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About this series
Does God Still Heal?
Finding Wholeness in a Broken World
God does, in fact, heal today, but often our presuppositions and expectations prevent Him from accomplishing all that He wants to in our lives. This series, from James 5, will help you sort through the many and conflicting voices in our day about the issues of healing.More from this series
To begin I want to ask you a question that is not all that hypothetical. But I would like you to ponder that if in just a few days from now you, a friend, or a family member was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
You walked into a doctor, you got the biopsy report back, what would you do? What would you expect from God? What does the Bible teach about physical healing in our day, specifically?
And, therefore, how would you respond in view of, unless God intervenes, someone you love is going to die?
Now, this is an emotionally charged issue where people have very, very strong feelings. But I had an experience as a young pastor that forced me to dig in at a very deep level, because what I learned is faulty theology will fracture lives.
So I don’t know what you believe about physical healing and God intervening, but what I am going to ask you to do with an open mind is dig in the Scriptures with me and then, no matter what you hear, you search them for yourself and then you determine what you believe, because I will guarantee probably in the next five years, someone close to you – a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker, or someone – will have a situation where you really need to know what the Scripture teaches and you need to have convictions.
So with that, open your notes if you would and what I would like to do is begin with a big picture of context. I’ll look at the whole issue of healing. Well, let’s start with the problem.
As you would search through the Scriptures, I would suggest there are at least four reasons why people get sick. The first reason is, actually, some people get sick and die.
Remember when Jesus was talking about Lazarus? And He said, “No, this isn’t a sickness unto death, but it’s for the glory of God.”
But unless you are murdered or in an accident, most people are going to get sick before you die.
The second reason that you’re sick is a sickness for discipline: 1 Corinthians 11:30 talks about a group of people who were in blatant relational sin and God disciplined them. He said, “Because of how you are treating one another and dishonoring Me around the Lord’s Supper, some of you are sick and some are asleep prematurely,” literally talking about fellow believers who God disciplined through health issues.
The third reason that sickness happens is for the glory of God. In John chapter 9, the disciples were saying, “Jesus, this man who is blind. Was that his sin or his parents’ sin?” And Jesus said, “You’re mistaken. It’s neither. But it’s for the glory of God.”
There was a mindset that anytime anyone was sick in New Testament times it must be a direct cause and effect. It had to be because of sin. And Jesus says, “No.” Sometimes God allows people to be sick in order to deliver in a way that He gets glory.
And then finally, there’s a sickness from the enemy. In Luke 13, Jesus is in a synagogue and they are very angry because He heals this woman who, for eighteen years, was bound by an evil spirit and He did it on the Sabbath. And as they accuse Him, He says, “Look, each of you would release your oxen during the day on the Sabbath. Why do you accuse Me for releasing this woman from this sickness that has bound her because of this evil spirit for the last eighteen years?”
So at least in Scripture we know there are at least four basic reasons why people get sick.
The next section I would like to give you a little bit of the religious landscape in terms of five views of healing. The first one is what I will call, “The sensationalist.” These are the faith healers. It’s emotionally charged, flamboyant, this strong psychological, the cameras are rolling. Often you have to pay for parking. They rent out big arenas.
Now, what I will tell you is I’m not sure what’s happening. 20/20 and 60 Minutes have done research and there’s certainly fraud there. But I have also heard stories of people who have actually experienced supernatural healing.
All I can tell you is the methodology and the means and the focus is the opposite of how Jesus did it. Jesus, liked to keep a low profile. The focus was on God. There weren’t outrageous things. There wasn’t wild emotionalism.
The second is what I call, “Confessionalists.” This is the name it and claim it group. It’s called, “The Word of Faith Movement.” It’s that everyone has already been healed, it occurred on the cross, and you have to believe it. And the only person who loses on this are the recipients. It’s never the teacher’s fault.
If you’re not healed, you didn’t have enough faith. I cannot even count the number of people that I’ve met who have lived with guilt because they didn’t have enough faith when they prayed for someone or their mother or their father or their daughter or their son or someone died because of this false theology.
We’re going to learn that God does supernaturally heal, but God doesn’t heal all the people all the time. And you can go all the way through Scripture. He heals an unbeliever here; another person, “It’s because of your faith;” another person has no faith. You can’t build a case from the work in the gospels or the book of Acts that people have faith all the time or that everyone is supposed to be healed.
Third is what I call the “Anti-supernaturalists,” and this comes in about three categories. There’s one group called “ultra dispensationalists” who believe that healing occurred and miracles occurred in the first century to affirm the Word of God but those days are gone.
There’s another group who would be called “liberal theologians” who don’t believe in miracles at all. They believe this contains great thoughts, but they don’t think it’s the Word of God.
And then there’s another group that, “We can’t measure that, we don’t believe in the supernatural” – scientific, anti-supernatural. “These kinds of things simply don’t happen.”
The fourth group is what I call the “rationalists.” These are actually, this is a Christian Scientist if you have ever had any familiarity. They believe that there is no such thing as sickness. It’s a figment of your imagination. And that when you begin to think good thoughts, the illusion of sickness or even the illusion of death gets removed.
Their founder, however, died, which sort of disproves the theory. But there’s literally a group of people who think that it’s not really real, it’s just in your mind, and if you begin to think better thoughts - the Christ within you.
And then the last one I have called different things. But I call it the “medical, biblical, spiritual integration” group.
What I mean by this is that this group believes that God actually has medicine and doctors and vaccines and He heals in that way. They also believe in the Bible as an historic document and that He does supernatural things today, He did supernatural things back then, but He is a sovereign God so God heals people, but He doesn’t heal everyone all the time. He has very specific purposes.
And the last word – spiritual – is that healing and sickness really is often very much connected to how we are thinking, how we are living, our walk, our relationships with others.
And so those things are integrated. So there’s a medical aspect of healing, there’s a supernatural aspect of healing, and there’s a lifestyle aspect. There’s actual impact like how much sleep you get and what kind of food you eat and how much exercise.
So the medical, the spiritual, and the lifestyle all come together in an integrated way, because we don’t have a body. We have a mind, a body, and a spirit. And all those things work together.
And so with that, I’d like to try and ask and answer the question: What does the Bible actually say? Most of all those different views of healing take something from the book of Acts, something from the gospels, some Old Testament passages.
But where is the one passage in the New Testament that says directly, If you’re physically sick, what should you do? And that passage is James chapter 5, verses 14 to 18.
God’s specific instruction for the physically ill, “Is anyone among you sick?” And we’ll talk about what that word means in a minute. It’s not the flu. It’s not a cold. It’s very serious illness.
“Let him call for the elders of the church and let them pray over him, anointing,” or literally, “having anointed him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick and the Lord will raise him up and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.”
So what I want to do is break this down and ask some very basic questions about this passage, and then we are going to get at least the clearest teaching in the New Testament on healing.
Who are the sick? The word literally means without strength, unable to work, physically disabled, or bedridden. When Lazarus was dying, this is the word that is used. When Dorcas was dying, this is the word that was used. The man who was by the Pool of Bethesda for thirty-eight years, this is the word that was used.
In other words, even when it talks about, “The Lord will raise them up,” this is a life-threatening illness. So what are the sick to do? Well, they are to call the elders of the church. Put a little asterisk there. The responsibility is not with the church leadership. The responsibility is with the people who are sick.
If there’s ever a reason, a pragmatic, biblical, wise reason to be connected with the body, it’s when things get very difficult, you want to be connected with people who know you and love you and will share life with you.
That sick person calls, takes the initiative for the elders of the church. And it’s implied that the person actually isn’t well enough to make it to the church. Now, we do a lot of praying in the back room and anointing people with oil. We pray up front. So you don’t have to be bedridden. But this is a prayer for serious things and the person takes initiative.
And so what are the elders to do? Two things. One: anoint with oil and pray. Now, if you are a Bible student and like to read lots of commentaries and want to hear a lot of people go in about eight different directions on what all this means, I would invite you to do that. I did that again this week just to stay fresh.
There are two different words for anoint in the New Testament. One is a more medical, medicinal word. It’s used for rubbing the olive oil and different types of oils where you would take it internally and externally.
And then there was a different word for anoint that is ceremonial. This is the medical word.
A.T. Robertson is the one who wrote the Greek grammar that all of us pastors of all backgrounds and all denominations use. And this is his take on these two words: “The use of olive oil was one of the best remedial agencies known in the ancient world. They used it internally and externally. Some physicians prescribed it today. It is clear in this passage in James and also Mark 6:13 that it is a medicinal value attached to the use of the oil. And the emphasis is placed on the worth of prayer. There is nothing here of pagan magic or practice or any thought of extreme unction, which didn’t even occur in practice until the eighth century. It is by no means certain that this word here means to anoint in any ceremonial fashion. What we have here is medicine and prayer combined together to bring healing to people.” And so when we as elders go and talk to people about an illness, one of the first things we do is ask them, “So, what did the x-rays show? What did the doctors say? What is your MRI?” In other words, having “anointed.”
The other view is that this is symbolic of the Holy Spirit. I’m fine with that. But having “anointed with oil,” what you want to know when you’re going to pray for someone who is in a dire situation is: Have you received the best medical help anywhere?
And what’s the diagnosis? How are we going to pray? What should we know?”
So having anointed with oil. And then they pray and then what does God promise to do? He says He will restore the one who is sick, He will raise him up, and forgive his or her sin.
By the way, this is a promise. It’s what He says to do. But like every, single verse in Scripture, like Mark 11:24 if you have ever read that, that one gets butchered. It says, “Believe,” right? “If you believe, God will do whatever you ask.”
Well, true in the context.
So notice the passage says, “And they pray in faith in the name of the Lord.” So the prayer offered in faith is godly people who believe not only that God can, but that in this particular case, trusting that God will.
But notice it’s in the name of the Lord. And that’s a euphemism for in the authority and the power of God, but under the will of God. If this is Your will. You don’t put God in a box and tell Him He has to do this or He has to do that.
You pray, believing in faith. So it’s the prayer offered in faith by godly people walking with God saying, It’s in Your name. The power isn’t in oil, the power isn’t in how loud we pray, there’s no magic in the oil. We are coming and we are going to obey You and what we know is that, at times, You will choose to supernaturally intervene and we have seen You do that.
Finally, notice that it says, “If he has sinned, they will be forgiven him.” I would like you, in your notes, to circle the word if and then underline the little phrase they will be forgiven him.
In English if we say, “if” it can mean: Well, if and then. If things work out, then I will be coming on Saturday. Well, we don’t know what that means. Well it could work out or it could not work out. It’s called a conditional clause.
In Greek, you don’t have to wonder. There are four different conditional clauses. This is what is called a third-class condition. One of the conditions is it is assumed to be not true. Another word, it’s assumed to be true. A third-class condition is what is called the condition of future probability.
In other words, if he has sinned and in this context likely this happens to be the case, not always, but likely this happens to be the case, when you go and you pray for them, his sins will be forgiven.
So one of the things that we do when we anoint people with oil, and it’s honestly a little bit awkward and I often get that job, is I sit down with people after finding out: How long has this happened? What does the doctor say? We have all prayed. We are ready. We have some olive oil here as a symbol. But the best medical care. Before we pray, I need to ask you something. Is there any known sin in your life? Is there anything between you and God that could prevent Him from answering? Do you have any resentment toward anyone? Is there an unfulfilled commitment you made to someone? Are there issues?”
And so part of what causes sickness, we will see a little bit later, is sin. And often, can I be as bold to say to us in our current culture, things that the Bible clearly calls sin are so common among some of us, we don’t even recognize it. And when it causes the consequences of sickness, since we don’t call it sin anymore, like being a workaholic. Have you thought of that as sin? Or what about an addiction?
There are medical issues, there are spiritual issues, and there are lifestyle issues. And those things are interwoven. And so when you pray for someone, you need to ask. Because often addressing one of those things as sin, and then what we are going to learn later, when you confess your sin to one another that you might be healed.
And so that’s the picture in terms of what we are to do, why we are to do it.
As so I think the question is: Does God really respond? In our day, does it ever happen?
Chip: Well, we are doing a series on: Does God Still Heal? And I have a very special guest. This is Dr. Susan Richards. And she is a medical doctor with kind of a unique perspective as a medical doctor and an ordained Christian minister. So tell me first about your medical background, Susan.
Susan: Yes, thank you, Chip. I am just so delighted and happy to be with you. I am a licensed medical doctor and my field of specialty is family medicine. And I went to Northwestern University Medical School and have served on the clinical faculty at Stanford University School of Medicine. I have done quite a bit of teaching there. And currently I am actually in ministry at Stanford.
Susan: I have moved from the medical center to the main campus in terms of the ministry aspects and work with the undergraduate and graduate students.
Chip: Wow, so, you’re a medical doctor. You then are teaching medical doctors how to be good medical doctors. And then this shift occurred. This healing ministry. Tell us a little bit about maybe how that happened and what it is.
Susan: Yes. During my active years when I was primarily a medical doctor, I was always guided by God to have a great deal of love and compassion for the patients that I worked with. It’s very intimidating to be a medical patient. It’s scary. People get very fearful of what’s going on with their health.
And I was always the doctor that you could go to who would give you a big hug and who really made you feel at home and made you feel comfortable. And I didn’t realize at the time, but God was already doing a ministry in doing that.
But six years ago, He spoke to my heart and said, Susan, I want you to become ordained in ministry.
Susan: And at that point, I went through ordination and through training. And then all of a sudden, through I consider the hand of the Lord, many of the hospitals in the Bay Area started to open up. And I started to pray for the sick in all of the hospitals in our area. Stanford Hospital, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, the Veterans hospitals, Valley Med, the private hospitals.
And I started to see the hand of the Lord creating what I would have to call “medical miracles,” because there was no other way that I could explain them. I love the fact that I have a medical background and I am a minister because I pray very much as a follower of the Christ and a strong believer in the principles of the kingdom. So I pray that way, but I also pray medically.
So I pray very specifically into the condition in a way that the average lay person can’t do, because I understand the medical part.
So I can go right into the condition itself and I can focus on whatever the physiological, the structural imbalance is going on, and pray for that to heal. And I find it’s an amazing combination. I love combining the medical healing and the prayer healing. I find it is incredibly effective. It’s very powerful.
Chip: Having the privilege of praying with you, you pray in a way that is a little bit different than maybe people have seen in terms of a healing ministry, because I saw verifiable, specific cases of miraculous healing. Quadriplegics who are walking and burn victims who miraculously were healed in answer to prayer and, in fact, you have taught many others to pray. So could you give us a couple of examples?
Susan: I have seen things that just defy my own training. For example, I have seen so many quadriplegics walk that you can’t even explain it under normal circumstances. They should be on ventilators. They should never be out of a wheelchair. Yet I have seen quadriplegics walk many times. And jog and mountain climbing now and bowling and swimming. So they are completely recovered.
I have seen patients who are morbidly obese have what I would have to call supernatural weight loss from God, where they have lost anywhere from eighty to two hundred pounds in two weeks to four weeks, which is medically impossible. Or I would pray for them and every time I would pray, they would drop thirty pounds or fifty pounds.
I have seen burn patients where, one in particular was amazing, where it was young man with third-degree burns over his whole upper and lower body and with prayer, all of the burned tissue fell off. And he was left with pink, baby-looking skin overnight. He should have been treated for these burns for six months or a year with skin grafts and so when the Lord steps in, the healing is so rapid, it’s so complete, it’s what I call “no muss, no fuss.”
Chip: One of the passages that we are talking about in James 5 makes a real strong connection between the mental, emotional, and even spiritual wellbeing, even talking about if someone has sinned. And either their relationship with God is wrong or maybe resentment or they have hurt someone else. Do you see a correlation between people’s mental, emotional, and spiritual outlook and walk with God and their physical wellbeing?
Susan: Absolutely. From the medical side, we all know as doctors that stress plays a huge role in illness. Eighty to eighty-five percent of the time, illness is at least triggered or worsened by stress. And what I have seen as a physician who is also a minister is that often, if people come to me with let’s say a bad back.
Chip: Yeah, I could identify with that.
Susan: I won’t just look at them as a bad back. I will look at the whole person when I am talking to them. I want to know what are their triggers. Do they have emotional triggers? For example, they are upset with their boss, they are fighting with their husband or wife and their back goes out. Every time they get upset, their back gets worse.
Or they are doing things orthopedically in terms of the way they sit at the computer for hours at a time that is aggravating or worsening this. So when I pray to the Lord, I pray for that whole person. And I find that it is really a very wonderful, positive thing to do.
Chip: Thank you, Dr. Richards. It’s so good to spend a few minutes with you. And for those who maybe grew up like me and thought that supernatural things don’t happen, God doesn’t do miracles, healings don’t occur, it’s great to meet a Stanford teacher and doctor who prays in our hospitals and where God is working in powerful ways. So thank you so much.
Susan: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure. Thank you, Chip.
End Video Interview
Here’s what I want you to hear. God uses medicine. God, at times, according to His will, chooses to miraculously intervene. And there is a very strong correlation in this passage between our mental, emotional, and spiritual health and our physical health.
In fact, so much so that the application in verse 16, notice on the next part of your notes, it says, “The general application.” How do you stay physically healthy, then? Okay? How would you remain physically healthy? It’s a New Testament time. It’s not like there are lots of doctors.
By the way, sometimes you get sick because of bacteria. Okay? What we do is one group wants to spiritualize everything and another group wants everything to be super empirical and I’ll tell you what: I sure don’t understand it all. But I don’t think anybody does.
But here’s what we can know as followers of Jesus that will highly impact our physical health. Therefore, notice, in light of physical illness, in light of what you should do when you get in a desperate situation, in light of what elders do and how God works and in light of the high probability that that physical illness often is rooted in sin, not all sickness is sin, but a lot of it is. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another – why? So that you may be healed.
The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. And that group, then, this was the very first book in the New Testament written. That group then would be like us, “You know, hey, when Peter prays, yeah, I get it. When the apostle John prays I get it. But we’re just regular people.”
And so notice what James says. He says, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain. And it didn’t rain on earth for three and a half years. And then he prayed again and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.”
Literally, what he is saying is: He’s a regular guy like us. And, literally, the phrase here when he prayed, literally, it’s with prayer he prayed. In other words, he really prayed in his prayers.
I ask myself sometimes, Do I really pray in my prayers or do I just say words? He’s talking about fervent, focused, believing. I’m coming before You, God. This is the situation. This is who You are. These are Your promises. I am asking You, specifically, to intervene. And I am going to keep coming and I’m going to press into You and I want to hear from You.
If there is an issue in my life or an issue in this situation, God often uses health issues to get our attention to bring about major things in our life and relationship with Him and others.
So let’s ask a few questions of this passage. What is the presumed relationship between sin and sickness in this passage? Very high. Now, jot a note, okay? Because someone is going to walk away with, Chip said that people are always sick because they have sinned. Errrrrrgg. Okay? No.
But is there a very high correlation between a number of illnesses and sin? Yes. Let me give you a list of some common sins that create physical illness. Unresolved anger. Anxiety and worry. If you’re commanded not to worry and you worry, because we all do it doesn’t make it less a sin. It’s saying that, God, You’re not in control. I can’t control it. And I can’t tell the future. And so I am eaten up inside. And when you worry, your stomach acid goes, right? And when you worry and when you’re under stress, your immune system drops.
Stress. Unbelief. God, I don’t believe You’re going to come through. Therefore, since I don’t believe You’re going to come through, I am going to take care of myself. So I’m going to buy things with money I don’t have, presuming on the future. Now I feel all this pressure and I’m overwhelmed with debt because I didn’t obey You in my priorities.
Bitterness. Rebellion. Addictions. Gluttony.
And so we live in a world where we sinfully have lifestyles that are killing us. We create drugs to treat the symptoms and our souls are starving. So what is the solution?
What are we told to do regularly for our health? Confess. And he says, “Confess your sins,” literally it’s the sin specifically, “to one another that you might be healed, and pray for one another.” Literally, the word is intercede. Intercede means: I have heard your struggle. You confess that you have resentment toward your husband. You confess that it’s not a glass of wine, it’s three or four. You confess that you have resentment toward your boss.
You have confessed that your priorities are out of whack, you’re not giving your children the time that you know they need. You have confessed that there is someone at work that you have this emotional attachment and you’re fantasizing. You have confessed that you’re logging on to the Internet. You confess that you’re a shopaholic or a workaholic. And these are unhealthy things. And I am going to stand before God and I am going to ask Him to help you.
The power of sin is secret. If you go through Church history, when revivals happen, whether it’s the Moravians, whether it’s the Wesleys, whether it’s movement in our country with Whitefield the small groups in the Wesleyan groups, they would meet twice a week and they had this set of questions on a card. They would ask one another, “How is thy soul with God?” Second question, it went something like this, “Has thou sinned against thy Creator or anyone else by thought, word, and deed?”
And you know what they did in these small groups? They confessed their sins to each other. What we do is pose. We project we are doing better than we are. And what I can tell you, what we have all experienced, see, we start confessing when we get desperate, right? When there’s nowhere else to go.
I will tell you, if we will follow Scripture and confess our sins to one another, one, you’ll be shocked at how regular everybody else is. And, two, God promises He will bring healing.
This is preventative healing. We are to confess to one another.
And then notice what kind of prayer has healing impact. It’s earnest, fervent, believing prayer. Godly people shooting it straight, being for one another. Who qualifies to be heard by God for healing and the miraculous? Ordinary people like you and me.
I want to summarize, because I want to give you something that is very tangible as you walk away that you can think through healing in a very, very specific way. And as you do, the big picture is you are going to meet people who have very strong, emotional views. And they have had experiences and all I am saying is I am all for everyone’s experience. I just don’t want to build my theology on anyone’s experience or anyone on radio or anyone on TV or myself.
I want my theology about everything to be around: What does the Bible actually say? And I would encourage you to take these notes, look at these passages, and agree or disagree. But get your convictions from God.
But by way of overview, I think there are three things we can learn about healing. Number one is at times, it’s called the intervention of God. It’s Acts 3, right? Peter and John are on their way to the temple. And there’s a guy there, they don’t have any money. He has been lame since birth. “Silver and gold have I none, but in the name of the Lord Jesus, arise and walk!” He reaches up, bam! Miraculous intervention. I always pray for that one.
The second one is the interaction of God: 1 Timothy 5. Timothy, you’re my son in the faith. Paul had a lot of faith. Paul healed a lot of people. Take a little wine for your stomach. In other words, there’s some medicine you should take. God is going to use the medicine prescribed to heal your body. It’s going to be the Spirit of God using medicine to heal your body.
And third is what I call the enabling of God. And this is like the Joni Eareckson Tada answer to prayer. The apostle Paul said…Paul had faith. Paul believed. Paul had been to the third heaven. Paul healed people. “Heal me, God!” “No.” “Heal me, God!” “No.” “Heal me, God.” “No. Paul, My grace is sufficient for you.”
Here’s the deal with healing: It’s not primarily, even when Jesus did it, it was never primarily about simply solving a physical problem. Every miracle and every healing, almost always was to affirm or make clear or deliver a person. But it was to make a major, major point.
Sometimes God heals to make that point. Sometimes you endure it and His grace is sufficient and He gets glory through it. Sometimes He uses a doctor and an MRI and a medicine and a surgery.
Biblical, medical, spiritual integration is what I believe the Bible clearly teaches and is the call of God for us to believe He can intervene, to believe and step out, to have lifestyles of nutrition and rest and wisdom and obedience and confessing our sin to one another. And finally, where at the right time, in the right way, we use medicine that God has given us. That’s what He uses to bring about transformation.