The Critical Difference Between the Symptoms and the Sickness


2 Corinthians 5:21 (NASB)

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin in our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.


The day before yesterday, we left off with a question that bears revisiting. 

What is your experience of being reconciled to God? Is it a truth you “accept” or is it a real, living experience?

A lot of people I know “accept” this as true and yet they have no experience of it. Most of the people I know who have a real experience of the gospel are people who either a) went through a difficult trial or crisis, or b) really screwed up their lives. And so the ordinary sinners are left to think, “Well, I believe but maybe not as much as those people do.” 

That was kind of my experience for the longest time. I knew I was a sinner, but not like super bad. I couldn’t give you the date and timestamp of my conversion experience. Truth be told, I had more of a vaccination or inoculation than anything else. I had just enough of the gospel to keep me from catching the real thing. 

Here’s where I think I went wrong. I thought of sinners as people who really sinned big; people who had become somehow bad. I was a sinner, just not a bad one, so I probably didn’t need Jesus as much as those kind of sinners did. I was pretty much looking at sin in the category of morality and moral failure. My problem is I thought I was a sinner because I sinned, and to the extent that I sinned. 

Sin, however, is much bigger and much worse than that. Here’s the truth: We aren’t sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners. We are born into sin. Sin is the fundamental corruption common to every person. It is not something we chose. Sin does not begin as personal moral failure. It begins as a fundamental broken condition, like a disease or an infection one is born with. Sin is much more like terminal cancer than it is moral failure. It leads to all manner of failure. No matter how much or how little we think we have sinned, we all have the sickness in equal measure. 

Are you tracking with me? I am saying two things here. There are our sins and then there is our sin. Our sins are the symptoms. Our sin is the sickness. This is why our world is in such a disastrous condition. Everyone is born with this sickness. And everyone, to a greater or lesser degree, manifests the symptoms of the sickness. The primary presenting symptom is self-ism, or self-centered-ness, self-absorption, self-gratification, or selfishness. It will show up in a thousand shades of self-harm, from overeating to suicide. Yet sin is not not just personal but relational. Sin not only harms the self but always harms others. And sin is always against God.

Ultimately, sin means detachment, from one’self, others, and God. It’s why the opposite of sin is not good behavior. It is love. It’s why the greatest commandment centers around loving God, others, and self. Love is holy, bonded attachment to God, others, and one’self. 

So where does this leave us? We want to manage the symptoms—our sins. God deals with the sickness—our sin. And we come finally to our text (with apologies for the long route there today)

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin in our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Jesus not only deals with the symptoms but he goes straight to the sickness. He cures us from sin cancer. Jesus heals us. This is the first half of the gospel. In the second half of the Gospel, he restores and re-news us to what he had in mind for us in the first place. 

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, this person is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 2 Corinthians 5:17 

It’s why my favorite verse of the old hymn, It is well with my soul, is the third stanza. Let’s make it our prayer today. 


My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought,
My sin, not in part but the whole
Is nailed to the Cross and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!


Do you see the difference in the confession, “I have sinned,” and “I am a sinner?” Have you made the latter confession? Will you? 

For the Awakening,

J.D. Walt

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WHAT IS THIS? Wake-Up Call is a daily encouragement to shake off the slumber of our busy lives and turn our eyes toward Jesus. Each morning our community gathers around a Scripture, a reflection, a prayer, and a few short questions, inviting us to reorient our lives around the love of Jesus that transforms our hearts, homes, churches, and cities.

Comments and Discussion

2 Responses

  1. AMEN! I can totally relate to the change in perspective from sin being the result to being the cause of our failure to live the live we were originally created to live. David captures the truth of our fallen condition in his penitential Psalm 51:3. “Surly I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me”. And yes, it’s been my experience as well that it requires a crisis of faith to fully grasp that change in perspective.

  2. The hardest moment of my life was when I was forced to acknowledge that I am a broken and confused mess; something I had been trying to compensate for most of my life. Fortunately, it got better because I learned that was the whole point of why Jesus did what he did when He, the Creator God, became the created. But then it got even better because I learned that what Jesus did does not stop at the cross. There is always more grace to be had.

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