from The Beginner's Guide To Spiritual Gifts by Sam Storms
The Gift Of Faith
Before I say [anything] about healing, a few words about the gift of faith are in order. Although the New Testament has much to say about faith in general, it doesn’t explicitly refer to the charisma, or gift, of faith outside this passage in 1 Corinthians 12. Therefore, the best way to identify and define the nature of this gift is to look briefly at how faith is portrayed elsewhere. Generally speaking, the New Testament mentions three kinds of faith or, better still, three distinct contexts or circumstances in which faith is exercised. Although not original with me, I will use the terminology that many have found helpful and distinguish between conversion faith, continuing faith and charismatic faith.
Conversion faith is the faith through which we are justified. This is the faith identified in Scripture as that trust or confidence or belief in the atoning sacrifice of Christ that occurs at the moment of conversion. This is the faith Paul referred to in Ephesians 2:8-9: “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (see also Rom. 1:16-17; 3:28; 5:1). Unlike the charisma of faith, which is restricted to those believers to whom the Spirit wills to give it (see 1 Cor. 12:11), every Christian has this kind of faith.
Continuing faith is the faith we exercise daily as we look confidently to God to do in and through our lives all that He has promised to do. This is the faith that is one of the fruit of the Spirit (see Gal. 5:22). This is the faith of Hebrews 11 (compare with 1 Pet. 1:8 and others). All believers have this faith, but in varying degrees of intensity. Some are more and others less confident in the goodness and greatness of God throughout the course of daily life.
Charismatic faith is the faith, noted in several texts, that appears to be spontaneous and functions as the divinely enabled condition on which the more overtly supernatural activities of God are suspended. This, I believe, is the “gift of faith” in 1 Corinthians 12:9. Consider these possible examples of the gift of faith:
And Jesus answered saying to them, “Have faith in God. Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it shall be granted him. Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they shall be granted you” (Mark 11:22-24; see also Matt. 17:20-21; 21:21-22).
If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing (1 Cor. 13:2). And the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him (Jas. 5:15).
Charismatic faith, or the gift of faith, like the other charismata, is not given to every member of the Body of Christ. However, it would appear that any member of the Body of Christ is a potential candidate for the experience of this manifestation of the Spirit. The gift of faith should probably be regarded, more so than most other gifts of the Spirit, as occasional or spontaneous rather than permanent or residential.
This is a special faith that “enables a believer to trust God to bring about certain things for which he or she cannot claim some divine promise recorded in Scripture, or some state of affairs grounded in the very structure of the gospel.”1 In other words, it is the “God-given ability, without fakery or platitudinous exhortations, to believe what you do not really believe, to trust God for a certain blessing not promised in Scripture.”2
The gift of faith is that mysterious surge of confidence that rises within a person in a particular situation of need or challenge and which gives an extraordinary certainty and assurance that God is about to act through a word or an action.
Linking Faith And Healing
I believe that there is a close connection between gifts of healings (as well as the gift of miracles) and the gift of faith, which immediately precedes them in Paul’s list of the charismata.
The role of faith in healing is crucial, and it is manifest in a number of ways. On occasion, the faith of the person needing healing is instrumental (see Matt. 9:22); while at other times it is the faith of a friend or family member (see Matt. 15:28; Mark 2:5,11). Sometimes the focus is on the faith of the person praying for the one who needs healing (see Mark 9:17-24); and on certain occasions, faith apparently plays no part at all in the healing (see John 5:1-9; indeed, in the Gospel of John, faith is never mentioned as a condition for healing; see also Matt. 8:14). The point is that on some occasions, God simply heals by a sovereign act of His will unrelated to anything in us. However, in the vast majority of cases, Jesus healed people because of someone’s faith.
In the case of both Jairus and the woman suffering from bleeding (see Mark 5), faith was directed toward Jesus as an expression of need. Again, in Luke 17:11-19, Jesus healed 10 lepers. When one returned to say thanks, Jesus said, “Your faith has made you well” (v. 19). When Bartimaeus asked Jesus to heal him of his blindness, Jesus said, “Go … your faith has healed you” (Mark 10:52, NIV). In the famous story of the paralytic being lowered through the roof, Jesus healed the man when He saw that the man’s friends had faith (see Mark 2:5).
Five Kinds Of Faith For Healing
I believe that faith for healing operates at any one of five levels. There is, first of all, faith that God is your sole source for blessing, that He is your hope, and He alone (see Ps. 33:18-22; 147:10-11). Why did Jesus emphasize faith? Neither He nor His Father needs it. They could have orchestrated life such that something other than faith would be the condition on which they would heal. They are not hampered or hindered by the faithlessness or prayerlessness of the sick person or those who pray for his or her healing. The reason is this: Faith glorifies God. Faith points us away from ourselves to Him. Faith turns us away from our own power and resources to His. Faith says, “Lord, I am nothing, and You are everything. I entrust myself to Your care. I cling to You alone. My confidence is in Your word and character no matter what happens.”
Faith is not a weapon by which we demand things from God or put Him in subjection to us. Faith is an act of self-denial. Faith is a renunciation of one’s ability to do anything and a confession that God can do everything. Faith derives its power not from the spiritual energy of the person who believes but from the supernatural efficacy of the object of belief—God! It is not faith’s act but its object that accounts for the miraculous.
Second, there is faith in God’s ability to heal. Jesus took special delight in healing those who trusted in His power, people who were open and receptive to His power to perform a mighty work. In Matthew 9:28-29 Jesus asked the two blind men only if they believed He was able to heal them. He wanted to find out what they thought about Him, whether or not they trusted His ability. “Yes, Lord,” came their response. Jesus replied, “It shall be done to you according to your faith” (v. 29), and they were instantly healed. Jesus regarded their confidence in His power to help them as “faith” and dealt mercifully with them on that basis.
“Jesus, I believe You are able to heal me” is the kind of faith that pleases Him. I can almost hear Jesus say, “Yes! I was waiting to hear you say that. It’s important to Me that you truly believe that I am capable of doing this.” The leper in Matthew 8:2 said to Jesus, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” The leper didn’t question Christ’s ability. He trusted that completely. He did have doubts about the willingness of Jesus to do it. But Jesus didn’t rebuke him for such doubts, as if it were a shortcoming in his faith that might jeopardize his healing. He healed him because of the leper’s confidence that He could do it.
As we already noted, the hemorrhaging woman was healed when she simply touched Jesus’ garment. “Your faith has healed you” (Mark 5:34, NIV), said Jesus. In other words, “What I enjoy and respond to is your simple confidence and trust in My ability to make a difference in your life.”
Third, there is faith in God’s heart for healing. This is faith in God’s goodness and His desire to bless His children (see Ps. 103; Luke 11:11-13). This is faith or belief or confidence that it is God’s character to build up, not tear down; to bring unity, not division; to create wholeness and completeness, not disintegration and disarray. Every time Jesus healed, we catch a glimpse into His heart. Healing is a window into the soul of our Savior; it reveals the depth of His care and compassion for people. People came to Jesus for healing because they knew they would find in Him someone who would understand their pain, their frustration, their grief, their confusion. Their healing flowed out of their personal encounter with a caring, loving person. Jesus embodied for them concern, compassion and power.
Fourth, there is the faith not simply that God can heal, not simply that God delights to heal, but faith that God does heal. This is the faith that healing is part of God’s purpose and plan for His people today. You can believe that God is able to heal and that He delights to heal and still not believe that healing is for the Church today. For example, I believe that God is able to make manna fall from heaven to feed His people. I believe that God delights in providing food for His people; He doesn’t want them to go hungry or to starve. But I do not have faith that God does, in fact, intend to send manna from heaven as a means of providing for our physical needs. Therefore, I will not spend time praying that He do so.
Fifth and finally, there is the faith that it is His will to heal right now. I have in mind the psychological certainty that healing is what God is, in fact, going to do now. This is probably more of what Paul had in mind when he spoke of the gift of faith, in 1 Corinthians 12:9. It may also be what James referred to as “the prayer offered in faith” (Jas. 5:15).
The prayer of faith isn’t one that we pray whenever we want to. It is a unique prayer, divinely energized only on those occasions when it is God’s sovereign purpose to impart a gift for healing. James was careful to place the definite article “the“ before both prayer and faith (hence, “the prayer of the faith”). One prays this prayer only when prompted by the Spirit-wrought conviction that God intends to heal the one for whom prayer is being offered. This is more than merely believing that God is able to heal; this appears to be faith that He, in this particular case, is not only willing to heal, but is also willing to heal right now. God sovereignly bestows this faith necessary for healing only when He wills. When God chooses to heal, He produces in the heart(s) of those praying the faith or confidence that healing is precisely His intent. The particular kind of faith to which James refers, in response to which God heals, is not the kind that we may exercise at our will. It is the kind of faith that we exercise only when God wills.
One Sunday, a couple came to me before the service and asked that the elders of our church anoint their infant son and pray for his healing. After the service, we gathered in the back room and I anointed him with oil. He was only two weeks old and had been diagnosed with a serious liver disorder that could require immediate surgery, perhaps even a transplant, if something didn’t change. As we prayed, something very unusual happened.
As we laid hands on this young child, I found myself suddenly filled with an overwhelming and inescapable confidence that he would be healed. It was totally unexpected. Not wanting to be presumptuous, I tried to doubt but couldn’t. I prayed confidently, filled with a faith unshakeable and undeniable. I said silently to God, Lord, You really are going to heal him. Although the family left the room unsure, I was absolutely certain God had healed him. The next morning, the doctor agreed. The baby was totally healed and is a healthy, happy young man today. (You can read his mother’s account of this incident at the end of this chapter.)
If this were an example of the gift of faith working in conjunction with a gift of healing, there is no reason to think that had I prayed for another afflicted infant boy that day he would necessarily have been healed. The fact that I received a gift for healing on this one occasion did not guarantee that I could pray with equal success on some other occasion.
Let me make three additional comments about this passage in James 5. First, James made several key points about the relationship of sickness to sin in verse 15. He wrote, “The prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he [the sick man] has committed sins, they will be forgiven him” (v. 15, emphasis added). James is in harmony with Jesus (see John 9:1-3) and Paul (see 2 Cor. 12:1-10) that not all sickness is the direct result of sin. Sometimes it is (see 1 Cor. 11:27-30; Mark 2:1-12), but not always. The “if” in verse 15 is not designed to suggest that the one who is sick may never have sinned. The meaning is that if God should heal him in answer to prayer, this indicates that any sins of the sufferer, which might have been responsible for this particular illness, were forgiven. In other words, if sin were responsible for his sickness, the fact that God healed him physically would be evidence that God had forgiven him spiritually.
Second, the sin James had in mind may have been that of bitterness, resentment, jealousy, anger or unforgiveness in our relationships with one another, or conceivably any number of sins we may have committed against God. Hence, James advised us to “confess [our] sins to one another” (Jas. 5:16). He probably had in mind either confessing to the person against whom you have sinned or confessing to another believer your more general transgressions, or violations, of biblical laws. What this tells us is that God has chosen to suspend healing mercy on the repentance of His people. When the hurting don’t get healed, it may be a result of stubbornness and spiritual insensitivity more than because “God doesn’t do that sort of thing anymore.”
Finally, we should take careful note of the example of Elijah (see Jas. 5:17-18). The argument has been made by cessationists that biblical miracles were clustered, or concentrated, in only three major periods of history: the days of Moses and Joshua; the time of Elijah and Elisha; and the time of Christ and the apostles. The point of this argument is that Elijah and Elisha, for example, were special, extraordinary, unique individuals who cannot serve as models for us when we pray.3
But James said precisely the opposite! The point of verses 17-18 is to counter the argument that Elijah was somehow unique or that because of the period in which he lived he could pray with miraculous success, but we cannot. James wanted readers to know that Elijah was just like you and me. He was a human being with weaknesses, fears, doubts, failures—no less than we. In other words, James said, “Don’t let anyone tell you Elijah was in a class by himself. He wasn’t. He’s just like you. You are just like him. Therefore, pray like he did!”
Don’t forget the context: James appealed to the example of Elijah to encourage us when we pray for the sick! The point is that we should pray for miraculous healing with the same faith and expectation with which Elijah prayed for the end of a three-year drought.
The (?) Gift Of Healing
This brings us back to my earlier assertion that there is no such thing as the gift of healing. I said this both because of the way Paul described this spiritual phenomenon and the misconceptions surrounding it. The significant point about 1 Corinthians 12:9,28 is that both gift and healing are plural and lack the definite article, hence the translation: “gifts of healings.” Evidently, Paul did not envision that a person would be endowed with one healing gift operative at all times for all diseases. His language suggests either many different gifts or powers of healing, each appropriate to and effective for its related illness, or each occurrence of healing constituting a distinct gift in its own right.
I’ve had the opportunity on numerous occasions to meet people who have what appears to be a healing anointing for one particular affliction. Some are able to pray more effectively for those with back problems, while others see more success when praying for migraine headaches. This may be what Paul had in mind when he spoke of “gifts of healings.”
One of the principal obstacles to a proper understanding of healing is the erroneous assumption that if anyone could ever heal, he could always heal. But in view of the lingering illness of Epaphroditus (see Phil. 2:25-30), Timothy (see 1 Tim. 5:23), Trophimus (see 2 Tim. 4:20), and perhaps Paul himself (see 2 Cor. 12:7-10; Gal. 4:13), it is better to view this gift as subject to the will of God, not the will of people. Therefore, a person may be gifted to heal many people, but not all. Another may be gifted to heal only one person at one particular time of one particular disease.
When asked to pray for the sick, people are often heard to respond: “I can’t. I don’t have the gift of healing.” But if my reading of Paul is correct, there is no such thing as the gift of healing, especially if it is envisioned as a God-given ability to heal everyone of every disease on every occasion. Rather, the Spirit sovereignly distributes a charisma of healing for a particular occasion, even though previous prayers for physical restoration under similar circumstances may not have been answered, and even though subsequent prayers for the same affliction may not be answered. In sum, “gifts of healings” are occasional and subject to the sovereign purposes of God.
Few doubt that Paul had a gift for healing, but his prayers for Epaphroditus weren’t answered, at least not at first (see Phil. 2:25-30). Clearly, Paul could not heal at will. Aside from Jesus, no one else could either! And there is doubt if even Jesus could (see John 5:19; Mark 6:5-6). Some would conclude from Paul’s failure to heal his friend that the gift of healing was dying out at this juncture in the life of the Church (in spite of the fact that late in his ministry, in Acts 28:9, Paul healed everyone on the island of Malta who came to him).
It seems better to conclude that healing, whenever and wherever it occurred, was subject not to the will of man, but to the will of God. No one, not even Paul, could always heal all diseases. Paul understood the occasional nature of gifts of healings. If Paul was distressed that Epaphroditus was ill, almost unto death, and that initially his prayers for him were ineffective, I doubt seriously if the apostle would have drawn the same conclusions that modern cessationists do.
The fact that healing is an expression of divine mercy (see Phil. 2:27) means that it should never be viewed as a right. Healing is not the payment of a debt. God does not owe us healing. We don’t deserve healing. I believe we should have faith for healing. But there is a vast difference between faith in divine mercy and presumption based on an alleged right.
The word “mercy” is the same one used in the gospels to describe why Jesus healed people while He was on the earth. God’s motive for healing hasn’t changed! The primary reason God healed through Jesus prior to Pentecost was because He is a merciful, compassionate God. And the primary reason God continues to heal after Pentecost is because He is a merciful, compassionate God. God is no less merciful, no less compassionate, no less caring when it comes to the physical condition of His people after Pentecost than He was before Pentecost.”
Let me close with several important observations that I hope will encourage you to take your hands out of your pockets, fix your faith on the grace and power of God, and pray regularly for the sick. First, healing and health are always portrayed in Scripture as the blessing of God. Nowhere in the Bible does God promise sickness or disease as blessings for His obedient children. While it is true that God can use sickness to discipline and instruct us (see Pss. 6:2-3,6-7; 32:1-7; 38; 41:1-4; 88:1-9,15-18; 102:1-5,8-11; 119:67,71,75), sickness in and of itself is never portrayed as good.
Second, whereas all sickness is suffering, not all suffering is sickness. Jesus promised that all who follow Him would suffer persecution, slander, rejection and oppression. But He never said that about sickness. Nowhere in the Bible are obedient children of God told to expect sickness and disease as part of their calling in life. Sickness is not a part of the cross we are called to bear.
Third, contrary to popular thought, sickness and disease, in and of themselves, do not glorify God. Our unwavering faith and loyalty and love for God in spite of sickness and disease do glorify God.
Fourth, we must leave room for mystery in God’s ways. Some things will always remain unexplained. We can’t always expect to understand why some are sick and others not, or why some are healed and others not. But most important of all, the fact that many, perhaps even most, are not healed should never be used to justify our disobedience to God’s Word when it comes to praying for them.
Fifth, God’s heart is for healing, not hurting. My working assumption is that God’s heart is for healing unless I’m shown otherwise by divine revelation or death. What this means in practical terms is that you should continue to pray for the sick until God tells you otherwise, or they die!5
Sixth, we must be willing to bear the stigma of perceived failure. We have succeeded when we have obeyed the Scriptures to pray for the sick. Whether or not they are healed rests with God.
Many in the Church today say they believe that God still heals, but they live as functional deists who rarely if ever actually lay hands on the sick and pray with any degree of expectancy. One reason is that they often confuse praying expectantly with praying presumptuously. Prayer is presumptuous when the person claims healing without revelatory warrant, or on the unbiblical assumption that God always wills to heal then and there. They then feel required to account for the absence of healing by appealing either to moral failure or deficiency of faith (usually in the one for whom prayer is offered).
People pray expectantly when they humbly petition a merciful God for something they don’t deserve but that He delights to give (see Luke 11:9-13; see also Matt. 9:27-31; 20:29-34; Luke 17:13-14). Expectant prayer flows from the recognition that Jesus healed people because He loved them and felt compassion for them (see Matt. 14:13-14; 20:34; Mark 1:41-42; Luke 7:11-17), which is a disposition in the heart of God that nothing in Scripture indicates has changed."
- Showing The Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians by D.A. Carson
- Are Miraculous Gifts For Today? by Wayne Grudem
See also Miraculous Gifts: Healing