[Editor’s Comments: Our contributing author, Bob Russell, retired as Senior Pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY; and is an author, prolific speaker, and has mentored thousands throughout his many years of ministry.]
Since, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” we vaccinate our children against disease. The primary emphasis of medicine today is on maintaining wellness, not just curing illness. We all know the wisdom of fire prevention, crime prevention, and flood prevention.
But when it comes to our spiritual lives, we haven’t been as wise. The message of Jesus Christ is regarded primarily as a curative Gospel-medicine to help us when we are spiritually sick or an emergency treatment when we are in deep trouble.
When I was a boy in church we sang, “I was sinking deep in sin… When nothing else could help, love lifted me.” Today we ask people to give testimonies if they have a dramatic story about being rescued from the depths of sin. “I had an abortion”… “I was an alcoholic”… “I was addicted to pornography”… “I had multiple affairs.”
These are the people we hold as success stories — and they provide thrilling proof that the Gospel still saves to the uttermost.
It’s good that we emphasize the power of Jesus Christ to save us from being wretched sinners. There is a sense in which we all were once sinking deep in sin. But the Gospel is effective not only as a curative. Jude 24 speaks of prevention as well, “Unto Him who is able to keep you from falling.”
Now to Him who is able to protect you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24-25)
We need a new emphasis on spiritual wellness. We could use some testimonies in church about how Jesus Christ can prevent the family from falling apart. He can prevent us from drunken accidents. He can prevent us from falling into foolish get-rich-quick scams. He can prevent us from ruining our lungs with tobacco, our liver with alcohol, our heart with worry, and our spirit with bitterness.
Admittedly, those testimonies might not be as captivating. But they are more desirable. When we take Christianity seriously from youth and establish Christian habits and attitudes, that doesn’t mean we ever reach the point where we’re above temptation. But we can reach the point where fewer and fewer temptations have a strong appeal. We can benefit from a kind of spiritual immunity. Like Joseph in Egypt, we become immune to the temptation to commit adultery or to steal or commit murder.
A man once went to Dwight Moody with a sordid tale of moral disaster. After having narrated the complex, harrowing facts, he asked, “Now, Mr. Moody, what would you do if you got yourself into my situation?”
“Man”, Moody replied, “I never would have gotten into it!”
That’s not an entirely unsympathetic answer. Dwight Moody was acknowledging that Christianity is not simply an ambulance at the foot of the precipice to pick up those who have fallen over. It is a fence at the top to prevent people from falling in the first place.
There’s nothing very exciting about throwing away oily rags, having the furnace checked once a year, and not smoking in bed. Those precautions won’t make headlines. But if a fire is raging and a brave soul risks his life in a thrilling rescue the papers carry the story on the front page. But fire prevention is so much better.
If a young man grows up in a Christian home and is sustained by faith in Christ and lives an honorable life, few take notice. He isn’t asked to give his testimony in church. But while his story is not as thrilling as the dramatic conversion of someone rescued from a near-suicide, it is much preferred.
Harry Emerson Fosdick once suggested that there’s something better than the prodigal returning from the far country. It’s when he stays home and is humbly obedient to the Father.