(image courtesy ChristArt)
Psalm 103:2-3 (ESV):
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
No other agency on earth has been able to match the Church’s record of success in caring for the sick and afflicted. How many atheistic hospitals do you know about? How many Buddhist hospice’s have you discovered? At a time when Western culture desperately needs the church’s ministry of healing, it is the charismatic-Pentecostals who proclaim it regularly but it is almost absent or invisible in most churches of evangelical persuasion.
Western health-care has become one of the most secularised fields in the modern world.
Yet because of the cross, Pentecost and the gifts of the Spirit, the healing ministry is available in and through the church.
“It is an astonishing fact that the early Church won the population of the Roman Empire to Christ, at the rate of half a million converts every generation, while it was still a persecuted and illegal sect… Theologian John Jefferson Davis tells us: ‘The high moral standards of the church and its demonstrated compassion for the less fortunate were important features of its life that attracted outsiders. . .’
“Less well known today is the fact that the demonstrated ability of early Christians to exorcise demons constituted a powerful weapon in its evangelistic arsenal. . .
“The Church either has the dynamis of the Spirit or she does not. . .
“We must insist that Biblical, orthodox Christianity includes exorcism and healing, in a proper balance with worship and the Church’s ministries of teaching, evangelism, and charity. This is certainly the testimony of the New Testament. And it is witnessed by the historic Church as well” (Chilton 1987:160-161).
I. A BRIEF THEOLOGY OF HEALING
A. Healing in the Redemptive Work of Christ
Please note that I will not use the statement, “Healing is in the atonement.” This is very deliberate because when we say, “Healing is in the atonement,” we are tempted to put it on the same level as salvation. “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (I do not believe in limited atonement.) But whoever intercedes for divine healing may or may not be healed. Why is this?
There are two main camps in this discussion:
1. Healing is available on the same basis as forgiveness.
Therefore, all Christians should experience immediate healing for every sickness, the same way they experience forgiveness.
2. Christians are not always healed; therefore, healing cannot be in the redemptive work of Christ.
Both sides are partly right and partly wrong. The problem lies with this kind of misconception: healing in the atonement automatically implies perfect physical health for every Christian who asks for healing. Because many Bible teachers and preachers have adopted this point of view, they have brought confusion, bondage for believers, and have hindered God’s people from receiving the blessing of physical healing.
See my article, ‘Should God heal all Christians who pray for healing?’
3. An examination of Isaiah 53:3-12
- This is a prophetic passage concerning Christ’s crucifixion.
- Two human problems stand out in this passage: sin and sickness.
- Verse 3 prophetically refers to Jesus as a man of pains and sickness. (There is no indication in Gospels that Jesus was ever in any kind of ill health until 24 hours before his death. e.g. Gethsemane, Luke 22:44.)
- Psalm 22:1-2, 6-8, and11-18 further describe the physical and emotional aspects of Christ’s overwhelming pain and sickness in prophetic expectation.
Why did Jesus have to suffer such pain and sickness? Isaiah 53 says that he took our infirmities (sicknesses); it is our pain he has borne. He was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him. By his wounds we are healed.
From this passage it is clear that sin and sickness are borne by Christ on the cross in exactly the same way. I cannot see any other conclusion from this passage.
T.J. McCrossan (1982) in his book, Bodily Healing and the Atonement, wrote:
“In Isaiah 53:4 we read, `Surely He [Christ] hath borne our griefs (kholee–sickness), and carried our sorrows (makob–pains).’ Kholee is from chalah–to be weak, sick, afflicted. In Deuteronomy 7:15 we read, `The Lord will take away from thee all sickness’ (kholee). This word is translated sickness in Deuteronomy 28:61; I Kings 17:17; 2 Kings 1:2; and 8:8. Makob is translated pain in Job 33:19: ‘He is chastened also with pain (makob).’ In Jeremiah 51:8 we read, `Take balm for her pain (makob)'” (1982:17).
When Matthew refers to this passage he uses the words infirmities and diseases (Matt. 8:16-17, NIV; illnesses and diseases, ESV). He then connects the passage with Jesus’ healing ministry while here on earth. They are not griefs and sorrows as in KJV, but illnesses and diseases (ESV).
What does it mean that Christ has borne (nasa) our sicknesses and pains? It is interesting that the same word is used in both Isa. 53:4 and 53:12, “he bore the sin of many.” The Hebrew word, nasa, means to bear in the sense of “suffering punishment for something” (Sipley, 1986:115-116).
A.J. Gordon wrote:
“The yoke of His cross by which He lifted our iniquities, took hold also of our diseases. . . He who entered into mysterious sympathy with our pain–which is the fruit of sin–also put Himself underneath our pain, which is the penalty of sin. In other words the passage seems to teach that Christ endured vicariously our diseases, as well as our iniquities” (n.d., pp. 16-17).
Andrew Murray’s interpretation was:
“It is not said only that the Lord’s righteous Servant had borne our sins, but also that He has borne our sicknesses. Thus his bearing our sicknesses forms an integral part of the Redeemer’s work, as well as bearing our sins” (1934:99).
However, I Peter 2:24 seems to be in the context of bearing our sins for salvation, not sicknesses for healing.
B. Practical Outworking of Healing in the Church
(image courtesy ChristArt)
1. I Corinthians 12:4-14: “gifts of healings” (v. 9)
The risen Christ has given gifts to his church (Eph. 4:7-16). Healing is supposed to be a normal part (not to be over-emphasised or an exaggerated part), but a normal part of the on-going life of the church.
There’s a controversial passage at the end of Mark’s Gospel. The early church, after the Gospels were written, believed that one of the “signs” of the believing community was healing. Mark 16:17 (ESV) reads: “They will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” Please note, that I do not accept that Mark 16:17 is part of the canon of Scripture.
However, William Hendriksen’s words provide a wise assessment:
“What, then, must we think of Mark 16:9-20, that is, of the ending? It is an interesting summary of some of the appearances of the risen Savior and of his subsequent ascension and session at God’s right hand. As such it is instructive, for it shows us an early church view – how extensively held cannot be precisely indicated – of these matters. To the extent in which this ending truly reflects what is found elsewhere inside the covers of our Bible it can be described as a product, however indirectly, of divine inspiration. Since it would be very difficult – perhaps impossible – to defend the thesis that every word of this ending is without flaw, no sermon, doctrine, or practice should be based solely upon its contents” (1975:687).
God can and does heal in answer to the prayers of the humblest believer.
2. James 5:14-16. “The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well.”
In most normal circumstances, God has directed Christians to be healed through the ministry of elders of the church. Compare Mark 6:12-13.
a. God deals with his people through church eldership ministry.
This is God’s usual way of healing. Anointing with oil is part of the regular pastoral ministry of church elders. Some might say,” What if I don’t have the gift of healing?” That is not the issue. If a person has been chosen (ordained?) as an elder, we know he or she has been divinely gifted to engage in a ministry of healing. The gift goes with the ministry of the elders. The Biblical teaching is straight forward: Elders are involved in the healing ministry.
b. What is the prayer of faith?
1) It does not refer to positive confession (blab it and grab it). This is forcing the hand of God and is grossly presumptuous, manipulative and has occult overtones. It ignores our need for humility and brokenness before God and, even worse, it also ignores the infinite, sovereignty of God.
2) It is not “claiming the promises.”
Many people think you can choose any Scriptural promise, take it to God in prayer, and claim the answer from God. i.e. He must answer our prayers and give us what we ask. Serious problems with this approach include:
- Is the Scripture really a promise at all?
- Have we met the conditions God places on it?
3) The prayer of faith is not “obeying the Word.”
It is extremely important to obey the Word of God, but such obedience is not the prayer of faith.
4) Mark 11:22-23 tells us what the prayer of faith is.
How can I have the faith of God? It seems as though it is only by God Himself bearing witness in your heart (inner spirit). If it is God’s faith, it must be God Himself thinking His thoughts through my mind with His own certainty. How does this happen?
I suggest that it happens when my will is in total submission to God and my spirit is open and sensitive to the Spirit of God. It happens in God’s own timing as the elder waits on the Lord. It may happen the first time I go to the Lord; other times it may take many times—persistence. It may happen as I search his word, wait in prayer, or go about my daily duties.
“But when God knows all things are as He wants them, then `a word from Christ’ will be spoken in my heart. I will know what God wants me to do. I will know how God intends to fulfil His promise of divine life in me. I will experience the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, setting me free from the law of death (sickness) in my body. I will not need to try to make myself believe. I will have no doubt. I will be able to pray the prayer of faith for myself or others, and the life of Christ will triumph over sickness in the manner God sees as best” (1986:124).
c. This ministry is performed in connection with confession of sins (James 5:15-16).
It may be sickness because of sin, but not always. See I Cor. 11:30. The effects of unconfessed and unforgiven sin are pervasive throughout people’s lives. People need to confess their sins to the ministering elders and to those whom they have wronged.
God may grace the church with those who are especially gifted in praying for the sick and God uses them for healing. But such a ministry must be carried on within the structure of the local church, never in opposition to or in competition with the local church. There have been gross abuses because of the ministry of “lone ranger” healers or fraudulent healers.
David Chilton says “there is not a shred of evidence, either in the New Testament or Church history, for the independent professional miracle-worker” (1987:165). The freelance healer is not a biblical option. However, a believer may be given “gifts of healings” (I Cor. 12:9, note the two plurals), through gifts of the Spirit in the church. God’s supernatural ways of healing the sick are available today. They are just as relevant as the gift of “faith by the same Spirit,” “prophecy,” or “ability to distinguish between spirits,” etc.
I am reminded of Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV), “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
This is a clear indicator that there will be sham perpetrators of God’s gifts during the church age. However, the counterfeit should serve to point to the genuine, just as counterfeit money would not make sense if there were not the real to imitate.
C. Does God always heal?
God does not always answer our prayers by healing the sick. We must always remember that God is sovereign. “He does whatever he pleases (Ps. 115:3). He is not a genie who does as we tell him. He knows that is best for us. He is the Almighty Lord, the sovereign Creator and planner of all that is good. He is perfectly free to answer us in the way he chooses.
“One of the most important lessons of the Book of Job is that the world does not revolve around man and his perceived needs. The world revolves around God and His plans; the universe exists for God’s glory and pleasure. And God’s purposes transcend our lives, our problems, our hopes and dreams. It can be a bitter pill to swallow, but we haven’t gotten to first base yet if we fail to realize that people don’t come first. God comes first. . God’s ultimate answer to Job boils down to the simple fact that God is God, and Job is not (see Job 38-41)” (Chilton, 1987:168).
The fact that I suffer with sickness is no argument against the justice or mercy of God. If he denies my request for healing, I must rest in the knowledge that I am suffering according to His will. The very same Book of James that teaches on healing, also teaches on the benefits of suffering. See James 1:2-4:
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (NASB).
The modern evangelical heresy that godly people are free from suffering was unknown to the Apostle Paul. Suffering, an evil in itself, can have beneficial, sanctifying effects under the providence of God.
Prayer is nothing more than a request from children to their Father. The power belongs to the Father. The power is not in the request itself or in the person who makes the request.
We must remember the emphasis of Psalm 116:15 (ESV), “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” We will die unless Jesus returns before then.
At some point our prayers will not help because the time has come for our body and spirit to be separated to await resurrection on the last day. God’s ultimate will is not to keep everyone reasonably healthy in this life. Rather, it is to bring all of us, body and soul, into the fullness of the New Creation.
D. What about medicine?
Is it sinful to use “natural” or “human” means to restore health? Certainly not — as long as we do not fall into the same trap as Asa did in 2 Chron. 16:12: He “did not seek the Lord, but the physicians” and so died.
We must realise that all health is given through the work of the Holy Spirit. No doctor has the ability to heal. Dr. Luke is called “the beloved physician” (Col. 4:14). Paul told Timothy to “use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities” (I Tim. 5:23). There is no hint here that Timothy was living in disobedience or lack of faith.
We need to use medicine prayerfully. It is Christianity that has brought the blessings of modern science and medicine. Modern medicine has its problems and limitations, but it is light years ahead of anything produced by witch doctors.
George Grant wrote:
“The advancement of modern medicine has a direct correspondence with the advancement of the Gospel. Christian nations are havens of medical mastery, guarding the sanctity of life” (in Chilton, 1987:167).
“Guarding the sanctity of life” is being flaunted today with the promotion of abortion and euthanasia.
For over a thousand years Christian churches and monastic communities were the only agencies involved in ministry to the sick. Christians built hospitals and staffed them. They did this while bathing the ministries in prayer. This is a dilemma for the rationalistic atheist. For Christians, it is just being faithful to God’s word. The godly farmer plants, waters, fertilises, prunes, fights off pests and predators – and prays for God to bring the harvest.
So, we can pray for healing (some may be gifted with a ministry of healings, I Cor. 12:9); the elders can pray and anoint with oil (James 5:14-15); we can take medicine. But it is God who proclaims, “I am the Lord, your healer” (Ex. 15:26). He heals according to His good and perfect will.
(image courtesy ChristArt
Chilton, D. (1987). Power in the Blood: A Christian Response to AIDS. Brentwood, Tennessee: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Publishers, Inc., 1987.
Gordon, A. J. (n.d.). The Ministry of Healing. Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, Inc.
Hendriksen, W. (1975). The Gospel of Mark (New Testament Commentary). Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust.
McCrossan, T. J. (1982). Bodily Healing and the Atonement. Tulsa Oklahoma: Rhema Bible Church.
Murray, A. (1934). Divine healing. London: Victory Press.
Sipley, R. M. (1986). Understanding Divine Healing. England: Scripture Press Foundation (UK) Ltd.
Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 14 April 2016.