause – idolatry. Our affections are elsewhere. Our behavior follows our affections. And only the gospel can change the affections to the point that behavior follows.