A question with which I have wrestled for around 15 years is this: does God promise physical healing to me, as His adopted child? Is it part of the package of our inheritance from Him? Recently, I was led anew into this question by a brother who was boldly proclaiming that this promise is indeed ours. After looking at some of the scriptures he referenced, I decided to once again study this matter. However, I decided to do something different this time. In the past, I would always mix personal experiences and the experiences of others I know into the equation, attempting to determine truth by looking at how the promises of God were or were not working out in actual lives, including my own. This time, I decided that taking this approach would in fact be detrimental, for one simple reason: it brings the mind and heart of man into a question which can only be answered by the Word of God. The Word alone, I decided, should be wholly sufficient to answer this question, if indeed God wants us to find the answer.
In this section, I will simply present the scriptures that God led me to and explain what He showed me there.
And when he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him. And behold, there came to him a leper and worshipped him, saying, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.” And he stretched forth his hand, and touched him, saying, “I will; be thou made clean.” And straightway his leprosy was cleansed. (Matthew 8:1-3, ASV)
After preaching the Sermon on the Mount for three chapters, Jesus came down to find a leper, who was full of faith that Jesus could heal him. Why? The preceding verses offer the probable explanation:
And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these words, the multitudes were astonished at his teaching: for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. (Matthew 7:28-29, ASV, emphasis mine)
The question in the leper’s statement is important: “Are You willing?” He already had faith that Jesus could. He just needed to know if Jesus wanted to. The Lord’s answer was unequivocal: “I will.” The Greek word for “will” here means “to wish, will, want, or desire;” and the word forms the root of two Greek nouns meaning “will, decision, or desire.” Jesus was not stating, as we English speakers might be inclined to think, “I will (do it);” He was saying much more than that. After looking at the Greek words, there should be no misunderstanding that in this passage, Jesus plainly stated that His will or desire was to heal this leper. (He said the equivalent of “I decide it” or “I desire it.”) I’m no Greek expert, so I can’t speak of the verb form, but it reminded me of the numerous times our Lord said, “I Am…”, and that is no statement in time, for that moment only. It seems possible to me that when Jesus said, “I will,” He was telling the leper and anyone else with ears to hear that His desire is to heal, to show mercy, to draw people to Himself and lead them to His salvation. However, as we’ll look at later, there are other factors involved in whether a healing takes place.
Since many would consider this insufficient evidence to convince that God’s will is to heal, let’s take a look at several other passages which further convey God’s desire to provide healing, especially to His faithful covenant people:
And ye shall serve Jehovah your God, and he will bless thy bread, and thy water; and I will take sickness away from the midst of thee. (Exodus 23:25, ASV)
And it shall come to pass, because ye hearken to these ordinances, and keep and do them, that Jehovah thy God will keep with thee the covenant and the lovingkindness which he sware unto thy fathers… .. And Jehovah will take away from thee all sickness; and none of the evil diseases of Egypt, which thou knowest, will he put upon thee, but will lay them upon all them that hate thee. (Deuteronomy 7:12, 15, ASV)
Bless Jehovah, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless Jehovah, O my soul, And forget not all his benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; Who healeth all thy diseases (Psalm 103:1-3, ASV)
However, scripture also shows us that God has a special relationship with His covenant people. Since they have far greater revelation and greater blessing, they also have greater responsibility before God to follow and obey Him. He states in no uncertain terms that the above promises of healing can just as easily be reversed due to disobedience:
“If you are not careful to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, the LORD your God, then the LORD will bring on you and your offspring extraordinary afflictions, afflictions severe and lasting, and sicknesses grievous and lasting. And he will bring upon you again all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you. Every sickness also and every affliction that is not recorded in the book of this law, the LORD will bring upon you, until you are destroyed. (Deuteronomy 28:58-61, ESV)
As a whole, these passages support Jesus’ words to the leper in Matthew 8:3 that the Lord desires to heal those who are either in right relationship with Him or who are lost and wandering about “like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36) and “who don’t know their right hand from their left” (Jonah 4:11).
A few verses later, Matthew explains to us how healing is made possible through Jesus:
That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” (Matthew 8:16-17, ESV, quoting from Isaiah 53:4)
Perhaps coming from his background as a tax collector, well familiar with balance sheets, Matthew decided right away to explain how the “transaction” of healing is possible. He explains that the healings which Jesus is “handing out” were all paid for by Himself, since He would later complete His work on the cross (since Matthew wrote his gospel after the resurrection); and Matthew tells the reader that Jesus in fact carried these illnesses and diseases for us, as Isaiah prophesied He would, as part of His passion role of suffering servant. As Matthew says, this fulfilled the passage in Isaiah; and once God fulfilled that passage, it’s quite unimaginable that He would somehow “unfulfill” it later and declare that Jesus bore illnesses and diseases then, for a time, but not now.
The next verse in Isaiah explains how Jesus paid for our healing quite clearly. He bore these things so that we would not have to:
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5, ASV, emphasis mine)
Peter said as much in 1 Peter 2:24. Many point to these verses and say that Isaiah, Matthew, and Peter were speaking only of spiritual healing, of salvation. But if Jesus was only beaten and scourged, which is what caused His stripes, then our salvation would not have been completed; because it was His crucifixion and death that secured our pardon, not specifically His stripes. Isaiah, Matthew, and Peter may have been pointing at something larger.
In looking deeper at Isaiah 53:5, the 1st half of the verse is talking about deliverance from sin (transgressions and iniquities), but the second half of the verse speaks of more – peace and wholeness at a level that spreads wider than just reconciliation to God. The word “peace” there is “shalom,” which encompasses completeness, safety, health, and peace – all parts of our New Covenant relationship with God through what Christ has done. Then the last clause declares that “with His stripes we are healed.” Both here (in Hebrew) and in 1 Peter 2:24 (in Greek), the word “healed” can mean both “made whole” and also “physically healed.” But if one simply looks at how these same Hebrew and Greek words are used throughout the Old and New Testaments, then we see that there is a very strong emphasis on the physical meaning of the word that should not be overlooked in favor of the metaphorical meaning in these two passages.
In looking at each usage of these two words in their respective testaments, both words are very often used in a literal, physical sense (especially in the New Testament, which is what we’re most concerned with). Also of note, the Hebrew word for “heal” is also used for “physician,” and of course we know that physicians attempt to heal the sick. I counted the places this word is used in the OT referring specifically to physical healing, and I was conservative. I did not include in this count the uses of this word where it meant “physician” either (there were 5). It came to 24 out of 63. However, most of the figurative uses for “heal” were found in the Psalms and the Prophets, exactly where one would expect to find figurative language.
However, looking in the New Testament at the Greek word for “heal” and doing the same thing, the count is far more convincing. Out of the total of 28, 22 are clear references to physical healing, 4 are quotes from the Old Testament (three of the same verse), 1 is metaphorical, and 1 is the passage in question – 1 Peter 2:24! Clearly, the New Testament focus on the word “heal” is a physical one, especially when used to describe the ministry of Jesus, the visible representation of the Father, who undoubtedly came to bring both wholeness and physical healing – wholeness which often came through the avenue of physical healing.
God wants us to understand that the prophesied Messiah would indeed bear our sins, and He tells us this in the first part of Isaiah 53:5 and in 53:12:
But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. .. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:5, 12, ESV, emphasis mine)
Given these clear declarations, why would we decide to stretch the meaning of “healed” in verse 5 and assume that God was only repeating what He was already saying quite clearly in the same passage, that Christ bore our sins, which yields the truest measure of wholeness? Is it not a more accurate and honest reading of the text to read it for both its physical meaning and its metaphorical meaning, which informs us that those who are in Christ have access to physical healing and wholeness because of the stripes Jesus received for us? Why would God intend only the metaphorical meaning of “healed” here? Why would He use a figure of speech to describe His Son’s ministry, which entailed such a massive emphasis on physical healing leading unto salvation and wholeness?
In the next chapter, Matthew sheds further light on the matter of healing, in the story of the paralytic whose sins Jesus forgave. When the Pharisees accused Him of blasphemy, Jesus said:
“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he then said to the paralytic – “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” (Matthew 9:6, ESV)
Jesus made the point here that this healing was a sign for unbelievers, to show that He has the authority to forgive sins. It follows then that if someone sees the Lord’s power in healing, one of God’s purposes is to stir their faith to believe that He truly is able and willing to forgive their entire life’s catalog of wretched thoughts and deeds! This shows a powerful purpose and platform for healing: that it may illuminate man’s deepest need: to be reconciled to God through repentance and believing the gospel.
A few verses later, Matthew begins to show us the other side of the healing transaction. What does God ask of us for healing? Jesus spoke quite succinctly in John 6 about what God wants from us:
Jesus answered and said unto them, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” (John 6:29, ASV, emphasis mine)
God tells us to have faith. Matthew begins to drive that point home with the story of the woman with the issue of blood:
[F]or she said within herself, “If I do but touch his garment, I shall be made whole.” But Jesus turning and seeing her said, “Daughter, be of good cheer; thy faith hath made thee whole.” And the woman was made whole from that hour. (Matthew 9:21-22, ASV, emphasis mine)
Jesus said plainly and clearly that this woman’s faith that He would heal her is a key reason she was healed. Matthew continues to show this with another example:
And as Jesus passed by from thence, two blind men followed him, crying out, and saying, “Have mercy on us, thou son of David.” And when he was come into the house, the blind men came to him: and Jesus saith unto them, “Believe ye that I am able to do this?” They say unto him, “Yea, Lord.” Then touched he their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done unto you.” And their eyes were opened. (Matthew 9:27-30, ASV, emphasis mine)
Can it be any clearer that we will receive healing when God gives us faith to believe that not only can He heal us but that it is His will to do so? Naturally, there may be occasions where God heals even in spite of the lack of faith on the part of the sick or lame. After all, in the cases of raising someone from the dead (such as Lazarus, the widow of Nain’s son, or Jairus’ daughter), the dead person had no faith to exercise; they were dead! However, it’s interesting to note that in two of these three resurrections, Jesus still pointed toward faith as a very active factor in what He was doing:
[Jairus] beseecheth him much, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death: I pray thee, that thou come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be made whole, and live.” .. While he yet spake, they come from the ruler of the synagogue’s house saying, “Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Teacher any further?” But Jesus, not heeding the word spoken, saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, “Fear not, only believe.” (Mark 5:23, 35-36, ASV, emphasis mine)
But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of him that was blind, have caused that this man also should not die?” Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus saith, “Take ye away the stone.” Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, “Lord, by this time the body decayeth; for he hath been dead four days.” Jesus saith unto her, “Said I not unto thee, that, if thou believedst, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, “Father, I thank thee that thou heardest me. 42And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the multitude that standeth around I said it, that they may believe that thou didst send me.” (John 11:37-42, ASV, emphasis mine)
Notice the unbelief of the crowd at Lazarus’ tomb. There was plenty of unbelief at Jairus’ house too; after all, the people laughed at Jesus when He came to heal the girl. Looking back to what Matthew showed earlier, these examples add further evidence that healing is a sign to unbelievers that the Lord has the authority to forgive sins. Thus, the purpose is to awaken people and to motivate them to faith unto salvation. And that is exactly what Jesus said in John 11:42.
Matthew further presses the point of the necessity of faith in describing Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth:
And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, “A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and in his own house.” And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief. (Matthew 13:57-58, ASV, emphasis mine)
Was Jesus’ power somehow limited by the people of Nazareth’s unbelief? Far from it. The will of the Father was obviously not such to dispense widespread healings and miracles among a people who had little or no faith in Him and who, we can safely assume, had even less faith to believe that this “carpenter’s son” could actually save their souls. This is the same reason so few miracles are seen in the modern Western church. Where there is so little genuine faith in Jesus’ power to save and deliver from sin, why would He often demonstrate His power to heal, when it will only be received with fascination as a marvel and not as a call to admit a much deeper need?
Jesus again specifically addressed the issue of unbelief after the transfiguration, when dealing with the boy overcome by demon possession:
“And oft-times it hath cast him both into the fire and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us.” And Jesus said unto him, “If thou canst! All things are possible to him that believeth.” (Mark 9:22-23, ASV, emphasis mine)
All things means all things. Naturally, among born again believers who walk with Christ, this is no “blank check” to receive whatever they wish. This type of person asks according to God’s will, and when this occurs, Jesus said,
“…whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” (Matthew 21:22, ASV)
For Professing Christians
Another story shows us one more important factor in healing. The man at the pool of Bethesda was sick because of his sin (verse 14), and since sin can entangle us and severely hinder the work of God in our lives – including healing, Jesus cut right to the point:
When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6, ESV, emphasis mine)
Obviously, this sick man’s will was trapped in his desire for his sin, and Jesus made it very clear to him, both before and after the healing, that if he truly wanted to be well, he had to forsake his sin. In other words, he had to answer the call to repent. This is another important lesson in today’s complacent church age, in which people want to be made well but have little desire to daily follow Christ to His death and leave sin behind.
So why is it that so often Christians pray with genuine faith and ask for healing and yet see no answer from God? Perhaps Isaiah has provided the answer:
Behold, Jehovah’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, so that he will not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue muttereth wickedness. (Isaiah 59:1-3, ASV)
As I mentioned earlier, all of the promises of God are offered to His people contingent upon our continued obedience to the light He gives us, as we daily choose to walk in obedience to His commands. This walk is what it means to simply be a Christian. Many seem to think they can claim Christ’s name yet walk another path and still claim access to all the Lord’s benefits. While God may exercise His prerogative to show mercy to His children who are out of right relationship with Him, it is doubtful He would often do so. More likely, He will bring chastisement, which may mean He allows an ailment to come or continue.
The Hindrance of “Wisdom”
Why does this still seem to be such a difficult and perplexing issue? It certainly has been for me. Going back to what I said at the beginning, what the Lord revealed to me is that I have had “too much of myself” involved. In other words, I am overthinking the issue. God pointed me to this scripture to make it clear:
At that season Jesus answered and said, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding, and didst reveal them unto babes: yea, Father, for so it was well-pleasing in thy sight.” (Matthew 11:25-26, ASV)
Any born again person can testify how far their wisdom got them when they were seeking God for salvation. Sure, it may have opened a few doors, but in the crucial moments of faith and surrender, human wisdom utterly fails. Why? Because it is a “foolish message” that saves people:
For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the discernment of the discerning will I bring to nought. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God’s good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe. Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto Jews a stumblingblock, and unto Gentiles foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For behold your calling, brethren, that not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put to shame them that are wise; and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put to shame the things that are strong; and the base things of the world, and the things that are despised, did God choose, yea and the things that are not, that he might bring to nought the things that are: that no flesh should glory before God. (1 Corinthians 1:19-29, ASV, emphasis mine)
The same principle applies to healing or anything else we receive from God. As the scriptures above clearly show, faith is the “currency” that is required in us, as believers, for God to act. By no means do I mean to imply that our faith purchases, earns, or deserves anything from God. The only thing human beings deserve from God is an eternity of torment in hell. What I’m saying is the same thing Paul said in Romans:
For what saith the scripture? And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness. (Romans 4:3, ASV)
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2, ESV, emphasis mine)
A parallel can be drawn between salvation and healing in terms of the circumstances under which they are received. As we know, a person is saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). The same can be said of healing, in that it’s undeserved; it comes purely from God’s grace; and as a general rule, faith must be active in order to receive it. Furthermore, it’s possible to walk away from Jesus and lose salvation (begging the question, “Was the person ever saved?”), as this verse shows:
Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. .. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. (John 15:2, 6, ESV, emphasis mine)
In the same way, if a person wanders away from Christ, yet still prays and expects to receive healing according to God’s promises; how can this be? Just as the fruitless branch is removed from the vine, the person who denies God’s power by their actions is disconnected, is living a double life, and is double-minded; and:
…that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord (James 1:7, ESV)
However, for the humble, obedient servant of Christ, assurance of salvation is as near as the Holy Spirit within them. The question I have is this: is the assurance of God’s provision of healing the same – assured by their right walk with Him and by His sure promises to those who are known by Him (1 Corinthians 8:3)?
A few other scriptures are helpful in order to bring a couple more important principles of healing to light. Arguably the clearest guide for healing in the New Testament is found in the book of James:
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:14-16, ESV)
James definitely brings a corporate flavor to understanding healing, in terms of its application among the Body of believers. He advocates prayers for healing not be made alone, by ourselves, but among leadership. There are several good reasons for this. First, there is accountability. Often, sickness may be the result of sin, and James in this passage even mentions sin twice in the middle of talking about healing. The elders of the Body can obviously have an important role in inquiring about sin, helping a perhaps naïve or hardhearted believer to discover their sin, drawing a believer to repentance, assuring a believer of forgiveness, and ultimately praying for the Lord’s mercy in healing. Furthermore, this kind of prayer, confession, and healing in the midst of the Body (or at least in the midst of the elders) demonstrates the authority of the elders and also of Christ Himself, as He is exalted through the entire process. The Body is also continually reminded that the Lord does, in fact, heal His saints.
The following passage also supports the idea of involving the Body in healing prayers, as opposed to a person praying for healing alone:
“Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:19, ESV)
Perhaps James’ instructions drew from this wisdom from the Lord Jesus, at least partly to prevent the kind of isolation and discouragement people may feel when they pray for healing alone and receive no answer. If we follow the Lord’s instructions in His Word, should we not expect an answer?
Is this the entirety of the matter of healing? Not by a long shot. I have been healed when I was alone, and I wasn’t even praying for healing. I was confessing and repenting, because the Lord exposed unforgiveness in my heart. When the Lord rid me of this sin, He took the malady with it. It’s important to remember that God is God, and He is able to move in and out of principles such as these as He pleases. Naturally, He will never violate His Word, but He may heal someone with no faith whatsoever for His own reasons. Or He may allow someone to drag on in sickness and pain, while true brethren grieve and ask themselves why. In the end, we have the Word of God and our faith in Him and His immeasurable goodness. There will be times we do not understand. In those times, with God in control, our faith is meant to grow. Endurance, proven character, and hope (Romans 5:4) are to be the result, not despair and departure from faith.
God is eminently good, and especially so toward us, His children; and His promises are exceedingly good. Our place is to stand in agreement with His promises in faith, in order to give Him glory:
For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it is always “Yes.” For all the promises of God find their “Yes” in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our “Amen” to God for his glory. (2 Corinthians 1:19-20, ESV, emphasis mine)
May we indeed agree with the Lord’s Word. May the Lord guide and bless each one of us, so that we walk in the fullness of all the “very great and precious promises” (2 Peter 1:4) He has given us, all for His glory.