Friday, May 11, 2012

Healing in the Atonement?

**Warning** This is a long post. I usually try to keep it short on here, but this turned out to be one of the longer posts I have written. You are in for a lot of reading. Enjoy.

This will be the first of two posts on The Gospel: Health and Wealth . In these posts, I am asking and answering the basic questions of 1) Does physical healing come through Jesus' death on the cross? and 2) Does material prosperity come through Jesus' death on the cross?

I want to ask these questions because they have major implications for the life of a Christian and they also have implications for the person who doesn't trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior. This is because, for many people, our well-being is essentially wrapped up in these two questions, particularly in the society we live in. Today, it seems that many people, whether Christian or not,  are not as concerned as much with something such as sin or even eternal life as they are with their physical well-being and their financial status. To most people (Christians included) to hear the words from a doctor of "You have cancer" takes way more of a toll on us than a preacher's words of " You are under God's wrath and justice in your sin".The words "You can live 100% happy, healthy, wealthy, and wise right now" seem much more captivating than "You will experience fullness of joy at the throne of God for eternity." While the news of having a life-threatening disease is devastating and should never be minimized when it comes to facing the reality of it, the news of having an eternally-life threatening disease is far worse and in reality is much more devastating. Likewise,  the news of experiencing endless joy at the throne of God is far better than millions of days filled with success and bliss on this earth . Clearly most would regard the bad news of physical sickness as  being worse because we live in the here and now, and it is much easier to understand and visualize the implications of a physical sickness on our bodies than it is to understand the implications of sin's effect upon our souls. Likewise, to many, the word that Jesus has paid your eternal debt and you will spend eternity with Him, does not resonate as much in our minds as Jesus has paid your financial debt and you can be wealthy right now. Therefore, because we are programmed this way, naturally, we want answers for the here and now. Many say,not with their mouths but with their affections, "its good to hear about redemption from sin and forgiveness, but we would be far more interested in Christianity and the things of God if we were guaranteed solutions for our present circumstances."  In the gospel, Jesus appears as beautiful because He takes away the penalty and power of sin and will one day take away the presence of sin. He reconciles us with God, absorbing the justice and wrath that we deserved to fall on us and gives us grace to enjoy the beauty of our Lord.Through Jesus, God will one day make all things new from our souls to the solar system. This is great news to most people, but the reason it often gets cast to the side in search for "more benefits" is because the gospel isn't seen as a glorious enough remedy for our lives now and something such as sin isn't seen for being the impossible and monstrous problem that it is . The post where I deal with why these things are not as highly esteemed as they should be is for another day. Today, the focus is on what does the Bible say about Jesus' death and its application to your present health and your physical well-being?
Because these questions that I previously stated are so serious to the context that we live in, it is easy for us to take the good, loving, and gracious God that we hear so much about and then ascribe to Him our definitions of what is good, loving, and gracious. (i.e., a good life, no problems, good health, good money, etc.) The next step from there is to use God's word to address and speak to what we define as good, loving and gracious, and this is where the confusion tends to set in. It isn't hard to miss much of the preaching that we see on TV or read about in bookstores that says that God is in the business of healing you, and not just that, but assuring that you have a physically healthy life. The basis of your "physical prosperity" is Jesus...nothin' wrong with that...and because Jesus healed the sick, He will heal you. The reasoning is that because He is powerful enough to defeat sin, He is powerful enough to defeat sickness and disease too. Makes sense, right? Yes, plus the millions of testimonies from people who have been healed by believing for their healing and by pastors and teachers who laid hands on them. I can personally say that I was healed from asthma when I was 9 years old when a preacher laid hands on me and told my asthma to leave. Yes, I know it was God who healed me, and I do not think anything was special about the man who laid hands on me, God sovereignly chose to heal me through this minister. I haven't wheezed since....
This all makes a great case for healing through Christ's death, doesn't it? Scripture hasn't even been mentioned yet. I am not writing this to oppose that God doesn't heal. I believe that God can heal any sickness, disease, or infirmity that anyone will ever face and I believe He is actively working today in healing through the church (James 5:13-15). What I want to draw into question is the statement that God must heal you or that God is obligated to heal you because of what Jesus did on the cross. Do we find this in the Bible? Is there something we have to do, or believe about God and the atonement that obligates Him to heal us? Can we demand healing?
Here is the scriptural support for this kind of reasoning .

#1 Isaiah 53: 4-5
Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
     smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
     and with his wounds we are healed.

#2 Matthew 8:16-17
And when Jesus entered Peter's house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. 16 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. 17  This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”

#3 1 Peter 2:24
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

#4 Mark 16:14
Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18  they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
#5 3 John  2
Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.
Once again, there are many more verses in the Bible about healing. I am not saying that God does not heal today. There are several passages and accounts both in the Old and New Testament where people have been healed by God and through Jesus while He was on the earth. What I am after in this post is to answer the question "Does Jesus' death on the cross guarantee us physical healing in the same way that  it guarantees  salvation to those who believe? This is the fine line that is crossed by many preachers today when the subject of healing is discussed. Some preach that physical healing is available today just as it has always been available - God was and is actively working in the world, healing the sick when He sovereignly wills to.One of the spiritual gifts given to the church in 1 Corinthians 12 is gifts of healing. The Holy Spirit currently works through Christians to heal today. James speaks of the elders of the church laying hands on the sick and praying the prayer of faith and anointing the sick with oil (James 5:13-15).Others preach that physical healing is guaranteed to Christians the same way salvation is guaranteed to all who believe and trust in Jesus. They say that it is always God's will that you be healed. No questions about it. To not believe this is to doubt God. This is a stretch. Its a stretch firstly because this view is not supported throughout the scriptures. No matter how good this "guarantee" sounds, or how pleasant it is to think about, scripture in no way supports the logic that to be saved spiritually means to be healed physically or kept from physical sickness and disease throughout the rest of life. Scripture in many places supports the rock solid guarantee of salvation to all who trust in the work of Christ - that their salvation is eternally secure and guaranteed, purchased by Jesus' blood. On the other hand, healing is not spoken of in the same way. If we just observe the life and ministry of Jesus, there were times when He healed all the sick in a city(Matthew 4:23, 8:16-17,9:35,12:15)and times when He only went to one or a few out of hundreds of sick people (John 5:1-9; Mark 6:5),healed them and departed. Is this to say that all who were healed were saved or all who were sick or remained sick were not? Does this mean that all those who believed on Christ, and yet weren't healed physically had "enough faith" to believe, but not "enough faith" to be healed? Secondly, If we believe that physical healing is guaranteed to us in the same way that salvation is, we will be greatly let down by the world around us.Christians die every day, get sick every day, and experience all sorts of afflictions and suffering all around the world - for years, many without a miraculous healing. This perspective, if we hold to it, will in turn affect our belief about God's being in absolute control of everything, Satan's power in this world, and the nature of the Christian's faith in God. More doubt (or denial) is produced in the one who believes that physical healing is guaranteed to the Christian, than the Christian who simply believes that God heals when He wills according to His own holy, loving, and gracious purposes. 
Let's go through the list:

1) It affects out belief about God's sovereignty
  • If we believe that physical healing is guaranteed through the cross of Christ, and observe the world around us, filled with Christians who trust in Jesus as their only hope yet are sick and even die because of sickness, it will be easy to conclude that God must not be in absolute control of all things. If He promises healing with the same power as He promises salvation, then it must be His will that I will be healed but other forces or powers are getting in the way of that by somehow delaying or thwarting His power. Maybe He can't heal because I won't allow Him to because of my negative confessions, or perhaps by being around negativity in general. He wants me healed, but there must be something I must do in order to receive it such as fast, pray, sow a seed, etc. If God promises healing and yet I don't see ALL Christians healed (in the same way ALL who call on the name of the Lord will be saved) I must conclude that He isn't in control of all things, or He takes a step back and waits for me to do something or give Him permission, or there is some other power contrary to His hindering my healing.  
2) It affects our belief about Satan and his power in the world 
  •  Furthermore, if we believe this perspective that physical healing is guaranteed to the Christian because of Christ, we might also conclude that Satan's forces and power are much greater than we anticipated. After all, sickness is of the devil....(rather than being of man's choosing to rebel against God by sinning,) right?(Wrong) .We will conclude that the devil is a sovereign who steals, kills, destroys, and does it all from his own free purposes while God watches and waits planning a counter attack. God is therefore powerful enough to save spiritually millions around the globe losing none of them, but Satan is just too busy at work keeping them sick until they trust God enough for healing. This view says "Its out of God's hands if we die from sickness, because that wasn't His will for us. It is out of God's hands if our sicknesses keep returning because we just don't have enough power to fight the devil." If we believe this perspective, it ends up minimizing God and deifying Satan. God doesn't have enough power and Satan has too much power. 
3) It affects what we believe concerning the nature of our faith
  • Thirdly, if we believe that physical healing is guaranteed to us in the same way that salvation is, it will affect our view concerning the nature of our faith in God. We will not see faith as a gift from God, or an empty outstretched hand, but as quarter to be used in a vending machine: if you don't have enough, you don't get what you want.We will start to believe that faith must be mustered up within ourselves, and that we have to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps in order to believe God enough to do something for us. Instead of boasting in weakness, this perspective shames weakness and calls it doubt, saying, "well, God promised that you would be healed, you just have to believe and receive it!". Viewing healing through these lenses will see Jesus' passages on faith and interpret them to mean that God has left you to generate your own faith and that His hands are tied until we give Him permission to act. 
Rather than looking at physical healing through putting it in the same chain link as justification, sanctification, and glorification, we should rest and trust in the sovereign Lord who is good, loving and gracious to all who trust in Him. Viewing healing through this lens doesn't deny suffering, sickness, and disease in this world. It doesn't place a standard on Christians that we ultimately have no control over and fail to live up to. It is impossible to live sinless, even much more impossible to live 100% healthy all the time and ensure yourself that you can be free from every form of sickness in this life. When we don't make physical healing in this life a mandatory benefit to the atonement, we are able to trust in God much more freely, knowing that even sickness and disease are orchestrated in His purposes to work for our good and eternal joy and His glory. We can pray earnestly for healing and trust God to do the miraculous, but we can realize that even if He doesn't give it in this life, we are still loved with a steadfast, immovable and unfailing love, and we can rest knowing that there is nothing we can do for God to love us anymore and nothing we can do for Him to love us any less. 

I hope that we can see a little more clearly now why making physical healing a part of the golden chain of redemption (justification, sanctification, and glorification) stretches what the Bible says about healing. Now let's see how scripture gives the same reasoning. The previous verses listed which are used to defend guaranteed physical healing in the atonement are mostly taken from Isaiah 53, where the crux of this belief is centered on. The phrase "griefs and sorrows" and "you were healed" are the defense for this view of  healing. Let it be said, healing is promised and guaranteed in the atonement. It is what we believe Jesus ultimately accomplished on the cross that will define what healing means for us. 
Clearly Matthew's interpretation of Isaiah 53 in Matthew 8:16-17 is speaking of Jesus fulfilling Isaiah 53 by healing the sick. So why can't we take this passage and conclude that Jesus through His death, guarantees physical healing in this life to all those who trust in Him? Matthew 8:17 says that Jesus healed the sick in this passage to say something about Himself and who He was. He healed "to fulfill what was spoken" about Him, for the glory of God and for the joy of those healed. Jesus healed all the sick in this city the same way that He gave wine to all at a wedding in another city. Jesus did not heal all the sick everywhere just as He did not become a wedding accessory who gives wine at everyone's weddings all the time. He does these things to show something about Himself and what He intends to accomplish. Jesus heals sicknesses to show that He is the compassionate Healer who will one day eliminate sickness and disease forever. Jesus gives bread to 5,000 people to show that He is living bread who will one day eliminate hunger forever.He casts out demons to show that He will one day cast the great Satan and his kingdom out forever . He gives wine at a wedding to show that He will one day host a wedding feast where there will be joy and fullness that will never run out. Therefore,those healed were healed to point to something bigger; those fed were fed to point to something greater. If you and I experience physical healing through Jesus today, its not because Jesus owes it to us or so that we can live our best lives now, it is to point to something greater. Today, if we experience any blessing and benefit because of Jesus in our lives, it is to point to something greater. Jesus heals physically to show that one day He will heal and make new all creation. He took our illnesses physically to show that he has taken our greater illnesses spiritually - sin - and He will remove them and their effect on us forever. Jesus, through his miracles on the earth gave glimpses of His eternal kingdom. 
Here is a quote from D.A. Carson on Isaiah 53 concerning healing in the atonement and what it means for Christians today. 
This text and others clearly 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 NT writers, the Cross is the basis for all the benefits that accrue to believers; but this does not mean that all such benefits can be secured at the present time on demand, any more than we have the right and power to demand our resurrection bodies. (D.A. Carson, "The Expositor's Bible Commentary")

The last passage that I'll address in this post is Mark 16:14 because of its emphasis on Christians healing the sick in light of of Jesus' command in the Great Commission. As I previously stated, just as Jesus' miracles pointed to something greater than their physical manifestations, so do the healings that come through our hands. When Jesus tells Christians to lay hands on the sick and they shall recover He doesn't intend for us to wield some sort of power that will only make peoples lives better in the end. Rather, we are commissioned to lay hands on the sick as a sign that points to the one who will one day eliminate every sickness forever. Just look at Peter and John in Acts 3:11-26. The lame beggar's healing was an ice breaker for the gospel to be proclaimed. Peter gives life to a man physically and then points to the Author of Life who was murdered by and for these on-lookers. This is why Mark 16 says that "these SIGNS" shall follow those who believe, not so that we can make life on earth easier and better for people, but so that Jesus can be exalted and seen as the One who will make all things new.
In conclusion, healing is guaranteed in the atonement of Christ, but it is the healing from our sin. Because our sins are placed on Jesus in His death, we have been declared righteous before God. We are said to be a "new creation"( 2 Cor. 5:17). It is in this making us a new creation that God begins the process of making all things new- our souls, our bodies, our relationships, our world, and all creation. Jesus' death doesn't guarantee a body without sickness now, but guarantees a a body that will be made new in eternity. His death doesn't guarantee that He will heal us presently, but His death does guarantee that He will take our present sicknesses and diseases and work in and through them to conform us into the image of Jesus for His glory and our present and eternal joy. Jesus' death has de-fanged the venomous snake of sin, sickness, death, affliction, and persecution. What serves to kill the Christian only conforms them more into the likeness of Jesus. Therefore rejoice if you have experienced the healing hand of God in your life, as He has powerfully overcome the sickness and diseases that you once had. Realize that this is His gracious gift to you to show you that what He has done for you in your physical healing, He will do in a much greater way for an innumerable multitude of people all over the world who trust in Jesus as their hope (Rev.7:9-17). Also rejoice if you have been living with and battling disease in your body. Continue praying that God would be merciful in healing you now, but realize that through Jesus, God is graciously, lovingly, and powerfully working through the pain, through the operations, through the stress, through the weariness, and through the struggle to shape you into the beautiful, God-glorifying, eternally pleasing, accepted and beloved image of His Son. Whether you have experienced 5 minutes or 55 years of sickness, know that God cares very much about your physical body; He cares very much about your soul, and He has made provision through the cross of Christ for all who believe in Him to make both of them new - free from the fatal snares of sin and free from the afflicting grip of sickness so that you may take in and enjoy His goodness and His love forever.

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