I have allergies. I don’t mean the seasonal allergies some of us sniffle through for a month or two each spring and fall. I mean life-threatening food allergies that affect everything I eat and don’t eat. Allergies that have turned me into a compulsive ingredient-reader for any food label in arm’s reach. Allergies that affect what restaurants I can go to and what I can eat at those restaurants.
My allergies didn’t used to be bad. I used to be able to enjoy most desserts, snacks, and restaurants and just avoid the things with obvious walnuts, pecans and cashews. If I wasn’t sure if a cookie had nuts in it, my brother taste tested it to determine if it was safe. And if I did happen to have a bite of cookie with nuts in it, I just took Benadryl and I was fine.
But then one day that all changed. I had a reaction that the Benadryl didn’t assuage. My reaction kept getting worse for several hours. When I started having trouble breathing, my parents took me to the emergency room. Since there weren’t even nuts in the (very yummy) cookie I had eaten, I had allergy testing to find out what might have caused my severe reaction.
The testing revealed that my allergies had gotten broader and more severe than when I first discovered my allergies as a nine year old. I no longer had a mild reaction to a few tree nuts. I now was susceptible to severe anaphylactic reactions to all tree nuts, coconut, peanut, many seeds and any oils or butters derived from the nuts and seeds. Aside from things that obviously have these nuts and seeds in them, I also now have to avoid things like goldfish crackers, potato chips, Arby’s curly fries, cool whip, Dilly bars, gummy vitamins, hot chocolate mixes, and even some condensed soups, gravies, and mac & cheeses. And that doesn’t even include the potential for cross-contamination in a bakery, buffet, ice cream shop, or restaurant grill.
With these allergies, I always have to be on the alert. I always have to be aware of the food that is around me to make sure I don’t accidentally eat something I’m allergic to. I have to watch out for what people around me are eating to avoid reactions from skin contact or airborne proteins.
My experiences with allergies have helped me see a spiritual parallel: what if I treated sin like I have to treat my allergies? What if we were so aware of the effects of sin and so sensitive to it, that we truly tried to avoid it? What if we followed 1 Peter 5:8 that says: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour”?
We often ask “how far is too far?” when it comes to sin to determine what we we’re “allowed” to do and still be good. Instead of pushing the boundaries, we should be on the alert and do all we can to avoid sin and be godly. If I went through life asking “how far is too far?” with my allergies, I would have visited the ER many more times and quite possibly be dead. I don’t have a choice on how I live my life in regards to food. And the reality is that as a follower of Christ, I don’t really have a choice in regards to my behavior and spiritual life either.
I am to obey verses like these:
- “But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22
- “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” 2 Timothy 2:22
- “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48
- “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2.
These verses call us to an incredibly high standard. For those who have given their lives to the lordship of Jesus Christ, we should strive to live well before God. We should strive to avoid sin like I have to avoid the coconut oil hiding in mint chocolate chip ice cream. Sin can often seem so good, or that it has so many benefits, but it destroys us.
We will often excuse sin with deceptions like: “it’s just a little white lie; it’s not going to hurt anyone” or “the movie isn’t that bad; it doesn’t really show anything” or “this song has such a fun tune and I don’t really pay much attention to the lyrics.” We tolerate sin because we don’t realize how dangerous it is to our spiritual lives.
My sin and yours cost Jesus His life. He died to free us from our sin. “For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so, consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Romans 6:10-11. I have to consider myself dead to bakeries and Chinese restaurants. I can’t eat anything from them. It’s just not an option or I risk an anaphylactic reaction that could kill me in a matter of minutes.
With everything I can’t eat, it often feels like I’m really missing out. Sometimes I really do miss some crispy curly fries or a chocolate donut. But I’ve realized my allergies do have their benefits. Since I can’t eat a lot of junk foods, I avoid a lot of sugar, fat, and processed foods that actually harm my health in the long run. I’ve had to cook more things from scratch and eat a lot less processed food. My allergies are beneficial because they have forced me to embrace a healthier diet.
Similarly, living without the deeds of the flesh (immorality, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, strife, etc.- Galatians 5:19-21) and living with the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – Galatians 5:22-23) is much better for our spiritual health.
We can never be perfect in our avoidance of sin, which is why God offers us forgiveness and grace. 1 John 1:9 says “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” We have been saved by grace through our faith in Jesus and not on the basis of what we do or how well we obey (Ephesians 2:8-9). We don’t obey God or avoid sin to earn our salvation, but rather as a means of serving and worshiping Him wholeheartedly because of the mercy He has shown us (Romans 6:15-18).
So, I challenge you: consider sin like allergies. Identify it. Avoid it. And don’t even go close to it. As we look at our lives to see what we might need to confess and change, we can pray a prayer King David prayed. He knew the pain and detriment of sin. He knew that God desired holiness. He knew that God forgives even when we fail. And he prayed:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.” Psalm 139:23-24