What does the Bible tell us about healing? Do some Christians still have this gift, and can it be learned? Can we use the spiritual gift of healing to get rid of sickness like COVID-19? How can we tell if a church’s or an individual’s attitude to healing has deviated from the truth?
Spiritual Gift of Healing Defined
Spiritual healing is not a talent or magic power. Everyone who has the Spirit (i.e. all believers) is given a gift designated by and directed by God such as healing, teaching, or wisdom. The outcome is also determined by God. “God may immediately heal [...], that’s best-case scenario perhaps for the person in the prayer.”
Christ healed many people, of course, but, before He ascended into heaven, He also gave His Spirit as a helper. In Acts 3, Peter and John met a “man lame from birth” (Acts 3:4). They told him “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk” (Acts 3:6). He walked. Peter and John exercised the gift of healing by the authority of Jesus through His Spirit.
Pressure to Heal
Some Christians quote James 5:13-15 when they say that we can all learn to heal; that any Christian, through prayer and faith, can heal physical or mental illness. He says, “the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up” (James 5:16).
This verse is often misused to support “false teaching that God always wants to heal every malady,” which leads to feelings of “guilt and disillusionment [...] when God actually chooses not to heal. The implication is that the suffering Christian just didn’t quite believe enough or is hiding some sort of sin.” These misunderstandings about faith healing have “destroyed” some believers.
James encourages believers to try every method of healing God has laid before them but healing always comes from God at His discretion. He offers an invitation to dive deeply into faith with honesty and submission, trusting that whatever the outcome, God’s plans are perfect.
Healing the Spirit
Pain frequently initiates or refreshes our devotion to and reliance upon Christ. Sometimes pain leads to repentance. Jesus did not come to heal us of COVID-19 or cancer but of sin, which will drag us away from God eternally. David Platt said of the paralytic in Matthew 8: “More important than even his physical paralysis was his spiritual malice.”
Jesus asked, “which is easier, to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say ‘Rise and walk’?” (Matthew 8:5-6). The crowd wanted Christ’s healing power but not the healer. They did not realize that they were all sick and in need of a Savior for their sin. Jesus used this opportunity to make an audacious point about who He is and why He came: To bring about better healing. He also demonstrated the mercy and love which continue to attract so many people to Him today, and which Christians seek to emulate.
When Jesus’ disciples employed the gift of spiritual healing in His name, they followed His example. “In Matthew 25, Jesus reveals that those who truly know him serve others in very real ways,” which can include offering food and water or healing sickness. “Meeting the basic physical needs of people often ministers more than words and ultimately gives you a kind of integrity that can lead to a deeper conversation.” Sometimes, relieving immediate suffering is a gateway to gospel discussion to the ultimate healing.
Spirit as Healer
“What the faith healers want to suggest is that healing is contained in a person rather than seeing healing as coming from the hand of God.” At “the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry,” students learn “how to heal the sick as well as cast out demons.” Students are taught to spread this particular form of mercy in the name of Christ.
Is there a problem with this? “Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness” (Matthew 10:1). Paul healed many people on the Island of Malta in Acts 27. Are we not also given these same gifts?
Christ assigned the gift of healing to His apostles, and the gifts of teaching, healing, prophecy, etc. are still assigned to God’s people by His perfect will. By the indwelling Spirit, some Christians are able to heal real physical suffering in Christ’s name (and only by His name, not for our own glory). Yet, God does not create healers per se; people with powers over sickness in their own right. He grants the gift according to His perfect will.
Spiritual gifts work together to glorify God and to spread gospel testimony. Not one, single gift is preeminent over another but is of use to and through “the body of Christ” of which “each one of you is a part” (1 Corinthians 12:27). “The bible teaches that it’s not appointed everybody to have these [gifts] all the time.” In other words, one’s gifting might change as the Lord deems fit. A diploma in a frame does not qualify a person to be a healer the way a degree qualifies someone to become a teacher. No school of supernatural ministry can manipulate this process.
Suggesting that a student could avail himself of a gift, which has not been given him could be compared with going into mom and dad’s closet prior to Christmas to play with toys not yet wrapped and presented. They cease to be gifts, for one thing; but also, this kind of behavior removes the giver from the equation. If it suits God to present one with the gift of healing, then he or she will receive it, but not as a mark of special worthiness. Gifts, by definition, are never earned.
Sickness is not our punishment for sin; eternal damnation would be our punishment if not for Christ. God promises that repentant believers will inherit His eternal Kingdom through the saving blood of Jesus Christ. If God had punished us by means of disease and disability, then our problems would be over when we died. We would earn our place in Heaven based on how much or how well we suffered. Christ would not have needed to shed His blood.
Nor did He come to save us from physical sickness. When the disciples returned from successfully exorcising demons and healing the sick, Jesus said “do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). While the Spirit might move a person to lay hands on an individual with COVID-19 and to see that person healed, the purpose is always God’s glory and the salvation of a person’s soul for eternity.
Our “ultimate need [is] not healing from God, but holiness before God.” “The certainty of our faith may not be for the precise thing we think is best, but our certainty of faith should rest on the goodness of our Father, who always does what’s best for his children.”
While we think the best thing is for COVID-19 to miraculously disappear, “we don’t honor God by assuming we know what’s best in any given situation.” We must trust that God’s way is the best way; that the why of suffering will become clear or, if not clear, then moot when we enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
In the meantime, Paul encourages us to “glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope,” which “does not put us to shame.” After all, “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:3-5).
Spiritual Healing Cults
A “healing cult” “places major, or even exclusive, emphasis on the treatment or prevention by non-medical means of physical or spiritual ailments, which are often seen as manifestations of evil.” Such a cult might be centered around a place, a shrine, or a person.
Healers sometimes operate within a “cultural niche” alongside established religions. Cult leaders are emotionally manipulative and might be physically, financially, or sexually abusive. They take Scripture out of context. During a pandemic, when people are afraid, cults like these grow.
A leader increases in power and possibly in wealth. Christians must always test the claims of church leaders against the truth of Scripture with the help of the Spirit, with truthfulness but sensitivity towards those caught up in such cults. Church elders employ Scriptural knowledge and spiritual discernment to ensure a pastor continues to preach the gospel without adding or taking anything away from biblical truth.
Suffering and Healing
Sometimes the Father “teaches us more and draws us closer when we walk the dark mile of suffering.” Maybe a malady will remain. Yet, this sickness can become a gift of healing indirectly. Modeling honest faith in the midst of suffering often leads others into a healing relationship with the Father.
Supernatural endurance through sickness or disability will sometimes inspire non-believers to wonder if there is something better than a pain-free existence. As always, God leads these people to Himself, but even those without the gift of spiritual healing can be used to reconcile friends and family to the Great Healer.
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Candice Lucey loves Christ and writing about His promises brings her much pleasure. She lives in the mountains of BC, Canada with her family.