Today I want to take a look at the most commonly quoted verse with respect to praying for healing. The WoF teachers point to this passage as an unbreakable, unfailing promise of physical healing that we can proclaim and declare from Scripture “In Jesus Name”. Is that fair? Is that what this passage teaches? If the declared healing doesn’t come to pass… is that a failure in the prayer or the promise? If it is a failure in the promise, is the healing the only thing that goes?
Healing Belongs to God
Before we look at the WoF (Word of Faith) use of this passage, I want to make absolutely clear that we serve a God who is capable of healing our temporal bodies. In fact, one of the Gifts of God the Holy Spirit listed is the gift of healing.
1 Corinthians 12:1-11 (ESV) | Spiritual Gifts
1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
1 Corinthians 12:27-31 (ESV) 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
So we see that gifts of healing is included in the list of gifts of God the Holy Spirit that He gives for the common good. We see that the Apostle Paul makes it clear that the various gifts and manifestations granted for the church are good, provided they are of God. For God the Holy Spirit is One. Paul isn’t writing here about false signs and wonders, he does that elsewhere. Here, Paul is talking about the Truth gifts and manifestations of God the Holy Spirit, and he is making absolutely clear that all True gifts come from the Same Spirit. God is Sovereign over His Gifts. Paul is rebuking the church for judging themselves and each other by the Gifts of the Spirit and this has caused division in the church. Paul is teaching that regardless of the gift, the credit goes to God the Holy Spirit, and the purpose of each Gift is to build up the Church. He makes clear that not everyone is an apostle, a prophet, a teacher, works miracles, possess gifts of healing, etc, and all should desire higher gifts but there is a more excellent way. More excellent way to what? To serve God and to serve the Church. It is no coincidence that the next chapter is dedicated to love, since loving God and loving others as yourself fulfills the Law and the Prophets. Paul is saying that you don’t get the higher gifts by pursuing them directly, they belong to God the Holy Spirit. Love God, love your neighbor as yourself and as He sees fit He will give Gifts for His Purposes and His Glory Alone (Soli Deo Gloria).
The Promise of Healing?
The WoF teachers tend to proclaim, declare, and command physical, temporal healing by invoking what they consider to be a promise in Scriptures, “and with his stripes we are healed (KJV)”. This quote is a portion if Isaiah 53:5 that is quoted by Peter in 1 Peter 2:24. We’ll examine both, in context, and then we’ll discuss.
Isaiah 52:13-15 (ESV) | He Was Pierced for Our Transgressions
13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
he shall be high and lifted up,
and shall be exalted.
14 As many were astonished at you—
his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
15 so shall he sprinkle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which has not been told them they see,
and that which they have not heard they understand.
Isaiah 53 (ESV) 1 Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.
This is what the Prophet Isaiah recorded as a Word of the Lord God. Now let’s look to what Peter was teaching when he quoted this prophecy.
1 Peter 2:11-25 (ESV) | Submission to Authority
11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh,which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Peter goes on to instruct the Church in matters of marriage and in suffering for righteousness’ sake. Now, noticed that Peter quoted an entire thought from Isaiah, not just the snippet that gets so often interpreted into temporal, physical healing. Peter isn’t just plucking out the closing phrase of Isaiah 53:5; rather, he captured the thrust of verse 5 (that Jesus bore our sins in his body) and included verse 6 (we as sheep had gone astray).
Isaiah wasn’t merely prophesying that God would send the Messiah to heal our physical bodies until we die. This prophecy is about Salvation. The Promise is of Salvation, secured by the blood of Jesus Christ. So, then, what is being healed by His wounds? Our iniquities, our sins, our transgressions, and our unrighteousness were healed by His wounds on the cross. He bore the price of our sin, so that our relationship with God the Father would be healed. The rift between God and Man that took place when Adam sinned in the Garden was healed by Jesus’s wounds. By His wounds, we are promised to share in His resurrection, and our physical bodies will be perfect… that promise is assured, and secured by His Wounds on the cross.
The Problem with the WoF Teaching
The biggest problem with the WoF teaching is the distraction of temporal, physical healing which overshadows the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is a prophecy of the Salvation of God and we have the WoF “declaring” temporary, physical healing by essentially demanding that God keep His promise to heal based on what He did on the cross. Nowhere in the prophecy nor in 1 Peter 2 (or even 3) do we see any mention of this passage promising temporary, physical healing. I say temporary, because Scripture clearly states that everyone is appointed to die and be judged.
Hebrews 9:24-28 (ESV) 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is that He bore the price of our sin in His own flesh, so that when it comes our time to be judged, those who’ve placed their faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ will been judged righteous not by our works, but by Christ’s finished work on the cross.
John 3:13-18 (ESV)13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
So, if our perspective in approaching Isaiah 53 is eternity, then the promise of healing includes the ultimate perfected healing of or physical bodies, because in the resurrection we are promised new imperishable bodies. However, as Peter points out, while we continue in this life as sojourners and exiles, we are to resist the passions of the flesh. Why? Because the promise of healing is not yet fulfilled as our bodies (the flesh) are still defiled and corrupt. This is the Grace of God that we might continue in this life as ministers of reconciliation, preaching the Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who are lost in this world, and we are also joining with Christ in His afflictions and persecutions until the Great Day of His Return. But our bodies are still sinful, the flesh is corrupt and wars against the Spirit, and one day we will put off these mortal bones and be with God in Heaven, at which point our healing will be complete, even to our physical bodies, when sin death and the devil are finally and permanently judged in the Lake of Fire.
If the healing doesn’t come
As with most of the WoF teachings, the problem with the doctrine doesn’t become obvious until that which is “declared”, “unleashed”, “spoken into existence”, or “loosed” doesn’t actually come to pass. When the flip-side of the “promise” coin is exposed, things get very ugly, and people get hurt. With WoF, the blame usually falls on man’s unbelief. Some realize how harmful that is, so they won’t blame the Christian outright, but blame the “atmosphere of doubt”. The real problem is usually false teaching/doctrine. The assertion that this verse is a promise of physical healing is no different.
- If the promise of healing is validated by the promise of salvation, then when the healing doesn’t happen “as promised” what does that say about the promise of salvation?
- If the promise of healing is as sure as the promise of salvation, why does healing require additional prayer if salvation does not?
- If salvation comes by faith and is secured “once and for all” by Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross… why do I have to “declare” healing so often? Shouldn’t it, too, be once-and-for-all?
There is also an evil strawman argument employed by the WoF that suggests that anyone who disagrees with taking this portion of a verse as a promise of healing is somehow saying that God is cruel and unwilling to heal. False argument to defend a false teaching. The discussion isn’t about whether or not God loves us, provides for us, or even that He heals us. The discussion is whether or not the teaching that it is a promise to be declared at our will is Biblical. Or, put another way, if the Will of God is to make Christians illness-free while living on this earth but our failure to “declare” this promise can prevent His Will for our lives.
God has good gifts for His children, and the best gifts He has for us are not here, where moth and rust destroy. It’s interesting that after teaching on fasting and prayer, (thy Kingdom come thy Will be done) that Jesus follows up that teaching with the following:
Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV) | Lay Up Treasures in Heaven
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Over-realized eschatology (attempts to claim promises of inheritance as promises for today) leads to prodigal theology.
Pray for Healing with an Eternal Focus
not a Temporal One
We should pray for the sick. We are commanded to seek prayer when we are sick. But it is not for us to make demands of God; rather, we must walk in faith and submission to the Will of God the Father.
James 5:7-20 (ESV) 7 Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. 12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another,that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. 19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
Eternal focus. This life is temporary, and we are but sojourners and exiles in it. We are urged to be patient as we wait for the Day of Jesus Return. Notice the eternal focus here lets us know that the effective fervent prayer of faith for the one who is sick can save them… that their sins may be forgiven (that the Lord will open their eyes to the Gospel of Jesus Christ) and the Lord will raise him up. Can this be physical? Yes… but it is also clearly spiritual. Because James is not just talking about the temporal life here. And if the sick person is saved and dies, he gets to be in Heaven serving a Living God, and can lay claim to his inheritance that is in Christ Jesus. With an eternal focus, we see that when God allows cancer or a virus to take the temporal life of a Christian, that He is indeed granting the Christian’s inheritance in full.
Stop “declaring/proclaiming” healing, prosperity, deliverance, etc. and humble yourself to pray that God’s will be done in your life, for His Glory. When God the Holy Spirit heals in this life, He does so according to His purpose for His Glory. When He doesn’t heal in this life, it is equally for His purpose and His Glory. Just like Job, we are not guaranteed a full explanation or picture of the why and how, only that we trust in the Lord our God. Our hope is not in this life, but in the resurrection. Stop placing your hope and trust in this temporary life. Let our confession mirror the Apostle Paul’s:
Philippians 1:19-23 (ESV)19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
May the Lord bless you and keep you in His Word,
In Christ Jesus,