Is it necessary for us to have faith that God will heal us of a specific illness in order for us to be healed of it? Many people believe this to be so. They’ve gotten sick, prayed for healing, maybe even had the prayer team anoint and pray for them, but they’re still sick. What do they conclude? Often it’s, “I guess I didn’t have faith.”
A contemporary teaching that reinforces this belief is called “Positive Confession” (popularly called “Name it, claim it”). It comes with the corollary that we must have absolute faith that we will be healed with no doubt whatsoever. We are instructed to “claim” our healing, and if we have “enough” faith we will get the healing we’ve claimed. If we do not receive our healing, it’s our fault. We didn’t have enough faith. With this comes the implication that one is an immature or weak believer for not having enough faith to be healed.
Why is this a wrong understanding of healing?
1. There is no divine sovereignty in this teaching. I believe that God is on the side of healing. Fully 18% of the four gospels is about Jesus healing the sick. But sometimes it is not God’s will — immediate or ever — to heal, whether through medicine or divine action.
Paul mentioned how he left Trophimus ill at Miletus without any negative comment about Trophimus’ spiritual life (2 Timothy 4:20) or Paul’s own faith.
Jesus mentioned “illness unto death,” implying that sometimes people get sick and die, not because they lack (enough) faith to be healed but because until He returns at His Second Coming we are all subject to death (John 11:4). For many people illness immediately precedes that death.
It’s not wrong to ask God for healing. Sometimes we do not receive a blessing from God because we do not ask Him for one (see James 4:2). But in the loving wisdom of God, sometimes God answers our prayers by saying, “No,” or “Not yet.” I’ve been told by a number of people over the years they would have never “looked up” (to God) had they not been first flat on their back for some period of time.
Jesus didn’t “claim” deliverance from the pain of the Cross. He certainly did not want this agonizing way of death and asked His Father if it could be avoided. But His Father was (and is) sovereign, so Jesus added, “. . . nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39).
2. There is no grace in this teaching. Grace means unmerited favor, something God gives us because He is love, not because we are deserving. But “Positive Confession for Healing” means we get healed to the degree we are able to believe for it. Not enough belief, no healing. But haven’t we all experienced God blessing us far beyond what we deserve? Of course! It’s grace. As we will see later in this article, many people in New Testament times were healed because of God’s grace, not because of their faith.
Moreover, it isn’t the amount of faith that is at issue, but in whom our faith is placed. Jesus spoke of faith as tiny as a mustard seed (Matthew 17:20). We do not need to have great faith in God but rather faith in God Who is great. Faith means trust. To think, “I don’t know what God is going to do with my illness, but I trust Him with my life” does not deny faith but rather affirms it.
3. This teaching is cruel. Our spiritual life is not always at its best when we are hurting. In those moments we’re scared and confused. We may not be able to summon up great faith to believe God will right now sovereignly heal us. We’re more likely to cry out, “Help, God!” wondering if He will.
If Positive Confession teaching is true and one is not healed because he doesn’t have enough faith, now a person has two problems — the illness is still present and he has been told he’s a substandard believer. To say to sick people, “You’re not healed because you didn’t believe hard enough,” is kicking people when they’re down. Even if there’s some truth to this teaching, isn’t our job lovingly to help that person grow in faith, not to rub someone’s nose in his lack of faith?
4. It is not the whole counsel of God regarding healing. The four Gospels give us at least two dozen stories of healing in which details are supplied. They fall into three categories: those whom Jesus heals in response to the faith of the sick person, those whom Jesus heals in response to the faith of others (and not the sick person), and those instances where Jesus heals sovereignly. Let’s take a look at examples of each of these categories.
EXAMPLES OF FAITH ON THE PART OF SICK PERSONS
Either the faith of the sick person is stated explicitly or is evidenced in sick people calling out to or coming up to Jesus, probably seeking a healing. Five examples from Matthew:
1. Matthew 8:1-4, a leper. “. . . a leper came to Him and knelt before Him, saying, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.’”
2. Matthew 9:20-22, the woman with a hemorrhage. “. . . she said to herself, ‘If I only touch His garment, I shall be made well.’ Jesus turned, and seeing her He said, ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’”
3. Matthew 9:27-30, two blind men. “And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed Him, crying aloud, ‘Have mercy on us, Son of David.’ When He entered the house, the blind men came to Him; and Jesus said to them, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this? ‘ They said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord.’ Then He touched their eyes, saying, ‘According to your faith be it done to you.’”
4. Matthew 20:29-34, two blind men near Jericho. “. . . Two blind men sitting by the roadside, when they heard that Jesus was passing by, cried out, ‘Have mercy on us, Son of David.’ . . . And Jesus stopped and called them, saying, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord, let our eyes be opened.’”
5. Matthew 21:14, blind and lame people. “And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them.”
If these were the only Gospel accounts of healing, we might conclude that it is necessary to have faith in Jesus to heal in order to receive a healing. But, no, there are other Gospel healing stories where a sick person’s faith is not mentioned.
EXAMPLES OF THE FAITH OF OTHER PEOPLE ON BEHALF OF A SICK PERSON
There are several examples where faith in Jesus for healing is present, but it is not the faith of the sick person him or herself ; rather, the faith of another person or persons. Let’s look at some examples, again, from the Gospel of Matthew. In each of the examples listed, I have added italics to highlight who it was who had faith.
1. Matthew 8:5-13, a servant of a centurion was healed because of the faith of the centurion. The centurion said to Jesus, “‘. . . only say the word, and my servant will be healed’” (verse 8). “When Jesus heard him” [the centurion], Jesus noted “‘. . . not even in Israel have I found such faith” (verse 10).
2. Matthew 9:2-8, a paralytic was healed after his friends brought him to Jesus. Note especially, verse 2, “. . . When Jesus saw their faith . . . .”
3. Matthew 9:18-19, 23-25, a young girl was healed in response to the faith of a ruler (Luke 8:41 tells us his name was Jairus). He said to Jesus, “. . . come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.”
4. Matthew 15:22-28, the daughter of a Canaanite woman was healed in response to the mother’s faith. “Then Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith!’” (verse 28).
5. Matthew 17:14-18, a man humbly asks Jesus to heal his epileptic and demoniac son.
EXAMPLES OF NO FAITH BEING MENTIONED. JESUS HEALED SOVEREIGNLY
Jesus noted the need for healing and simply chose to heal with no faith mentioned on the part of the sick person or the sick person’s friend(s). Once again, all references are from Matthew.
1. Matthew 8:14-15, Jesus entered Peter’s house, saw Peter’s mother-in-law sick with a fever, and healed her.
2. Matthew 12:9-13, Jesus was in a synagogue, being challenged by those wishing to accuse Him. In order to demonstrate it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath, Jesus told a man to stretch out his withered hand. Jesus healed him.
3. Matthew 14:13-14, Jesus saw a great throng of people. “. . . He had compassion on them, and healed their sick.”
4. Matthew 4:23, 9:35, 12:15 all speak to Jesus healing numbers of people where neither the faith of the sick people nor that of others on their behalf is mentioned.
First, I am not saying faith is unimportant. Without faith in Christ as Lord and Savior one cannot be saved. Without faith it is not possible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). We can block God’s activity by erecting barriers. Jesus “did not do many mighty works [amidst the people of His home town of Nazareth], because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58).
If we do not believe both that God hears and responds to our prayers and that God works sovereignly to heal today, we won’t pray for healing. But then how would God answer a prayer that is never prayed? Why would a person go to a healing service or ask others to pray for him if the conclusion is that it’s a waste of time? Yes, faith is important, for so many reasons.
What I am trying to say is that we should not tie ourselves up in knots wondering if we have enough faith, especially when, because of sickness, we’re not at our best level of discipleship. Instead, we say with the father of the demoniac boy, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).
We can ask others to pray with and for us even if our attitude is, “Right now I don’t have a lot of faith for God to heal me but I wish He would. Would you stand with me in prayer, please?” Revelation 1:6 tells us Christian believers are a kingdom of priests (see also 1 Peter 2:5 and 2:9). A priest is an intercessor, one who, as it were, holds God with one hand and another person with the other. We can be helped by the prayers of others. And don’t neglect your privilege and responsibility to pray for others.
I am also saying, don’t worry if your faith isn’t as strong as it could be. A special, 100% certain level of faith is a gift of God (1 Corinthians 12:9), not something we can talk ourselves into or work ourselves up emotionally into. Faith doesn’t require 100% certainly God is going to cure my disease right now (although praise God when He gives us that certainty as a gift). Rather, faith is trusting ourselves to God for the outcome — always right and good — that God chooses. To say, “I trust you with the details of my life, O God” is the ultimate of faith statements. +