A Calvinist Looks at the Promise of Healing and the Faith Movement.
A lot of people have criticized the "Faith Movement" for its emphasis on healing as the will of God in all circumstances, but the more I examine healing from the perspective of a covenantal theologian*, which most Calvinists are, the more I am convinced that every covenantal theologian ought to be in agreement with the faith movement, at least on this issue. In this article, I'm going to tell you why I have come to this conclusion. There are three main evidences for this argument: the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, the Names of God, and the actions of Jesus as God's Covenant Maker with humanity.
"And he went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people." Matthew 4:23, RSV.
"And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come." Matthew 24:14, RSV.
"And he said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned." Mark 16:15, 16, RSV.
We often hear the words "gospel" and "kingdom of God" in Christian circles, but to people outside the faith, these are slogans empty of any real meaning. Outsiders see this language as a type of "Christianeze:" an exclusive language made up of code phrases or ideas, which are nonsensical. Even believers take these words for granted without really taking the time to understand them. The word gospel is nothing more than an old English word meaning "good news." So something is supposed to be good news to those who hear this message, but what is meant by the phrase "the kingdom of God"? The word kingdom is a type of government. In this case, it is place where God has total dominion, where his will is not only The Law, but is also a controlled territory where his will is done perfectly.
In our democratic societies, we are so used to rule by the people that we have lost sight of the idea of a king who has total control and can do whatever he wishes. Human governments with such rulers usually have tyrannies, but such governments used to be the most common form of government, whether that was a Roman Emperor, a local king, or a tribal leader. In the time of the New Testament, the idea of the dominion, or reign, of God would have been better understood. So in short, the Gospel of the Kingdom actually means "the Good News of God's total dominion and control over life where his will is fully and completely carried out."
So, what does it mean for God to have total dominion? What is the content of this message that makes it "good news?" As evidenced by Jesus' actions when he went about preaching the good news of the kingdom, he went about "healing every disease and infirmity among the people." The primary signs of the kingdom were the healings he did as part of God's kingdom. In fact, Jesus sent out his 72 disciples with this very message:
"Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you; heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.'" Luke 10:8, 9, RSV.
Jesus had the disciples heal the sick first and then explain to the people that these healings are the signs of a coming dominion of God. In other words, they were to point to the healings and say: "Look, this is what the kingdom of God looks like! And it has come near you right now, therefore believe." So what is this Good News? That God is your healer. Not only does he forgive you of your sins, but he also wants to heal you and make you whole. He wants to make you, every bit, a whole human being and heal you from head to toe. He wants to forgive you of your sins and restore your relationship with him, and healing is a sign of this restoration. This good news is the message Jesus was preaching, and it was the one he gave his disciples to demonstrate by word and by deed.
So the whole Gospel, or the Full Gospel of Jesus Christ is the Good News of the dominion of God over your life where your sins are forgiven and your body is healed and restored. Any Gospel that centers on forgiveness of sins only is not the true Good News of God because it is only half the gospel.
The Kingdom Does Not Consist of Talk, but of Power
Part of the failure and impotence of the Church today is that it has preached a half gospel. It has preached a gospel of forgiveness of sins, but not preached nor demonstrated the power of deliverance from the bondages of sin. So, instead of being the good news of forgiveness, the "gospel" message has become a message of condemnation. The message has been, "Yes God forgives you of your sin, but you are still a sinner, stuck in your sins and you just have to hang on till you die or till Jesus comes back. And if you try really hard, you may be able to overcome some of your bad habits and become a better person." This message is not really the good news of a Savior who saves us from our sins and delivers us from the power of darkness. Instead it is a message of self-effort and of self-improvement. Jesus forgives us but the rest of the work depends upon our good works and sheer force of will. The salvation is spiritual only but we are left physically and emotionally unchanged.
Now understand, I'm talking about the Church in practice, not as it understands its own message. I'm speaking of the message it actually communicates to sinners and even to the saved. We do not preach the vital message that Jesus not only saves you from your sins, he also takes away the desire for sin and sets you truly and completely free from sin's power. This good news is Jesus removes you from the dominion of sin, where Satan rules and disease abounds, and gives you a new King, God the Father, where love rules and healing is the norm. If this kind of power from God is here among us today, it is rarely seen and poorly demonstrated. In short, the Church preaches a message that is mostly spiritual talk with no practical application. It has nothing to do with the here and now except perhaps the forgiveness of sins and a promise that you get to go to heaven when you die.
Take for example the Church's witness to homosexuals. While a few people have turned from homosexuality through sheer force of will and the help of some ministries, the Church has been much more expert in condemning the sins of homosexuality. The problem for the Church is that it has power to preach the law of righteousness, but it doesn't have the power to set people free from the desire and the identification with homosexuality. Simply pointing out that homosexuality is a sin is not good news. It just leaves those who practice homosexuality with a feeling of condemnation. The message of God's righteousness is not good news unless it is also accompanied by the power to deliver those who trapped in compulsive desires. Instead, the Church has pointed the finger of accusation towards those trapped in homosexuality, but has offered no evidence that God can actually deliver the people from it. Words are cheap and talk is what the Church does best, but Paul said,
"The Kingdom of God does not consist of talk, but in power," 1 Cor. 4:20.
When there is little evidence of the power of the Gospel to deliver people from bondages to various types of sin, then the preaching of the Law of God produces only condemnation in its hearers. It is not Good News but Bad News – very bad news indeed – because you are telling people they are in sin, but you are not giving them a way out of it. Yes, they are forgiven, but they are still stuck in it with no escape route, condemned to continue in sin the way they always have because they cannot do anything about it.
In Paul's day, however, the message of Jesus was accompanied by the cleansing power of the Cross that set people free not only from the practice of sin, but from the desire for it as well. Their hearts were transformed and they were changed from the inside out: a complete and total transformation. So Paul could say to his hearers,
"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God." 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, NKJV.
What the Church is lacking today is the evidence that the kingdom of God still exists, and so, it has failed to convince the world that the message it preaches is true. In fact it has not been God's Good News at all, but only a partial message, a corrupted one…even a false witness. We have not been preaching the total kingdom of God but merely the forgiveness of sins. While true enough, God forgives sins; it isn't the message of the whole Good News because it is not the message of the dominion of God.
Your Faith Has Saved You
Any good Jew or Greek would understand why the message we preach has been a false witness, or a partial message. The reason being is that the word for salvation in Greek and Hebrew are not simply about a spiritual salvation or the saving of a person's soul, as we commonly believe. In fact the idea of a spiritual soul as the center of human life is a very foreign idea to the Old and New Testaments. The Jews believed that every human being was a tri-partite being: body, personhood, and spirit. The spirit is the breath of God which makes every human being a living person. The personhood is what we may call the "soul" but in essence this soul is what makes up our personality: our mind, will, and emotions. In other words, the soul is our character or our identity. But every person lives in a body. For the Jew, one could not be delivered in one's person without also being delivered in one's body because they belonged together, and together they made up a living human being.
In Greek, this idea of the unity of personhood and body is revealed in the word salvation. The word is sozo, and it means to "save, heal, and deliver from stress, bondage, danger and/or physical affliction." It often is used to describe being saved from enemies in battle. Jesus uses the same word to describe those whose faith has caused their sins to be forgiven and also those whose faith has caused them to be healed of diseases. In both cases, salvation from sin or from disease is the same word!
"Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little." And he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this, who even forgives sins?" And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved (sozo) you; go in peace."" Luke 7:47-50, RSV. "And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. And he said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you (sozo); go in peace."" Luke 8:47, 48.
What I am saying is that the only reason we have been able to divide spiritual salvation, or forgiveness of sins, from physical healing is because we have translated the same Greek word into two entirely different words in English. In our minds we have separated the soul from the body, the spiritual from the physical, and have divided what the Scriptures see as a single event. We have adopted a dualistic view of human nature as being a soul in a body. This view of human nature comes from Greek philosophy, but is not biblical. We see the spiritual soul as separate from the physical nature, so we can see salvation as spiritual and not physical. That is foreign to the view of Jesus. The Scriptures see the human being as an essential unity of personhood in a body, whose spiritual nature may be joined to God by the Holy Spirit, through being born again.
Now of course, in the grand scheme of things, eternal life is more important than the survival of our temporal physical bodies, and so if we die for our faith, we are rewarded through eternity, but that does not change God's intention for the Church to walk under the dominion of God on this earth while we are still here acting as his ambassadors and servants. ("Thy Dominion come, Thy will be done on Earth, as it is (already being) done in Heaven.") If we are ambassadors of this new kingdom, we are authorized to act on God's behalf to announce and extend his dominion to those to who are willing to receive it. We are authorized to use the same authority and power that this kingdom represents! That is why Jesus sent the disciples out to heal the sick as a demonstration of the power of the kingdom of God and then to announce the good news that this kingdom is coming and is close at hand!
The Works Testify
Jesus said, "If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father," John 15:24, RSV. "Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves. "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father," John 14:11, 12, RSV.
Jesus said that the works he did were signs and evidence that God was with him, and that if he had not done these works, the world would have an excuse for its sin and unbelief. Then he said something remarkable: that in order for us to testify and give evidence that Jesus was sent by the Father and is now with the Father, we who believe in him would also do works that he did and even greater works would we do.
Now it is quite evident that the Church's witness in the United States and Europe has been in a stranglehold of captivity to the philosophies of this present age: scientific empiricism, Enlightenment rationalism, Darwinian evolutionary theory, etc… All these naturalistic philosophies deny that God can act and do miracles on this earth; that God is a primitive myth and superstition, and that those who believe are weak-minded individuals in need of some crutch. It is plain that the Church's half gospel has not reached the culture in which we live, much less converted it. This half gospel of a spiritual salvation, with no earthly effect or power, has not been met with acceptance, except by a few through the grace and mercy of God. We have not transformed this culture, nor even presented enough evidence of the reality of God to create worthy persecution. We are not being persecuted because people believe we represent the truth of God. The Church is being persecuted because we are considered annoying for trying to force our "private" religious beliefs on others. The key word here is "private." Our beliefs are personal beliefs to the world because there is no evidence for the truth of them in the public square. Remember that Jesus did all his works in public and that is what created the hostility of the rulers and leaders towards him in his day. It created real persecution because his works gave evidence that God was with him and the miracles forced people either to accept or reject the message. There was no way out, no other alternative, and no middle ground. Our message can be safely dismissed because it represents just personal opinions, private religious beliefs, and not the truth. We have not given the evidence of God or of his kingdom in the public square.
My point is that if we had been preaching the whole Gospel, and God graciously accompanied this Good News with power to heal and deliver from the bondages of sin and disease, our impact upon this nation would have been much, much greater. But because we have been either cowards ourselves or deceived by the false teachings we have received, we did not preach the whole good news of the kingdom of God. And I believe our witness has been blunted and it failed in power because God could not confirm of our anemic witness to his glory. We have not had confidence in his Word, so we preached our own watered-down version of the truth. This truth wasn't his truth, so he couldn't confirm it with signs and wonders following. He will not accept a false testimony about himself, but will only confirm his word with signs and wonders when his WHOLE Word is preached unashamedly.
Instead, as the Scriptures prophesied, we have become religious, but empty of power:
"But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents… lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people," 2 Timothy 3:1-5, RSV.
I am saying that if we are bold enough to preach the Whole Gospel, that God is a deliverer from sin, sickness, and lusts of the flesh, then that is a message which God will confirm with signs and wonders because God has a covenant with his own Word.
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"And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation… And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover,'" Mark 16:15-18, RSV.
Part II - The Names of God
"If you will diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases upon you which I put upon the Egyptians; for I AM the LORD, your healer." Exodus 15:26, RSV.
God revealed himself to Moses by his personal name. The divine name, YHWH, is not only his name but also a verb for Being. God's revealed Name is translated as I AM or I AM Who I AM, or I AM Who I WILL BE. The modern translators usually translate it as I AM the LORD, but it is all one word, YHWH, pronounced either as Yahweh or Jehovah, depending on your interpretation of the vowels.
The point is that whenever God was revealing himself by his personal name, he was revealing his Covenant Name to his covenant people. He was revealing his identity, his Being, and he was revealing how he would act towards his people (who he would Be to them). There are seven names of God by which he reveals himself as caretaker of his people:
- YAHWEH-JIREH: "The Lord will Provide" (Genesis 22:14) – The name memorialized by Abraham when God provided the ram to be sacrificed in place of Isaac.
- YAHWEH-RAPHA: "The Lord Who Heals" (Exodus 15:26) – "I am Jehovah who heals you" both in body and soul. In body, by preserving from diseases, and by curing them when afflicted with them and in soul, by pardoning their iniquities.
- YAHWEH-NISSI: "The Lord Our Banner" (Exodus 17:15), where banner is understood to be a rallying place. This name commemorates the desert victory over the Amalekites in Exodus 17.
- YAHWEH-M'KADDESH: "The Lord Who Sanctifies, Makes Holy" (Leviticus 20:8; Ezekiel 37:28) – God makes it clear that He alone, not the law, could cleanse His people and make them holy.
- YAHWEH-SHALOM: "The Lord Our Peace" (Judges 6:24) – The name given by Gideon to the altar he built after the Angel of the Lord assured him he would not die as he thought he would after seeing Him.
- YAHWEH-TSIDKENU: "The Lord Our Righteousness" (Jeremiah 33:16) – As with YHWH-M'Kaddesh, it is God alone who provides righteousness to man, ultimately in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, who became sin for us "that we might become the Righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21).??
- YAHWEH-ROHI: "The Lord Our Shepherd" (Psalm 23:1) – After David pondered his relationship as a shepherd to his sheep, he realized that was exactly the relationship God had with him, and so he declares "Yahweh-Rohi is my Shepherd. I shall not want" (Psalm 23:1). (reference for list: http://www.gotquestions.org/names-of-God.html)
God was revealing himself in Covenant as a promise to be to us what he says about himself in his own name. To be false to his own name would be to violate the very ground of existence. "I will bow down towards your holy temple and will praise your Name for your love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your Name and your Word," Psalms 138:2, NIV. God has made his Word his bond, and he cannot violate it without violating himself. So when he says I AM Your Healer, he is telling us who he is to us.
Therefore to say that God is not our healer or does not heal today or that he no longer heals is to say that either God has changed or that God is a liar and that he is not truthful about himself. To believe he is not our healer is to believe something that is not true about God. He cannot be in covenant with us without honoring the covenant he has made with us. His Name is his identity, and he does not change. When he gives us his Name, he tells us who he is in relationship to us. He can be no less. Some say, "Well, God has healed us ultimately in the resurrection, but that doesn't mean he is a healer for our diseases today." This statement is true enough in that we shall all ultimately be healed, but if we cannot look to him for healing today, we are saying, in effect, "I don't believe your Covenant Name has any validity today. I'm just going to ignore that part of who you say you are…. As a matter of fact, I don't believe you are any of those things for me on this earth right now. You are not my provider or my righteousness, or my shepherd… All that is in the future in heaven… Right now I have to do all those things for myself. I have to earn my keep, go to doctors for healing, make myself as good a person as I can be, and protect myself. Then someday, in heaven, I'll be able to trust you for all these things. But right now, today, I can't because they don't work on this earth… "
This may sound silly, but how can we pick and choose which part of God's covenant promises to believe and accept? If he says, "I AM Your Healer and I AM Your Righteousness," can we say, "I accept you as my righteousness here and now because I have none of my own, but I reject you as my healer because I don't believe that you really are my healer today"? You have to understand, when God says his Name, he is saying "I make a solemn promise, sealed in the blood of my own Son, that I AM the God who heals you." If we are so bold as to reject that, we are rejecting God's personal face towards us.
Some will say that "yes, God is our healer, but he only heals now through natural means." Well, if disease is the enemy, why restrict God to only one type of healing? Who are we to say, "God can or will only heal through natural means today"? Are we God that we can put limits upon him? That is presumption. Surely God can use natural and supernatural means. In fact, everything God does is supernatural because God is Spirit. So, every time he breathes upon the Creation, it is His Spirit intersecting with nature. If he wills either a natural recovery or a miracle, these are both supernatural influences upon the created order.Back to Top
Part III - Jesus as Covenant Maker with Humanity
Now Jesus approached healing as a necessary component of this covenant relationship between humanity and God. When Jesus saw a woman who had been bound by a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years, he healed her on the Sabbath, which made the religious people angry, but he said, "And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?" Luke 13:16, RSV.What did he mean by calling her a daughter of Abraham? He was reminding his fellow Jews that this woman was a daughter of the covenant which God made with Abraham, and so she had the full rights and privileges promised by that covenant. Healing, Jesus was saying, was part of that covenant between God and the children of Abraham. Jesus healed her on the basis of the covenant. Notice in this passage that Jesus did not say to the woman that her faith had made her well, for indeed, she expressed no faith towards Jesus that was recorded. Jesus just saw her suffering and he healed her because she was a daughter of Abraham.
Old Covenant Healing in the New Covenant
Lest one think that this old covenant has passed and is no longer applicable, we only need to look at what Paul said about this covenant in Galatians:
"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us--for it is written, ‘Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree'-- that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith…. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, "And to offsprings," referring to many; but, referring to one, "And to your offspring," which is Christ... And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise," Galatians 3:13-16,29, RSV.
Jesus did not discard the old covenant. Jesus fulfilled it so that the blessings of the old, and the new, might come upon us as we inherit the blessings of Abraham through him. What God said about himself in his Covenant Name to Abraham is now available to us through Jesus! Since God has not changed, neither has this Covenant. He is still our Healer.
Sickness as a Curse
"If you are not careful to do all the words of this law which are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awful 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, which you were afraid of; and they shall cleave to you. Every sickness also, and every affliction which is not recorded in the book of this law, the LORD will bring upon you, until you are destroyed," Deuteronomy 28:58-61, RSV.
God identifies sickness and disease with the curse. They are consequences of a broken covenant with God. Sometimes this sin is corporate and the consequence falls upon a whole people or nation, and the innocent suffer along with the guilty. And sometimes this sin against God is individual in nature. Whether due to our own actions or to the actions of others, Jesus died to redeem us from all the curses associated with a broken covenant.
If Jesus came to redeem us from the curses of the Law, then he came to redeem us from their effects. It is for this reason that the Scriptures say, "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed," Isaiah 53:5, RSV. Peter quotes this verse (1 Peter 2:24) as a sign of Jesus' Messianic mission. Since the obverse of the curse is the Blessing, the blessing that came upon Abraham, and which belonged to the woman in the synagogue, also belongs to us through Christ Jesus:
"Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, and the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your beasts, the increase of your cattle, and the young of your flock," Deuteronomy 28:4, RSV.
Our health and wholeness are part of the blessing of Christ, who was given to us to save us from Satan's power and to make the blessings of God flow as far as the curse is found. He was sent by God the Father to uphold, establish, and fulfill the Covenant God made with his people to be their healer, their deliverer, their provider, and their righteousness.
Jesus, as the representative of the Covenant, is the one who upholds the Name of God, and included in that Name is the Name "I AM Who Heals You." God has been faithful to his own Name, so should we be to him.Back to Top
The Covenant Meal – Jesus as Mediator
"Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.' And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins,'" Matthew 26:26-28, RSV.
"Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep,"1 Corinthians 11:27-30, NKJV.
If the blood is for the forgiveness of sins, what is meant by eating the Lord's body as part of this New Covenant meal? I used to think that Paul, in saying that many were sick because they did not discern the "Lord's body," was referring to sin against other members of the Body of Christ, or the Church. But I don't think Paul is referring to the corporate body, because he is talking about the bread and the wine. Paul is saying that people are sick because they don't understand the meaning of the Lord's sacrifice of his body. They are taking his sacrifice for granted and are not seeing in themselves a need for this mercy. The people are sick because they do not appreciate the meaning of this new covenant. The blood is for forgiveness, but the body is for our healing. That is why Peter says about Jesus that he "Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness--by whose stripes you were healed," 1 Peter 2:24, NKJV. The stripes on Jesus' body provided the healing for our souls and for our flesh. We are healed in our relationship to God and we are healed in our flesh as a consequence of our restoration to holiness.
Sickness and disease could not attach themselves to Christ because he had no sin in him and he had not broken the Law. For that reason Jesus was not afraid to touch the leprous, who were contagious. If we also have been made righteous by the blood of Christ, sin has no legal right to afflict us either. According to the Law, we are without sin through the sacrifice of Jesus, and we are under the blessings of the Covenant Names of God.
If Jesus died to give us all these benefits, his body and his blood, who are we to refuse them?
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*Covenant theology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Covenant_theology) (also known as Covenantalism or Federal theology or Federalism) is a conceptual overview and interpretive framework for understanding the overall flow of the Bible. It uses the theological concept of covenant as an organizing principle for Christian theology.