I have recently been involved in a study of leprosy. It seems to me that sin is spiritual leprosy.
Our modern-day version of leprosy is Hansen’s disease, which is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium lepromatosis. Leprosy is primarily a granulomatous disease, meaning that the immune system attempts to confine the bacteria since it can’t eradicate them. The disease infects the peripheral nerves and mucosa of the upper respiratory tract. Skin lesions are an external sign of the disease, and the condition is progressive. Leprosy does not make body parts fall off as some have said, but because of secondary infections, it does horrible collateral damage. There was and is no cure for leprosy. We have learned to control it, but not to eradicate it. In Jesus’ day, quarantine was the only remedy, controlled by the religious leaders of Israel. (Read Leviticus 13-14.)
I find it interesting that in the spiritual realm, there are significant parallels to leprosy. Some have tried to minimize sin and suggest that the idea of sin is just a device conceived by religious groups to control their members. The truth is that sin is real and has adverse effects on human lives similar to leprosy. As with physical leprosy, we can control or contain spiritual leprosy, but we can’t eradicate it in this life. Here are some of the parallels to leprosy that we should consider:
SIN SEPARATES US. Leprosy separated the victim from family and friends. They had to live “outside the camp.” Leprosy affected the person’s whole being, not just their skin. The skin condition was a symptom, not a cause. Sin does the same thing. It separates a person from family, friends, and associates. Sin affects a person in profound ways – what we think is funny, what we think about, how easily we lie or use people. Sin propels prejudice, stereotyping, and hatred. First John 2:11 tells us sin causes a person to walk in darkness, blinding the eyes.
SIN REQUIRES DIVINE ACTION. Lepers were the most hopeless people in that society, and only God could change their desperate state. The story of Naaman in 2 Kings 5:1-17 ends with the pagan Naaman saying, “I know there is no God in all the earth but in Israel.” Jesus highlighted the magnitude of the problem of leprosy in Matthew 10:8. There Jesus lists the major miracles of His ministry: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out devils and cleanse the lepers.” Cleansing lepers was right up there with raising the dead. Being embedded in sin is frequently a hopeless state. Sin is a primary cause of addiction, and addictions are hard to break. The notion of “looking to a higher power” is part of many programs to free people from addictions, and it means asking for divine help. Politicians have learned in recent years that a sin committed as a college student can follow you throughout your whole life. Spiritual leprosy is real. Denying it or trivializing it doesn’t change the consequences. Jesus is ready to heal, and there are a vast number of us in the world who can testify that His healing is real.
CURING LEPROSY AND CURING SIN HAVE TO BE DONE GOD’S WAY. The wonderful story of Naaman shows that only God’s solution works. Naaman became angry because the solution to his leprosy is too simple to believe. Being buried in baptism, as 1 Peter 3:21 tells us, is too simple for many people to believe. When someone says “I don’t see why…” they are following the lead of Naaman. They are saying that their intellectual understanding of the cure is not satiated so they won’t do it.
Romans 6:4 tells us that the real cure for sin is to “walk in newness of life…”. Acts 2:38 tells us that there is exclusive help for those who obey God and do as He commands. “You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” means a cure for spiritual leprosy. It isn’t flashy or dependent on humans in any way. However, as with Naaman, there is power that can set us free from the clutches of sin and allow us to walk in newness of life.
— John N. Clayton © 2019