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Is physical healing a necessary outworking of salvation? Should the Christian expect to live this life free from sickness and suffering? It is a common teaching among Word Faith proponents that indeed the believer should expect healing when ill and learn how to “activate” that healing when needed.
Word Faith leader Kenneth Copeland teaches,
Since the days of the Old Testament, God has always wanted His people free from sickness and disease—cancer, arthritis, AIDS, heart trouble, even the common cold. . . .
Well, first consider this: Believing that God can heal your body should be no different for you than believing He can forgive your sin. And yet, that truth becomes even more powerful when you realize that, not only can He forgive you and heal you—He already has!
God’s provision for the healing of your body and the forgiving of your sin are just two of the many benefits you received when you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Your forgiveness and your healing were secured for you.
But while it is important to realize that healing indeed belongs to you as a believer, it is just as important to know how to apply God’s Word to your life so you can activate that healing…when you need it.
Ironically, the story recently broke of a measles outbreak at Eagle Mountain International Church in North Texas—a church that is pastored by Copeland’s oldest daughter, Terri Pearsons. As part of a public health announcement, the church has stated:
The ministry has held free immunization clinics for employees and church members to assist them in obtaining the best medical care for their families. We continue to follow up on pending and confirmed cases to help in any way we can to keep the outbreak contained. We ask that others join with us in prayer over this outbreak, and we believe that God is moving on behalf of each affected family. We know the truth; we are healed according toIsaiah 53:4-5 and I Peter 2:24 and are standing against any plague that would try to attack us as a body. So agree with us that this will stop now according to Matthew 18:19. (Source)
Only time will tell if those affected at Eagle Mountain have appropriately learned how to “activate” their faith and be healed.
Several years ago, at a Q&A session for his School of Healing and Impartation, another Word Faith teacher and leader in the New Apostolic Reformation movement, Bill Johnson of Bethel Church in Redding, California, had this to say about God and illness:
In regard to the question, ‘Does God ever cause sickness?’ Johnson replies: “You can only give away what you have. Can God give away sickness? No, He’s not sick. You can’t give cancer if you don’t have it.”
When asked, ‘Does God ever choose not to heal?’ Johnson states emphatically, “No. Two thousand years ago Jesus made a purchase. He does not decide not to heal people today. The decision two thousand years ago was to heal. Either the payment was sufficient for all sin or no sin. Either the payment was sufficient for all sickness or no sickness. . . The brushstroke of God’s redemption was to wipe out the root of sin, the root of illness and the root of poverty.”
What, then, of that dear, devoted Christian lying ill in the hospital? What of the funeral that recently was held in memory of a departed brother or sister in Christ? What of the faithful Christian couple who has just been informed that their child has leukemia and is not expected to see his fifth birthday? The Q&A page on Johnson’s website answers the same two questions that were posed to him in the above video.
How can God choose not to heal someone when He already purchased their healing? Was His blood enough for all sin, or just certain sins? Were the stripes He bore only for certain illnesses, or certain seasons of time? When He bore stripes in His body He made a payment for our miracle. He already decided to heal. You can’t decide not to buy something after you’ve already bought it.
There are no deficiencies on His end – neither the covenant is deficient, nor His compassion or promises. All lack is on our end of the equation.
By Johnson’s reasoning, a Christian could presume that he ought never again sin in this life. He could further postulate that he never should experience physical death if the cross was meant to save from physical ailments. Now, few would argue that there are any “deficiencies on God’s end,” but does this mean that the Christian must never expect to suffer illness of any kind? Must every illness be the result of a man’s lack of faith, or is there another possibility?
When sin entered the world in Genesis 3, it affected all things. Death and illness would now be commonplace because of man’s disobedience to God. Johnson fails to acknowledge at least two things in this brief overview of his doctrine of healing: the true reason why Jesus performed miracles during His earthly ministry, and God’s sovereignty over all things, including illness.
1. Jesus performed miracles during His earthly ministry to affirm His deity and establish His authority as the Messiah, yet even such amazing signs did not convince the unbelieving Pharisees:
The Pharisees came out and began to argue with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, to test Him. Sighing deeply in His spirit, He said, “Why does this generation seek for a sign? Truly I say to you, no sign will b given to this generation.” (Mark 8:11–12)
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matt 12:38–40)
Johnson attempts to appeal to Matthew 8:17, “This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: ‘He himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseases.'” This verse is a quotation fromIsaiah 53:4. Dr. John MacArthur explains:
So, when you come to Isaiah 53, and you read, “He took our infirmities, and He bore our sicknesses,” we understand that the context of Isaiah 53 is talking about our sins, our iniquities because the rest of the verses all refer to that. But, when you get to the New Testament, and Jesus begins to do His healing ministry, you have previews of coming attractions in that, because now the text…and all the while was intended to mean that…but now the text is expanded in its interpretation to cover not only our sins, but our physical healing.
I hasten to add, you believe that in the atonement you receive physical healing. We all do. It’s not now that we receive that. It’s at our glorification. And, what Jesus was demonstrating in His miracle power was that He not only had power over the souls of men, He had power over the bodies of men. And, that He is the one who can not only give eternal life to the soul, but He can give eternal life to the body, as demonstrated by His power over all that deforms and debilitates and destroys the physical.
2. God is sovereign over all things, including sickness and death.
The Lord said to him [Moses], “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exod 4:11)
See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from My hand. (Deut 32:39)
The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts. (1 Sam 2:6–7)
You turn man back into dust and say, “Return, O children of men.” (Ps 90:3)
Consider the work of God, for who is able to straighten what He has bent? (Eccl 7:13)
Yet, in light of these verses and others like them, Johnson attempts to cast aside the Old Testament’s declaration that God is sovereign even over suffering. Says Johnson,
The Old Testament is filled with questions that the cross has answered. Who did Jesus not heal when they came to Him for healing? When did He ever say that the Father had given them a sickness so they would become more holy or humble? Never. (Source)
Perhaps Johnson simply has forgotten such New Testament passages as these:
As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:1–3)
So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth; and it became a loathsome and malignant sore on the people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image. (Rev 16:2)
On the topic of illness, J.C. Ryle has this to say:
But I do say that sickness ought to do us good. And I do say that God sends it in order to do us good. It is a friendly letter from heaven. It is a knock at the door of conscience. It is the voice of the Savior asking to be let in. Happy is he who opens the letter and reads it, who hears the knock and opens the door, who welcomes Christ to the sick room. Come now, and let me plead with you a little about this, and show you a few of the lessons which He by sickness would teach us. (Source)
John Newton once exclaimed that “sickness is a greater mercy” than is health:
But sickness is a greater mercy to the children of God; for it shall be sanctified . . . to wean us more from the present world, to raise our thoughts and desires heavenward, to quicken us to prayer, and to give us more opportunity of knowing the sweetness and suitableness of the promises, and the power and wisdom of a promise-performing God! (Source)
It is true that all believers will one day be completely healed. When in glory with the Lord, the saints will possess a perfect, glorified body fit to worship Him for all eternity (1 Cor 15:42–45). Until that time, man continues to live in a fallen, sinful world. Whether God allows, as He did with Job, for Satan to afflict a man with sickness and suffering (cf. Matt 17:14–18; Luke 13:10–16), or whether God Himself designs a man’s affliction, ultimately He ordains it all and controls it all. Nothing is outside of His sovereign plan, nor is it beyond His holy grasp. It all is perfectly designed for His purposes, His glory and for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28). How dare man question these eternal purposes and presume to know a better way than what God Almighty has prescribed!
and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” (Rev 21:4–5)