Healing in the Atonement

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The gospel proclaims the way to forgiveness, redemption, right standing with God, and eternal life. The gospel is not a guarantee that earthly suffering will be banished from our experience. Christ does not promise immediate or automatic healing from every earthly affliction. In fact, suffering is a grace by which we are perfected—molded into the perfect likeness of Him who suffered in our place (1 Peter 1:6–7). “It has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Phil. 1:29).

All the while, however we’re promised that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).

That is why no televangelist or self-proclaimed faith healer today can heal people the way Christ and His disciples did. It is not that Christ has changed or that the power of God has somehow diminished. The problem is that the so-called faith healers themselves have misconstrued the gospel and the value of suffering.

The true meaning of the gospel is bound up in an accurate understanding of that famous prophecy in Isaiah 61, which Jesus read aloud in the synagogue in Luke 4:18–19: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”

“The poor” whom He promised to bless are “the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). The “captives” to whom He proclaims liberty are “those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2:15)—meaning those who are in bondage to sin (Rom. 6:17). The “blind” who recover their sight are those who “turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins” (Acts 26:18). And the “oppressed” who are set at liberty are those who were formerly under the oppression of sin and Satan (Acts 10:38).

In other words, what the gospel announces is something that the physical healings merely symbolized; something more vital, more lasting, more momentous, and more real than temporary relief from the pains of earthly affliction. The gospel gives us the only true, abiding remedy for sin and all its guilt and repercussions.

Furthermore, because we gain so many eternal benefits from our earthly sufferings, the mercy that sustains us through our suffering is actually a greater mercy than if God simply erased every trace of hardship or difficulty from our lives. To put it plainly, instant healing would not be as spiritually valuable to us as the all-sufficient grace that cares for us in the midst of our suffering
(2 Cor. 12:9–10). 

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.