A Healthy Theology of Healing by Phil Moore

Widely found on the internet is the wonderful PDF by Phil Moore on a Healthy Theology of Healing. As this PDF has many scripture references, I have copied the material here so that my Bible Reference Tagger will show the scriptures. All copyright goes to the original author. There may be some issues with Greek or Hebrew texts.


“A HEALTHY THEOLOGY OF HEALING”

Have you ever looked at an old photograph of yourself and been struck by how much younger you look in the photo? Welcome to the club. It’s called the ageing process. The apostle Paul talked about it in 2 Corinthians 4:16 when he told his readers that “We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”

Ultimately this “wasting away” of our bodies reminds us that they are mortal and will not sustain our souls on this planet beyond a mere fraction of its history. Only God is immortal, or as the writer to the Hebrews puts it, “Man is destined to die.” (Heb 9:27)

On the other hand, have you ever stopped to think about the way in which your body constantly replenishes itself, bringing healing and wholeness to itself wherever there is decay?

In the next hour alone your body will shed some 600,000 skin cells, but you won’t notice because simultaneously it will also produce 600,000 more.

This may sound like a busy hour’s work, but it’s nothing compared to what is happening in your blood vessels every second. Every single second of your life 2,000,000 red blood cells return to your bone marrow to die, and they are replaced every second by another 2,000,000 red blood cells which will make a quarter of a million round trips of your body before they also return to the bone marrow to die. No wonder you sometimes feel a bit tired!

We also see our bodies working even harder each time we are ill. Colds get better – with or without Lemsip and Lockets – if we simply give our body enough time to recover. Broken bones mend. Cut fingers heal. Although our bodies cannot deal with every sickness without medical intervention, it is obvious that our bodies have an inbuilt capacity, given them by their Designer, which works tirelessly to heal what is sick and mend what is broken. God has decreed that our bodies are mortal, but He is still very committed to promoting healing and wholeness in them as an expression of His character. As Christians, we are not confused by this paradox. The atheist learns no spiritual lesson from the opposing principles of both healing and decline in his body. Without firm hope beyond the grave, he either laments or ignores his mortality whilst trying to halt the decline as long as possible before death inevitably comes. We know as Christians, however, that these two opposing forces of physical healing and decline are at the very heart of the Gospel. When God created the world He saw that it was “very good” (Gen 1:31), but when Adam disobeyed the Lord’s command that “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen 2:17) he brought about the Fall and its very bad consequences. Paul explains that “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin” (Rom 5:12), and Moses makes it clear that sickness was part of the curse which came through sin (Deut 28:21-22&59-61). This makes sense of Peter’s teaching that Jesus was undoing the work of the Fall in his earthly ministry when he came “healing all who were under the power of the devil” (Acts 10:38), and explains why Scripture teaches that it is often (but not always) linked to demonic activity (Mt 9:32-33, Lk 13:11&16).1 Sickness is not just a biological and medical phenomenon, but also a spiritual one related to the devil’s work in the world (Acts 10:38). Healing is therefore part of God’s work in the world, as personified in Jesus Christ, who became a human being with a mortal body in order to “destroy the devil’s work” (1Jn 3:8).

Given the clear biblical teaching about the two principles of human mortality and divine healing, no Christian seriously denies either one of them in their entirety. Even the most die-hard cessationist still expects to get better when he catches the ‘flu, and if necessary goes to the doctor to help his body in its work of recuperation. Even the most fiery Pentecostal faith-healer does not seriously expect his congregation to experience so much healing from God that they will never actually die.

The question is not whether the Bible and experience teach that there are two principles of mortality and healing at work in our bodies, but how much we can expect God to heal our mortal bodies right now. Since Jesus taught that healing was a primary sign that His Kingdom had come (Mt 10:7-8, Mk 1:15&27, Lk 9:2,9:11&10:9), the answer to this question is part of the bigger question of how much has the Kingdom of God already come? In this much bigger question lies a healthy theology of healing.

Most Christians agree that the Kingdom of God has come through the first coming of Jesus Christ. Jesus said “If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Mt 12:28). He quietened John the Baptist’s doubts over whether he truly was the promised Messianic King by reminding him that through him “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised” (Mt 11:5).

Most Christians also agree that the Kingdom of God has not yet fully come and will not fully come until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (Lk 19:11-12). The apostle John saw that it was only after the Second Coming that the angels would fully proclaim that “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ” (Rev 11:15), and he also saw that it was only after the Second Coming that the old order of things would be ended and sickness would become a distant memory rather than a daily reality. He tells us that “I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’” (Rev 21:1-5a). We do not yet possess the resurrection bodies which Jesus has won for us through his work of salvation, but we eagerly await them through the groans and trials of this life (1Cor 15:39-53, Phil 3:21, Rom 8:23, Acts 14:22), knowing that at the Second Coming of Jesus we will be raised to life to enjoy the complete fullness of the Kingdom of God.

Most Christians agree still further that we have a role to play as Christians in turning the now-but not-yet Kingdom of God into reality on earth today. Jesus, after all, told us to ask the Father “Let your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10).

Therefore since almost all Christians agree that, in Jesus Christ, the promised Kingdom has come (Gen 49:10, Jer 23:5-6, Eze 21:25-27), a healthy theology of healing answers the question of just how much the Kingdom of God came through his First Coming and how much we should resign ourselves to sickness in the here and now as part of our groaning for his speedy Second Coming. Put simply, we can say that if the Kingdom of God has come much then I can have much expectation of being healed, but if the Kingdom of God has come little then I can have little expectation of being healed (Lk 10:9).

This paper will therefore examine each of the four main Christian answers to the question of how much the Kingdom of God has already come in Jesus Christ, and will conclude by showing how a biblical answer to this question provides us with the framework for a healthy theology of healing. This will then provide us with four crucial areas in which we need to grow in our own personal ministries if we are to bring the healing of God to our own generation as an expression of the Kingdom rule, here and now, of the Great King Jesus Christ.

FOUR VIEWS OF HOW MUCH WE CAN EXPECT GOD TO HEAL

With so many differing Christian viewpoints on healing, it is very difficult to summarize them into four groups without over-simplifying the spectrum of opinions. Even so, if we are aware that the four views actually represent a wider discussion, then it makes the task much more manageable. 2

VIEWPOINT #1: “THE CLASSIC LIBERAL VIEW”

This viewpoint agrees with the other three views that the BC era was a time of waiting for the Kingdom of God, and that the era after the Second Coming will see the Kingdom in all its fullness (see fig.1 below). However, the liberal theologians in the last century and a half have been so affected by the seismic shift in the Western worldview which was ushered in by the ‘Enlightenment’ and by Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species’ that they struggle to accept the idea of God ever intervening in the world to perform a healing miracle – either inside or outside of Scripture – and they therefore question whether He even healed miraculously through Jesus, let alone promises to do so through us.

Their position can be best summarized as “Although God has the power to heal and this is a sign of His coming Kingdom, He does not heal people miraculously today and has probably never done so because He respects the natural laws of the universe.” They would see the Kingdom largely as ‘not yet’, and have little expectation of any miraculous healing this side of the Second Coming of Jesus.

Click for full sized image.

The liberal writer Rudolph Bultmann writes in his book ‘Jesus Christ and Mythology’ that “Modern man acknowledges as reality only such phenomena or events as are comprehensible within the framework of the rational order of the universe. He does not acknowledge miracles because they do not fit into this lawful order.” 3Langdon B. Gilkey describes the biblical accounts of the miracles in Exodus as “the acts Hebrews believed God might have done and the words he might have said had he done and said them – but of course we recognize that he did not.” 4 This tragic viewpoint owes far more to 20th-Century rationalism than it does to any of the contents of the Bible. In fact, it so denies the reliability of the gospel accounts that Bultmann eventually admits that when examining the Easter events he feels that “an historical fact which involves a resurrection from the dead is utterly inconceivable.” 5 Such a desire to subject the words of Scripture to the arrogant claims of the modern Western worldview effectively presents Jesus as so bereft of kingly power that we are left wondering how they would even believe that the Second Coming and the full inauguration of the Kingdom of God would truly bring the kind of healing they dismiss as so fanciful.

This liberal theology of healing extols western science and dismisses the historical facts of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It is decidedly unhealthy, so let’s try another.

VIEWPOINT #2: “THE CLASSIC CESSATIONIST VIEW”

Unlike liberals, cessationists do not deny that God healed in Bible times or that He can heal today. What they do deny is that it is the purpose of God to heal through anointed men and women at this stage in history. Their view is best summarized as God can heal today and may occasionally do so, but because we do not live in the ‘apostolic era’ God no longer grants people gifts of healing, and any human claim to possess modern-day gifts of healing are bogus.” As leading cessationist theologian Richard B Gaffin writes, “I do not deny that God heals today . . . I do question, however, whether the gifts of healing and of working miracles as listed in 1 Corinthians 12:9-10 are given today.” 6 This view therefore draws an extra line on our timeline in Fig.2 which it calls the end of ‘the apostolic era’ in c. 100 AD, when after a brief period of supernatural miracles the Lord withdrew these gifts until they return at his Second Coming. 7

Click for full size image.

It is important that we understand that the cessationist view is not at its root a theology of healing. It is primarily an attempt to protect the bedrock Reformation belief of sola scriptura against the perceived rival authority of modern prophecy and apostleship if any of the charismatic gifts of 1 Cor 12:7-11 and Eph 4:11 are still functioning today. If miraculous healing is available today then logically so must be the other charismatic gifts, including prophecy and apostleship, and cessationists fear that this divine empowerment of modern-day individuals would compromise the supremacy of the 1st-Century apostles and the final authority of the Bible. 8 Although this viewpoint is held by sincere Christians who love and treasure the Bible as the inerrant word of God, a brief look at their three key arguments show that however sincere they are, their theology is not sound.

The first key argument is that healing miracles were given to authenticate the apostles until the New Testament was completed, and therefore ceased once the canon of scripture was complete. This argument was popularized by BB Warfield as an explanation of why the promised miracles of the New Testament were not common in his own day, but it is seriously flawed.

Firstly, there is no specific verse in Scripture which tells us that the charismatic gifts were in any way a temporary phenomenon – in fact, a straight reading of the New Testament encourages us to expect them to continue! If this were the genuine teaching of the New Testament then we would expect at least one clear verse in the Bible to warn generations of Christians to expect the charismatic promises of Scripture not to apply to them. But there is no such verse. 9

Secondly, there are several specific verses in Scripture which imply that charismatic gifts will last throughout AD history until Jesus returns. Paul tells the Corinthians that “You do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed” (1Cor 1:7), and he tells them that charismatic gifts will continue until “perfection comes” and “we see face to face” (1Cor 13:9-12). 10

Thirdly, if the cessationist view is correct that gifts of miraculous healing were given to prove that certain men were real apostles and that their writings should therefore be regarded as Holy Scripture, then why is it that many of the key writers of the New Testament were not apostles (Mark, Luke, Jude) or were people who as far as Scripture tells us did not perform any miracles (Mark, Luke, James, Jude)? If the primary purpose of the healing gift was to authenticate the writings of a small group of miracle-working apostles then surely there was a massive misdirection of this gift to the wrong people! The Corinthian and Galatian churches which had stumbled into false doctrine (1Cor 15:12-14, Gal 1:6-7) performed more recorded miracles than the writers of the two of the Gospels (1Cor 1:7&12:9, Gal 3:5)!

Fourthly, Jesus and the New Testament writers exhibited none of the protective restriction on the use of gifts of healing that we would expect if it was as firmly linked to the question of apostolic authority as the cessationists suppose. Jesus was happy for an anonymous follower to perform miracles despite not being one of the Twelve (Mk 9:38-41), and for all the Seventy-Two to perform miracles (Lk 10:1&9). Luke writes about the miracles of the deacons Stephen (Acts 6:8) and Philip (Acts 8:6-7), and of the rank-and-file Christian Ananias (Acts 9:17-18) without hesitating in case he set unfair expectations for his readers.

Fifthly, Scripture actually tells us what the primary purpose of the charismatic gifts is, including gifts of healing. They are not given for the authentication of Scripture. They are given “for the common good” (1Cor 12:7) and “for the strengthening of the church” (1Cor 14:26), something which is surely just as important today as it was before the canon of Scripture was completed. 11

The second key argument is that since Jesus and the apostles healed all who came to them, the gulf between the quantity and quality of healings in the so-called ‘apostolic era’ and those claimed by modern charismatics indicates that modern healings are well-intentioned but bogus.

Although it is an argument from silence, it appears that Jesus did indeed heal all who came to him, 12 but there is at least some evidence that the apostles were not always able to heal all who came to them. Paul appears to have waited for faith to be present before he healed the sick (Acts 14:8-10), and we will need to return later in this paper to the question of why Epaphroditus and Trophimus were not immediately healed through Paul’s prayers (Phil 2:25-27 & 2Ti 4:20). There is at least some evidence that healing was not automatic even for the first-century apostles.

Nor is it at all clear that Jesus and the apostles only did what some cessationists call ‘high quality’ miracles and not the ‘low quality’ healings of which they are so dismissive. When Matthew tells us that Jesus “went through all the towns and villages…preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction” (Mt 9:35), he is specifically telling us that Jesus performed both ‘high quality’ and ‘low quality’ miracles (the fact that we are using such horrible terms to describe any of the Holy Spirit’s activity should give us a clue that this thinking is misguided!). Similarly, when Luke singles out the ‘high quality’ way in which Peter healed people with just his shadow in Acts 5:15, he does not appear to feel that he has in any way disqualified the ‘low quality’ healings performed only three verses earlier by the other apostles who had to lay their hands on people to see them healed (Acts 5:12 ESV). In fact, he deliberately shatters the myth that there was one single degree of healing gift in the early Church when he tells us that Paul performed “extraordinary miracles” in Ephesus (Acts 19:11-12) compared to the “ordinary miracles” performed by others. Clearly some received greater gifts of healing then, as now, and this should actually encourage us to fan our emerging healing gifting into flame more and more (1Ti 4:4, 2Ti 1:6), so that we might move from seeing one in ten healed to one in three healed, and from seeing minor ailments healed to seeing cancers and HIV healed. The fact that I see fewer than the apostle Peter’s 3000 saved each time that I preach the Gospel (Acts 2:41) is not proof that the gift of evangelism has ceased! It simply shows me that as yet my faith is still immature (Rom 12:6). The same is true of gifts of healing.

The third and final argument is that miraculous healings have not occurred throughout the whole of Church history, and therefore they cannot be an integral part of Christianity for every generation.

Although there are periods in Church history where there are few historical accounts of miraculous healing, the historical record is too incomplete to construct this argument from silence. The absence of healing has undoubtedly been exaggerated by cessationists because they have a tendency to dismiss all historical accounts of miracles as spurious – especially if they were performed by anyone who did not hold to the complete body of systematic theology that has been rubber stamped as acceptable to God by modern western reformed theologians! DA Carson observes that “there is enough evidence that some form of charismatic gifts continued sporadically across the centuries of church history that it is futile to insist on doctrinaire grounds that every report is spurious or the fruit of demonic activity or psychological aberration.” 13 John Calvin, not a man renowned for his wild charismatic claims and practice, did not see his lack of experience of miracles as a reason to doubt that God still wanted to perform them in his own day, and nor should we. He writes in his commentary on 1 Corinthians that “Today we see our own slender resources, our poverty in fact; but this is undoubtedly the punishment we deserve, as the reward for our ingratitude. For God’s riches are not exhausted, nor has His liberality grown less; but we are not worthy of His largess, or capable of receiving all that He generously gives.” 14 Furthermore, we find in the letters of none other than Martin Luther that his advice concerning a particular man’s sickness was that “I know of no worldly help to give…It must, rather, be an affliction which comes from the devil, and this must be counteracted with the prayer of faith. This is what we do, and what we have been accustomed to do, for a cabinet maker here was similarly afflicted with madness and we cured him by prayer in Christ’s name.” 15John Wimber produces an outstanding overview of miraculous healing throughout Church history in his book ‘Power Evangelism’, and it is pure folly for us to accept the doctrinal teaching of great men like Luther and yet to refuse to believe their testimony about the healing miracles of their day. 16It would also be foolish to assume that the cessationists’ unbelief about the reality of modern healing gifts is not actually one of the reasons why they have not experienced the gifts in their own ministry! 17Our past experiences and disappointments hold far more sway over our theology than most of us like to admit, and the cessationist theology is based on experience (or rather a lack of it!), which directly contradicts the teaching of Peter on the day of Pentecost when he referred to the whole of AD history from Pentecost to Parousia as one integral period called “the last days” – not just a brief so-called ‘apostolic age’ – which would be marked by the widespread miraculous activity of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:14-21).

Even if we were to accept that many have failed to experience the charismatic gift of healing during large portions of Church history, this should not lead us to assume that God has therefore withdrawn His gift from the Church (Rom 11:29). If Luther had applied the same logic during the Reformation then we would all still be saying our ‘Hail Marys’! He rightly saw that centuries of doubt and resistance towards the work of God had grieved the work of the Holy Spirit to the impoverishment of the Church, and he led a wave of repentance which pleaded with Him to return and to restore what had been lost. We need a similar attitude of humility in our own day which accepts that the gulf between our Bibles and our experience is due to some change on our part rather than on God’s part. We should rejoice that many have already begun to repent of this sin, and that God is beginning to restore this aspect of the Gospel back into the heart of Church life. We should celebrate and give thanks to God, not marshal together reasons to cast out the gift as an unfamiliar and unwelcome stranger!

Therefore the cessationist view on healing is very sincere, but it is also very unhealthy and damaging. It performs so many exegetical contortions that it actually devalues the very Scriptures it aims to protect. In addition, since Paul writes that unless “signs and miracles” had been part of his preaching around the Roman Empire then he would not have “fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ” (Rom 15:18-19), we find that it actually dares to tamper with the Gospel which was given us by Jesus Christ.

We must reject this second unhealthy theology of healing, and press on towards one that is healthy.

VIEWPOINT #3: “THE CLASSIC PENTECOSTAL VIEW”

The Pentecostal view rests at almost the other end of the end of the spectrum to the cessationist position, and reads the same Bible to understand that “Jesus’ death on the cross was to bring healing and not just forgiveness, and therefore healing has already been bought for everyone through the cross and simply needs to be received through faith that ‘healing is in the blood.’ The Pentecostal view therefore rejects any view that ‘the apostolic age’ has ended, and teaches that the Kingdom of God is so present through the First Coming of Jesus that anyone can and should expect to experience full healing in this life, and not merely after the Second Coming.

Click for full size image.

This viewpoint is one of the key tenets of faith of the largest Pentecostal denomination, the Assemblies of God. The twelfth section of their ‘Statement of Fundamental Truths’ teaches that “Divine healing is an integral part of the gospel. Deliverance from sickness is provided for in the atonement, and is the privilege of all believers.”

Nor can we dismiss this viewpoint lightly. Whether or not this is the theology of our own Christian tradition, we do need to face the fact that almost every great minister of healing in the 20th Century held something close to this view.

The great healing evangelist John G. Lake taught in his book ‘Adventures in God’ that “The Christian, the child of God, the Christ-man who has committed his body as well as his spirit and soul to God, ought not to be a subject for healing. He ought to be a subject of continuous, abiding health, because he is filled with the life of God.” 18Another great healing evangelist, Oral Roberts, took a similar view. “If Jesus took our sicknesses we need not bear them any longer. Sickness is part of the curse and Jesus came to destroy the curse. He suffered in our stead because he did not want us to suffer disease. He took our specific diseases and infirmities upon his own sinless, perfect body in complete payment for the penalty of sin … I know it is God’s highest wish for you to be in health … Sickness is not part of God’s plan and not devised by God’s will … Some ministers are still praying ‘Father, if it be thy will, heal.’ I wonder if they could be sued for theological malpractice? Well, it’s a thought!” 19Kenneth Hagin, one of the leading ‘word of faith’ teachers, continues this line of reasoning. “Like salvation, healing is a gift, already paid for at Calvary. All we need to do is accept it. All we need to do is possess the promise that is ours. As children of God, we need to realize that healing belongs to us.” 20He adds that “It is unscriptural to pray, ‘If it is the will of God.’ When you put an ‘if’ in your prayer, you are praying in doubt.” 21

It is difficult to deny that this theology of healing is yielding much fruit in terms of healing. However, before we rush after the pragmatism of success, we do need to note that despite the great strengths in the first two arguments which lie at the root of this theology of healing, there are also significant flaws in the third key argument which dramatically skew the Pentecostal application of those truths.

The first key argument is that healing must be in the atonement (ie definitively secured through Jesus’ death and resurrection) because sickness is part of the curse which came through Adam, and must therefore have been undone through the finished work of Jesus, the Last Adam (1Cor 15:45). This is, frankly, an extremely strong argument. Since both Moses and Paul tell us that sickness is part the curse of Adam’s Fall (Deut 28:21- 22&59-61, Rom 5:12), it must surely be the case that Jesus dealt completely and finally with the human problem of sickness when he “became a curse for us” on the cross (Gal 3:13) and declared from the cross “It is finished!” (Jn 19:30). If Jesus’ death on the cross did not remove the curse of sickness, then Paul tells us in Rom 3:26 that God would actually be unjust to lift a curse which deservedly rests upon us. Similarly, when Peter tells us that sickness is part of the arsenal of weapons which Satan secured through the Fall (Acts 10:38), it must surely follow that when Jesus disarmed the rulers and authorities” on the cross (Col 2:15) that he removed this weapon from Satan’s arsenal along with all the rest. Perhaps the main reason that many struggle to accept this is that many Pentecostals apply this to mean that we can be as certain that God will heal us through faith in the blood of Jesus as we can that God will save us through faith in the blood of Jesus. We are right to be suspicious of this application because this is not how Scripture models the healing ministry – we do not, for example, find Paul urging Timothy that his stomach complaint would be healed if only he spent more time meditating with faith over the finished work of Jesus for him on the cross (1Ti 5:23)! – but our suspicion over the Pentecostal application of these verses should not prevent us from grasping what is taught in the verses themselves.

The second key argument is that healing must be in the atonement (ie definitively secured through Jesus’ death and resurrection), because Matthew tells us that this is a correct understanding of the teaching of Isaiah 53. This is also a very compelling argument, and one which is stronger than most of us realise simply because our English translations do not fully convey the flow of Isaiah’s argument in the original Hebrew. In fact, Isaiah prophesies about the death of Jesus in his 53rd chapter and tells us that…

Click for full size image.

Note that when we look at the Hebrew words which Isaiah used as he wrote down his prophecy, we can see two clear themes which the Holy Spirit wants us to understand about the death of Jesus on the cross, but which are lost in most English translations of these verses. Firstly, he bore our sickness when he died on the cross – physical pain and sickness is the primary meaning of the Hebrew words mak’ob and holi. We are not at liberty to spiritualize these words because these Hebrew words deliberately prevent us from doing so. Secondly, Jesus bore our sickness on the cross in the same way in which he bore our sin – the same two Hebrew verbs nasa’ and sabal are deliberately used to describe both how Jesus bore our sin in v. 11-12 and how he bore our sickness in v. 4.

This in turn makes sense of Matthew’s commentary on Isaiah 53 in chapter 8 of his gospel, and the fact that he deliberately chooses not to quote from the Septuagint which slightly spiritualizes Jesus’ bearing of our sickness (rather like our English translations), and opts instead for an unknown translation which emphasizes the physical nature of the sickness which Jesus bore. He writes in Mt 8:16-17 that “When evening came, many who were demonized were brought to Jesus, 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.’” Note that if he were wanting to spiritualize Jesus’ work on the cross then he could easily have quoted from the Septuagint which reads “he bears our sins and is pained for us,” but he chose instead to emphasize the physical healing won by Jesus at the cross by saying that “he himself took our sicknesses and carried our diseases.”

So far so good, and if the phrase ‘healing in the atonement’ referred only to these two statements then there would be little need to bring correction. DA Carson writes that in his view Mt 8:16-17 does indeed “teach that there is healing in the atonement; but similarly there is the promise of a resurrection body in the atonement, even if believers do not inherit it until the Parousia. From the perspectives of the New Testament writers, the cross is the basis of all the benefits that accrue to believers, but this does not mean that all such benefits can be secured at this present time on demand.” 22Wayne Grudem also adds helpfully (although perhaps a little optimistically given the scale of the disagreement on this issue!) in his ‘Systematic Theology’ that “All Christians would probably agree that in the atonement Christ has purchased for us not only complete freedom from sin but also complete freedom from physical weakness and infirmity in his work of redemption. And all Christians would also no doubt agree that our full and complete possession of all the benefits that Christ earned for us will not come until Christ returns … When people say that complete healing is ‘in the atonement’, the statement is true in an ultimate sense, but it really does not tell us anything about when we will receive ‘complete healing’.” 23And it is the Pentecostal answer to when we receive this healing that is problematic.

Their third key argument is that every person has already been healed at the cross of Jesus, and needs simply to receive this heavenly reality by faith in order to experience it as an earthly reality. This treats healing in much the same way as sanctification, where the Bible tells us that we have already died positionally with Christ and therefore need to put to death evil deeds in order to walk free from sin (Col 3:3&5). It puts together the promise of Is 53:5 that “by his stripes we are healed” and the promise of Jesus in Mk 11:24 that “whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours,” and it tells sick people on the basis of both verses they should receive prayer for healing and then ‘deny their symptoms’ and start thanking God for their (as yet unseen) healing. 24The problem with this teaching should be obvious. Any sensible eye can see that many of these people have patently not been healed, and that their ‘denial of their symptoms’ is actually naïve unreality rather than genuine faith. Not only can this discredit the Gospel in the eyes of unbelievers, but it can also rob people of the genuine healing which could actually be theirs. Lex Loizides, one of the elders of Jubilee Church in Cape Town, tells of a time when he prayed for a prisoner in St Louis, Missouri, and the prisoner started rejoicing ‘in faith’ that his hand had been healed despite the fact that he was still in acute pain and barely able to hold a cup! It was only when Lex told him to face the fact that he had not yet been healed that he was willing to place his faith in God’s grace rather than in his own faith …with the result that he was miraculously healed! 25At its worst, this teaching can encourage something which is more akin to secular ‘positive thinking’ than biblical faith, so that faith becomes a form of magic through which we hope to manipulate the spiritual world based on ‘spiritual laws’. Without intending to do so, many Pentecostals have found that their teaching causes sick people to place their faith in faith itself rather than in God the Healer. 26

Many who have seen this kind of healing ministry have been so offended by its pastoral insensitivity that they completely reject the idea that healing might be ‘in the atonement’. Some argue that since the events of Mt 8 took place before Jesus died on the cross, Matthew is actually talking about how Jesus’ exertions on behalf of the sick during his ministry channeled God’s healing towards them. Since Jesus also forgave a man for his sins only 24 verses later in Mt 9:2 – and very few of us would be foolish enough to try to argue that Jesus was able to forgive this man on the basis of the exertions of his busy ministry schedule rather than of his later work on the cross! – this is rather hard to swallow. Others argue more hopefully that Matthew’s quotation from Is 53 intends to link healing to the Messiah in general rather than to his cross in particular, but they offer no convincing explanation as to why Matthew chose the one chapter in the Old Testament which talks most clearly about the atoning death of the Messiah unless he actually wanted us to link healing not just to the Messiah but to his atoning death as well. Still others argue that Peter understands Isaiah to mean spiritual salvation when he quotes Is 53:5 in 1Pe 2:24 to teach that “by his wounds you have been i )a oma i/healed/cured,” but it is not at all clear from that passage that Peter is teaching us that the healing of Calvary is exclusively spiritual – in fact his own bold confidence that healing is “that which I have” to give away (Acts 3:6) is our biggest clue about what Peter understood from that verse, and it was certainly not a spiritualization of the promises.

Others do not feel the need to reject entirely the link between divine healing and the cross of Jesus. John Wimber, one of the great fathers of the non-Pentecostal healing movement within the western Church in the 20th century, stated that he believed that healing was not ‘in the atonement’ but ‘through the atonement’. 27Wimber’s concern was that if we teach that healing comes through the cross of Jesus in a similar fashion to salvation then, given that healing does not always happen as consistently as we hope, this will inevitably decrease people’s faith in the Gospel for their salvation. His writings have been enormously helpful in unpacking what ‘healing in the atonement’ should mean as opposed to what it has unfortunately come to mean, but we need to be very careful that our rejection the unhelpful Pentecostal interpretation of Is 53:5 and Mk 11:24 does not also lead us to downgrade the overall teaching of Isaiah 53 and Matthew 8 to something less than it actually is.

There is enough evidence in the New Testament that some Christians did not receive immediate healing and that the early Church did not preach a ‘deny your symptoms’ methodology of healing for us to reject the Pentecostal interpretation of Is 53:5 & Mk 11:24. However, there are very poor grounds for arguing that the death of Jesus on the cross brought about anything less than a decisive change in the place of sickness in the world. Arguments that the Lord only heals because of His compassionate character as revealed by His Name Jehovah Rophek/The-Lord-Who-Heals-You (Ex 15:26) are scuppered by the fact that the specific example of healing which accompanies it in the previous verse was administered through a piece of wood which the Lord provided, something that Christian theologians across the centuries have often seen as a type of the cross of Jesus. 28

If God’s commitment to heal is only revealed in His character, then we have reason to try to rebuke sickness and even reason to hope for healing, but no sure ground for confidence that sickness and demons will fly before our God-given authority or for genuine faith that healing will come in this situation, right here right now. This is tragic because the link between the work of Jesus on the cross and healing brings great confidence over Jesus’ authority and his victorious redemption of a broken universe. Isaiah 53 and Matthew 8 tell us that a decisive judicial act took place at Calvary which lifted the curse of sin from mankind (Rom 3:26) and emptied the devil’s arsenal of its every weapon (Col 2:15). Our authority to minister gifts of healing comes from the victorious King Jesus Christ, and he obtained this just authority by “binding the strongman” (Mt 12:29, Lk 11:21-22) and giving charismatic gifts to His People as He led the devil and his demons “captive in his train” (Eph 4:8). For too long has the disarmed devil been able to act like a general without any artillery who frightens the enemy into calling off their attack by the clever use of mock gun emplacements. In the area of sickness and healing, Scripture genuinely does teach us that through the cross he has become a toothless foe relying on guile alone to hold onto his crumbling kingdom. This, then, is the true meaning of Peter’s past tense that “by his stripes you have been healed” (1Pe 2:24), and we must not let this vital truth be lost because others misuse it. It is only when we settle in our minds and our hearts that healing has been won decisively through the cross and that sickness now has no authority before the name of Jesus Christ that we will begin to push forward in the spiritual battle to plunder Satan’s usurped territory.

The Pentecostal viewpoint misunderstands how the cross of Jesus has dealt a decisive death blow to sickness here and now, and we must make sure that we do not share in its failings. However, we must note with humility that for all of these failings, the Lord is choosing to heal many more people through flawed Pentecostal faith than He is through many well-reasoned but hesitant charismatic evangelicals. It seems that James really meant what he said when he wrote in the context of receiving charismatic gifts that we should “ask in faith, without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. That person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord” (Jas 1:6-7).

We cannot fully embrace the Pentecostal viewpoint on healing, but as we move to examine our own, fourth viewpoint on healing, we must make sure that we mix it with the same kind of faith (Heb 4:2).

VIEWPOINT #4: “THE CLASSIC CHARISMATIC VIEW”

This is probably the viewpoint that we personally need to be the most cautious about evaluating. As a group of charismatics, there is a danger that we could cling to our own historical viewpoint on healing and defend it simply because it is the one which we have held for so long – rather like the fact that you will never convince me that anyone cooks better than my Mum, simply because I grew up and had my palate shaped by the tastes and preferences of her kitchen!

The charismatic view is similar to the Pentecostal view, but it is considerably less triumphalist than its Pentecostal counterpart. Although it agrees that the Kingdom of God has most definitely come with the First Coming of Jesus (Mt 12:28, Dan 2:34-35), and that it certainly did not diminish with the deaths of the first-century apostles, it would generally not be so bullish as to argue that ‘healing is in the atonement’, either in the sense of people already being healed and needing to bring this into reality through their faith, or even in the sense of healing having being won decisively as a covenant blessing through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Instead – depending on the particular writer or teacher – it would generally tend to place the emphasis more on the fact that the Kingdom is now-but-not-yet , and sometimes the fullness of the Kingdom spills out from the future into the present through the mystery of the compassionate and gracious character of God.

Click for full size image.

One great strength of this view is that it manages to embrace the Bible’s teaching that God grants gifts of healing today without ignoring the fact that it also tells us that our bodies are still wasting away (Rom 8:23) and are still destined to die at the end of their fixed lifespan (Heb 9:27, Ps 102:24, Eccl 7:17). It stresses that we should expect miraculous healing from God, but that we should also accept the teaching of Eccl 3:2-3 that there is a “time to die” and a time for the Lord to take life rather than heal. When Kenneth Copeland tells us that “I don’t care how old we are, it’s God’s will to take us home healed, well, whole, and delivered,” 29charismatics ask the obvious question of why we will be “taken home” at all if we are quite so healed, well and whole?! Similarly, since Elisha’s dead bones still contained enough anointing to raise a man to life (2Ki 13:21), but his whole body did not contain enough anointing to heal him when he was afflicted with “the illness from which he died” (2Ki 13:14), they reject the view that healing is always God’s Will for absolutely anyone who has enough faith to receive it. Paul tells us that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Cor 15:50), so charismatics accept the Bible’s teaching that some sickness does end in death, and that a ‘a good death’ at the right time is part of the victorious Christian life (1Th 4:13-18), and not necessarily a ‘failure’.

Another strength is that the charismatic view accords far more with our experience of God’s working – at least within charismatic circles! – and with some of the clues we have about God’s actual working in New Testament times. Pentecostal triumphalism has no convincing explanation for why Epaphroditus, Trophimus and Paul were all sick and did not receive immediate healing (Phil 2:25-27, 2Ti 4:20, Gal 4:13-15), and it does not easily accommodate Paul’s teaching in Gal 4:13 that God sometimes uses sickness for good. In fact, as even the Pentecostal theologian Gordon Fee points out in his book ‘The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospel’, the Pentecostal viewpoint can come very close at times to sounding like the very opposite of the apostolic Gospel that “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

Consequently, a third strength is that it appears to be a more ‘pastoral’ theology than the Pentecostal viewpoint. It is one thing for a (usually itinerant) healing evangelist to promise that a person ‘has been healed’ and simply needs to deny their symptoms until earthly experience catches up with spiritual  reality, but it is quite another to be the pastor of that same Christian the following week when their earthly reality seems rather reluctant to change! The charismatic viewpoint denies that healing is categorically God’s Will for any person at any time, and therefore avoids serving up what Jim Carrey’s character in the film ‘Bruce Almighty’ refers to as a “side-plate of guilt” to go alongside the “main course” of sickness and suffering which has already been laid before them. Nobody wants to be like Job’s comforters or to add to a sick person’s misery by telling them that they would be healed if only they had more faith. After all, David Watson was a great pioneer of the healing ministry in late 20thcentury Britain, but despite the fact that he (and with him many thousands of Christians around the world) had faith not just in God’s ability but also in His willingness to heal him, he nevertheless died of uncured cancer. 30This viewpoint therefore refuses to treat faith as a ‘magic’ which forces the arm of God, and it makes room once again for some of the New Testament miracles which happened without a sick person having faith to be healed. This theology allows for a lame beggar to be healed even though he expected nothing more than money (Acts 3:5), or for another lame man to be healed without having any understanding of Jesus or his mission (Jn 5:12-13).

The other key strength of this viewpoint is that it takes a more biblical view of the Kingdom of God affecting the whole cosmos together rather than every single individual separately. God’s agenda is the redemption of the whole universe and not just individual people. To reduce the coming of the Kingdom of God to matters of my own individual life and body is to miss the bigger picture that the Kingdom of God brings the complete redemption of the whole cosmos. We groan with the aches and pains of our mortal bodies as part of a universe which longs for God’s redemption of the universe – in a far greater, cosmic sense than just the sickness in my own body (Rom 8:18-25). The charismatic viewpoint rejects the Pentecostal assumption that we are always able to second-guess what God’s perfect Will is for any individual in any given situation. It accepts that a particular healing in this life may not necessarily be the ultimate good in God’s great Master-Plan, and accepts that we will never grasp the fullness of God’s wisdom this side of eternity. 31It can accommodate the fact that the apostles Peter and James both had the same promise of God that “the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deut 31:6) and yet the Lord chose that the outworking of this promise for one was deliverance whilst for the other it was execution (Acts 12:1-11).

However, even though there are some real strengths in this fourth viewpoint, I want to suggest that this our traditional viewpoint has some flaws of its own which we need to reconsider and revise to if we are to arrive at a truly healthy theology of healing.

Firstly, it places too much emphasis on a ‘theology of sickness’ which is not actually clearly stated in the Bible. Since Jesus and the apostles regularly spoke about the fact that suffering is an integral part of the Christian life, many who hold to the classic charismatic viewpoint extrapolate that principle to argue that sickness is therefore also a normal way in which God sanctifies Christians and glorifies His Name. However, the list of biblical examples which are used to support this teaching do not bear detailed examination. Job was indeed sick, but Scripture tells us clearly that it was a work of Satan (Job 2:3-7) which was healed by God within months, and that at least one of the reasons for the delay was that those around Job were too busy theorizing about why God might allow suffering to bother to pray for him to be healed. The book of Job was not given to justify a theology of sickness but precisely to prevent people from arguing that God smites people with sickness to deal with their sin! Epaphroditus, Trophimus and Paul were not healed straight away (Phil 2:25-27, 2Ti 4:20, Gal 4:13-15), but Scripture tells us that at least one of them did recover after only a short delay so that he was able to leave Galatia. Last, but by no means least, the old classic of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Cor 12:7-10. He is almost certainly referring back to the Septuagint’s description of troublesome people in Num 33:55 – hence the fact that he calls the thorn an a )gge l o j /angel/messenger which is only ever used in Scripture for a person or spirit and never for a thing – but even if these things were not the case we would need to concede that since the Lord told Paul that He would not remove the thorn in his flesh in order to keep him “from becoming conceited” because of the “surpassingly great revelations” which He had given him, this is unlikely to be the primary reason why many are not healed in our churches. 32When we argue that unhealed sickness is a God-given “thorn”, we prove that we do not believe this deep down for all our claims on Sunday that ‘my sickness is God’s Will for His glory’ because we then visit the doctor’s on Monday – presumably as a rebellious attempt to diminish God’s glory in the world?!

We can say that there is evidence in the Bible that God may not choose to heal everyone immediately, but this is a long way from saying that sickness is either God’s normal means of sanctification or a primary means for His glory. Jesus and the apostles talked very frankly and in some detail about the suffering we must endure as Christians, but not one of them ever talked about the suffering of sickness in this context despite being surrounded daily by crowds of sick people. Importantly, not one of them ever told anyone who came to them for healing that they should go home and continue to glorify God by the faithful way in which they bore their sickness.33On the contrary, whilst we never read in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John that a sick person ever glorified God by remaining sick, we do repeatedly read that they glorified God by being healed! (eg Mt 15:31, Mk 2:12, Lk 5:26,9:43,18:43&19:37, Jn 11:4, Acts 4:21). The fact that our ‘theology of sickness’ is overblown is demonstrated by the way that we often call sickness a blessing when Jesus calls it Satan’s prison (Lk 13:16) and call death the ultimate healing when Paul calls it “the ultimate enemy” (1Cor 15:26). A ‘theology of sickness’ ends up blunting our faith that we have authority over sickness and paints a picture of God which defames His character. As Francis MacNutt writes, “When we say that God sends sickness or asks us to endure it, we are creating for many people an image of God they must eventually reject. What human mother or father would choose cancer for their daughter in order to tame her pride?…Those preachers and chaplains who try to comfort the sick by telling them to accept their illness as a blessing from God are giving an immediate consolation, but at what an ultimate cost! In a sense, we unwittingly treat God as something of a pagan deity, placated by human sacrifice.” 34

Secondly, it places too little emphasis on the faithfulness of God to His promises. In reaction to the crass way in which they feel that some Pentecostals have tried to use the promises of God as a means of forcing God’s hand and manipulating Him in to action, many charismatics prefer to emphasize the sovereign freedom of God to heal or not to heal, just as Romans 9 defends His sovereign freedom to save or not to save. This sounds good in theory, but the objection that “the faith confession movement tends strongly to emphasize God’s faithfulness at the expense of God’s freedom” 35creates a false dichotomy which leaves us wondering how it could ever be possible to over-emphasize God’s faithfulness or why He might ever want the freedom to be less faithful?!

The thing that makes the Gospel good news is precisely the fact that in it is revealed a God who grants us what we do not deserve based on the cross of Jesus “from first to last” (Rom 1:17 & 8:31-37). The Gospel  means that God does make promises to us that in view of the cross of Jesus He will act in one way and not in another, and Paul tells us that this Gospel includes miraculous healing as well as justification (Rom 15:19). Not only do we never find Jesus rebuking anyone who comes to him for presuming too much but only for believing too little (eg Mk 16:14), but we actually find Jesus deliberately making himself into a servant in order to demonstrate that we will never receive all that is ours through the cross unless we let him assume this role as the great Giver (Jn 13:1-9). The cry that it is presumptuous to act as if it is God’s Will to heal all who ask Him ignores the great compass of the New Testament promises of healing – such as “Is any one of you sick?…The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up” (Jas 5:14- 15) – and it is a far cry from Jesus’ reassurance “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:32). If all our caveats were indeed true under the New Covenant then the good news of the Gospel would actually mean that God is less willing to heal now and less committed to destroying the work of Satan than He was before Christ came, since in BC times He encouraged people that they could all come to Him with faith for healing (Num 21:8-9 & Jn 3:14, Ps 103:3). Clearly this cannot be the case.

The difficulty with dismantling this deep-rooted belief that God decides to heal or not to heal based primarily on ‘the mystery of His character’ is that deep down we know that His character is far beyond our comprehension and that this is in part the only place for us to take some of our disappointments not seeing people healed. The point is not that there is no mystery in God’s character, but rather that we have placed far too much emphasis on the fact that “the secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deut 29:29a) and not enough emphasis on the fact that “the revealed things belong to us and to our children” (Deut 29:29b)! God has not left us with the spiritual equivalent of the National Lottery’s promise that “It could be you!” He has given us such great promises that Peter was able to assure a lame man he had only just met that “the thing that I have I give to you” (Acts 3:6). The “revealed thing” is that neither Jesus nor the apostles refused anyone who came to them for healing, telling them that it was “not God’s will” or “not yet time” for them to be healed.36 On the contrary, we are told consistently and repeatedly that Jesus healed all the sick who came to him (Mt 4:23-24, Mt 8:16-17, Mt 9:35, Mt 12:15, Mt 14:16, Lk 4:40, Lk 6:19), and that the apostles also tended to heal all the sick who came to them (Acts 5:16 & 28:9). Another “revealed thing” is that Jesus promised us that “Anyone who has faith in me will do the works I have been doing. He will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father” (Jn 14:12). A final “revealed thing” came on the only occasion that anyone ever came to Jesus with a query over whether he was willing to heal him, and he very quickly corrected his theology with the words “I am willing” and then healed him! (Mt 8:2-3, Mk 1:40-42). The fact that despite God’s revealed willingness people are sometimes not healed is definitely one of the “secret things”, but we need to move from meditating on what has not been revealed to confidence in what has been revealed. There is no Beatitude that reads “Blessed are those who expect little from God, for they shall not be disappointed”! On the contrary, Jesus encourages us instead that “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see” (Lk 10:23).

There are therefore some great strengths to the classic charismatic theology of healing, but we cannot accept that we have arrived yet at a rounded biblical view when we treat Scripture’s silence about  sickness as ‘theology’ and Scripture’s promises about healing as a ‘mystery’.

Since we have dismissed the classic liberal and cessationist theologies of healing as decidedly unhealthy, and have seen major flaws in both the classic Pentecostal and charismatic theologies of healing, let’s draw together in conclusion a fifth, more healthy, theology of healing.

CONCLUSIONS

What, then, are the vital elements which join together to form a truly healthy theology of healing?

Firstly, there is Jesus Christ, the Messianic King who has brought in the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom characterized by miraculous healing (Mt 11:5&12:28) as part of the loving character of God.

Secondly, there is the cross of Jesus, where sickness was dealt a decisive death blow and God’s eager desire to heal was matched with the justice and authority to do so. This means that healing is no longer something alien to the here-and-now which occasionally ‘breaks in’ like an intruder who does not really belong here. Satan’s weapon sickness is the real intruder on ground which he lost two thousand years ago. It now belongs to the healing Kingdom of God, and only ignorance about what happened at Calvary will enable sickness to squat there any longer (Hos 4:6, Mt 28:18).

Thirdly, there are the healing promises of God which are “the revealed things” which “belong to us and our children forever.” We freely admit that despite God’s revelation that He is willing to heal and has given us authority to heal in His Name, we do not generally see the same success in praying for the sick as many Christians who have gone before us. However, we refuse to construct grand doctrines which speculate about what is not revealed, but simply accept that there are times when even though the cross of Jesus means that God has “put everything under his feet”, nevertheless we have some catching up to do because “at present we do not see everything subject to him” (Heb 2:8).

Putting these three things together, we accept the small question marks which remain in our practice of the healing gifts, but press forward in faith that our experience of healing will increase as we move further along from Pentecost to the Parousia. Ezekiel’s river of the Spirit got deeper and deeper the further on it flowed (Eze 47:1-12); Jesus’ mustard seed grew bigger and bigger over time (Mt 13:31-33); and the Kingdom of God which Daniel saw inaugurated as a “rock” at the time of the 1st-Century Roman Empire became a “mountain” by the time of the Second Coming (Dan 2:34-35). We will experience the reality of these pictures as we take God at His Word and preach the good news of the Kingdom.

Click for full size image.

If we accept this as the right framework for a healthy theology of healing, then there are some important implications for us as charismatics trying to bring our experience of healing more into line with God’s Word. I want to close with four key lessons from Jesus in John 11, which I believe are the four crucial areas of growth for us if we are to see more and more healing in these last days.

1) THE WISDOM OF GOD

Jesus displayed great wisdom in his healing ministry when John tells us that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister  and Lazarus. Therefore, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (Jn 11:5-6, lit Greek, cf KJV/RSV /ESV). He recognized that there is a “sickness which ends in death” (v4), and he had absolute confidence that the Father’s Will was to heal those who were not ill with such a sickness (v41-42). Nevertheless, he had such a high regard for the Father’s perfect timing in bringing miraculous healing (Jn 5:19) that he refused to presume that God’s willingness would always result in automatic and immediate healing. Only the foolish onlookers made that mistake (v37).

If we minister with the wisdom of Jesus, then we also will share his triumphant but not triumphalistic approach to praying for the sick. We will be able to reassure people that it is not lack of faith for them to go to a doctor (Col 4:14, 1Ti 5:23), nor for those suffering from infertility to adopt children (Eph 1:5, Esth 2:15). We will be able to give reassurance to those who have not yet been healed, and to offer them encouragement either to press on in faith towards healing or to press on in faith towards the victorious death which gains the promised resurrection body. Jesus’ wisdom in v44 involved sensitive follow-up for those he prayed for, and not just a time of power ministry.

This wisdom of Jesus in v23 also saves us from perhaps the biggest error which prevents us from seeing more miraculous healing in our churches today, and this is a false understanding of what it means to be pastoral. Any church leader who has prayed for the sick and seen some of them fail to receive healing knows the terrible anguish and pain which can result both for the person receiving prayer and for the person doing the praying. It is understandable that some of us tacitly decide that we will downplay the biblical promises of healing in our churches in order to spare people any further disappointment. Understandable, but very, very wrong.

The wisdom of Jesus shows us that whilst this may be an expression of loving care, it is not pastoral in any biblical sense of the word. In Paul’s great teaching for the Ephesian eldership team on what it means  to be “shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” and pastors of “the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers” (Acts 20:28), he makes it very clear that there is one sin, one great and heinous sin, that he or any other Christian pastor might commit in shepherding a local church, and that sin would be if he “hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you” (Acts 20:20). Since miraculous healing is not merely an authentication of the Gospel but part of the Gospel itself (Rom 15:18-19, Mt 4:23, Mt 9:35), then to decide to downplay part of the Gospel because of trials and disappointments along the way is not being pastoral, it is being disobedient. Paul reminds us that “If we or an angel from heaven should preach a Gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” (Gal 1:8), and just in case we failed to grasp the full importance of this message with regard to our teaching about healing, he repeats it a second time when he places a curse on us if we downplay any aspect of the Gospel: “Now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a Gospel other than what you received, let him be eternally condemned!” (Gal 1:10). This is very serious indeed!

As those called by God to pastor His Church, we dare not back away from the Bible’s theology of healing and so abdicate this ministry to evangelists and ‘charismatic specialists’. James tells local church elders to make sure that they are at the very heart of the healing ministry (Jas 5:14-16), and only when the wisdom of God is expressed through the elders appointed by God will we have a context free from the opposite evils of a false ‘theology of sickness’ and a false triumphalism. Being truly pastoral means taking a lead to bring miraculous healing to the sheep in our care, whilst offering continued love and care for those who for some reason are still experiencing the delay of Jn 11:5-6.

2) THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD

Jesus’ prayer in v41-42 is based almost entirely on his relationship with the Father and not on any formula for praying for the sick. His confidence that the sick would be healed was not based on a technique he had come to know, but on the Father he had come to know. Perhaps this is why Jesus began entrusting the healing ministry to us by choosing Twelve “that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons” (Mk 3:14-15). We cannot bypass this principle and hope to minister healing through the Holy Spirit without first coming into an intimate friendship with Him. No servant is greater than his master (Jn 13:16).

Some hope to see miraculous healing as an automatic right so long as people have enough faith to receive it, but Jesus did not operate based on that formula. Martha only had a little faith (v21-27), Mary had less faith (v32), the onlookers had even less faith (v37), and of course dead Lazarus had no faith at all! And yet even in this context of little faith the miracle came.

Others hope to see miraculous healing through techniques such as laying on hands, speaking commands rather than prayers, anointing with oil, ending prayers with the words in the name of Jesus, and so on, but we must note that the gospel writers deliberately contrive to prevent us from seeing any comprehensive formula in the healing ministry of Jesus. If we only had the Matthew account of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law then we would assume that laying on hands was the key factor in her healing (Mt 8:14-15), but Mark’s account of the same healing would lead us to assume that helping her to her feet was the key factor (Mk 1:29-31), and Luke’s account would lead us to assume that rebuking the fever was the key factor (Lk 4:38-39). Matthew, Mark and Luke all give us partial accounts of the methods which Jesus used in his ministry because they want to keep us focused on Jesus as the perfect example of ministering in partnership with the Holy Spirit, not on any secret formula (Mt 12:28, Lk 4:18, Lk 5:17, Acts 10:38). The same is true for the healing of blind Bartimaeus. If we only had Luke’s account then we would assume that the key factor was Jesus commanding him to “See!” (Lk 18:35-43); if we only had Matthew’s account then we would assume that the key factor was the laying on of hands (Mt 20:29-34); and if we only had Mark’s account then we would assume that the key factor was proclaiming over him “Your faith has healed you(Mk 10:46-52). Perhaps Luke gives us the most damning assessment of reliance on a formula rather than relationship when he tells us that the seven sons of Sceva were seeing some success in the healing ministry using the words “In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out” – a well worked formula if ever there was one! – until one day they learned a very salutary lesson (Acts 19:13-16).

Jesus clearly attributes the miracle at Lazarus’ tomb to the intimacy of his prayer life with the Father, the same thing he taught when he told the disciples in Mk 9:29 that he was only able to heal because he had communed intimately with God through “prayer and fasting.” The Old Testament had long taught that removing the sin which hinders our walk with God is a vital step towards seeing miracles of healing (Is 58:6-8), and so it should not surprise us that Paul also stresses the prime importance of our walk with God when he tells us that “gifts of healings” come as the Holy Spirit “apportions them to each one, just as he determines” (1 Cor 12:9&11). Both Old Testament and New Testament testify together that the work of the Holy Spirit is to bring healing through any person who allows His River to flow through them (Eze 47:12, Rev 22:2, Jn 7:37-39). Therefore we need to reject any confidence we have in formulae so that we can place our full confidence in fellowship with the Holy Spirit (Zech 4:6) and let His River flow through us (2 Cor 13:14, Phil 2:1, 1 Cor 3:9). When we know intimate fellowship with God through the Holy Spirit then the healing comes through His initiative, not through our know-how.

3) THE PASSION OF GOD

The passion which gripped Jesus’ soul and which brought about such a great miracle was primarily the love of God. John comments three times in the first half of the chapter that Jesus was filled with love for Lazarus and his family (v3,5&11), and even the cynical crowd saw his tears of compassion and commented “See how much he loved him!” (v35-36). The united testimony of almost all those who are ministering successfully in the area of healing is that their breakthrough was linked to them beginning to feel the love and compassion of God towards the sick people in front of them. Mahesh Chavda feels this so strongly that he titled his autobiography ‘Only Love Can Make a Miracle’, and he writes that his healing ministry only began after “It was as though the Lord broke off a little piece of his heart and placed it inside me…I was learning that the power of God was to be found in the love of God…The healings came almost as a by-product. I learned that only love can make a miracle.” 37Godly compassion was one of the key factors in Jesus’ healing ministry (Mk 1:41&5:19, Mt 9:35-36,14:14&20:34), and it will be in ours too. 38

Note, however, that love was not the only passion which gripped Jesus’ soul at Lazarus’ tomb. He was also deeply moved by the righteous anger of God against the devil and the sickness he brings. Twice John uses the strange verb em) br imaoma i/embrimaomai (v33&38), which means literally that Jesus snorted like a horse eager to get into battle. He also uses the verb t a r a s s w/tarasso (v33), which means to be churned up like the sea. Jesus was able to confront the rule of Satan powerfully and effectively because he was churned up by its reality and was angered that it had usurped the rightful rule of God. The great healing evangelist John G Lake urges us that the same will be true for us when he tells us that the pivotal springboard for his healing ministry was that when he saw his sister dying, “A great cry to God, such as had never before come from my soul, went up to God. She must not die! I would not have it! Had not Christ died for her? … No words of mine can convey to another soul the cry that was in my heart and the flame of hatred for death and sickness that the Spirit of God had stirred within me. The very wrath of God seemed to possess my soul!” 39The sad truth is that the reason why much sickness remains around us is that we acquiesce to its existence and bring no godly challenge to its pretended authority.

A third passion which gripped Jesus’ soul in this passage was a passion for the glory of God. The reason he delayed to come to Lazarus’ bedside was that his number one priority was “God’s glory” (v4), and his shorthand description for the miracle he was about to perform was “the glory of God” (v40). He had no qualms about risking his own reputation outside Lazarus’ tomb because he had already counted his own glory as nothing compared to the glory of the Father (Phil 2:6-7). Sadly, many of us care too much for our own reputation and too little for the glory of God. We will only begin to see more healing when we realise that the Kingdom came through Jesus looking foolish on the cross (1 Cor 1:18, Heb 12:2), and it has only ever advanced through his followers being willing to look foolish for His sake too (1 Cor 4:9-10). Unless we are so passionate to see God being glorified that we are willing for ourselves to be vilified, then we will see very few miracles of healing in our own generation.

4) THE FAITH OF GOD

The fourth and final principle which Jesus demonstrates in this chapter is the crucial role which faith plays in ministering miraculous healing. The gospel writers consistently emphasize that faith is vital if anyone is to be healed (eg Mt 9:22, Mk 10:52, Lk 17:19, Acts 14:8-10), but Jesus and the apostles took responsibility for having this faith themselves rather than rebuking the sick for not having enough faith. Jesus was happy to restore Lazarus’ decaying body despite the distinct atmosphere of doubt in Bethany, and Peter was equally happy to heal the lame man at the Beautiful Gate despite the fact that his expectation was all about money not miracles (Acts 3:5)! The closest that Jesus ever comes to praying for a sick person in the gospels is in this very passage, but note that it is not a prayer that the Father might heal “if it is your will.” Instead, it is the bold statement that “I thank you that you have heard me…I only said this for the benefit of the people standing here so that they may believe” (v41-42).

Now this does not mean that we should place the same emphasis as many Pentecostals on the size of our faith being the crucial factor in receiving healing. Jesus responded to this kind of theology in the mouths of his disciples by telling them that even if they had a tiny amount of the right kind of faith then it would be enough to bring about even the greatest kind of Holy Spirit miracle (Lk 17:5-6). Jesus’ emphasis is not on the size of our faith but on the substance of our faith – namely our faith that God is not only able to heal each person but is also willing to heal them too. This is the great battleground in which the Kingdom of God advances. 40

We have not placed enough confidence in God’s willingness to heal those around us because we would rather not attribute their continued sickness to our own actions. We may be more passionate for our own glory than for His glory, or our faith may be in our method rather than in His character, or we may simply prefer to hang onto cherished sin rather than become vessels for the Holy Spirit. We find this in Matthew 17:14-23 where despite the fact that Jesus had given the Twelve “authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and every sickness” (Mt 10:1), the combined efforts of nine of them failed to heal a child with epilepsy because the disciples lacked faith in the Father’s willingness (v16-20) and had not pursued the kind of intimacy with the Father which results in effective partnership (v21).

We have not placed enough confidence in God’s willingness to heal those around us because we would rather not attribute their continued sickness to our lack of the persistent prayer which characterizes true faith. Mark tells us that on one occasion Jesus “entered a house and did not want anyone to know it,” and therefore appeared more unwilling to heal than at any other point in the gospels (Mk 7:24-30). Note, however, that Mark carries on to tell us that even on this occasion he quickly granted healing when he saw evidence of persistent and genuine faith on the part of a Gentile mother. The Lord had been actually been willing to heal all along, but had been waiting to see genuine faith expressed in the kind of perseverance he both demanded (Lk 18:1-8) and displayed personally (Mk 8:22-25). Most of those who see any fruit in ministering healing bear testimony to the way in which the Lord taught them to express faith in His willingness in spite of their bad experiences along the way. John Wimber’s breakthrough was in response to God’s command, “Don’t preach your experience, preach my Word.” 41

To those who refuse to believe that God is willing to heal those around them, Jesus gives no proof beyond his promises. He will not let us spiritualise the words of Scripture any more than he let Martha in v23-27, but asks us plainly “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” (v40). Of course we would prefer it if Jesus would come into line with the English proverb that “seeing is believing”, but he does seem quite insistent that, on the contrary, “believing is seeing.” He seems resolutely committed to the statement that we will only fully minister in healing when each of us “does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen” (Mk 11:23).

To those who struggle with past disappointments, Jesus says tenderly that “For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe” or “so that you may have faith” (v14). He does not feel the need to justify himself to us, but simply calls us to have the same confused but determined faith as Martha, who told him that “If you had been here then my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask” (v21-22). Kathryn Kuhlman testified that “No one really knows how I hurt inside when a service is over, and I see those who have come in wheelchairs leaving in the same wheelchairs in which they came… But the answer I must leave with God. And one of these days, when I get home to glory, I’m going to ask Him to give me the answer from His own lips, as why everyone is not healed.” 42Lex Loizides testifies that once when he was crying out to God over an individual who had not been healed, he heard God give him the simple reply “Yes, we must pray more, mustn’t we?” 43Those who see God healing people in response to their commands in Jesus’ name are those who have pressed through the disappointments of v21 to find the faith of v22. 44

Finally, to those of us who are digesting the words of this paper in an earnest desire to grasp a healthy theology of healing for the sake of the glory of God in our generation, Jesus tells us to place our faith him as “the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world” (v27) and in the fact that he brought a Kingdom which is characterized by supernatural healings (Mt 11:2-6). His closing instructions to us are similar to the ones he gave to the men of Bethany when he commanded them to “Take away the stone” (v39). Have you ever wondered why Jesus asked for help to move the stone away from the entrance of Lazarus’ tomb? Surely the one who ministered in enough power to raise the dead also had enough power to move a stone as part of the same miracle? Of course he did. He didn’t want to. He deliberately called the men of Bethany to take one small step of faith so that this could form a catalyst for the miraculous work of God. In our lives, this will probably not mean moving physical stones, but it may well mean moving the deadweight stone of false theology about healing – even such mighty rocks as a resistance to the link which Isaiah 53 and Matthew 8 make between physical healing and the death of Jesus on the cross. It may well mean moving the heavy stone of fear in order to risk looking foolish so that God might look great. It may be moving the stone of passivity so that we get ready to pray for healing the next time, and every time, that we come into contact with sickness. It may even be as simple as moving our heavy bodies out of bed a few minutes earlier each morning in order to give ourselves to prayer and fasting and to the intimacy with God which enables Him to use us as partners with His Holy Spirit.

Jesus cheers us on, urging us to move these stones and encouraging us with the promise “Did I not tell you that if you believed then you would see the glory of God?” (v40). The men of Bethany moved forward to move the stone. Heaven waits with baited breath to see if we will do the same in our generation.

Phil Moore,
Woking 2008

FOOTNOTES


1 Several verses link sickness not only to demonic activity but specifically to sin which opens up a door for demons and sickness. The clearest verses are Jas 5:14-16 and 1Cor 11:27-31, although Jesus warns us in Jn 9:1-3 that we must not overemphasise the link between sin and sickness. Sin may open a door for sickness, but Job’s sickness was demonic in origin yet came in spite of him being the most righteous man on earth! (Job 1:3-7) (Return to footnote location)


2 For example, even though it is helpful to refer to a ‘classic Pentecostal view’, it is over-simplifying the case to imply that all Pentecostals therefore hold to this view. Gordon Fee is a Pentecostal whose book ‘The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospel’ (USA, 1979) argues against the classic Pentecostal view that ‘healing is in the atonement’. Fee was very disenchanted by many Pentecostal preachers whom he felt abused this teaching with their man-centred and hedonistic messages of ‘health and wealth’ through the cross of Jesus. (Return to footnote location)


3 Rudolph Bultmann ‘Jesus Christ and Mythology’, p37-38, (USA 1958) (Return to footnote location)


4 Quoted from an article by Langon B Gilkey in ‘The Journal of Religion’ (Vol 41, No 3, July 1961, University of Chicago Press, p194-205) entitled ‘Cosmology, Ontology, and the Travail of Biblical Language’ (Return to footnote location)


5 Rudolph Bultmann ‘Jesus Christ and Mythology’, p84 (USA 1958) (Return to footnote location)


6 Richard B Gaffin in his co-authored book ‘Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views’, (USA 1996) (Return to footnote location)


7 It is important that we do not misunderstand the phrase cessationism to mean a belief that divine healing itself has ceased, but only the charismatic gifts of healing as outlined in 1 Corinthians 12 and described in operation in the book of Acts. Perhaps one of the clearest insights into what cessationists actually believe is afforded by Walter Chantry in his book ‘Signs of the Apostles’ (USA, 1973) in which he explains that “There is no Biblical reason to limit God to performing miracles at certain seasons only. No doubt God is yet executing unusual feats of power…It is plain that God’s working of wonders cannot be limited to ages past. ‘Charismatic’ enthusiasts, however, are not merely claiming that God is doing miracles in the twentieth century. They are asserting that some twentieth century men have power to perform miracles…The question of our inquiry is not ‘Should God be working miracles today?’ It is rather, ‘Should men be doing miracles on behalf of God?’…Serious students of God’s Word must deny that miracles are being performed today by men who are filled with God’s Spirit” (p8-9 & p116). The issue for Chantry and other cessationists is that if men and women today have been given the same gifts of healing as the NT apostles, then somehow the finality and supremacy of the New Testament Scriptures will be compromised. (Return to footnote location)


8 Cessationism grew out of a fear that Pentecostal miracles were creating a ‘cult of man’ in which Christians placed more value on what was taught by an anointed man or woman of God than on the words of the Bible. Walter Chantry writes in ‘Signs of the Apostles’ (USA, 1973, p23) that “Great numbers believe the opinions of those who perform wonders because their ‘gifts’ indicate that they are ‘filled with the Spirit’. The implication of such logic is clear. How can anyone question the doctrines of miracle workers?…‘Can a man be teaching false doctrine when he does such mighty things?’ ask the captivated.” We would share the concern that charismatic gifts should not be understood as an endorsement of all that a person teaches (1 Cor 1:7,12:9&15:12- 14, Gal 3:5&1:6-7), but we understand that the primary purpose of the charismatic gifts was not to authenticate the New Testament canon and therefore we do not see the same need to fight the gifts as many alarmed cessationists (1Cor 12:7&14:26). (Return to footnote location)


9 The best verse I have seen used to argue this point is 2Cor 12:12 from the NIV which reads that “the things that mark an apostle – signs, wonders and miracles – were done among you with great perseverance.” The argument is that Paul is teaching here that miracles were essentially signs to authenticate true apostles. Unfortunately for those who seize upon this verse as a proof-text, the NIV translates Paul’s Greek in a misleading way. Paul actually says (see original PDF for the Greek) and the dative nouns “signs, wonders and miracles” simply cannot be placed grammatically alongside the nominative noun “the things that mark” an apostle. What Paul actually says literally in Greek is that “the signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance,  [accompanied] by signs, wonders and miracles.” He is not arguing that miracles authenticate apostles but that his life of suffering in order to plant churches is the sign of a true apostle, and that miracles were one of the key ways in which he planted churches. Not only does this spurious appeal to the misleading NIV translation weaken rather than strengthen the cessationist cause, but on the contrary by drawing our attention to this verse the cessationists remind us once again how we had better not give up on stepping out for miracles of healing if ever we want to see great churches planted in our own generation. (Return to footnote location)


10 Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones underlines how arrogant and foolish it is to assume that now the canon of Scripture has been completed that we need the authenticating sign of miracles less than 1st-Century Christians. He points out that this argument “means that you and I, who have the Scriptures open before us, know much more than the apostle Paul of God’s truth…It means that we are altogether superior…even to the apostles themselves, including the apostle Paul! It means that we are now in a position in which…‘we know, even as also we are known’ by God…Indeed, there is only one word to describe such a view, it is nonsense.” ‘Prove All Things’, p32-33, (published in the UK in 1985) (Return to footnote location)


11 Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who cannot strictly speaking be called a ‘cessationist’ because he died before the birth of Pentecostalism ushered in both a rediscovery of the charismatic gifts of healing and the cessationist movement which rejected them, claimed that “The miracles were the great bell of the universe which was rung in order to call the attention of all men all over the world to the fact that the gospel feast was spread; we do not need the bell now.” (The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Vol 23 p471). The first part of this statement is certainly backed up by Rom 15:18-19, which links the rapid growth of the 1st century Church to signs and wonders, but there is less evidence for the second part of the statement that the Kingdom is now advancing so rapidly that miracles are no longer needed. On the contrary, the experience of those who preach the Gospel in Muslim or Hindu nations, and even our own limited experience in the UK, is that when God rings the “bell” today non-Christians become much more open to receiving the “gospel feast.” It would appear that the “bell” still has a great part left to play! (Return to footnote location)


12 Mk 6:5 tells us that Jesus “could not do any miracles” on one visit to Nazareth, but it goes on to qualify this with “except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.” Clearly for Jesus a bad ministry time was not failing to see people healed when they came to him in faith, but seeing fewer people coming to him in faith for healing than he hoped. Similarly, when Luke 5:17 tells us that on a particular occasion “the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick”, the phrase comes with no evidence that there were other times when the power of the Lord was not present for healing, but rather appears to stress that this one occasion was particularly fruitful. (Return to footnote location)


13 DA Carson ‘Showing the Spirit’, p166, (USA 1987) (Return to footnote location)


14 John Calvin’s ‘Commentary on 1 Corinthians’, p305. Although Calvin does not refer to Amos 8:11-12, this is a good defence of his position. If the Lord withheld the charismatic gift of prophecy from His People because of their sin, rebellion and unbelief, then we can assume that He also withholds the charismatic gift of healing from His People because of their sin, rebellion and unbelief. The problem with assuming that our lack of experience equates to God’s lack of willingness is that it tries to foist all of the blame for our lack of experience onto God, and therefore abdicates our responsibility to repent and to respond to the Word of God with faith. (Return to footnote location)


15 John Wimber ‘Power Evangelism’, p160, (USA 1985) (Return to footnote location)


16 John Wimber ‘Power Evangelism’, p151-166, (USA 1985). Wimber’s overview of church history includes amongst many others miraculous healings in the time of Augustine in the early 5th century, in the time of Francis of Assisi in the early 13th century, and in the ministry of Martin Luther in the 16th century. Only a crass prejudice against finding any miraculous healing in church history could dismiss the consistent testimonies of all these people of high spiritual calibre as myth or superstition. (Return to footnote location)


17 Jesus put the failure of the Twelve on one occasion to see healing down to their unbelief rather than to any unwillingness on God’s part, and promptly healed the sick person to demonstrate that God had been willing to heal him all along (Mt 17:16-18)! We need to be careful that we do not dismiss the arguments of cessationists out of hand because of their bad experiences, but we cannot ignore the fact that experience affects everyone’s theology of healing. Benjamin B Warfield, the founding father of cessationism, suffered tragedy on his honeymoon in August 1876 when his wife Annie was struck by lightning, resulting in paralysis for the rest of her life. The fact that Warfield spent all 39 years of his married life juggling the twin roles of theologian and carer, without seeing any answer to his prayers and fasting for healing, must have had a significant impact upon his theology. (Return to footnote location)


18 John G.Lake ‘Adventures in God’, p55, written in the USA in the 1920s. (Return to footnote location)


19 Oral Roberts in ‘Abundant Life Magazine’, Sept 1976 edition. (Return to footnote location)


20 Kenneth Hagin ‘Healing Belongs to Us’, p32. (Return to footnote location)


21 Kenneth Hagin ‘Exceedingly Growing Faith’, p10. (Return to footnote location)


22 Taken from DA Carson’s commentary ‘When Jesus Confronts the World: An Exposition of Matthew 8-10 (USA, 1987) (Return to footnote location)


23 Wayne Grudem ‘Systematic Theology’, p1063, (USA, 1994), my underlining. (Return to footnote location)


24 The Hebrew of Is 53:5 (See original PDF for Hebrew)/by his stripes there is healing for us) is technically an imperfect verb which suggests ongoing action rather than a perfect verb of completed action. The crux of this argument comes not from the Hebrew text but from the fact that when Peter quotes this verse in 1Pe 2:24 he follows the Septuagint reading which places the action in the aorist/past tense (see original PDF for the Greek)/by his stripes you have been healed). (Return to footnote location)


25 Lex Loizides has told this story several times at the ‘Front Edge’ events he has organized in Africa, Europe and India to equip New frontiers leaders to minister in gifts of healing. (Return to footnote location)


26 Henry Knight, writing in ‘The Journal of Pentecostal Theology’, expresses his concerns that based on the teaching of some Pentecostals “Faith is essentially trusting in God’s promises in Scripture rather than trusting in God. Indeed, the believer is assured of healing because, given the spiritual laws and scriptura promises, a faithful God has no choice in the matter” (1993, p69). (Return to footnote location)


27 See p37 & pp146-165 of John Wimber’s book ‘Power Healing’ (USA, 1986). (Return to footnote location)


28 This link between Moses’ piece of wood in Ex 15:25 and the cross of Jesus is not just the result of commentators’ tendency to spiritualize Old Testament passages. Even within the New Testament, we find that the writers take the word cu l on/wood/tree which appears in that verse in the Septuagint, and they use it to refer to the cross of Jesus. See any of Acts 5:30,10:39&13:29 or Gal 3:13 & 1Pe 2:24. The counter-argument is that the New Testament use of the word cu l on/wood/tree refers back to Deut 21:23, but even if we were to accept this  supposition then we are still looking at an Old Testament verse which talks about the curse (eg of sickness) only being able to be removed because someone (ie Jesus) hung on a tree for us. (Return to footnote location)


29 Kenneth Copeland quoted in the ‘Calvary Contender’, 15th Sept 1989 edition. (Return to footnote location)


30 Wimber tells a moving account of David Watson’s death in spite of his faith for healing on pp147-149 of his book ‘Power Healing’ (USA, 1986). (Return to footnote location)


31 One of the best examples of our need to admit humbly that we do not fully understand how God works out His promises in Scripture is perhaps the promises which He made to King David in 1 Chronicles 17. God promised David that one of his descendants would rule on his throne over the kingdom of Israel forever (v7-14), but the outworking of this promise has involved the nation state of Israel ceasing to exist from 70AD to 1948AD and there actually being no Davidic King ruling over Israel or even Judah since 586BC! God is entirely faithful to His promise, and has made David’s great descendant Jesus into the great King of kings who rules over the whole universe, but this much more glorious outworking of the promise is far greater than David fully grasped even in his most inspired Messianic psalms. We must leave room for God to fulfil His promises in a way which is incomprehensibly better than our best interpretations on the basis of our own logic. (Return to footnote location)


32 The Septuagint translation of Num 33:55 refers to people who troubled the People of God as a s ko l o y /thorn in their bodies. We cannot prove that Paul has this verse in mind, but the fact that he also calls it an a )gge l o j/angel/messenger of Satan is certainly personal language. We cannot state categorically that this isn’t an example of sickness, but we certainly cannot state with any credibility whatsoever that it categorically is. (Return to footnote location)


33 The closest example I can find in Scripture which comes anywhere close to this would be in Jn 11:3-6 where Jesus delays going to heal Lazarus – in fact delays so long that he dies in the meantime. Technically this is not an example of someone requesting healing, since Mary and Martha merely tell Jesus that “The one you love is sick”, and do not specifically ask for healing. However, this example is worthy of further attention, and this paper deals with it in more detail on p16. (Return to footnote location)


34 Francis MacNutt in his book simply entitled ‘Healing’ (USA, 1974). (Return to footnote location)


35 This quotation comes from Henry Knight’s critique of the Pentecostal position in ‘The Journal of Pentecostal Theology 1993’ entitled ‘God’s Faithfulness and God’s Freedom’ (p69) – as if they were somehow in opposition to one another. (Return to footnote location)


36 See footnote number 33 (Return to footnote location)


37 Mahesh Chavda ‘Only Love Can Make a Miracle’, p84&86, (USA, 1990). (Return to footnote location)


38 Jesus’ healing ministry was not motivated primarily by his desire to prove he was the Messiah, or even primarily by his desire to usher in the Kingdom of God. It was primarily motivated by the compassionate character of God who reveals Himself as Yahweh-Rophe, The-Lord-Who-Heals. Francis MacNutt writes very helpful in his book ‘Healing’ on p110 (USA, 1974) that “Jesus did not heal people to prove that He was God; he healed them because He was God.” (Return to footnote location)


39 John G. Lake ‘Adventures in God’, p50-51. (Return to footnote location)


40 We should not be surprised that this is the main battleground. If we argue that God is willing to help the sick but unable to do so, then we doubt His strength. However, if we argue that He is able to help the sick but unwilling to do so, then we doubt His love. Neither of these views is likely to bring healing because “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he is the rewarder of those who earnestly seek him” (Heb 11:6). (Return to footnote location)


41 John Wimber shares this testimony as one of turning points in his ministry in his book ‘Power Evangelism’ (USA, 1985) (Return to footnote location)


42 Kathryn Kuhlman (1907-76) always refused to be drawn publicly on the question of why God does not always heal. The quotation comes from Jamie Buckingham’s book ‘A Glimpse Into Glory’, p35, (USA 1983) (Return to footnote location)


43 Lex Loizides sharing his testimony at the New frontiers ‘Front Edge’ Conference at King’s Church Catford in May 2007 (Return to footnote location)


44 As ministers of healing, we press through disappointments to focus on what God is doing through us rather than on what He has not done. If only three out of ten are healed then we are still advancing the Kingdom of Heaven and we are still seeing supernatural miracles which bear testimony to God’s glory a third of the time! However, we do need to give an answer to those whom we have not received the healing we pray for. I personally tend to say something along the lines of “Three different things can happen to people when they receive prayer for healing. Some are healed straight away which is wonderful. Some do not sense their healing straight away but discover later that something decisive happened when they were prayed for and that their symptoms change shortly afterwards – this may well be the case for you. Others do not get healed straightaway but are healed the next time someone prays for them, so if this is the case for you then keep pressing into God in faith because He wants to heal you.” One of the best explanations I have heard from another New frontiers evangelist was simply to say “I find that some people are healed when I pray for them and some people are not, but when I look at Scripture I see that Jesus healed everyone. I know that there is still quite a gulf between me ministering healing and Jesus doing so, so I assume that as I get closer to Jesus that more and more people will be healed.” A key principle is to keep the burden of responsibility on you as the minister rather than laying a ‘side-plate of guilt’ on the sick person. Jesus rebuked the disciples for not being able to heal people, but he did not rebuke the sick people for not being healed, even when he might have had grounds to do so (Mt 17:14-21). (Return to footnote location)

Expanded study on the “Healed” of Isaiah 53:5

Preamble: The following study focuses on the word “healed” from Isaiah 53. This is the Hebrew word Rapha’. The following is not an exhaustive study on healing, in and of itself. The focus is Isaiah’s prophecy and how that prophecy should be viewed in the light of scripture.

Healing is one of those topics that seems to run the full gamut in the church. There are those who believe that God heals no one with no exception. For these, the healings in the New Testament were solely for the purpose of showing that Christ was the true savior and those healings ended once the New Testament was written and the church was established. There are others who believe that without question, in this very life, everyone is to be healed without fail. There are those who preach that healing power rests in God and that God is completely sovereign, and there are those who say that whether or not healing occurs is a matter of our faith that we grow and we administer. If we can just be tenacious enough, and be careful not to say anything to negate our faith, faith will do whatever we set it out to do. If we aren’t being healed, then we must dig in harder because it is us who has done something incorrectly.

In reference to Isaiah 53:4-5, the former group, which says that no one is healed today, often points to Matthew 8:16-17, showing that the healing prophesied in Isaiah 53 was fulfilled and therefore, is done with:

When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “He Himself took our infirmities And bore our sicknesses.” (NKJV)

The latter group, believing that healing will always come if we have done things correctly often point to verses such as Isaiah 53:5, stating that healing is a part of the covenant which provides our salvation (for spirit, soul, and body); and Luke 17:6, which says “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (here, the “if you have faith” is often stressed). This camp often uses the examples of Jesus as examples perfectly set for today’s world because (as it is said), Jesus is “perfect theology.” While this sounds good, you sure do have to throw out large portions of the Bible if Jesus (as only seen in the New Testament stories about him and in what he said) is the full and perfect theology of God. I would argue that the Bible as a whole is the perfect theology of God. Interestingly, John chapter 1 would say that Jesus is the full Word of God (Bible) as well (“and the Word became flesh”) – so in that since, I would agree that Jesus is the perfect theology of God, but this is not what is meant when you typically hear that phrase.

The above extremes are not the only positions you’ll find in churches today. There are many opinions and teachings between the diverse teachings. I’ve wrestled in this continuum for years. I certainly don’t believe the former. I’ve been healed and I’ve seen many healings. God does heal today! Cessationist theology is easily shown incorrect with scripture. And while I may have at one time been closer to the latter camp which states that everyone is always healed today, more and more of that camp’s teachings have begun to sit off with me. I’ve realized I’d have to ignore numerous parts of the Bible for their points to work. Also, simple observation has to make you question. Many people of great faith simply aren’t healed, despite prayer, prophecies, and promises. The word of faith movement has very questionable beginnings (a history I encourage everyone to study) and preaches a “truth” that is not practiced by the preachers themselves. I’ve known people who refuse to go to doctors as they see it as a lack of faith; I’ve heard preachers preach that trusting in a physician shows a lack of faith, yet these very preachers, when faced with a difficult physical challenge, typically go to doctors themselves. When researched, this too is an interesting study which reveals that the word of faith preachers themselves often don’t trust in the very words they preach. And let’s face it, if what they preach and show on their personal TV shows were completely real, we’d see similar happenings more often outside of those very TV shows.

For this study, I want to look at Isaiah 53:5 and the word “healed.”  Looking at the New King James, verse 5 is the only verse in this chapter which contains the word “healed.” The verse reads:

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.

This verse is the most common verse I’ve heard regarding “proof” that physical healing is guaranteed to all Christians today. It is said that the verse speaks to our sin and the guilt for that sin (transgressions and iniquities – our spiritual healing), our peace (mental healing) and in the last line, our physical healing, which occurs because of “His stripes.” I know I’ve preached this myself.

The word for “healed” in this verse is translated from Strongs H7495: rapha’. In this instance, it is in the perfect tense, suggesting a completed action. It could therefore be read, “And by His stripes we are already healed.” It is also of the Niphal stem, which here represents the passive voice. The healing is something that is done to us, not something we do to ourselves (compare “we healed” {as in our healing others} to “we were healed” {by someone else}).

From this we can say that our healing (however we will define it) is something that was already done to us.

So what does “healed” (rapha’ – H7495) mean? Strongs Concordance gives this definition: a primitive root; properly, to mend (by stitching), i.e. (figuratively) to cure:—cure, (cause to) heal, physician, repair, × (This symbol denotes a rendering that results from an idiom peculiar to the Hebrew) thoroughly, make whole.

The Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon adds the following: (Qal tense) Rapha’ means (1) properly, to sew together, to mend. This root imitates the sound of a person sewing rapidly (thus the definition to mend by stitching). (2). To heal (a wound, a wounded person – which is done by sewing up the wound). (2a). God is said to heal a person, a people, a land, i.e. to restore to pristine felicity (sometimes from the calamities He inflicted). (2b). To pardon. (2c). Rapha’ is also used for “to comfort”. The passive voice (Niphal tense) of (1) above would be “be made whole again.” The passive of (2) can be “to be healed,” whether a disease or a sick person himself. Isaiah 53:5 could be stated, “there was healing to us,” i.e., God pardoned us. Bitter water can also be healed. The active form of the verb (Piel tense) could be stated as (1) to mend, to repair (as in a broken alter), (2), to heal, as a wound, the sick, water, and can also mean “to comfort.” (3) In the transitive sense, it can mean “to cause to be healed, to take the charge of healing.” In the reflexive Hithpael tense, it would mean “to cause oneself to be healed.”

The word “rapha'” is used only 67 times in the old testament. To get a better sense of how this word is used, all 67 occurrences are listed below by scripture reference with a brief commentary as to what the healing was.

Genesis 20:17 – opening up of the wombs that the Lord himself had previously closed.

Genesis 50:2 – referencing physicians (used as a noun in English) who would embalm Joseph’s father. Here it is the active participle verb form and might be translated, “the ones who do healing.”

Exodus 15:26 – this is the great “I AM” declaration of God being Jehovah Rapha, the “Lord who heals you.” It is interesting that in this verse God heals us by not putting diseases on us as he had on the Egyptians (if we diligently heed the voice of the Lord our God and do what is right in his site, giving ear to his commandments and keeping all his statutes).

Exodus 21:19 – refers to physical healing, provided by doctors, at the expense of the one who caused the injury.

Leviticus 13:18 – refers to bodily healing of a boil.

Leviticus 13:37 – refers to bodily healing of a scale on the skin.

Leviticus 14:3 – refers to leprosy being healed.

Leviticus  14:48 – refers to a plague on a house (think black mold) being healed (by facet of the plastering of the house to fix the problem).

Numbers 12:13 – refers to Moses asking God to heal Miriam of leprosy.

Deuteronomy 28:27 and 28:35 – refers to the not healing of skin conditions given by the Lord (from which you cannot be healed).

Deuteronomy 32:39 – refers to God as the one who wounds and heals (along with kills and makes alive).

1 Samual 6:3 – refers to the hoped removing of the plague from the Philistines who were cursed by God for having the Ark of God.

1 Kings 18:30 – refers to Elijah’s repairing the alter of the LORD which had been broken.

2 Kings 2:21-22 – refers to the healing of water which was bad

2 Kings 8:29 and 9:15 – refers to recovering from physical wounds received in battle.

2 Kings 20:5, 8 – refers to God’s healing Hezekiah of a malady (after God initially said he would die).

2 Chronicles 7:14 – refers to God healing the land of the lack of rain and pestilence that He had previously sent, if His people would humble themselves, pray, seek his face, and turn from their wicked ways.

2 Chronicles 16:12 – refers to physical healing sought via physicians without seeking the Lord (not seeking the Lord for being Lord – this does not condemn Asa for not seeking the Lord for his healing, but as a whole)

2 Chronicles 22:6 – refers to recovering from wounds received in battle.

2 Chronicles 30:20 – refers to God giving purification to people who had not correctly purified themselves according to the Jewish rules laid down by Moses. This is a spiritual healing/cleansing.

Job 5:18 – Job is crediting God as being the one who “makes whole” after God has wounded (Job did not have the behind the scenes view we do to know that in this case, Satan was doing the wounding with God’s permission).

Job 13:4 – referring to physicians.

Psalm 6:2 – This Psalm of David refers to David asking God to give healing from the emotional and physical anguish caused by David’s sin.

Psalm 30:2 – refers to healing brought by God when David cried to him. From the other verses, this is likely the healing of salvation (from God’s anger and from enemies)

Psalm 41:4 – David is asking for healing of his soul as he has sinned against God

Psalm 60:2 – refers to the healing of the earth which has been broken and made to tremble by God.

Psalm 103:3 – refers to the healing of diseases (listed as a benefit of God along with forgiving of all sins).

Psalm 107:20 – refers to the healing of those in distress because of their sin when they cried out to God (the distress is specified in vs. 17-18: “Fools, because of their transgression, And because of their iniquities, were afflicted. Their soul abhorred all manner of food, And they drew near to the gates of death.”)

Psalm 147:3 – refers to the healing of the brokenhearted, the outcasts of Israel.

Ecclesiastes 3:3 – there is a season for everything (A time to kill, a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up).

Approximately 9% of the uses of rapha‘ are found in Isaiah, from where our source scripture originates. It is noted that no use of rapha’ by Isaiah clearly and plainly points to physical healing alone. Isaiah always seems to be talking about a spiritual healing (from sins/backsliding/etc.) though in some verses, a physical healing could also be assumed to be included with the spiritual healing. The primary, though, is always spiritual when used in Isaiah.

Isaiah 6:10 – refers to a spiritual healing and understanding for a dull people (not a physical healing).

Isaiah 19:22 – refers to the healing of Egypt who God will strike; they will return to the Lord as the Lord will send them a savior and a mighty one (not a physical healing).

Isaiah 30:26 – a prophecy of future healing of his people/land/nature from the effects of sin. It would seem this is still to come.

Isaiah 53:5 – referring to us as a people (those who have accepted Christ) and the healing that acceptance will bring. This most certainly refers to a spiritual healing as seen in context of the entire chapter, but there is no reason in the verse itself not to find application for physical healing. The main purpose, though, in light of Isaiah 53, is the spiritual healing bought for us by Christ’s sufferings. This will be discussed more below.

Isaiah 57:18 and 19 – refers to a spiritual healing of a people. Physical healing could be included here as well, but the primary message is of spiritual healing. The healing is a return from backslidings.

Over 16% of the times rapha‘ is used is in Jeremiah. Very much like the first major prophet, Isaiah, all instances of healing in Jeremiah refer to healing in a spiritual sense. While there are a small number of verses that could possibly be interpreted as referring to physical healing, in no instance is such healing the primary mode of healing being discussed in the verse.

Jeremiah 3:22 – refers to healing of backsliding.

Jeremiah 6:14 and 8:11 – referring to the false healing of false prophets who say “peace peace” when there is no peace.

Jeremiah 8:22 – referring to a spiritual physician needed for a broken people.

Jeremiah 15:18 – referring to a wound that won’t be healed… the wound seems to be the pain of being isolated and persecuted for following God.

Jeremiah 17:14 – “Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; Save me, and I shall be saved…” (this seems to refer to a general saving and healing; not necessarily physical, but not denying the physical either).

Jeremiah 19:11 – here, made whole would refer to restoration to a people and city which have been broken by God as one breaks a potter’s vessel.

Jeremiah 30:17 – while this could refer to physical healing, when read in context of the chapter, this is primarily about God’s restoration of his people.

Jeremiah 33:6 – here the healing is for a city (not physical healing for the people – but healing for the city itself).

Jeremiah 51:8-9 – refers to the healing of Babylon (the healing of a city, similar to 33:6 above).

All the uses of rapha‘ in Lamentations, Ezekiel, Hosea, and Zechariah refer to spiritual healing.

Lamentations 2:13 – refers to spiritual healing.

Ezekiel 33:4 – refers to spiritual and possibly physical healing that was the responsibility of the shepherds of God who were self-seeking. This would be similar to the type of healing that would be the responsibility of a pastor or caretaker of a people.

Ezekiel 47:8-9, 11 – refers to healing waters in Ezekiel’s vision. Vs. 11 refers to marshes and swamps that will not be healed.

Hosea 5:13 – this speaks to a physical healing, but the sickness and healing are clearly only representative of the spiritual state of God’s people.

Hosea 6:1 – refers to healing of wounds the Lord has inflicted (“Come, and let us return to the LORD; For He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up.”). This is using a physical condition to refer to a spiritual state.

Hosea 7:1, 11:3, and 14:4 – refers to spiritual healing of a people, even from their apostasy (14:4).

Zechariah 11:16 – Similar to Ezekiel 33:4, this refers to the healing that should come via the shepherds of God.

In reviewing all of the uses of rapha‘ above, less than 25% of the passages speak solely to a physical healing. Often, the malady being healed was actually a malady directly related to the sin of the people.  Several of the instances referring to physical healing are from Leviticus and the laws concerning leprosy or other skin conditions.

Most instances of rapha‘ refer to spiritual healing, which at times may have a physical component. Spiritual healing, though, is the primary use of this word – especially when used in the prophetic books. The prophecies regarding the future church is that God would draw us back in, bringing spiritual healing. The prophecies using rapha’ do not focus on physical healing though they may use physical healing as a component of – or representation of spiritual healing. Spiritual healing is the goal, but physical healing may be manifest in the fulfillment of that goal.

When viewed this way the claim that Isaiah 53:5 (“and with his stripes we are healed.”) speaks specifically to physical healing in and of itself is poorly supported. If this is the case, then the word is used in a contrary manner and with a unique meaning to how it is otherwise exclusively used not only by Isaiah, but by all of the prophets. If we let scripture interpret scripture, we would not likely come to this popular conclusion regarding Isaiah 53:5. I don’t say this to disprove that God heals. I’ve already stated I believe God heals. But to study the Bible honestly, I find it weak ground to say that per Isaiah 53:5, current physical healing is the primary intent of the prophecy. In looking at all of Isaiah 53, it does become clear that Jesus did indeed bear our sin, sickness, mental anguish and everything else that results from our being fallen creatures. Ultimately, we will be delivered from all these things because of what Jesus accomplished at the cross, but as we shall see, we are not necessarily delivered of all these things in this life. The simple fact is, if we were delivered of all the effects of sin in this life because of the cross, we would be a perfect people and we would never die physically upon becoming a Christian.

Some use Isaiah 53:5 to say that all Christians everywhere should be perfectly healed, just as we are perfectly forgiven. Interestingly, some use Isaiah 53:4-5 to show that healing is no longer relevant today as the Isaiah prophecies were fulfilled in Matthew 8. As mentioned previously, some cessationists  will point to Matthew 8:16-17 as being the ultimate and complete fulfillment of the prophecy of healing found in Isaiah 53. This is clearly not a logical interpretation of these verses, as healing is completely entwined with the forgiveness of sin. If the prophecies in Isaiah 53 were completed in this one incident, then all of us would be in sad shape, as the prophecy as a whole would no longer be relevant to us and we would no longer have forgiveness of sins. What Matthew likely meant in his writing was that one had come who was the fulfillment of the prophecies and who would ultimately fulfill the prophecies (at the cross). With this interpretation, the prophecy of salvation is available for all who believe through all of time. With this interpretation, we can also know that it was indeed Jesus who bore every aspect of the consequences of sin (including sickness) and ultimately, we will see the deliverance bought for us because of this (at the end of this age, and in parts, before). Further, because healing of sickness is shown to occur because of the Isaiah 53 prophecies, we are negated from attempting to claim that physical healing is not included in what Jesus did for us (this greatly weakens the incorrect cessationist argument).

To support this last point, we must remember that Isaiah 53:4’s “griefs” is the Hebrew word choliy (Strongs H2483). This word literally means “disease/sickness.” It is interesting that Matthew took care to not allow this word to be “spiritualized” in his writing. The Greek Septuagint (the Greek rendering of the original Hebrew Old Testament) uses the word odynaō (Strongs G3600 ὀδυνάω) to translate the Hebrew choliy.  Odynaō means sorrow or torment – a rather vague term for the purpose of this discussion. Matthew instead chose not to quote from the Greek Septuagint. Rather, when Matthew quoted Isaiah, he wrote: “He Himself took our infirmities (Strongs G769) And bore our sicknesses (Strongs G3554)”

Strongs G769 is astheneia, and this word is best translated as infirmities, weakness, disease and sickness.

Strongs G3554 is nosos, and this word is best translated as disease, infirmity, or sickness –  all physical ailments. In fact, Strongs specifies that this word is not used figuratively or of moral disability. An overview of biblical usage confirms this word speaks to the physical.

While the “healed” of Isaiah 53:5 may not speak specifically to the physical, Matthew leaves no question with his quoting Isaiah 53:4 that Jesus did take on our physical ailments, just as he took on every other aspect of our fallen state.

The Greek of “healed” from Isaiah 53:5, as translated in the Septuagint is Strong’s 2390 (iaomai). This is also the word Peter uses in 1 Peter 2:24 when he quotes Isaiah 53:5 from the Old Testament. Iaomai, much like the Hebrew rapha’, speaks both to physical and spiritual healing. Only used 30 times in the New Testament, the word typically speaks to physical healing in individualized situations (such as in Matthew 8:8, 13 and Luke 8:47) and it speaks to spiritual healing when referencing prophetic passages and passages speaking to God healing a people (rather than a person) (such as in Matthew 13:15/Acts 28:27 and  John 12:40).

Knowing that Isaiah 53:5’s “healed” speaks most directly to spiritual healing of a people (and this is likely how God ultimately sees our healing – as spiritual, for he sees us as spiritual beings and he is most interested in our eternal salvation), we need to consider what Jesus took upon himself to purchase that healing for us. We just saw that Matthew confirmed physical sickness was a part of this, but we must consider everything. Looking at Isaiah 53: 3-5, we have:

He is despised and rejected by men, (Jesus took on rejection by the world) 
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. (Jesus took on sorrow and grief – grief is literally disease/sickness – Strongs H2483, choliy)
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; (rejection from his own people)
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. (hatred and lack of consideration for who he really was)

Surely He has borne our griefs (confirmation he took on OUR disease/sickness) 
And carried our sorrows; (OUR mental and physical pain, sorrow – Strongs H4341)
Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. (in our foolishness, people thought God was punishing Jesus for his own sins)

But He was wounded for our transgressions, (the correction to the above – he was not wounded for his sins, but for ours)
He was bruised for our iniquities; (he took on the punishment for our sin)
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, (He took on OUR guilt born because of sin)

And by His stripes we are healed. – This is the first verse that speaks of us rather than of him. For the previous three verses, the scripture lists the many aspects of what Jesus went through for our healing. He took upon himself undeserved rejection (from strangers and his own people), our grief, sorrow, our disease, our sickness, our sin, the punishment for our sin, and the lack of peace that comes from having sin. And finally, at the end of verse 5, we see that because of all that he took upon himself, by his stripes – representing the very physical demonstration of everything above – we are healed. It is only logical that this is therefore a complete spiritual healing.

So what about physical healing? If Isaiah 53:4-5 speaks to the ultimate spiritual healing that was to be purchased for us and uses words that speak to physical aspects of healing, and if Matthew 8 and the Greek iaomai, astheneia, and nosos also link that healing with the physical, we must ask, what is a Biblical view of how we should see physical healing play out in our lives today?

Seeing as Jesus took on all these things for our ultimate spiritual healing, then how our physical healing plays out should be similar to how everything else plays out. Jesus took on our pain and disease. Jesus took on our sin. Jesus took on our lack of peace. Jesus took on rejection from all people (friends and foes). Jesus took on all these things to ultimately remove them from us – to give us true healing. But we know we don’t see the perfect manifestation of any of these things in this world. We know we can’t expect such perfection in this world – the Bible simply doesn’t paint that picture. So if we don’t see perfection regarding sin or peace, then why do we separately think we should see perfection regarding physical health? I don’t think we should.

Regarding sin, Paul spoke of struggling to not do what he knew he shouldn’t and struggling to do what he knew he should because he was still trapped in a carnal body (See Romans 7). Jesus said if they rejected him they would reject us (See Luke 10:16 and John 15:18). Paul had to live with his thorn, which was a messenger of Satan who buffeted him – clearly causing issues with his peace. Paul says in Galatians 4:13 “You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first” which shows Paul dealt with sickness – and further, it was because of this sickness that Paul preached the gospel to the Galatians! Also, Paul gives examples of others who dealt with sickness during their walk as Christians (see Philippians 2:25-30, 2 Timothy 4:20). Finally, John implies in Revelation 21:4 and 22:3 that it is in Heaven at the end of the age where there will be no more death, sorrow, crying, pain, tears, and curse (sickness is part of the curse). If these things will ultimately be wiped away at the end of things, then these things are still here now. And to avoid a misinterpretation, we must remember John is talking to believers here – this does not refer to the removal of those who do not know God and therefore they are the ones who died, sorrowed, cried, had pain, tears, etc. and it is through their removal that these things are removed. That is not what these scripture are saying.

The logical conclusion is that yes, healing is included in the atonement. Sickness and disease are part of what Jesus took upon himself at the cross so that we could be fully healed. However, the fulfillment of that is not yet seen and we, on earth, still struggle with all the things that Jesus took upon himself for us. Does this mean that we should not expect to be healed? Not at all. We should expect healing. We should expect a reduction of sinful living. We should expect an increase in peace. But to say we should expect perfection in these things in this life just isn’t biblical when the fullness of scripture is considered. It is interesting that we should expect rejection, even though Jesus suffered rejection as part of the atonement. Even so, many of those who preach perfect health also preach that we should be perfectly esteemed by others, given promotions, and be liked by everyone – an idea not supported in scripture.

While it would be nice to be able to point to the “with his stripes we are healed” of Isaiah 53:5 to say that in all instances, we should receive perfect physical healing in this life, this interpretation of this verse is not consistent with the meaning of healed as used by all of the Old Testament prophets nor is it in line with the overall interpretation of the Greek rendering of the same word in the New Testament. Yes, this word can refer to healings – in the Bible this is typically shown in isolated incidents. When applied specifically to God’s people as a whole, it points to a spiritual healing. Additionally, we have seen that this verse is the culmination of what is given to us because of what Jesus took upon himself. He took every aspect of sin’s consequences upon himself, yet for all of those, we still struggle in this life, eagerly awaiting the final redemption. Romans 8:18-25 makes it clear – we are waiting in perseverance for what is to ultimately come because of what Jesus did at the cross. Our best life is not now. On this side of eternity, we see and experience only in part (see 1 Corinthians 13:9-12) and we look forward in hope for what has not yet fully come. Yes, God heals, and he is sovereign to do so and he does heal today. We should seek him for healing – he purchased it for us, but in those instances when it doesn’t happen, we need to realize that we are not alone, our circumstance is not unbiblical, and it may not be an issue of our faith or lack thereof. We need to remember, and even be encouraged, that God used Paul’s “physical infirmity” to spread the gospel (Galatians 4:14 – the Greek, dia (Strongs 1223) shows that it was because of, by, or for the sake of the physical infirmity that Paul preached – it was the channel of Paul’s preaching). We need to remember that others in the New Testament times were not healed. We need to keep moving forward, trusting that God’s grace is sufficient, no matter the apparent outcome of our prayers, not giving up or blaming ourselves, but looking forward in hope for that final redemption of our bodies which has not yet come, but which is coming (see Romans 8:22-25). As Romans 8:23 says, we have the first fruits, but at this time we do not have the fullness.

Who is (or isn’t) Wisdom in Proverbs 8

Proverbs chapters 1-9 discuss the Lady Wisdom. From her calling out in the market place in chapter one to her building her house and inviting people to her banquet in chapter nine, Wisdom is seen as a lovely female personality. The proverbs are written in a poetic literary style, and as personification is often used in such, Wisdom is personified as a lady. This does not imply that Wisdom is female or that she stands as an actual person calling out in the streets. While that would be a literal interpretation, it would be an incorrect one. Wisdom is described as a personification of one of God’s eternal traits. God is Wisdom, and throughout history God has called to us in the midst of our busy streets and he has prepared a place for us and he is ultimately calling us to his banqueting table.

In chapter 8, starting in verse 22 and ending in 31, we find the following poem (or stanza of the larger poem):

The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old.
I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.
When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth:
While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world.
When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth:
When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep:
When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth:
Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him;
Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.

Throughout all of chapter 8 Wisdom is the one speaking. She is the “I” throughout the whole chapter. In the verses above, the I of wisdom is often compared to Christ. I think it’s here where some issues in interpretation arise. Wisdom can certainly be compared to Christ, but is the Wisdom of Proverbs 8 the Christ, and if so, what would that mean?

Proverbs 8:22 says “The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old.” (KJV). Other translations read:

“The LORD formed me from the beginning, before he created anything else.” (NLT)

“The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old;” (NIV)

“The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old.” (RSV)

“The LORD possessed [Or fathered; Septuagint created] me at the beginning of his work, [Hebrew way] the first of his acts of old.” (ESV, Footnotes inline)

The word translated “possessed” or “created” or “fathered” is Strong’s H7069 – qanah. In the King James Bible, this word is translated as the following: Buy (46x), get (15x), purchased (5x), buyer (3x), possessor (3x), possessed (2x), owner (1x), recover (1x), redeemed (1x), and miscellaneous (7x).

So here, it would be safe to say that Wisdom was the first thing God incorporated in the design of creation. In a sense, wisdom is the personified blueprint of all of creation, an interpretation that would align with the whole of scripture.

It is interesting that some people go beyond this and say that this Wisdom IS Christ. They then use verse 22 as a proof text that Christ was created and is therefor, not eternal and not God. This leaves many problems though. First, Since this speaker IS Wisdom, to say this speaker is also the created Christ is to say that God had to create wisdom. This makes no sense as God is wisdom (as one of his many eternal attributes)… God wasn’t unintelligent and unwise and one day said, “I need to create Wisdom so I can then have Wisdom.” 1 Corinthians 1:24 says referring to Christ, “Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” These are eternal attributes that God always had. God did not one day create these things, suggesting he did not have these things (power and wisdom, which is Christ) before that time.

Often, those who argue verse 22 proves Christ is Wisdom in Proverbs 8 and therefor was a created being and is not God also use 1 Corinthians 8:6 to show that God created Jesus who then created the world. 1 Corinthians 8:6 says “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.” They also use Colossians 1:16, which states that all things were created “by him” (him being Jesus).

However, this doesn’t work with the very poem in Proverbs 8 that they use to tie everything together. Consider the verses from Proverbs 8 (italics and parenthetical additions mine):

While as yet he (God) had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world.
When he (God) prepared the heavens, I was there: when he (G0d) set a compass upon the face of the depth:
When he (God) established the clouds above: when he (God) strengthened the fountains of the deep:
When he (God) gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he (God) appointed the foundations of the earth:
Then I was by him (God), as one brought up with him (God): and I was daily his (God’s) delight, rejoicing always before him;

Here, Wisdom is clearly described as a personification, as a child (and a female child at that) who grew up with God and watched, rejoicing as God created the world. It is clear from these verses that the Wisdom of Proverbs 8 did not actually create or do anything. She was just there, rejoicing always before God. If this female wisdom is Christ, then Proverbs 8 conflicts directly with 1 Corinthians 8: 6 (see above) and Colossians 1:16 (see above). This also would be in conflict to Hebrews 1:10, which clearly states that it was the Son who created. The Son can’t create and also sit idly by and watch the Father create. It simply doesn’t work. In isolation, the argument could be made that this Wisdom might be the actual Christ, but when you consider the whole of the Bible, the argument fails and contradicts the whole of the Bible. The Bible does not contradict itself when read correctly as a whole. We must be careful not to follow doctrines that must be read and interpreted only in isolation from the rest of scripture.

The better translation of these verses in Proverbs 8 would be of the personified blueprints – the wisdom brought forth and planned in creation. The blueprints, personified, are excitedly watching her plans come to fruition as God creates the world. This brings continual rejoicing before him.

We get ourselves into trouble when we falsely claim that the speaker in Proverbs 8 is Christ and not simply the personification of Wisdom. With this false assumption, we can then tie other scriptures to the falsehood to make them say things they don’t imply in the first place. This then takes all of the associated scriptures out of alignment with the whole of scripture. This is done regarding Jesus being the “firstborn.”

What does it mean, Jesus being the firstborn? Colossians 1:15, speaking of Jesus, says “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:” Verse 17 adds, “And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” To correctly interpret these verses, we need to remember how “firstborn” is used in scripture. Paul was a man of strict Jewish heritage. In his writings, we see his accurate use of the term with it’s connection to the old testament. Paul used the term “firstborn” just as the Bible does throughout. David is described in Psalm 89:27 with the words “Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.” Yet David was not the firstborn son – in fact, he was the last born son of Jesse. He was also not the first or last king of Israel, but despite this he was the “firstborn.” This refers to David’s (and Jesus’) preeminence – his superiority and surpassing of all others. Jeremiah 31:9 does the same thing when it says “Ephraim is my firstborn.” Ephraim was not a firstborn son, but he was the preeminent one. Jesus is the image of the invisible God – the God who became flesh and dwelt among us, and he is superior and preeminent over all creation.

Note carefully the wording of Colossians 1:17 – “And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” Jesus is before all things (as any eternal God would be). In many translations, “and by him all things consist” is translated “and in him all things hold together” (NIV/ESV/RSV) or “he holds all creation together.” (NLT) Jesus is before and outside of this world, having created it (as God – as shown in our Proverbs verses and Genesis) and is holding it together. Some translators, though, add to this text words that are not found in the original Greek. For example, the New World Translation says “Also, he is before all [other] things and by means of him all [other] things were made to exist,” This version’s readers would say that the “[other]” additions are there to clarify the meaning – but it does not clarify – it completely changes the meaning. Paul could have added the word other if it were needed, but it was not, and adding it then brings this scripture into conflict with the whole of the Bible. For this translation, in adding “[other]” here, they had to change John 1:1 to match, making Jesus an “other” god separate from God the father, but then you’re stuck with two gods when you are only permitted one, and it just gets more difficult to keep things tied together as you continue. Eventually, you are left with a different, inconsistent faith that has numerous points of internal conflict which can’t be reconciled in accurate translations of the original scriptures. We must be careful to not fall into these sorts of traps.

The Wisdom of Proverbs 8 is just that – wisdom. She is personified as a virtuous woman in Proverbs, and in a literary poetic style, she is shown rejoicing watching her wisdom unfold as the founding blueprint of creation. While there may be likeness, she is not shown as Christ, for if she were, as some assume, then there would have to have been a time before Christ when God did not have wisdom or power (as Christ is the wisdom and power of God). And a God without wisdom or power wouldn’t have the wisdom or power to create Christ in the first place. Christ had to always be.

Jesus May Call Us His Friend, but We are Still His Servants

A short while ago I was having a conversation with someone regarding the topic of the Western Church increasing in removing “sin” from its vocabulary and in removing the fullness of the Gospel from its teachings. At some point in this conversation I mentioned that after we find salvation we are to be slaves to God from that point. I was immediately rebuked and told that we are no longer slaves, but we are friends of God (not that this would excuse us from doing God’s will).

This set me thinking. I’ll agree that we are friends of God; the Bible clearly states this (see James 2:23 and John 15:15), but does this mean we are no longer slaves? Does being God’s friend negate our also being his servants? And while Jesus does call us his friend, is there any verse in the new testament where a man (or woman) calls Jesus his friend?

I believe John 15:15 is the verse that was referenced when I was corrected for my slave comment. This verse says:

“No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.

This brings to mind the question: Yes, Jesus calls us his friends, but does that also mean we are no longer his slaves (or servants)? If we continue to read in John 15, we’ll find that in John 15:20 Jesus says:

“Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.

Here, Jesus is speaking to the same listeners he has just called friends yet He clearly implies that the servant/master relationship still stands. We are the servant and we are not greater than our master. Because of this, since they persecuted him, we can know they will persecute us. Also, we know that if others keep his word, they will keep ours also. In both instances, Jesus is the preeminent one and we are his servants whom He also calls friends.

We must note that there is a prerequisite to Jesus calling us his friends. I’ve heard some preachers imply that Jesus is everyone’s friend. While it is true that God loved the whole word in sending Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins, he does not call everyone his friend. There is a stipulation. John 15:14 says “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.”

Now, I rejoice if Jesus calls me his friend as it is my goal to do what he commands. Doing God’s will and being called a friend of Jesus is a great honor and blessing in knowing God. Knowing Jesus calls us friends helps us to know that we are truly loved by God. This doesn’t, though, remove our responsibility as servants of God. The writers of the new testament appear to have felt the same way. Notice how they introduce themselves in their letters.

James 1:1 – James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ…

Here, bondservant (or servant in the KJV) is from Strong’s G1401 – doulos. This word means a slave (literal or figurative, involuntary or voluntary). It refers to someone who gives himself up wholly to another’s will. It is the same word used for slave in Matthew 20:27 when Jesus says “And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—”

Peter says the same thing about himself. 2 Peter 1:1 says, “Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ…” Jude does the same in Jude 1:1 – Jude, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James… Paul said the same thing in Romans 1:1. And John said in introducing the book of Revelation, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place.” (see Revelation 1:1)

This word is used in Acts 4:29 when Peter says “Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word,” In fact, this word is used to refer to Christians all over the new testament, just as Jesus used it in various parables to refer to human servants (see Matthew 13:27, Matthew 18:23, Matthew 25:30, Luke 17:9-10 and Luke 20:10). It is the same word used to show our slavery to sin before salvation (see John 8:34 Romans 6:16-20). It is what Jesus became for us (Philippians 2:7). It is the word Titus uses in Titus 2:9 to refer to slaves who, as Christians, should obey their masters.

In looking back at John 15:15, Jesus says “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends…” Just a short while later in John 16:12 he says “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” We can surmise that unlike a true slave who may be commanded to do something without being told why, Jesus will tell us what we need to know in the moment regarding his plans. We have the Spirit of God with us who reveals to us the things of God (see John 14:26, 16:13, and 1 Corinthians 2:9-13).

There are actually only a small number of verses in the Bible where God (or Jesus) references men as friends. Only two people in the old testament received such honor. God spoke with Moses face to face as one would speak to a friend (see Exodus 33:11). God called Abraham his friend (see 2 Chronicles 20:7 Isaiah 41:8 and James 2:23). But even in reading these scriptures, there’s no evidence that God called these people “friend” directly. It was only written after they had died. In fact, in announcing Moses’ death, God says in Joshua 1:2, “Moses My servant is dead.” A fitting two word epitaph, “My servant.” This was the honor of Moses – he was God’s servant.

In the New Testament we find only one place where Jesus personally addresses someone as “friend.” This was to Judas right before the betrayal (see Matthew 26:50). Jesus also referred to Lazarus as “our friend” when talking to his disciples in John 11:11.

We can find countless places in the Bible where mankind is referred to as God’s or Jesus’ servant or slave. Often, as noted above, these are the self-revelations of the servants themselves. Yet in many modern churches we seldom hear such self-given titles. We prefer to hang onto the minority of verses which call us friends of God and use those to say that God or Jesus is our friend. Yes, Jesus does consider us friends if we do what he commands, but that is far from the full of scripture. The much greater point of scripture is that we are his loving servants, following the example he gave to us (see Mark 10:45, Philippians 2 and John 13:13-16). We would be wise to remember how scripture portrays our relationship with our Lord, and in doing so, keep the same reverence that is displayed through the authors of the New Testament. Yes, Jesus considers us his friends. Yes, he wants to have free communication with us, and yes, we should love him because he first loved us, but even considering these facts, the overly-friendly, even romantic relationship with God expressed by some churches simply isn’t found in scripture, and shows a pride and presumption that was clearly not present with the New Testament authors. We must be careful.

Postscript:

This article was about our being God’s friends, or more, us claiming God as our friend. This article did not speak to our being children of God. Galatians 3:26 says “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:17 adds “and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.”  Just as I agree that if we do what he commands Jesus counts us as his friends, I also agree that though faith in Jesus we are also children of God and joint-heirs with Christ. These truths doe not change the facts outlined in the article above.  At the time of the New Testament’s writing, a reader would have understood the respect and reverence a son should give to his parent. It is that very respect and reverence that many have lost in the church today. It is analogous to what sometimes happens in society with parents who would rather be their children’s friends than act as a parent. In these cases the parental role is weakened and the lessons which should be taught by the elder are lost. As children who revel in claiming God as our “friend” we weaken God’s role as father and teacher and as one who disciplines. We lose the awe and respect we should have as his servants. We lose what it means to be his servant – something the apostles clearly recognized and boasted in. It is this servitude that we should boast in as well, so that as a friend of God, when we pass from this life, God may say to our honor, “(Insert your name here), My Servant, has died.”

The Gospel and Evangelism

First, inspiration for this entry goes to a podcast series from Radical with David Platt.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to share the Gospel of Christ and what it means to be a Christian. The more I’ve grown in my metanoia, the more I realize just how far the western church has drifted from the true gospel of realizing our helpless sinful nature, realizing Christ’s sacrifice for us while we were in our sin, accepting that sacrifice in believing in Him, and preaching the message forward to others. In so many churches we hardly hear of sin, but understanding our sin is crucial to our understanding what Jesus actually did for us. We hear church leaders tell everyone that God loves them just the way they are, and while this is true, this message alone will not lead people to repentance. And without true repentance, there is no salvation. In fact, if we don’t honestly tell people that people are at enmity with God and are lost without Jesus, they may be less likely to seek true salvation because we’ve simply told them that God loves them just the way they are. I mean, if God loves us just the way we are and that’s that, then why look for anything more? Be happy for we are loved by God – no need to change. It’s a scary thought, but in our ‘seeker sensitive’ society, we’ve stopped believing in the power of the gospel to save sinners and instead hide the full truth of the gospel in an attempt to not scare away sinners. This is man’s thinking and not God’s. We don’t want to offend, but the Bible says that gospel is an offence, and it is also the power of God for salvation (see 1 Peter 2:7-8, 1 Corinthians 1:18, Acts 4, Matthew 10:22, John 15:18-21 and Romans 1:16).

I’ve come to realize that one of the greater self-deceptions Christians have is that they don’t have to share the gospel (as described in the Bible). We tell ourselves that we can live a good life and that will be a witness. I’m guilty of this myself. And while yes, we should live an upright life, is it scriptural to assume this can also be our only witness? Is not everyone who believes called to more? Is the gospel merely talking about Jesus and how wonderful he is? Is the gospel not a very specific message that is missing from so many of our modern churches, a message that we are required to share?

We need to actively proclaim the full and true gospel to others. Jesus warned in Matthew 7:21-23, ““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.’”

We must realize that there are many (Strong’s G4183 – polys, meaning a multitude, many, much, great, numerous, abundant) who will think they had been serving God who were never known by God. Jesus didn’t say there would be a small few who would fall under this deception – he said there would be many. It is clear that these people will die in their sins believing they were Christians, even Christians who worked for God and served in his kingdom with power. But Jesus will say they were not. They did not know the true gospel.

So what is the true gospel? What is the one and only message that leads to salvation? What does it mean to evangelize or proclaim the gospel?

In defining the gospel, Ephesians 2 is a good place to start. Here, Paul writes:

And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

In looking at the above text, it is clear that the gospel starts with God. He made us alive. He is the one who is rich in mercy because of His great love with which He loved us. The gospel is so He might show the exceeding riches of His grace and His kindness towards us. Our salvation is not of ourselves but it is a gift of God. We are His workmanship.

The passage starts with “and you He made alive…” This implies (and states directly) that we were dead. We were dead in trespasses and sins. This is a powerful truth. We didn’t just not know God. We weren’t just “lost.” We weren’t lonely or depressed or not nice people. We hadn’t just messed up a bit. We, all of us, were dead in trespasses and sins. Simply by the course of this world, we were dead in our sins; it was the very way in which we walked. We were of the way of the enemy (Satan – the prince and power of the air). We served the flesh and our lusts and the desires of our minds (knowledge? power? happiness? – What does your mind desire outside of Christ?). We were by our very nature children of wrath. The gospel starts with this truth. Without Christ we are dead – a position which is utterly and completely hopeless. Without Christ we are on a path which will end with God’s wrath being poured out upon us as punishment for our sins. People must realize this truth. God may love us just as we are, but unless we accept Jesus as Savior – the one who took our sins and the punishment for those sins upon himself, we are dead, despite God’s love.

Notice how Paul fully describes both God’s mercy and grace as well as the fullness of our sinful state. He doesn’t just focus on God. In fact, he starts with our sin and deadness. The gospel is a two part story. First we find out we are dead in sin, and then we find out “but God…” The gospel is the conquering of one state by another. Death conquered by life. Wrath by Love. God’s unavoidable demand for justice by His great mercy of satisfying that justice in the crucifixion of Jesus. If we don’t realize the truth of God’s wrath and His demand for justice, then we won’t realize the true salvation being offered. You can meet a Jesus who loves you and gives you great gifts and tells you how wonderful you are, but that could be a random generous guy in a Spanish speaking country. We need to introduce people to the real Jesus – the Jesus who took our not only our sins, but the full punishment for those sins.

We tend to minimize the seriousness of sin. People don’t think they’re “that bad.” Churches that don’t talk about sin perpetuate this problem. Our society and culture, even within the church, treat sin far too lightly. With God, all sin is serious and the penalty is severe. Consider the following examples regarding how God treats sin.

In Genesis 19 when Lot’s wife was fleeing from Sodom, she had been told not to look back, but did. She died instantly (see Genesis 19:15-26). Whether this was simply looking back to see what was happening or her looking back longingly at the life she was leaving, either way, she was killed for this sin.

In Numbers 15:32-36 a man was caught picking up sticks on the Sabbath. God has him stoned to death for violating the Sabbath.

In 2 Samuel 6:6-7 when Uzzah put his hand forth to steady the ark of the covenant that was being transported because an oxen stumbled, God immediately struck him dead.

And even under the New Covenant brought forth by the death and resurrection of Jesus, when  Ananias and Sapphira lie about their offering they are each struck dead for their lie and holding back something for themselves (See Acts 5). God takes sin seriously. He is a perfect Holy God and sin against him (and all sin is against him) requires punishment. The wages of sin is death (see Romans 6:23).

We look at these examples and likely think them extreme. Stoned for picking up sticks? Really? But this is because we’ve become soft on sin and we view sin from our vantage point – the viewpoint of sinners. We are a vapor, and small sins against us are seldom a big deal. God, on the other hand, is completely perfect and eternally big, and sins against him are an eternally big deal. No matter how small we might classify it, one sin against an infinitely holy God is infinitely serious and causes eternal separation from God; just one sin will incur the full wrath of God. Sin is serious. We must remember that the entire fallen state of this world – every horrible thing that happens – is ultimately the result of one person’s sin – one person denying the instruction of God and doing what he wanted to do instead. The sin of one person eating a piece of fruit caused every vile thing you’ve ever seen in this life. Sin is serious.

Considering the above, while we often hear people say “How can a loving God condemn man for one tiny sin?” we should be asking “How could a God of perfect justice allow any sinners into heaven?” The gospel seeks to answer the second of these questions, for this is the question asked in the viewpoint of God. And thankfully, even though we could never find the way, God did. He made a way to retain His justice yet show his Mercy and allow sinners into heaven. God is a God of justice, and justice requires that a sinner be found guilty. It’s what we expect of our courts and it is what we should expect of God. So how does a just God condemn our sin yet save us in his mercy? The answer is in Christ.

Jesus came, God in the flesh, and took our sin upon himself. He took the sin of the whole world, and was crucified for that sin. For the next man who would pick up sticks on the Sabbath, Jesus was crucified. For the next couple who would lie about an offering, keeping back a portion as if they had right to anything in this world, Jesus was crucified. He took our sin. He took our punishment. God’s justice was satisfied, and in that, God’s mercy triumphed for all who would believe. God showed justice for sin at the cross and God showed mercy for sinners at the cross. This is the gospel.

So if the above is the gospel, then what is evangelism? In defining evangelism, David Platt puts it well:

Evangelism is the proclamation of the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit with the aim of persuading people to repent and believe in Christ.

Right before he ascended into heaven, Jesus said “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8). This tells us two very important things. First, that as Christians, when the Holy Spirit has come upon us we will receive power. Second, it says that we will then be his witnesses. Our witness is not in our own power. Our witness is not successful because of our own enticing speech or wisdom (see 1 Corinthians 2:4). Our witness is effective because of the power of the Holy Spirit in making us witnesses. The word translated witness in Acts 1:8 is Strong’s G3144 – martys. It is the word from which we get the English word martyr. Ten of the 11 disciples were martyred because of the words they spoke. A witness tells. A witness proclaims. There is a legal aspect to this word. A witness testifies to the truth.

Our witness is not a smile, our good nature, a kind gesture, a positive life, a compliment, or even a story about how great Jesus is. Our witness is our testimony of the gospel. Everything else can compliment our witness, but the Bible would make it clear that these other things are not a witness in and of themselves. Jesus did not say “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be kind people who are generous and positive and complimentary until the ends of the earth.” The world has many non-christians who would satisfy that witness. No, Jesus said we would be His Witnesses. A witness speaks. We should have the spirit of God on us so that we can speak and proclaim the truth we have found in Christ. The Bible makes this clear.

Remember, a witness is a martyr. A witness is not martyred for his niceness or her good attitude. A witness is not martyred for being helpful and complimentary. A witness is martyred because he said something that offended. In our case, the gospel is that offence. The gospel is not just about the holiness and love of God. That is a part, but that is not all. People do not get offended when you say God is holy and loving. Many faiths would agree this is true. The gospel is also about the sinfulness of everyone, no matter how good and upright they think they are. People get offended when you tell them they’re sinners. The gospel is also about the atoning sacrifice of Jesus – his death for our sins and his resurrection leading us to a new life. And we must be careful. The gospel is not that Jesus died… it is that he died for each and everyone one of us to pay the penalty for each and every one of our sins. If we don’t recognize our own sinful nature, his sacrifice will be meaningless to us and our salvation won’t be genuine. We can’t truly repent if we don’t realize that we are fully in the wrong when it comes to God’s expectations regarding perfect holinenss. All of these things must be communicated if we are to share the full gospel.

Just talking about God and Jesus and how wonderful they are is not evangelism. People from many religions and walks of life talk about those things. And while it is fine to talk about God, evangelism is the proclamation of the gospel as described in the previous paragraph, as described in the Bible.

As we saw in Jesus’ last words before ascension, that when the power of the holy spirit comes upon/fills us, we will be witnesses. Where else is this phrase used, and what happens immediately after the power of the holy spirit comes? As seen in the list below, every time the phrase “filled with the Holy Spirit” is found in the new testament, a proclamation or speaking follows.

In Luke 1:15 it says that John the Baptist was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb. And what did he do? He witnessed/told/proclaimed the coming of the Lord.

Later, in Luke 1:41-42 Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and immediately she proclaimed that Mary was pregnant with Elizabeth’s Lord (Elizabeth called Mary the mother of her Lord).

And even later in Luke 1:67  Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and he immediately prophesied regarding Jesus.

At Pentecost in Acts 2, when they were all filled with the holy spirit, they witnessed of Christ, even in other tongues (languages they did not speak but that their hearers did speak and understood).

In Acts 4:8 Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, immediately speaks, proclaiming the truth of God.

Acts 4:31 says “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”

In Acts 9 after Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit he proclaimed the gospel. In Acts 13 he again spoke after being filled with the Holy Spirit.

As can be seen from these verses, when we are “filled with the Holy Spirit” we should speak. Every single Biblical example shows this. There is no Biblical example that does not. I have to wonder, are those in Matthew 7:21-23 under the impression that they were filled with the Holy Spirit because of the powerful things they did when in fact they were not even known by Jesus? They prophesied. They cast out demons. They did mighty works. But did they, filled with the Holy Spirit, proclaim the true gospel of man’s sin and enmity with God, God’s love for man in sending his Son, the Son’s taking our sin upon him and the punishment for that sin, his death and resurrection, and our need to turn from our sin and believe in him? Jesus gave no evidence that they did.

If we are to be a witness as Jesus told us to be, then we should be a witness to the gospel. Also, we don’t just tell the facts and stop there. We persuade people to repent, to make a decision for Christ, trusting the power of the Holy Spirit to work.  We must also remember, that even though God has chosen us and our testimony to be the vehicle through which the Holy Spirit works to bring salvation, the power is not in our words, no matter how eloquent. The power is not in our theatrics. The power is not even in us telling others how great God is and how much He loves them. The power is in the gospel message. That is the message we are to carry; God gives the repentance. Consider the message in Acts 2 after Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:37-38: Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

These Jews, who had been waiting for the Messiah to save them from their sins were made to realize that Jesus, whom they had crucified, was that very Messiah. The Holy Spirit was at work and they were “cut to the heart” when they heard Peter’s message. Peter continued with them and lead them to repentance, assuring their salvation.

In Acts 5:31, when Peter and the others answered the council, they said “Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” If we give the message, filled with the Holy Spirit, God will give repentance. And while yes, our good nature and kindness should support our witness, Romans 2:4 makes it clear that it is the goodness of God which leads to repentance.

Ephesians 2:8 adds, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,” Again, the faith by which we come to salvation is a gift of God. It is not something we can impart to others and it is not something others have power for in themselves. God must give them the gift. We explain the gospel. We give the testimony. God gives the faith for repentance. We must trust the power of the gospel. Yes, it offends, but it is also the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16), and without the gospel, there is no true salvation, even if there is an appearance of power, just as Jesus warned.

In a random find while working on this article… the following video gives a great example of explaining the gospel, in this case to those of Jewish heritage: