“I am the Lord who heals you” (Exodus 15:26b)
Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits— who
forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases (Psalm 103:2-3)
I stood beside the bed of a young mother in hospice care. Her brain tumor was inoperable and she was in her last days of life. I met her parents and husband there to pray over her final moments in this life.
Then it happened. I sensed God nudging me in my heart to pray for her to be healed. I quietly whispered to God, “it’s too late, she is in hospice and supposed to die in the next day or two.” The nudging became stronger, so I pulled the husband aside and said I wanted to pray for her. He responded, “of course.” Then I told him I sensed God wanted to heal his wife. Understandably, he became uncomfortable, and so did her parents, but they gave me permission to pray.
I knelt next to her bed, and asked if she could hear me, she smiled and said, “Yes.” I asked if she believed Jesus could heal her. She nodded affirmatively. I offered a brief prayer pleading for God to remove her brain tumor. I hugged her husband and parents, and left.
It’s been about five years since she walked out of hospice without a brain tumor. The doctors were completely baffled. God healed Lisa.
While I have prayed for many people that God didn’t heal, stories like this remind us that our God heals.
Christ Our Healer
Dr. Albert B. Simpson (1843-1919), founder of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, taught what he called the four-fold Gospel: Christ our Savior, Christ our Sanctifier, Christ our Healer, and Christ our Coming King. Alliance pastors have gladly affirmed these basic truths about Jesus for a century, though some of us hold minor differences on points. In this article, I want to stand in this Alliance tradition, yet provide a fresh articulation of Christ our Healer.
Healing: A Biblical Introduction
To broadly summarize Biblical teaching on healing, here are five essential points.
First, God created a good world without sickness or disease (Genesis 1:25, 30).
Second, when our first parents sinned they brought sickness and disease into our world (Psalm 103:3; Romans 5:12; 2 Corinthians 4:16). Physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual sickness is a result of sin in our world and in our bodies (James 5:14; See also- Romans 14:1; Acts 20:35; 1 Peter 3:7). These various sicknesses may also be the result of personal sin (1 Corinthians 11:29-30), or the sins of parents (Exodus 20:5, Joshua 7:24). One only needs to think, for example, about the sins of parents producing crack babies or fetal alcohol syndrome. Or, think about how the sins of abusive parents cause emotional and psychological damage on children. Sin has affected our biological and psychological health. While caution must always be exercised in attributing a specific sickness as resulting from a specific sin (John 9:1-3), it is clear our sicknesses are the result of sin.
Third, Jesus’ death on the cross (Isaiah 53:4-5) provides for spiritual healing (salvation) from our sins (1 Peter 2:24) through repentance for our sins and faith in Jesus’ work on the cross.
Fourth, Jesus’ death on the cross (Isaiah 53:4-5) provides for physical healing (Matthew 8:16-17) yet is subject to God’s will, and sometimes God is more glorified by not healing us (2 Corinthians 12:7-10; 1 Timothy 5:23; 2 Timothy 4:20). Further, God is sometimes glorified to heal after a prolonged sickness (woman bled for 12 years in Luke 8:43; man paralyzed for 38 years in John 5:5).
Fifth, complete healing occurs when the believer is glorified in God’s presence (1 Corinthians 15:35-58; Revelation 21:4).
Healing: Common & Special Grace
Theologians distinguish between common grace and special grace. Common grace is God’s gift of providing all of humanity with physical birth, health, rain, and governments. Special grace is God’s gift of providing spiritual birth, sanctification, the church, and miracles to bless his people.
Through common grace, God enables medical researchers, physicians, psychologists, and other medical professionals to discover natural means to provide health. Christians ought to celebrate God’s common grace for humanity expressed through modern medicine, and confidently look for God’s healing touch in their lives through these various means.
Through special grace God answers prayer and heals in ways that medical science cannot explain. We rightly call this Divine miraculous healing. Christians ought to always pray and seek for God to heal in accordance with His highest delight.
It is perfectly consistent for a Christian to seek healing from medical professionals (common grace), and to pray for Divine healing (special grace).
Healing: Signs & Wonders, Prayer, and the Gift of Healing
1. Signs & Wonders Healing: In Scripture, “signs & wonders” are miracles performed in connection with the authentication (or supposed authentication) of a messenger of God: Moses (Exodus 7:3-5; Deuteronomy 34:10-12; Psalm 105:26-27), Daniel (Daniel 4:2-3; 6:27), Isaiah (Isaiah 8:18), Jesus (John 14:11; 20:30-31; Acts 2:22), his disciples (2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:3-4), false Christ’s and Messiah’s (Matthew 24:24, Mark 13:22), and the Antichrist to come (2 Thessalonians 2:9).
“Signs & wonders” are different from New Testament spiritual gifts in three ways (see table 1).
a. When: Signs & wonders occur in both OT and NT, while spiritual gifts are a NT phenomenon.
b. Who: Signs & wonders are done by a very selects group of individuals, while spiritual gifts are enjoyed by all believers in Christ.
c. Why: Signs & wonders are intended to authenticate a messenger of God, while spiritual gifts edify and build up the church.
|Signs & Wonders||Spiritual gifts|
|When||OT & NT||NT|
|Who||Select Individuals||All Believers|
Signs & wonders are extraordinary miracles over disease, nature, demons, and death. In nearly every instance, signs & wonders were observable and immediate. Given the purpose of signs & wonders to authenticate a messenger with a message, it seems that this sort of healing is rare indeed, and probably limited to the apostles. By contrast, spiritual gifts are normative and seem to be less spectacular. Further, normative Divine healing (physical, emotional, and psychological) today seems to be in answer to prayer and through the gift of healing (see below).
2. Healings in Answer to Prayer (James 5:14-20): God heals physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally, and psychologically in answer to prayer. These healings may be miraculous or occur through more ordinary means. These healings are rarely immediate and observable, but are nevertheless displays of God’s power.
The Greek word “astheneo” translated “sick” in James 5;14 is a general word for being “weak” (spiritually- Rom. 14:1; economically- Acts 20:35; physically- 1 Peter 3:7, or ill- Matt. 10:8). The context of James 5:7-20, seems to include prayer for spiritual and emotional weakness, as well as prayer for physical healing (cf. Isaiah 38:1-5).
In James 5, the Elders prayed by the laying on of hands. Laying on of hands was the most common way Jesus prayed for others (Luke 4:40; 5:13; 13:13; Matthew 8:3; Mark 1:41; 6:5; 8:23-25). In fact, people began to request Jesus to lay hands on people for healing (Matthew 9:18; Mark 5:23). Paul also laid his hands on people when he prayed for their healing (Acts 28:8; cf. 14:3; 19:11). Physical touch reminded the sick person of God’s touch. The Elders also anointed with oil. While oil is sometimes used in Scripture as a medicine (Isaiah 1:6; Luke 10:34), here it is used as a symbol of God’s presence (cf. 1 Samuel 16:13).
Faith is often a prerequisite to receive healing from God (Matt. 9:27-30; 13:58; Mark 11:22-24; James 5:15), however, faith isn’t always required (John 5:1-15; 9:1-41; 11:1-44). Prayer for healing is subject to God’s will (Ephesians 1:11), and sometimes God chooses not to heal (2 Corinthians 12:7-10; 1 Timothy 5:23; 2 Timothy 4:20). We need to trust in His grace and goodness (Romans 8:28; 2 Corinthians 4:16-19). Sometimes God looks to the faith of the sick person (Luke 8:48; 17:19), other times it’s the faith of friends (Mark 2:5; Matthew 8:10; 15:28), or Elders (James 5:14-16).
3. The Spiritual Gift of Healing (1 Corinthians 12:9, 28, 30): In the fifteen or so examples in the ancient world where this noun, healings (Gr. “hiama”) is used, it is used for emotional and psychological healing rather than on miraculous physical healing (I’m not suggesting that it “hiama” cannot include physical miraculous healing, but merely that the word is consistently used for psychological and emotional healing). Perhaps the “gift of healing” describes a counselor, therapist, or someone who is “gifted” to help bring a peaceful resolve to things. This understanding fits our normative experience in the body of Christ today.
If we are physically ill, we should see a physician (honoring God’s common grace) and pray for healing (seeking God’s special grace). We may follow the prescriptive counsel in James 5:14-20 and seek for the elders of the church to pray over us.
If we are emotionally or psychologically ill, we can see a counselor (honoring God’s common grace), seek out a Christian counselor (with the gift of healing), and pray for healing (seeking God’s special grace).
With respect to emotional healing, I was recently talking with a friend who suggested this helpful approach. Write out a lament psalm about your situation- specifically list your complaints to God. Offer your lament psalm to God in prayer. Then seek out a Christian counselor, pastor, elder, or elders, who can pray for you to be healed.
Probably the most important thing in this article is this statement- God did not intend for you to go it alone with your sickness or hurt. As Scripture encourages, “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16a). Over the years I have watched our elders pray with dozens of people, and I am often struck by the perspective and love they provide- something that is healing in itself.
May Christ show Himself strong as our Healer.