IS PHYSICAL HEALING - IN THIS PRESENT LIFE - INCLUDED IN THE ATONEMENT PROMISES?
(Printer-friendly version here)
Does Christ's Sacrifice Mean We No Longer Need to be Sick?
If God Chooses Not to Heal, is it Because We Lack Faith?
What is 'Faith Healing'? Does God Heal Today? Why Are Some Not Healed? Understanding the Message of the Following Article is Vital if one is to Fully Understand this Question.
he Bible admonishes us to pray for the sick. I myself have prayed for the sick many times as many of you have. Occasionally I have seen the sick amazingly restored to health after such prayers, sometimes to the astonishment of doctors. On other occasions, though, the sick person was not healed of his or her illness.
I used to belong to a group which naively thought (without thinking through all of the theological implications and ramifications of their position) that the sick should be healed each and every time they are prayed for. If there was no healing, either the sick person had insufficient faith, or perhaps the person who prayed for them lacked faith. This is a naive and ultimately unbiblical theology of healing, since all the great men and women of faith mentioned in the Bible finally died of some illness or other. This position is based on the assumption that you and I should have the power of Jesus and the apostles. But Jesus' dramatic healings were for a reason: He healed as a sign and indication that He had the power of life and death with the ability to forgive sins. Those dramatic healings revealed who Jesus was! See Matthew 11:3-5; Mark 2:9-11; John. 5:36; 10:37-38. They pointed to a spiritual reality which went beyond the healing of some disease, to the ultimate spiritual healing of sin!
Secondly, the power to heal the sick and to drive out demons was granted to the apostles but there is no New Testament promise that all followers of Jesus would be granted such power. See What are the 'Signs of an Apostle'?
The group with which I once fellowshipped believed that physical healing is included within the efficacy of Christ's sacrifice, and that it is 'claimable' by the believer right here and now. The group held the concept of 'physical sin' which led to illness, and 'spiritual sin' which led to the possibility of eternal exclusion from God (they didn't believe in Hell). Both, however, came within the scope of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and were immediately accessible. That is to say: just as our spiritual sins can be blotted out by accepting Christ and by personally appropriating His sacrifice, even so with our 'physical sins,' therefore Christians should not really be sick! I generally believed this for quite a few years (although never without having certain questions about the general assumptions involved in the position), but then one day a very sincere man asked me a question which I simply found unanswerable; the man suffered badly from angina, it was never far away and was a constant hindrance to him. Some while after this man had been baptized, he put his question to me. It went something like this,
"You say to me that God has now completely forgiven my sins since I have repented, and accepted Christ's sacrifice. Is that true?"
"Yes, of course," I answered.
"But wait," he continued. "If you say that both physical sins and spiritual sins are now blotted out, how come I still get this angina pain under any exertion or stress?"
"Whats more, since I still suffer in an area which you say is covered by Christ's atonement, it is bound to make me wonder if my spiritual sins are really wiped clean. After all, my physical ones don't appear to have been!"
This was a very intelligent question and, to be frank, it left me speechless! It was the first time that I had had to confront the possibility that the teaching of so-called "physical sin" and the inclusion of healing of sickness within the present scope of the atonement of Christ brought with them quite serious problems.
While I was not yet quite ready to ditch this line of reasoning, I became more aware of serious problems which this concept brought with it. Within another year, however, I had ditched this concept. The idea brings terrible problems within congregational life since it frequently leads to the conclusion that the sick must be continuing to sin in some way, that is: assuming that they have been prayed for yet no healing has occurred, a lack of faith or a continual sinful life must be the explanation. Now let us make it clear that ultimate physical healing is indeed included in the atonement. In other words, there will be no sicknesses when we are in our all-powerful resurrection bodies. Yet while we must insist that spiritual healing is a current reality, are we not undermining that teaching by placing physical healing in the very same category? The answer, of course, is 'yes' and we were, and that the teaching was - and is - wholly erroneous.
The primary Scripture which is used to justify the 'physical healing within the atonement' teaching is 1 Peter 2: 24:
"Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness - by whose stripes you were healed."
So those who hold this belief divide Christ's sacrifice into two elements:
a. His body was broken for our physical healing, symbolised by the bread of communion.
b. His blood was shed for our spiritual healing, symbolised by the wine of communion.
So, according to this, the physical beating which Jesus had to endure before He was hung upon the cross was to 'pay for' physical healing for us!
But there is no biblical support for this approach, rather, Christ's sacrifice was to be a complete flesh and blood sacrifice in order to reconcile us to God, the flesh and blood are only separated to impress upon us that the sacrifice was complete - nothing held back. That is the biblical position and the problem is spiritual - not physical. Yet it is insisted by a few that 'by His stripes you were healed' refers to physical healing from every sickness here and now...if we have enough faith. But this is not what this Scripture is saying.
Now since there is a quote here from Isaiah 53, it is essential that we go there next. Isaiah 53 is the 'suffering servant' chapter which was so plainly a prophecy of Christ. I would challenge those who believe that 1 Peter 2:24 refers to healing from sickness for us today to go right through this chapter and to check the context. In the process, one will come to verse 5:
"But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed" - but continue - "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." (verse 6).
The context is spiritual healing throughout. The Hebrews often spoke in this way. The Hebrew word which is translated 'healing' had a holistic approach, referring to the whole person, but in most cases where it is used in the Old Testament, it is referring to emotional, mental and spiritual healing. The reader may wish to check out the following Scriptures; Isaiah 6:10 and Jeremiah 30:12-17. In Jeremiah 30, when talking of the suffering which had come upon Israel because of their rejection of their Maker, words such as 'wound,' 'sore,' 'pain' and 'cure' are used, but in verse 17 the Lord says:
"But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds, declares the Lord, because you are called an outcast, Zion for whom no-one cares." (New King James throughout).
Nobody doubts for one moment that Isaiah is not referring to physical illnesses here.
Now up to this point perhaps most readers are right with me, but I am aware that a few might now be shouting, 'Why does he not quote Matthew 8:14-17?' Does this not show that Isaiah 53:4 refers to physical healing? Let us read it, since it is obviously rather an important Scripture for us:
"When Jesus came into Peter's house, he saw Peter's mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him. When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to Him, and He drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
"He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases."'
But there are two vital things to notice here:
1. Since we have already plainly seen that the Hebrews tended to use the word 'healing' holistically, referring to the whole person, this does indeed show one element of the approach. Again (as we have already noted), Jesus healed the sick as a sign that He had the power to forgive sin.
2. Matthew's point is assuredly not that healing from illness is included within the atonement but, rather, that the healings of Jesus (not just physical, recall the demons which He cast out!) fulfilled Isaiah 53:4!
So, the comments in Matthew 8:14-17 only underline the Hebrew holistic view of 'healing.'
So whereas the Old Testament mostly uses the Hebrew word for healing when talking about the entire person (though mostly the emotional/mental/spiritual person), Matthew shows us that an important element can be seen in the mental and physical healings of our Lord. He shows that Jesus fulfilled this in His ministry! Again, let us remind ourselves that our Lord brings complete healing and the most vital aspect of that is our spiritual healing. True, He healed the sick during His ministry upon earth and Matthew perhaps concentrates on that element of the broad biblical concept of healing. But nothing in the last quoted Scripture suggests that healing from sickness is included within the atonement! It says that Jesus healed people from various maladies of the body and mind and that this fulfilled part of Isaiah 53! Jesus healed as a sign and indicator that He had power to forgive sins. Later on, the apostles also healed through the name of Jesus.
Just think how many passages throughout the New Testament speak of Christ's death and resurrection, especially in the more theological books such as Romans, Hebrews, Ephesians, Galatians and so on; All of these passages show that the atonement of Jesus Christ is about forgiving sin, it is a spiritual matter. There is never any point in the thousands of words written about the work of Christ upon the cross that any New Testament writer ever states that Christ's completed work means that we don't have to be sick!
The only one open to misunderstanding is 1 Peter 2:24 which I have already explained.
The existence of sick people is accepted by the New Testament writers, although we are continually encouraged to pray for these people. Many righteous people throughout the pages of the Bible become sick. Yes, oftentimes God healed, but quite often too He did not heal; we have to leave such decisions in God's capable hands, He knows what is best for us from the perspective of eternity! Paul was not able to heal Timothy's stomach problem (1 Timothy 5:23), when Paul himself pleaded with God to heal him of his 'thorn in the flesh' (almost certainly some health problem), God plainly said 'No' to Paul because His (the Lord's) grace was sufficient for him (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Apparently Trophimus (2 Timothy 4:20) was not healed. Over in the Old Testament, Job endured terrible suffering and even Elisha the prophet finally died of disease (2 Kings 13:14). Would anybody seriously suggest that he was not healed since he lacked faith?
Sickness is always regrettable but probably inevitable at some stage for all of us, since the Bible also shows that our bodies - apparently like the universe - are slowly 'running down' during our lives. Isn't this what we all experience? Notice 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 and 2 Corinthians 4:16. Paul said that 'our outer man is decaying.' Only in the resurrected state will be completely free from illness and pain. For the meantime I think that God often has a purpose in allowing illness. Don't forget that we are promised trials in this life. Just one final question then, what about healing as a gift of the Spirit?
While we certainly recognise that the first century 'clustering' of the more spectacular gifts were 'the signs of an apostle' (Acts 5:12-16, Acts 14:3, Acts 15:12, Acts 19:11, 2 Corinthians 12:12 and Hebrews 2: 2-4) and the apostles are not around today, this should not lead us to the extreme position of cessationism ('cessationism' would say that the spectacular gifts have now entirely ceased). There is ample evidence that in certain times and scenarios of God's choosing (not ours!) the more spectacular gifts have reappeared. However, I get very weary with the activities of certain "healing and deliverance ministries," with their yelling, razamataz and - all too frequently - highly money-conscious approach. Some of these people really should take some time off to sort out their theology before they go around, foolishly and irresponsibly, telling sick people that they can all be healed if they have enough faith!
When our son was healed from meningitis - to the great surprise of medical staff - I had simply sat by his hospital bed and asked God to heal him, very simple. When I finished my prayer, my son who had lapsed into a coma, opened his eyes and looked around the hospital room in an astonished fashion. 5 days later he went home! No shouting, no yelling, no 'slaying in the spirit,' no expensive set, no silk suits; hospital staff were not even aware that I was praying for my son. Let us seek to honour God without drawing undue attention to ourselves.
Does God heal today? Yes He does, but when He chooses to heal, for He has complete sovereignty in the matter. Neither should we expect to see the huge 'cluster' of healing miracles which followed Jesus or the apostles around. God expects us to petition Him for the healing of ourselves or others and then - if it is in the eternal best interests of the sick person - He will heal. But if He has allowed the sickness as a trial to spiritually develop the sick person or those close to the sick person, He probably will not heal. Understanding this point can make our prayers more efficaceous, since we may ask God to at least reduce the painful burden of the illness, or even to change the trial. I have noticed that where God says 'No,' He often does reduce the pain/stress factor of the illness.
But let us never lose sight of the fact that the form of healing which God is most concerned about is spiritual healing, which is the ultimate healing which Jesus' healing miracles foreshadowed. We are healed in this way by turning from our sins and accepting Jesus Christ as our Saviour. Ultimately, in Heaven and in the final resurrected state, this does of course indeed include complete healing from every disease of the mind and body.
Robin A. Brace
2002, slight re-edit in 2008.
You may also wish to read:
A FEW OBSERVATIONS UPON CHRISTIANS BECOMING SICK...
SORCERY IN THE BIBLE, PHARMAKEIA AND MODERN MEDICINE; ANY CONNECTION?
MUSELTOF COUNTERCULT AND APOLOGETICS
WITNESS TO THE WORD