If I can be totally honest, I’m weary of the Prosperity Gospel of “name it and claim it.” I’ve listened to its preachers (none of whom seem to be poor) and seen the empty promises (many who follow them have little to show for their “faith” in this so-called gospel).
Countless stories can be found of people who planted a seed faith gift but still ended up losing their homes or their battle with cancer. The promises of the Prosperity Gospel are at best a shallow stirring of a soulish faith. They lack the depth of good biblical exegesis or the application of verses and promises in context.
Recently Gloria Copeland commented on this horrific flu outbreak in America. (As of this writing, nearly 100 children are dead from this strain of the flu.) Copeland said, “Jesus redeemed us from the curse of the flu. . . . So get on the word, stay on the word. . . . Just keep saying ‘I’ll never have the flu. I’ll never have the flu. Inoculate yourself with the Word of God.”
I’m all for people being in the Word. I’m not for people holding God hostage with their interpretation of the Word. Let’s look at the catch-all verse the prosperity preachers love to quote.
“But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well‑being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)
In Matthew 8:14-17, there is an application of Isaiah 53:4 in regards to the healing ministry of Jesus. This verse in Isaiah doesn’t say that there is healing in the atonement. No student of the Hebrew or Greek languages would imply that these verses teach any or all of us have a right to be healed.
All of us were born to die. When sin entered the world, death entered. Death is the door to eternity. Age, decay of the body, disease, and sickness are the result of living in a fallen world. As Warren Wiersbe says of Isaiah 53:4-6, “The prophecy was fulfilled during our Lord’s life, not His death.” His healings were a sign of Him being the Messiah.
You also can’t overlook that all the pronouns in these verses are plural. Every word regarding Jesus from His being wounded, chastened, scourged, and chastened have to do with the cross and what Jesus did to pay the price for sin. Again, let me refer to Warren Wiersbe, one of the most balanced, biblical teachers I’ve ever known. “The ‘healing’ in Isaiah 53:5 refers to the forgiveness of sins, not the healing of the body (1 Peter 2:24; Psalm 103:3). Sin is not only like a burden, but it is also like a sickness that only God can cure (Isaiah 1:4‑6; Jeremiah 30:12; Nahum 3:19).”
Recently Jim Denison wrote an outstanding blog on this subject. In his Denison Forum: News Discerned Differently, he quotes one commentator as saying “Jesus’ wounds are the means of healing believers’ spiritual wounds in salvation.”
“And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” (1 Peter 2:24) The wounds are the wounds of sin. As the body of Christ was wounded, we are healed from sin. We see salvation in terms of healing. Often, when we see Jesus healing, we also see Him saying something to the effect of “Go and sin no more” or “Your sins are forgiven.” Everything about what Isaiah says and what Peter says in this first epistle points to forgiveness of sin.
The Life Application Commentary series notes, “Our evil desires, our bondage to sin, and our love of sin died with Christ on the cross. This is called substitutionary atonement. Jesus died as our substitute; His wounds have healed ours.” One day, we will have new bodies. There will be no more sickness, pain, or death. Until then, the reality is that no matter what a preacher may promise you, they aren’t being true to Scripture if they say healing is in the atonement.
Some of the greatest people of God I’ve ever known have experienced serious suffering. Manley Beasley was the greatest man of faith I ever knew, yet He suffered for decades with serious and painful diseases. Ron Dunn died of a serious condition for which there was no cure. Both of those men died at a relatively young age, and thousands of people were praying for them. Was it that we all lacked faith? No. Was it that we didn’t believe the Word of God? No. Was it that we didn’t believe God can heal? Absolutely not. Any believer can testify to God’s miraculous healing of someone, maybe even themselves. But that’s not a promise of the atonement.
Most of the disciples were martyred. Did they not have enough faith to pray the devil away? I don’t think you want to go there. Many of the leaders of the Reformation suffered greatly and some died as martyrs. Are we to say that today’s prosperity preacher has more faith than Tyndale, Knox, Luther, and countless others?
Thousands of believers suffered in concentration camps during WWII. Because of their confinement and deplorable conditions, many of them died of disease. Eric Liddell, the great Scotsman who was made famous in the film Chariots of Fire died in a prison camp. Did he not have enough faith? Don’t go there.
Today, more Christians are dying under the hand of persecution than at any time in the last 2,000 years. Maybe they just need to plant a seed faith gift, buy some anointing oil, put their hand on the TV, name it and claim it. It must be that they lack faith…at least that’s the only explanation if you buy the lie of the health and wealth preachers.
Again, quoting Denison, “Jesus is still the Great Physician. Of our Lord’s thirty-seven recorded miracles, twenty-eight involved physical healing.” But, as he says, “Miraculous healing and medical practice are companions, not competitors.”
Paul had Doctor Luke. I guess it’s okay for me to pray and also make regular doctor’s appointments. Those who do are in company with Paul who needed a physician traveling with him to keep going. Again, in case you haven’t figured it out, I don’t believe “by His stripes we are healed” is about the flu or any other illness or disease.
All of the promises of God are given in a context. Many of the promises made to Israel are not blanket promises for the church. There are old and new promises. There are eternal promises that bridge time and space. We make the mistake when we think God is our servant, a heavenly bellboy who has to jump on command and give us what we want, regardless of whether it glorifies His name or not.
I’ve been studying a great deal in John 14-17 in preparation for a new sermon series. The magnitude of the commands and promises Jesus makes on the last night before His crucifixion is mind-blowing. Let’s just take one for now – “whatever you ask in My name” or “if you ask anything in My name.” Jesus repeats this in some form or another six times that night. Praying in His name is not a magic phrase that puts God at our disposal. It’s not a code word to get to the “next level.”
Literally, it means to pray by the authority of Jesus. A prayer that Jesus would pray if He were here right now. A prayer that would expand the kingdom and give glory to the Father. To pray in the name of Jesus is to embrace who He is, what He has done, and what He has left us here to do. To pray in the name of Jesus is an acknowledgment of lordship. He is Lord of my life, my dreams, my goals, my family…and, yes, He needs to be Lord of my prayer list. The question comes as we pray: can we hear Jesus saying amen to what we are praying about?
Ron Dunn writes, “To pray in the name of Jesus, then, is to pray according to His will, with His approval, and consistent with His nature, character, and purpose. Therefore, it is as though Jesus Himself were making the request. Every petition is formed within the context of these provisions: 1) the will of God; 2) the name of Jesus; 3) the glory of God. When my motive for asking is the same as His for answering, I’m on praying ground.”
I believe we fail to find answered prayers because we are often selfish, because we have mixed motives, and most often because we just don’t pray. Most of our praying is, unfortunately, for the physical rather than the spiritual. We’d rather pray for an ingrown toenail than for a lost world. We want God to send us money, but when we get it, we never tithe or give as God prospers us for the expansion of his kingdom.
I’m asking God for big things. I’m asking for power to preach the Word. I’m asking for revival in our church and awakening in our land. I’m praying for church planters who are on the front lines taking the light of the gospel into the dark cities of our nation. I want to learn to pray big prayers to an omnipotent God who longs to show Himself strong. The compassionate God who calls us to call on Him so He can show us great and mighty things. The God who is a Father who can do exceedingly, abundantly beyond what we can hope or imagine. I’m afraid that when we get to heaven, we will find that God has so much more that He longed to do, but we didn’t pray and cry out to Him for the things that Jesus died for.
To close, I’ll quote my mentor Vance Havner. Vance wrote nearly thirty books and was a prophetic voice in the 20th century. He often preached on revival and the obvious lack of spiritual power in the church. “Today we are afraid to prove God. We borrow the world’s program and pep and propaganda and paraphernalia and personnel. But from the world, we cannot borrow power, the power that works the words of God. Our efficiency turns out to be deficiency unless we have His sufficiency.” (Hearts Afire, p. 132).
Let’s prove God in our praying. Not for healing, but for power to draw a lost world to the Savior. Not for the flu, but for faith to embrace the promises of God.