Foundation of Faith: God’s Word And His Will

My recent writings have made it clear that I’ve been pursuing a very personal journey of faith building. The reasons that journey became necessary have been covered in what I’ve written recently. (See my testimony posts).

The first part of that journey was surprisingly easy: to find a BIBLICAL foundation establishing God’s will regarding healing. I thought I’d have a harder task than I experienced.

God’s will regarding healing couldn’t have been made more obvious.

It IS His will for His people to live in health.

The importance of that can’t be emphasised enough. By ignoring it, or worse rejecting it, member’s of Christ’s body have been robbed of their health and even their lives, being deceived into thinking there was something noble in suffering sickness; that suffering their illness was for God’s glory.

God gets no glory from His children being hampered by sickness, especially when He’s made it so clear that He wants them healthy and able to serve as workers in His harvest field.

What I’ve written throughout my recent articles hasn’t been intended as a be-all and end-all study of healing.
My intent was to discover the very basic truth of God’s will, not necessarily how we are to obtain healing or how to lead others to healing.
It is futile to venture into the territory of receiving and imparting healing without establishing a foundational understanding of God’s willingness to heal.

Without knowledge of God’s will, anything we pray is merely a shot in the dark, hoping for results that we have no assurance of obtaining. And scripture makes it clear that we need to BELIEVE if we are to receive – vague hopeful prayers don’t have that same guaranteed outcome of receiving “whatever you ask for in prayer”, given to those prayed with BELIEF.

Not only has the church been robbed of health and life, its witness and message have also been compromised. While allowing ourselves to be denied the health God wants His children to “enjoy” – we also deny a very important aspect of the gospel we are supposed to be sharing, in word and deed, with the world.

The ministry of Jesus, the apostles and the early church was not a matter of word only.

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Cor 2) NIV

…our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. (1 Thess 1) NIV

The public preaching of the gospel was almost always accompanied by the healing of the sick.

While the initial motivation for starting this healing journey had a significant personal emphasis – being a literal battle for my own life – the ramifications are significantly broader than my own situation.

 

Choose Life 1: To Live Is Christ (12)

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…

…The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die. (Genesis 2) NIV

God gave Adam a choice between life and death.
Two trees in the middle of the garden. One gave life. The fruit of the other led to death.

God also made it clear that His will was for Adam and Eve to choose life, by His command that they NOT eat the fruit of the tree that would bring them death.

Adam and Eve disobeyed God and chose death instead of life.

Fast forward to the time of Moses, after God freed Israel from the slavery of Egypt.
Just before the surviving Israelites were to enter the Promised Land, Moses gave them a message from God.

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life… (Deuteronomy 30) NIV

Effectively God offered the same choice that He had given to Adam and Eve. Between life and death. Both choices were conditional upon obedience to God.
If they continued in obedience, life was promised.
Disobedience would lead to death.

The purpose of life was relationship with God: to love Him, listen to Him, and hold fast to Him. And HE made HIS will totally clear. He wanted them to choose LIFE, and to choose it NOW.

I find it interesting that God prefaces this promise by calling “the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you” – those last two words seem to clearly indicate that God knew that His chosen people would fail to keep the conditions of the promise, and by doing so choose death and curses. God wanted witnesses when His offer of life and blessings was rejected. Witnesses to attest to the fact that it was the people who had failed, it was not God going back on His word.

I mentioned previously, that although this life or death choice was part of the Old Covenant with Israel, and that Covenant was rendered obsolete by the introduction of a New Covenant – the new is based on better promises, and instead of obedience to a law with hundreds of separate requirements, the new covenant and its better promises are entered and obtained through faith. Through believing in Jesus, trusting Him and His word.

Too often Christians try to distance themselves from promises made under the Old Covenant by pushing them into the next life, as if the New Covenant is all about eternity in heaven, and no longer applicable to life on earth now.

Promises of healing? There will be no sickness and disease in heaven.
Promise of life? We’ll have everlasting life after death.

But the promises of abundant life, and everlasting life do not come with a clause delaying their commencement until after death.
Jesus said “whoever lives by believing in me will never die”. Eternal life begins by living a life of faith NOW, not after death. If we don’t enter eternal life now, it will be too late when we are dead.

There is a reason to desire life and health and its no different to the reason why God has always wanted His people to have them, to the extent that HE commanded the choosing of life.

Now Choose life so that you may live and you may love the Lord your God for the Lord is your life.

Or to put it in NT terms:

To Live is Christ

We are also misled if we look to the post-death healing of our bodies instead of believing for health now when we need it.

Some try to give Isaiah 53: 4-5 a spiritualised interpretation, insisting that any healing mentioned has an entirely spiritual, not physical application. They are aided a little by the English bible translators who used the word “suffering” to translate a word that elsewhere is always rendered as “diseases”;

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed. (NIV)

Compare to the Complete Jewish Bible translation into English

In fact, it was our diseases he bore,
our pains from which he suffered;
yet we regarded him as punished,
stricken and afflicted by God.

But he was wounded because of our crimes,
crushed because of our sins;
the disciplining that makes us whole fell on him,
and by his bruises* we are healed

The latter rendering is later reflected in Matthew’s reference to Isaiah’s prophecy, which makes it clear in more than one way that Isaiah WAS referring to physical, not spiritual healing: not only in the rewording of the prophecy, but also in the events he said the prophecy was fulfilling.

When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
“He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases. (Matt 8)NIV

In my attempt to discover God’s will regarding healing, the finding of a definitive answer was quite easy. Scripture makes His will very plain. We are not left in the dark with nothing to pin our faith to.

God wants His people to be healthy and to live a full life span. His command to choose life (now) is still valid – to enable us to serve Him and to love Him.

I recently read a healing testimony from the early 20th century.
A young man dying from tuberculosis wanted to see his family one last time to say goodbye. Instead he was confronted by a woman who combined selling bibles with preaching the gospel, who told him:

…you are young, you are a Christian, and if you died today, you would go straight to heaven. But I am here to tell you that if you die today it will be the most selfish act you have ever committed. God’s plan is that we should live to be at least three score and ten. What about all the people that God ordained you to reach?

(Christ the Healer, F.F.Bosworth, 2008 ed. Chosen Books p251 – chapter by Bob Bosworth)

He asked the woman to pray for him and was instantly healed. He then lived into his eighties, dying peacefully at home, suffering no sickness, after many decades of preaching the gospel (including healing) all over the world.

I can’t help but compare this testimony to Paul’s conclusion when he considered the alternatives: “to live is Christ, to die is gain”.

I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith. (Philippians 1) NIV

I am convinced that scripture leaves no room for doubt about God’s desire for our health and life. I have to confess how hard it is for me to understand why so many people are not only ignorant of, or doubtful about, but are actually OPPOSED to the thought that healing remains valid, and would therefore reject any suggestion that God actually wants us to be equipped with health and life.

By declining to accept, believe and obey God’s command “Now choose life”, Christians follow the examples of Adam and Eve, and the people of Israel, choosing the alternative to God’s desire to give life and blessings to His people (i.e. death and curses).

Being Transformed: Testimony 9

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12)

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world.”
A simple command, but how seriously is it taken?

Clearly not seriously enough in my case.

We are surrounded by the world. We are in it every day of our lives. Remaining untainted by it is impossible, without taking active measures. We can’t afford to be passive, thinking we’ll remain immune from its effects while casually going with the flow. That’s as likely as staying dry if we are walking into a swimming pool.

While we won’t get noticeably wet at first, (just our feet on the top step), it only needs another step to be taken for our knees to be submerged, and not many more before we find ourselves committed to a full drenching.

Conforming to the pattern of the world is rarely as sudden or intentional as taking a headlong dive into the water. It starts with a dipped toe, then a tentative paddle.

The only prevention is the right kind of change. Transformation. We can’t remain static and expect to escape the effects of the world in which we live.

Paul reveals the MEANS of transformation: the renewal of the mind. Changing the way we think, amending our point of view, to bring us into line with and able to recognise God’s will.

But how do we do that? How is our mind renewed?

Psalm 1 gives a good indication.

Don’t walk in step with the wicked, or stand in the way that sinners take, or sit in the company of mockers, but delight in the law of the Lord, and meditate on it day and night.

Proverbs 4 echoes the Psalmists instructions.

“Do not set foot on the path of the wicked,
or walk in the way of evildoers.

Avoid it, do not travel on it;
turn from it and go on your way.”

And

turn your ear to my words.
Do not let them out of your sight,
keep them within your heart;
for they are life to those who find them
and health to one’s whole body.

But we should not be lulled into the false security that may come with church membership, or the fact we are listening to sermons, or reading Christian books.
While they can sometimes be helpful aids, it is only through a personal connection to God’s word that we’ll get the essential mind-renewal leading to the right kind of transformation.
But it needs more than a regular bible reading plan. Meditating on what is read, BELIEVING it and putting it into action is essential.

Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1) NIV

If we deny ourselves that personal, active involvement with scripture, we will inevitably expose our thinking to unhelpful, even dangerous patterns, that may not necessarily have a worldly appearance or flavour. They may even seem to be spiritual, and be endorsed by your church.

So if we want our lives to conform to truth, we need to choose to love the truth, and not be satisfied with anything less.

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. (John 17) NIV

When to Live is NOT Christ (3): Testimony 8

From my “testimony 7“.

So why has my health failed to such a serious extent?

I allowed far too many other things take priority over obedience to Him and His word.

I prioritised man’s trivia instead of God’s commission.
And the promise of health and a full life is conditional.

Compromise.

It’s a condition that tends to deny its own presence.

I recently came across a statement that seems to get to the heart of the matter in my own life.

“It is essential that we become fascinated, gripped and captivated by the Lord. If not we will struggle with boredom, and our hearts will be vulnerable to pursue other things” (Insurgence by Frank Viola).

Boredom is something I KNOW I suffered. It’s a condition that if treated incorrectly will actually become reinforced and compounded. Remedies are often nothing more than trivial distractions, filling the void with something, anything, to get through the tedium.

I think we all desire purpose, to do something worthwhile in our lives to give some kind of meaning to who we are and what we do. The world increasingly offers alternatives, basically redefining what we understand as having value.

Today our western society revolves around consumption. The whole economic system underpinning society seems to revolve around a thing called “consumer confidence” – what is effectively our ability and willingness to keep spending. Without that confidence national economies struggle. We are encouraged to spend, to accumulate, to buy and replace.

Buy, buy, buy!!!
Consume, consume, consume!!!

More and more the products on offer are transitory, with little (or no) substance: brand names that are all show and no real value;  beauty and grooming services, (I’m always surprised how many manicure places there are in most shopping centres); and entertainment. These days, the latter can be also purchased in a non-material form, all digital, literally having nothing to show for the cost of purchase.

Shopping has become a pastime, a hobby, instead of the way we stock up on life’s necessities. Ongoing, frequent expeditions looking for things to buy, instead of  occasional, planned shopping trips to purchase what is needed at a particular time.

Entertainment (and the purchasing of) became my distraction. Collecting books, DVDs (movies and TV series). Anything to fill those hours after work to avoid taking the drudgery of the office home. Owning them was as much a part of it all as the reading and the watching. Collecting classic Science Fiction films and books: as well as books and DVDs related to military history, crime (fiction and true), literature, Tudor history, Australian history, the space program, astronomy and art…

I wasn’t satisfied with one or two items touching on those topics, I had to have everything I could find. I had to have a complete collection of books or films, many of which remained unread or unwatched as my interest moved to another topic.

Wasted money. Wasted time.
Wasted life.
Pushing aside what was really important.
Increasingly relegating Jesus to the margins of life instead of placing Him at the centre of it.

Of course there were times when He was given priority. In the worst cases that was more out of obligation than anything else, but usually there was a recognition that I needed to do better, needed to seek Him more.
Maintaining this blog always helped to motivate and stimulate my interest, but that by itself was not enough.

I wanted to have that deeper commitment.
I longed for it. But how could I get myself out of the rut I’d been digging?

The answer was simple – but not easy.
It took a medical death sentence to free me from an increasing addiction to the trivial and to seek the only hope I have. The only One I should have been “fascinated, gripped and captivated by” all along.

I will not die but live,
and will proclaim what the Lord has done.

The Lord has chastened me severely,
but he has not given me over to death. (Ps 118)

To Live IS Christ (11). God’s Clearly Stated Will.

In previous posts I’ve tried to address what scripture says about God’s will regarding healing, to see what kind of foundation we have to believe that He wants His people in health.
So far I’ve given mostly New Testament references, however there are many in the Old Testament. Rather than address selections individually, I’ll provide links to several after this post.

However, I consider the quote I give below embraces and confirms everything else that could be said about God’s healing and the physical well-being of His people.

I tried to emphasise, as much as possible (uppercase, bold, italics), what I see as the they key phrase in the quote.

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. NOW CHOOSE LIFE, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life… (Deut 30 19-20)

God starts this section by saying he has set before the people of Israel clear choices.

Life or death.
Blessings or curses.

However He doesn’t merely offer them the choice, then step aside to let them consider it. He continues with a command – HIs choice – HIs will for them.

HE tells them “NOW CHOOSE LIFE”.

Any other choice is NOT God’s will for them. HIS will is NOT the death of His people.

He continues with the reasons why they should choose life:

so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.

He then makes a statement that I understand is echoed in Paul’s later words to the Philippians, that I have used as the theme for this series of posts. “To live is Christ”.

He says: “For the LORD is your life”

Now some might try to dismiss the Deuteronomy quote as being part of the Old Covenant and related to the law given through Moses to the people of Israel, and therefore try to deem it as now irrelevant, outdated or superseded.

But the writer to the Hebrews takes care of those objections when he writes of the superior ministry of both Jesus and the covenant over which He is mediator:

the new covenant is established on better promises.

The New Covenant does not come with lesser promises and assurances than the Old. *

The New Covenant does not deny us the choice of life that God offered (commanded): A life lived to love Him , listening to His voice, and holding fast to Him.

For He IS our life, and to live IS Christ.

NOW CHOOSE LIFE!!!

_____________________________________

*  Also see Romans 10 and compare to the wider context of Deuteronomy 30. This confirms the continuing relevance under the new covenant, through Jesus.

OT healing references.

NOTE:  The context for the following promises include conditions of obedience found in the full reference linked.

Exodus 15:26  “For I AM the LORD who heals you.”

Exodus 23: 25-26  “I will take away disease from among you…I will give you a full life span.”

Deuteronomy 7: 12-15 “The LORD will keep you free from every disease.”

Psalm 91: 14-16  “With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

Psalm 103: 1-3  “Praise the LORD… Who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.”

Psalm 107: 17-21 “He sent out His word and healed them; He rescued them from the grave.”

Proverbs 4: 20-24  “My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body.”

Isaiah 53: 4-5  “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (refer also Matthew 8: 16-17 and 1 Peter 2:24 for confirmation of the continuing relevance of the Isaiah prophecy. Particularly note that Matthew makes it clear it refers to physical healing and not merely a spiritual application as some now insist.)

Psalm 119 has many references to God’s promises of health and life – as an outcome of obedience to His word. (“preserve my life according to your word”,  “Your promise preserves my life”, “give me understanding that I may live”.

To Live IS Christ (9): Testimony 4

What does scripture reveal about God and healing?

More specifically, what does scripture say about God and healing with relevance to my own situation?
That last question is an expression of the very personal nature of my wrestling with the issue on this blog. I’m trying to address commonly expressed ideas about God, healing and sickness that may influence the health outcomes of those desiring and seeking healing.

Ideally, as a Christian of many decades, I should already be well-equipped with that knowledge, but also, AS a Christian of many decades I’m not immune to the effects of church tradition, personal experience and what I’ve witnessed in the lives of other believers.

Often those things can shape our beliefs more than God’s word. Our beliefs and understanding of scripture being defined by church teaching more than what scripture actually says.
And we all know of someone who prayed for healing, who didn’t receive it and died…
Clearly, in my current life or death situation, I can’t afford to let those things dictate my understanding IF they are leading me to accept something different to God’s biblical truth.

If, as Jesus said, I will receive whatever I ask for in prayer, as long as I believe; is it possible for me to have the confidence to believe that He will heal me, fully assured that it’s God’s will?

Where do I start?

What about the New Testament and Jesus’s healing ministry in which He healed everyone who came to Him, no matter what their ailment?

The example of Jesus’s ministry gives no indication that it was ever God’s will NOT to heal the sick, recognising that Jesus only did the will of His Father.

Surely that should be encouraging?

So why do we so often make excuses and try to find reasons to justify ongoing sickness? Why do we cling to church traditions ranging from cessationism through to other less dismissive theologies that accept the possibility of healing in principle, but rarely expect it in practice?

In many of the individual cases of healing mentioned in the gospels, reference was made to the faith of those seeking it, with Jesus commending their faith and crediting the healing to their faith.
The only time it’s mentioned that Jesus was unable to heal, it is explained by the lack of faith.

When Jesus was ministering, when there was faith there was healing. But no faith led to no miracles. Even Jesus’s faith didn’t over-rule the unbelief of others.

To what degree have our views of healing been affected by a lack of confident expectation of the desired outcome?
And what is the cause of that lack of confidence?
Surely it’s not because of anything in scripture?

Do we get offended if it’s suggested our faith is lacking? And yet, how can we insist we have faith if our expectations are based on anything (church teaching, personal experience, what has happened to others) other than God’s word?

And how can we think we’ve asked for healing in faith, when we haven’t been convinced that our healing is His will?

To Live IS Christ (7): Testimony 2

I readily recognise that MY life as a Christian has too often been one of compromise.  Becoming complacent in one’s faith is very easy, and if left unchecked will have an increasing eroding effect. I refer again to Jesus’s example of the seed (word) that sprouts among weeds. Growth may start healthily, and might even maintain a pleasing leafy appearance, but the required outcome of bearing fruit is choked by competing with the weeds and thorns.

Therefore I am thankful that God DOESN’T “act in terrible judgement” upon believers because of their understanding about particular Spiritual gifts, or a genre of fiction they may have read, or even if they haven’t read as much scripture as they could have (should have) done.
I’m sure if He did there would be few of us left to follow Him.

I have no doubt the majority of professing believers fall short in one way or another in their spiritual lives, even those who consistently read their three to four chapters of bible per day to maintain their “read the bible in a year” quota.
After all, it doesn’t matter how much bible is read – but how much of what’s read is put into practice.

I’ve been reading Psalm 119 daily, and that psalm would challenge even the most diligent reader of scripture, making it clear that obedience to the word is essential, not merely hearing (reading) it, and that obedience to the word is made evident through changed character.

While my original delay in addressing all of this on my blog was due to my reluctance “to justify (and reinforce) the wrong thinking” of the man who sent me the previously mentioned email, I realised I can not allow my journey back to health to be hindered by unforgiveness. Whether or not my situation leads to him falling deeper into error is beyond my control. I can only be accountable for my own forgiveness of him.

I recognise he had a concern for my well-being, but was misguided in his attitude and action. Maybe one day he will realise that.
Hopefully soon, before he unwittingly damages a fragile believer’s faith and/or further compromises his own.

But to the present, and the road ahead…

After being given what is basically a death sentence by the medical profession, I have a much appreciated freedom that removes room for compromise or wavering in my faith. I am literally facing a life or death situation.
I have nothing to lose. No reputation to worry about, so what does it matter how others may think of me? I now don’t hesitate to let everyone know that my trust is in God, and that it can ONLY be in Him.

Chemotherapy has made it necessary for me to take leave from work for the six months of treatment, and the medical prognosis indicates little likelihood of me being able to return after it. While the treatment offers no cure, it does give me free time.

It’s time I intend to use well, and it’s time I have started to use well, to build and strengthen my faith in God and see Him prove the medical experts wrong.