SICKNESS AND SALVATION
By Pastor Glenn Pease
When Jesus preached in the synagogue of His home town of Nazareth, the people were skeptical of His claims, and His power. Jesus said to them in Luke 4:23 you will surely say unto me this proverb, physician, heal thyself." Criticism of the physician is of ancient origin, and had become a proverb in the time of Christ. In spite of all the modern advances in their effectiveness, they are still objects of criticism. This is so because people are just naturally critical and skeptical, and also because doctors, like everyone else, are subject to sin, and to mistakes, ignorance and indifference.
A nervous patient said to her doctor, "I feel like killing myself. What shall I do?" The doctor said, "Just leave that to me." Another doctor said to his patient, "Your left leg is swollen, but I wouldn't worry much about it." The patient responded, "If your left leg was swollen I wouldn't worry much about it either." There are volumes of humorous and serious criticism against the physician that goes back to ancient times. Much of it is valid. But we must also see that Jesus put His stamp of approval on the ministry of the physician. When He was asked why He ate with and associated with sinners He replied, "They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." Jesus said the sick need a physician, and He implied that their ministry of making men whole is a kin to His own ministry enough to use it as an illustration.
This statement of Jesus is recorded in all three of the synoptic Gospels, and reveals to us how Jesus related His ministry to the physician. Jesus ministered to man's sickness and his sin, because the two are directly related. He delivered men from sickness by His ministry in life, and He delivered them from sin by His ministry in death. God's plan of salvation included the whole man-body, soul, and spirit. Since all three are related and inseparable in life, Jesus could not atone for sin without affecting all three. Sin is the general cause of all sickness, and the specific of much sickness. It follows then that deliverance from sin will also be a deliverance from sickness. You cannot eliminate a cause, and not eliminate the effects. If I prevent a man from drinking and becoming an alcoholic, I also prevent him from dying of the liver disease that he would likely die from. By preventing the cause I prevent the effect.
When Jesus redeems and releases a sinner from the power of sin he also delivers him from the effects of sin. This means that the Christian is one who is delivered by his salvation from the great number of sicknesses which are directly related to personal sin. Examples would be such things as syphilis, dope addiction, alcoholism, and many others. Christians still sin, however, and so they still suffer the effects of those sins that they cling to. Much sickness is still related to personal sin, and so there are still many things that Christians can suffer in their bodies and minds do to some weakness in themselves. Christians, for example, died along with non-Christians in the great plagues brought on by poor sewage disposal. Christians still catch all the contagious diseases through no personal sin of their own. Whatever the case, whether the sickness is the result of personal sin, or whether one is the victim of circumstances, James says the church is to minister to their need.
James does just what Jesus did. He relates the victory over sin, and the victory over sickness by using the same word to describe them both. To be cured from an illness is one aspect of salvation. Salvation means to be made whole, and to be kept sound, and this includes the whole man. The word James uses here for being saved from sickness is the same Greek word used for salvation from sin. It is the same word used in Matt. 1:21, "For he shall save his people from their sins." It is the same word used in Matt. 18:11, "For the son of man is come to save that which was lost." When Paul spoke of Jesus coming into the world to save sinners, and when he spoke of his desire to use all means to save some, he used this same word. James uses the word in 1:21 and 5:20 for the saving of the soul.
There is no way to escape the conclusion that to be delivered from sickness is a part of the whole experience of salvation which Jesus provided for His people. Jesus is no half-Savior. He does not save men in part only. He saves the whole man of body, soul, and spirit. Salvation is not complete until there is health, happiness, and holiness. That is why healing was a basic part of the ministry of Christ, and a basic part of the ministry of the early church. The Christian continues to sin, and so Jesus made provision to restore the Christian to health of spirit through forgiveness. The Christian continues to get sick, and so Jesus made provision to restore the Christian to health of body and mind through healing.
The day we no longer need the ministry of forgiveness will be the day we can also dispense with the ministry of healing. When we see that the New Testament concept of salvation includes deliverance from sickness as well as sin, we will cease to limit it to only one aspect of our being. It is natural that we tend to think of salvation as only dealing with the spirit of man, for this is the eternal part of man, and, therefore, the greatest value. The salvation of the eternal soul by faith in Christ is obviously the primary goal of the churches ministry. But James is not writing about evangelism. He is writing about the ministry of the church to those who are already saved, but who have bodies still in bondage to sickness. James is making it clear that the church does not quit when it has achieved its primary goal of winning people to Christ. There are secondary things which are just as important to accomplish after the primary goal has been achieved, as the primary goal was important before it was achieved.
We need to think clearly on this point, for misunderstanding here is the cause for much needless controversy. The question is never, which is most important-winning a person to Christ, or healing their sickness? This is no question at all for debate, for saving a persons eternal spirit is infinitely more important than saving their body from temporal pain. The question is: Which is most important-presenting the whole Gospel of salvation, or just the primary aspect of it? If healing is a part of the salvation of Christ for the total man, then we do not honor Christ by neglecting part of His plan with the excuse that we are stressing the most important part. When the primary is achieved, the secondary then becomes primary. Healing of the body and mind is no longer secondary to the man who is saved from sin, but who is now sick.
When you stand in line waiting to be served, and you are number 33, and the clerk is now on number 4, you are a very secondary customer. When the clerk gets to 32 you begin to have high potential, and when they call 33 you become the primary concern of their business. The secondary becomes primary when the primary is accomplished. We ought never to criticize people for emphasizing the secondary if they have already fulfilled the primary. We would be disgusted with the clerk who insisted on perpetually waiting on customer number 1 even after that customer has been served. First things are first, but second things are also to be second.
Jesus never seemed to worry that His compassion for men's bodies might detract from His concern for their souls. True spirituality is not impractical and mystical, and of no earthly good. True spirituality begins on the level of reality where men are. It applies to the body, to suffering, to frustration, and to the anxieties with which people struggle constantly. The proof of Christianity is in what it does for a man on the level of reality of which he is conscious. When John the Baptist is in prison, and in doubt about Jesus being the Messiah, he sent His disciples to ask Jesus for evidence. Jesus did not send back a lecture on the incarnation or trinity. He said in Matt. 11:4-5, "Go and show John again those things which you hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them." Jesus proved He was the Son of God by action.
The early church followed its Lord, and combined the preaching of the Gospel with the healing of the body, and they turned the world upside down. We are not thinking clearly if we criticize people today for doing what they did. Those in the healing ministry could say to their critics, "Show me your success in primary task of evangelism without healing, and I will show you my success in evangelism with healing." Billy Graham is not in the ministry of healing, but he recognizes that those who have a healing ministry are also a powerful force for evangelism. Many years ago at the World Congress On Evangelism Billy Graham introduced Oral Roberts by saying, "Our prayer is going to be led by a man that I have come to love and appreciate in the ministry of evangelism."
Many people have asked me what I think of Oral Roberts and other healers, and I use to be confused as to what to say because I was not sure what to think. Now I know that it doesn't make any difference what I think. I can think that much looks and sounds fake, and I can feel that it is too emotional, and I will probably continue to do so, but I will do so in the humble recognition that my subjective reactions do not determine the value of someone else's ministry for Christ. The objective facts are that the ministry of healers is often very fruitful for the whole man. Many are brought to Christ, and many are brought to wholeness in the body. The question we need to wrestle with is, do we believe in the total Gospel? Do we believe that Jesus saves from sickness as well as from sin? Do we believe that the church has a continuing ministry to the bodies, minds, and souls of men?
These are important questions, for there was only one thing that hindered the healing ministry of Christ, and that was unbelief. Matt. 13:58 says, "He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief." In spite of all His miracles many did not believe, and so they quenched His power in their midst. Could it be they were offended by the emotions, or the showmanship that seemed to be connected healing. I don't know for sure, but I do know that I do not want to be one to hinder the power of Christ through unbelief. Any critical feelings I have about those who seek to continue the ministry of Christ to the whole man I recognize our subjective feelings, and not based on the objective Word of God. Salvation from sickness, and deliverance from sin is definitely a part of the Gospel, and the ministry of the early church. It is logical that some form of healing ministry should continue to be a part of the church today.