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Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night, your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer (Psalm 32:3-4).
Though the relationship between our spiritual and physical selves is subjective at best when applying it to a particular couple, there is a biblical precedent regarding the occurrence of sin and the biological effects of sin. David was living in sin. He would not confess his sins, and his lack of confession began to take a toll on his body. Physical atrophy is one of the effects of sin. In David’s situation, repentance led to physical restoration.
It becomes complicated when the unconfessed, unforgiven, and unrepented sins of another person continue within a relationship. Like David, if my sin is affecting my health, I can repent and find restoration. If someone else’s sin affects my health, I am at the mercy of that person removing the sin from our relationship. In some marriages, the abusive spouse does not repent—a situation that leaves the victim spouse vulnerable.
I was listening to a podcast from the People’s Pharmacy that reminded me of this concept. I enjoy listening to Joe and Terry Graedon and have benefited from many of their perspectives on health-related issues. Here is an excerpt from the podcast, which is not what the podcast was about, but only a part of their eclectic introduction where they provide headlines and medical updates.
Social isolation is a recognized risk factor for morbidity and mortality, but interacting negatively with family, friends, and neighbors has drawbacks. A ten-year study of nearly 10,000 middle-aged Danes found that those who had acrimonious relationships were far more likely to die from cancer, heart disease, liver disease, or accidents.
The research estimates that frequent arguments or stressful demands from close contacts, such as partners or children, could increase the risk of death from any cause by at least 50 percent.
Constant arguing had an unusually adverse effect, and men who were out of work seemed to be most vulnerable to this stress. The investigators speculate that conflict management skills could help people lead longer, healthier, and happier lives.
I do not believe a valid argument would dismiss the connection and interplay between our physical and spiritual selves. The real issue to consider is to what degree a person is affected by the ongoing, unrepented sin in their lives or relationships. This issue is both genuine and subjective.
I have experienced this when public speaking. In the early years of my public ministry, I would have difficulty dealing with fear when it was time to speak. This fear had a measurable, physical effect on my body, and it was a spiritual issue—fear of man—that played out in my physicality. When the speaking event was over, my body settled down, and everything was back to normal.
There are other physical/spiritual interplays in my life, and I am sure you have your stories too. For example, exercise is not a cure-all for depression, but it can be part of the overall solution for some people who are depressed. In other situations, I have recommended physical exercise in the context of a person’s spiritual well-being. I have seen measurable results with a few individuals who have added this discipline into their daily routines.
This discussion stirs a few concerns, especially from a person who is in a non-redemptive situation. Here are four of those possible concerns:
In the grander scope of the human condition, we all are victims. The sin of Adam and Eve created a death march toward the grave (Romans 5:12). We are victims of the cosmic crime between God and man, and God justly punishes us for such offenses. There is a physical depreciation at the point of conception because death is part of the equation.
Like driving a new car off the car lot, it becomes of lesser value when you take it home. Sin is constantly affecting us in atrophic ways. We are in a constant degenerate condition because of human depravity, and Paul called it wasting away.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16).
You must determine if your declining health is the typical wasting away process of growing older or if a toxic relationship is making things worse. It is probably both if you’re in that kind of relationship. You are growing older, and your body is breaking down, and an acrimonious relationship will speed up that decaying process. You should think about both possibilities and do what you need to do to stay healthy.
Because we are victims of Adamic sin, the impact of corruption on our lives can be degenerative. Thus, we must talk about the transformative power of the gospel that God gave to us. It is important not to lose heart, as Paul said. God is merciful. He does not leave us alone. He always provides a way of escape when sin—Adamic or from others—tempts our lives (1 Corinthians 10:13).
The possibility of escape is good news because there could be a temptation for a person to give up, choosing not to access these means of grace the Lord gives us. The temptation to quit and not to fight is always real and enticing.
Many adults give up the fight against sin and let their bodies go. They feel the gravitational pull of death on them, and rather than finishing strong, they yield to the ever-increasing physical and spiritual tugs. Whether it is the degenerative effect of the sins of Adam or the sins within your interpersonal relationships that you are uniquely bound to, there is grace for these matters.
If I were in a situation where my spouse’s unrelentingly meanness and sin were affecting my health, one of the things I would consider is separation. Of course, this response should motivate me to wade through these waters with carefulness. Biblical grounds for separation, which leads to divorce, are (1) adultery and (2) desertion.
An unrepentant mean spouse does not fall within those parameters, but this does not leave you in a helpless situation. For example, if a person is physically or sexually abusive, we are talking about crimes and sins, which are punishable by law. If someone physically or sexually abuses you, do not hesitate to report the crime to the authorities while escaping the situation.
If someone knows about these “sin-crimes” happening, that person should report them immediately. If someone is abusing you, there is only one option: you run and report the abusive criminal to the authorities. This responsibility is not negotiable. For the Christian, there is a process for abuses that adversely impact a person’s spiritual and physical well-being, and that method may include separation.
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses (Matthew 18:15-16).
The first call to action is to appeal to the abuser—if you can. In some situations, this is not possible. For example, I am not talking about sexual or physical abuse. In those cases, you do not appeal first; you run to escape the violence. In other situations, where your physicality is not in the kind of threat that sexual and physical abuse cause, you appeal to the person to stop. If the person does not stop, you call for help.
Do not try to persuade a domineering person to cease to be domineering on your own. The Lord gave us a process for such meanness. You have an advocate in the body of Christ—an excellent means of grace to come alongside the victims of the sins of others.
There will be many people who read this and say, “Yes, but my church does not have the means, competency, or the concern to help me.” In some situations, we have failed the body of Christ. I am critiquing myself here too. I am speaking about us—the body of the Lord Jesus as manifested in local churches. Many people live in marriages where the church does not pursue, help, or hold the men accountable.
The church does not call these people to change, as they continue to live in unabated sinfulness, but this is where we must be careful. It would be misguided to lay the sinfulness of people in the lap of the church. That is not a reasonable charge nor biblical. Many churches are stellar in the fight against sin. They are like me in that the need is far greater than any one person’s or institution’s ability to resolve.
Furthermore, it would be placing the cause of the problem in the church. There is no doubt that the church can and should do a better job, but the real issue is how sinful people do not want to change. It is similar to the hospital: the help is available, but the person who needs the help must access it. Many, if not most, of the people who live in unrepentant sin are elusive. They are not part of a local church, which puts the local church at a disadvantage. Their unwillingness to change is a dilemma.
So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin (James 4:17).
I have never met a person who truly wanted to change, who could not transform. If a wicked person wants to stop his sinfulness, there is enough power in the transformative gospel, with or without the local church, for him to do that. If you are in an abusive situation, do not keep silent. Find a way to speak out; go for help.
Our ministry has been a refuge and a lifeline to many people who have found no other place to turn. We are not the local church, and we are not a replacement for the local church, but we can complement the local church by bringing care to the body of Christ. We also have been a means of grace to help the church learn how to be helpful in their discipleship practices. I permit you to share this content and our ministry with your church.
Additionally, it may be possible for you to find a counselor, a person who can come alongside you to help walk you through the dangers of your relationship. Do not try to fight the fight against sin alone, whether it is your sin or the sin of others. Your spiritual and physical life will be affected in proportion to the amount, degree, and type of sin that is waging war against you.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).