In 2012 I came to understand the difference between allergies and intolerances this way: Severe allergies can threaten your life. People who are allergic to things like peanuts or bee stings have to be prepared to take immediate action in case they come into contact with these. Intolerances, on the other hand, aren’t life threatening, but they will make you uncomfortable, steal your energy, slow . . . you . . . down. In 2006, I learned I was lactose intolerant. In 2012, I became soy intolerant as well. I can let a little bit of each slip into my diet from time to time, but too much messes with my digestive system, joints, sinuses, and energy levels, so I try to be as vigilant as I can about eating right.
Now there’s something new going on inside of me. Doctors haven’t figured it out: a new intolerance, a virus, a disease? It’s a mystery. But I’m becoming even more vigilant about what I eat, eliminating anything suspicious in hopes that I’ll start feeling healthy again. If you happen to think of me, please pray. I really want to feel strong and healthy again.
As I’ve done my part to solve this mystery, I’ve recognized a spiritual parallel. Any sin we allow in our lives is like an allergen. It won’t just slow us down; it will halt our spiritual growth altogether and keep us from enjoying an ever-deepening relationship with Christ. As David prayed, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” -Psalm 66:18. Sin is a deadly toxin that stands between a person and God. It is something we must eliminate. We do this by confessing it to Christ (admitting that we’ve done wrong), receiving His forgiveness by grace through faith, and by turning away from it—turning to Christ instead.
As we grow in our relationship with Jesus, though, His Spirit will begin to reveal other activities, habits, thought-processes that need to go. These wouldn’t necessarily be characterized as sin, but our growing spiritual life won’t thrive, we won’t be able to reach our potential, until they go. Susanna Wesley did go so far as to classify these as sin when she said, “Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, takes off your relish for spiritual things, whatever increases the authority of the body over the mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may seem in itself.” Her relationship with God was so precious to her that anything that kept her from drawing closer to Him was an abomination. The more any of us comes to know and love God, the more we’ll also aspire to this.
This is how I’m currently treating most anything that threatens my health—even that mouth-watering slice of double chocolate fudge cake that is okay for everyone else in the room to eat. As much as I want it, I reject it because I value my health more. And my relationship with Jesus is more important than my health.
But, like Susanna Wesley, I’m not going to go so far as to start listing what’s okay, what’s not, and how much of something can or should be “tolerated.” That’s taking a legalistic view of the Christian life. The many and ever-growing number of denominations in our nation prove that it’s practically impossible to agree on such a list anyway. Instead, each person has to do what David did—and do it with a sincere heart—one that wants an ever-deepening relationship with Christ. Each of us has to ask God’s Spirit to reveal anything that weakens our reason, impairs the tenderness of our consciences, obscures our sense of God, takes off our relish for spiritual things, or increases the authority of the body over the mind. And, just as I’ve had to eliminate different foods from my diet every few years for the sake of my physical strength, God may ask us to rethink different activities, habits, and thought-processes over time as we grow closer to Him. He leads us to grow up in Christ gradually, knowing that to demand perfection at the moment of salvation could overwhelm and discourage us, could cause us to give up.
We turn away from sin in order to enter a relationship with Christ, then we allow His Spirit to help us remove anything in our lives that impairs our spiritual development and health. As our sincerity and desire for God grows, so will our determination to remove anything that weakens us. Another prayer of David reveals He had this heart for God: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” -Psalm 139:23-24. I want to develop such a heart for God as well.
Lord, just as I want to eliminate any food or product that is stealing my strength and health, I need Your help and guidance to eliminate any activity, habit, or thought-process that a thriving spiritual life can’t tolerate. I want to draw closer and closer to You! You gave me life; You are my life. I surrender to Your scrutiny, testing, and knowledge. Lead me in Your way. Amen.