Does God Promise Healing Today?

Jesus’ Healing Ministry

Why, then, did Jesus heal the people in His physical ministry on earth? One reason, as we saw in Matthew 8:16-17, was to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies that spoke of His healing. Another reason is compassion (see, for example, Mark 1:41). But the major reason Jesus healed people was because the healings were types of the more important, spiritual healing He was going to obtain for His people by His suffering and death at Calvary.

On the Cross, Jesus healed us from spiritual death: “You were made alive when you were dead in transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1; see also Colossians 2:13). Before regeneration, all sinners are spiritually dead (and stinking like Lazarus—John 11:39), blind, deaf, dumb, diseased, leprous, unclean, crippled, and withered in their limbs so that they are unable to do any good work. And so Jesus healed people who had the physical types of these afflictions to show what He was going to do for us spiritually on the Cross. That’s why He told John’s disciples, “Go and tell John the things which you have seen and heard: that the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Luke 7:22). He knew that John would recognize these things as signs identifying the Messiah who was bringing salvation.

After Jesus’ death, the apostles went to the world as eyewitnesses of Jesus (John 15:27; Acts 1:8, 22; 2:32; 3:15; 4:33; 5:32; and so on). God gave them the gift of healing, which, as I have just explained, was the type of spiritual healing. This was to show that they were Jesus’ witnesses, and that the message they heralded was the power of salvation through Jesus Christ to those who believe (Romans 1:16). This healing ministry continued through the time of the apostles and no further. And even toward the end of Acts, we see no further miraculous healings. Why? Because we were passing from a time of shadows and immaturity into a time of light and maturity. Jesus told Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed” (John 20:29).

Even Paul himself had some sort of affliction in his flesh for which he prayed and for which God refused to heal him:

By reason of the exceeding greatness of the revelations, that I should not be exalted excessively, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, that I should not be exalted excessively. Concerning this thing, I begged the Lord three times that it might depart from me. He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Most gladly therefore I will rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest on me. Therefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in injuries, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then am I strong.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Notice that Paul accepted God’s decision without freaking out and doubting God or doubting his own conversion. He thereafter actually gloried in his weakness.

Our Faith Must Not Hinge on Physical Healing

One of the reasons I have written this article is because so many preachers teach that Jesus procured our physical healing on the Cross as much as He did our salvation. Their hearers then believe this false gospel and start demanding healings from God. When the healings don’t come and they and their families begin to suffer, these people, like the seed on the stony ground in Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, fall away.

One such person who crashed and burned this past year was not only a professing believer, but he was a teacher of New Covenant Theology. We live on different continents and had never met, but we often exchanged emails as we explored the Scriptures. Then he posted a couple of articles on Facebook against Sola Scriptura and the authority of the Bible over being led by the Spirit. He followed these with a post in which he renounced his Christianity. In this post, he claimed that Christianity promises “health, wealth, happiness, joy, peace, prosperity, and lots of other things.” Now, if this man had not given up on the authority of the Bible, and if he had ever been truly serious about wanting to know what the Bible teaches instead of reading into it what he wanted it to say, he would know that the Bible promises nothing of the kind.

I get pretty upset when I think of all of the people—my parents were among them—who have been deluded by the health and wealth hucksters. What health and wealth did Jesus have as He hung bleeding on the Cross? What health did Paul have with his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7), his bad eyes (Galatians 4:14-15; 6:11), his weak bodily presence (2 Corinthians 10:10), and the wounds from his whippings and beatings (2 Corinthians 11:24-26) and stonings (Acts 14:19)? What “good life” did he live being shipwrecked three times (2 Corinthians 11:25), in “perils of rivers, perils of robbers, perils from my countrymen, perils from the Gentiles, perils in the city, perils in the wilderness, perils in the sea, perils among false brothers; in labor and travail, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, and in cold and nakedness” (2 Corinthians 11:26-27), when having a simple cloak brought to him to cover his body in a stinking, freezing dungeon was something he looked forward to (2 Timothy 4:13)? What “health, wealth, happiness, joy, peace, prosperity, and lots of other things” did the faithful have who “were stoned…were sawn apart…were tempted…were slain with the sword…went around in sheep skins and in goat skins; being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated…wandering in deserts, mountains, caves, and the holes of the earth” (Hebrews 11:37-38)?

Where was this man, who turned his back on Jesus this past year, looking when he opened his Bible? How did he not see this promise of Jesus Christ: “I have told you these things, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have oppression; but cheer up! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33)? Are we in the world? Yes, Jesus clearly said so (John 17:11, 15, 18). Therefore, we will have oppression (thlipsis—pressure, affliction, distress, anguish). Our peace comes through our spiritual eyes of faith, seeing that we are in Jesus and He has overcome the world, and, therefore, we have also overcome the world. But the payoff isn’t in this life; the rewards—including a perfect, spiritual body—are in the next life. Our peace and comfort are spiritual, not physical.

So when this man’s child developed a life-threatening medical condition, and he prayed for her, and nothing happened—”ZERO. NADA. ZIPPO. ZILCH,” as he put it—and the doctors had to operate, he spiritually disintegrated: “Nobody promises me something as crucial and vitally important as HEALTH and then decides to take a nap when they are supposed to deliver the goods. NOT WHEN IT COMES TO MY FAMILY!! You will NOT f___ with my Family!!”

I sincerely feel sorry for him. What he went through must have been an awful trial. But he had been believing a lie.[1]After I learned of his Facebook posts, I wrote to this man expressing my sympathy and explaining what the Bible teaches about healing. He has not responded. The Bible never EVER promises physical healing! It promises eternal life and a resurrection to glory: “This is the promise which he promised us, the eternal life” (1 John 2:25); “When Christ, our life, is revealed, then you will also be revealed with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4); “Whom he predestined, those he also called. Whom he called, those he also justified. Whom he justified, those he also glorified” (Romans 8:30); “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with God’s trumpet. The dead in Christ will rise first, then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. So we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).

God is not a genie in a lamp or bottle that we rub with prayer and who will then come out and do our bidding. He is not obligated to do what we want. Even Jesus Christ, knowing the suffering He was to go through, prayed in such agony that “His sweat became like great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44) beseeching the Father, “If you are willing, remove this cup from me” (verse 42). But He ended that prayer with, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Hebrews 5:8 tells us that even Jesus Christ the Son of God “learned obedience by the things which he suffered.” And if Jesus Christ, why not us? Why should we think that God will always deliver us from a trial instead of having us go through it for our spiritual benefit?

I am as human as anyone else, and I understand how awful it is to suffer in my flesh or to see suffering in my loved ones. But we must see these things in perspective, from the backdrop of eternity. Speaking of the sorrow His disciples would have over His death, Jesus said, “A woman, when she gives birth, has sorrow, because her time has come. But when she has delivered the child, she doesn’t remember the anguish any more, for the joy that a human being is born into the world” (John 16:21). That’s the way our whole sorrowful life will eventually seem to us. We will hardly remember it. Paul wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which will be revealed toward us” (Romans 8:18), and, “For our light affliction, which is for the moment, works for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Does God Ever Heal Today?

Just because God does not give us a sure promise of healing in this life does not mean that He never heals today. I know this from personal experience. A long time ago, I suffered a badly sprained ankle in an ice skating accident. I was on crutches for a month, and my foot was swollen like a purple balloon. My doctor said that he was very concerned that, if the swelling didn’t go down, I would suffer permanent tissue damage. When I got back from the doctor, I sat on a sofa and prayed that God would heal me. As I prayed, I was overwhelmed with sleepiness and felt that I had to lie down on the sofa, which I did. I instantly fell asleep. I don’t know how long I was asleep, but it probably wasn’t very long. When I woke up, my ankle was healed. The swelling was gone, the ankle looked normal, and I was able to get up and walk on it normally with no pain. Yet, I have had many other illnesses and injuries from which God has chosen not to heal me. Why does He choose to heal sometimes and not others? I don’t know. I can only trust that He knows best.

So, it is certainly right and good to pray for your own healing and the healing of others. But it is a prayer that must appeal to God’s mercy and will, not to any supposed promise that obligates Him to heal.

What about James 5:14-15?

Many see James 5:14-15 as a promise of healing: “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the assembly, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will heal him who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (James 5:14-15).

There are at least two problems with the common interpretation of these verses that they refer to the elders healing someone. One is that the gift of healing is never mentioned in the Bible as a qualification of an elder. The other problem is that the key words, “sick” and “heal,” can have other meanings. “Sick” is from the Greek word astheneō. It can mean “sick,” but its primary meaning is “weak.” The Bible often uses it to mean spiritual weakness or weakness in faith. I’ll give you two examples. Speaking of Abraham, Paul writes, “Without being weakened in faith, he didn’t consider his own body, already having been worn out, (he being about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb” (Romans 4:19). “Weakened” is from astheneō. In Romans 14:1 Paul writes, “Now accept one who is weak in faith, but not for disputes over opinions.” Once again, “weak” is from astheneō.

“Heal” in James 5:15 is from the Greek word sōzō. Sōzō does not really mean “heal,” so the WEB Bible has a poor translation here. Sōzō is only used in relation to healing in the sense that a person is saved from a disease or from death. That’s because sōzō really means “saved,” and it is used ninety-four times in the New Testament to mean “saved,” and in most of those times it clearly means spiritual salvation. For example, Acts 2:21 says, “It will be, that whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

“Sick” in verse 15 is translated from the Greek word kamnō. It means “weary.” It is found in only two other places in the Bible (Revelation 2:3 [“fainted” in the KJV] and Hebrews 12:3) where it clearly means spiritually “weary.”

Keeping this in mind then, James 5:14-15 can be translated: “Is any among you weak? Let him call for the elders of the assembly, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save him who is weary, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” Thus, in keeping with the qualifications of elders to teach and exhort and encourage, James is saying that if anyone is spiritually weak in the faith, burned out, or weary, he should call for the elders to anoint him with oil (as a symbol of the Holy Spirit) and pray for him. The prayer is for salvation from his spiritual weariness and so he will be raised back up to a useful, spiritual life. I believe that the last sentence of the passage, concerning forgiveness of sins, is added in case the root cause of the person’s weakness is sin. That is, by this prayer, he can be reassured of the forgiveness of those sins.

I have also heard James 5:16 being used of physical healing: “Confess your offenses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The insistent prayer of a righteous person is powerfully effective.” This may again refer to spiritual healing, and, certainly this would fit the context. But even if it does refer to physical healing, notice that “may be healed” (iathēte) is in the subjunctive mood. That is, it only refers to a possibility, not to any definite promise. So, nothing in James 5:14-16 is a promise of physical healing.

Ultimate Healing

In the age in which we live, God may or may not heal us. But there is coming a time when we will receive a complete and permanent healing. Some day we will be fully healed, even from death, because our bodies will be changed from corruptible to incorruptible. But that will happen, not because Jesus atoned for physical healing, but because He atoned for our sins, fulfilled and ended the law that was against us (Matthew 5:17; Colossians 2:14), justified us, and sanctified us.

For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this corruptible will have put on incorruption, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then what is written will happen: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “Death, where is your sting? Hades, where is your victory?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
1 Corinthians 15:53-58

Further reading: “Q. Since you have been diagnosed with cancer, do you have anything new to add to your views on healing?

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1 After I learned of his Facebook posts, I wrote to this man expressing my sympathy and explaining what the Bible teaches about healing. He has not responded.