Walking in Divine Health?

I normally don’t watch much Christian TV. Most of it is really not worth watching. Oh, I know… you can find some really good preachers, inspiring services, and solid teaching here and there. But you have to wade through the nonsense and inanity to get to the good stuff. Usually not worth the effort. (At least in my opinion. If you disagree, I ask your pardon.) So I don’t watch it. But occasionally when flipping channels, I do come across something that catches my attention. That happened last week. I chanced upon a popular TV preacher, well-known, polished, a very engaging orator. What he said intrigued me at first, then irritated me… finally angered me. That’s why I am writing this.

In the interest of being a gentle, kind Christian I won’t name the brother who was preaching. I want to be diplomatic. Let’s just use a code name instead. How about… well, C$?  Yes, that should work nicely. We’ll call him C$.

I normally don’t watch much Christian TV.  Most of it is really not worth watching.  Oh, I know… you can find some really good preachers, inspiring services, and solid teaching here and there.  But you have to wade through the nonsense and inanity to get to the good stuff.  Usually not worth the effort.  (At least in my opinion.  If you disagree, I ask your pardon.)  So I don’t watch it.  But occasionally when flipping channels, I do come across something that catches my attention.  That happened last week.  I chanced upon a popular TV preacher, well-known, polished, a very engaging orator.  What he said intrigued me at first, then irritated me… finally angered me.  That’s why I am writing this.

In the interest of being a gentle, kind Christian I won’t name the brother who was preaching.  I want to be diplomatic.  Let’s just use a code name instead.  How about… well, C$?  Yes, that should work nicely.  We’ll call him C$.

Ol’ C$ was preaching on the cross, the atoning work of Jesus.  He was specifically addressing the matter of Christ’s suffering as a remedy for our suffering.  He was speaking of the verse in Isaiah 53 that says that in Christ’s passion and death “He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4).  C$ said this… Our sorrows (or sufferings) are the result of our infirmities.  If Christ dealt with our infirmities, then our sufferings are automatically done with.  He went on to say that since Christ’s work was complete and finished, then our infirmities have already been completely finished with.  Sickness, disease, pain and suffering were already atoned for, remedied in the Cross.  Therefore, there is no need for anyone to be sick or suffer again.  So it is possible to live in complete and total health, free from all pain, illness, infirmity, disease, or suffering.  The only thing that is required is absolute faith in this truth.  If you have the faith, you can live in health, never again suffering from sickness or pain.

Whew!  Quite a claim ol’ C$ is making.  Quite a claim indeed.  But not unique.  There are quite a few preachers and teachers out there in TV- and radio-land who make the same assertion.  The question is—Is it true?

I think there are two assumptions that C$, and preachers like him, are making in this assertion that pain-free, sickness-free, suffering-free living is God’s will for His children on this earth.  Let’s consider these assumptions.

Assumption # 1:  Christ’s atoning, redemptive work is complete; therefore, the benefits of His work can be fully experienced immediately.

Let me begin by saying that we can agree on the first part of this statement.  The Incarnation, sinless life, Passion, Death, Resurrection, Ascension and Session of Christ to the Father’s right hand have accomplished what God intended for them to do.  (By the way, all of Christ’s life and work, as noted in the previous sentence, were part of His work of salvation.)  It is the not the completeness or efficacy of Christ’s work that is the issue.  It is the application.  C$ is assuming that just because Christ’s work is complete, that the resulting application of that work is also complete.  This is simply not the case.

First of all, the salvation of an individual is not a finished work, a done deal.  Yes, Christ did all that is necessary to pay for our salvation, but the outworking of this in the life of the believer is an ongoing reality.  For example, when we think of being “saved” we usually think of it as happening in a moment.  It is a one-time past event.  I, Victor Morris, accepted Christ as my personal Savior on Saturday, January 13, 1973.  On that day I was saved.  Being saved is a finished work in my life.

But is it?  Actually in the New Testament being “saved” is quite often spoken of in the present tense (as an ongoing work) or in the future tense (it is still to happen).  Yes, Christ’s work is complete.  Yes, when I accepted Jesus I was born again, began a new life, gained eternal life.  But at the same time I am now in the process of being saved, of seeing the life of Christ grow and mature in me, and living in expectation of a final, complete, total, and ultimate application of Christ’s saving work in my life.

Consider a few verses in this regard:

  • “Now I would remind you, brothers,of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:1-2 ESV)
  • “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18 NIV).
  • “But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (Acts 15:11 ESV)
  • “Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.  For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.”  (Romans 5:9-10 KJV)
  • “… without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God” (Philippians 1:18 NIV)
  • “So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him”  (Hebrews 9:28 NIV).
  • “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9 NIV)

So you see, Christ’s death purchased my salvation, but I will not know the culmination, the glorious fulfillment of that salvation until Christ returns.  And this includes my life in this physical body.

Indeed, one facet of our salvation experience is the redemption of our physical bodies.  Yet, it is only in the resurrection when our bodies are changed and glorified that we know the full application and complete benefits of being saved.  C$ seems to have forgotten this.  The redemption of our bodies is still a future event.  Yes, God can and does heal now—when it suits His sovereign purposes.  But the full healing, deliverance and salvation of our bodies will only occur in the resurrection.  Right now we live in fallen, corrupt bodies in a fallen, corrupt world.  Therefore, it is only natural that our bodies are often subject to the pains, ills and suffering of the world in which we live.

Note these verses about the future redemption of our bodies:

  • “We know that the whole creation has been groaningas in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit,groaninwardly as we wait eagerlyfor our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all.  Who hopes for what he already has?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (Romans 8:22-25).
  • “But our citizenshipis in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21).
  • “I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.  Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:50-53).

Note that 1 Corinthians 15:50 says that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.”  Yes, in one sense the Kingdom is here, now.  But the fullness of the Kingdom—all that it is intended to be—cannot be experienced here and now.  It requires the resurrection of our bodies and the restoration of all things (Acts 3:21), when Jesus makes all things new.  Then, and only then, will we be able to experience total health and complete freedom from all pain, trouble, and suffering (Revelation 21:5).

Assumption # 2:  Suffering is by definition a bad thing.

Okay, let’s admit it—nobody likes suffering.  Only people who are twisted and perverted in their thinking actually enjoy pain.  But, pain and suffering are a reality of this life.  And most of our physical suffering is probably the result of simply living in this fallen world.  But there can be spiritual dynamics involved in suffering as well.  And in this light, we must understand that not all suffering is bad.  It may be unpleasant, but it not necessarily foreign to the will and purposes of God.

This is another point where C$ and his kindred miss it.  Their assertion that it is never God’s will for His children to suffer in this present world is foreign to the Scriptural record, and bypasses  the value that can come from suffering.  It is a simple fact that God can, and does, use suffering.  How?  Consider a few instances:

God’s glory:  Sometimes God uses suffering to reveal His power and glory.  A prime example of this is found in the story of the blind man in John 9.  In John’s account the question was raised as to why this man was born blind.  The assumption was that there had to be an underlying spiritual fault.  Someone had sinned, either the man or his parents (John 9:2).  But Jesus’s response to this was explicit:  The man’s blindness was not the result of sin.  Rather it was for God’s glory, so that “the work of God might be displayed in his [the blind man’s] life” (John 9:3).  God does allow suffering so that it may be used to demonstrate His power and manifest His glory.

Another example is the story of Lazarus.  When Jesus heard word that Lazarus was sick, He replied, “This sickness will not end in death.  No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (John 11:4).  The meaning is obvious.  Lazarus was sick, and God was going to use it for His own glory, and to exalt the Son and His power.  God can and does use sickness, pain and suffering for His purposes.

Learning:  God sometimes uses suffering, including sickness and disease to teach His children life lessons—often lessons they can learn no other ways.  Do you question this?  Then consider this verse that speaks about Christ:  “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8, also see Hebrews 2:10).  Imagine that!  Even Jesus learned through suffering.  If the very Son of God had to undergo suffering in order to learn all He had to learn while on this earth, should we really think it strange if we must also learn through suffering?

Let me give you an example of this.  One lesson we can learn through suffering is how to be compassionate and helpful towards others who suffer.  This was the experience of Jesus (Hebrews 2:10, 17-18).  It is also the experience of His children (note 1 Corinthians 1:3-4ff).  Sometimes we can be of greater benefit to the Body of Christ because of our pain.  When we find comfort and help in God, then we can understand what others are going through, and offer them our consolation and encouragement.  We can help because we have been there.

Discipline:  God also uses suffering and pain, including sickness, as an aid to discipline and correction for His children.  We must remember that the Bible teaches that one mark of a true child of God is that they will be disciplined (Hebrews 12:5-11).  Note that in verse 6 it says that the child whom the Lord loves he “punishes” (NIV), “chastises” (ESV), “scourges” (NKJV).  The Greek word literally means “to flog, scourge or whip.”  It pictures very severe discipline.  God knows that our hearts can be stubborn, and sometimes it takes severe correction to aid us in our spiritual development.  No wonder C. S. Lewis once said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains:  it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  A classic example of this is when God punished Israel for the sin of King David.  He sent a devastating disease, a plague, to bring correction to His people (see 1 Chronicles 21:1-17).

Persecution:  Sometimes pain and suffering, including disease and illness, comes our way simply because we are believers living in a hostile world.  That Christians will suffer for the sake of the Gospel is as basic to the New Testament as the Gospel itself.  (See 2 Timothy 3:12, Matthew 5:10, Matthew 10:23, Matthew 24:9, Mark 10:30, John 15:20, 2 Corinthians 12:10, etc.).  Working for missions agency like ANM I have the awesome privilege of meeting true heroes of the faith.  Many of them have been severely persecuted.  Some of them suffer from debilitating physical ailments, chronic illness, or bodily afflictions that have resulted from beatings, harsh prison environments, torture, being forced to live in unsanitary conditions.  Like Paul (Galatians 6:17), they literally bear in their bodies the marks of the Lord Jesus.  I must confess, when I hear men like C$ saying that if we all just had enough faith we could live free from all pain and suffering… I want to shout at them:  “Tell that to some of the men and women I have met.  Tell the ones who have spent years in stinking, filthy prison cells.  Tell it to brothers and sisters whose bodies have been broken by the hatred of godless men.  Tell those who have been horrifically tortured for their love of the Savior.  Tell those whose bodies are in constant pain and suffer chronic physical ailment because they gave their all for Jesus.  Tell them!  Go ahead, and tell them that their faith is weak… if you dare!”  How ridiculous.

As I draw to a close, please understand one thing—I do believe in divine healing.  I have been healed myself.  I have seen God do literal miracles.  I know people who have experienced supernatural healings that science could never explain.  Yes, God can heal.  But when He does heal, He doesn’t always do it according to our timetable, or in the manner we prescribe.  And sometimes—sometimes—He just doesn’t heal. Sometimes He has a bigger plan in mind than the temporary easing of our pain.  And His bigger plan is always better than our plan, and results in the best for us.  Also, I do believe that there is the possibility of perfect health and a life free from all pain.  This is a certainty.  But not in this life.  That is not part of His plan.  He has yet to redeem the physical universe, including our bodies.  For that, we wait.

In conclusion, I can think of no better way to end this than by focusing on the promise and hope of the future salvation that we do eagerly wait for.  So let’s consider what the Apostle Peter had to say about this:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  (1 Peter 1:3-9 NIV)

[Just for clarity’s sake, the italics in the verses found in this article are added by me.]

 

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