Sickness in the Bible
Sickness is one of the most devastating things we can experience in this life. We spend billions of dollars every year trying to get well. Yet, chronic disease is rising in most westernized nations despite our best efforts, devastating lives, families and dreams. It’s particularly bewildering for Christians because we know from God’s word that Christ healed us from our wounds and infirmities on the cross (Isaiah 53:5). So if this is true how come we still get sick? Why does the Body of Christ, called to nonconformity to the world, actually look so much like the world in the area of our health? What are the reasons for sickness in the Bible?
I believe there are 5 reasons for sickness in the Bible that are all based in sin and disobedience. However, before we explore those I want to state that not all sickness is the result of sin and disobedience. Jesus made that clear in John 9:2-3:
“And His disciples asked Him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.'” John 9:2-3
Although we can find many verses in scripture that help us understand the connection between sin and sickness, we must also acknowledge that sickness is a mystery and one wherein we will find God working to accomplish His purposes for the world and for His kingdom. Nevertheless, scripture is clear that many of our sicknesses are the direct result of sin and disobedience in our lives. Therefore, it behooves us to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand so we may learn what God would lovingly teach us, repent if necessary, apply our newfound wisdom and be blessed and healed by our Father.
Lack of Knowledge
The first reason for sickness in the bible is that we lack knowledge.
“Therefore My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge; and their honorable men are famished, and their multitude is parched with thirst. Therefore, Sheol has enlarged its throat and opened its mouth without measure; and Jerusalem’s splendor, her multitude, her din of revelry and the jubilant within her, descend into it.” Isaiah 5:13-14
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you from being My priests. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.” Hosea 4:5
These verses are not easy to read or take to heart. The consequences of our ignorance and its resulting sin are morbid and disturbing: famine, parched thirst, death. The image of Sheol opening its greedy deadly mouth like a python to gulp down Jerusalem and its people strikes me as grotesque. Even worse is realizing that our rejection of God’s law destroys not only us and our destiny as God’s priestly people but also our children, even to the third and fourth generation (Exodus 34:7).
I know we are under grace, but Jesus was the fullness of both grace and truth (law). So it must be with us. These verses make it clear that knowing and obeying God’s law is a vitally important part of our day-to-day lives with Him, even as His grace empowers us to obey His law and conforms us to the image of Christ. Rejection of God’s knowledge will bring grave consequences, including sickness and death.
The second reason for sickness in the Bible is disobedience. The following verses illustrate a direct relationship between sin – or disobedience – and sickness.
“Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “Behold, you have become well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” John 5:14
“Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 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.” James 5:14
“And He said, “If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the Lord, am your healer.” Exodus 15:26
In the first verse, Jesus himself makes a direct connection between the man’s paralyzed state and some sin he had committed or was committing. And he warns/commands him to stop so that something worse doesn’t happen. And notice in the second verse that James instructs a sick person to call the elders of the church, not a doctor. James is clear that the faith-filled prayers of the elders and the anointing of oil would cause the Lord to heal him as a result of his sins being forgiven (with the sick man’s repentance being assumed here). Now, please do not take this as a scriptural dismissal of the healing arts or those who practice them. That is not what these scriptures are telling us. Luke, after all, was a doctor and one of the gifts of God to the body is the healing arts. What they do tell us is that there is a direct connection between sin and sickness. In this verse from Exodus, God Himself is making a direct connection for His people between earnest heeding and obedience to His commandments and statutes and the lack of sickness in their lives. Likewise, the 28th chapter of Deuteronomy is a contrast by the Lord of the blessing that comes with obedience and the curse that comes with disobedience.
“But it shall come about, if you do not obey the Lord your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.” Deuteronomy 28: 15
It goes on to list a great number of curses that will befall Israel in disobedience among which are pestilence, consumption, fever, inflammation, boils, tumors, rashes, madness, blindness, pain, the bewilderment of heart and death. It’s a bleak picture to be sure. But taken in the context of the blessings of obedience God has laid out in the beginning of the chapter it’s clear that God is giving His chosen, beloved and newly minted nation a choice. God is a God of love and mercy. He’s our healer. But He’s also a God of free will and of the law of sowing and reaping. Therefore, His people will reap the consequences of their choices. They can choose obedience and live or they can choose disobedience and suffer disease and death.
Walking According to the Flesh
The third reason we get sick is that even though we have the life of Christ in us and can choose to walk according to the Spirit, we can still choose to walk according to the flesh. We can depend upon our own power, understanding, and resources to live instead of depending on God for everything. When we do, we bear fruit for death.
“For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the member of our body to bear fruit for death.”
With the words “in the flesh” Paul is referring to a person’s spiritual state before salvation. Their spirit is dead, cut off from God because of sin and unable to relate to God or please Him in any way at all. Nor can they live any kind of life that is godly, but all their works are dead and they are hellbound (Ephesians 2: 1-3). One time, through faith in Christ, they are saved, their sins are forgiven, and they are reborn spiritually, given a new God-alive human spirit through the life of Christ (Romans 5:10). They are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) with a new identity (God’s holy, righteous child – 2 Corinthians 5:21), a new family (in Christ instead of Adam – Galatians 3:26), and a new destiny (priests, rulers in God’s Kingdom – Revelation 5:10, 1 Peter 2:9). They are no longer “in the flesh”, being able to now relate to God and to live a godly life by the power of the Holy Spirit that indwells them.
However, despite all their newness, a believer can choose to live as though they are still unsaved and in the flesh. Paul calls this walking according to the flesh. It’s living in denial of one’s true identity, like being a princess but living as a pauper. Life according to the flesh is an absolute contradiction to God’s will and work through Christ on the cross, not to mention a believer’s true state. It’s living in a lie instead of the truth which is why Paul also calls it disobedience and sin. We know from the verses above that disobedience and sin are directly correlated to sickness and death. Paul knew too which is why he continually exhorts the church to remember who they are in Christ and to walk according to the Spirit so they may bear fruit for God (Romans 7:4), which is fruit for life, instead of fruit for death.
Once again we come back to our choices: walk according to the Spirit in obedience and be blessed with life or walk according to the flesh in disobedience and be cursed with sickness and death.
Lack of Sanctification
Sanctification is the process by which God works out into our lives that which He worked in at our salvation. What did He work in? Why a new life of course! More specifically, He worked in Christ’s life (Romans 5;10). He worked in the holiness of Christ, the power of Christ, the mind of Christ, the love of Christ, the wisdom of Christ, the patience of Christ, the joy of Christ, the peace of Christ. Whatever Christ is, it’s in you and is yours by faith if you’re a follower of Christ.
But, like a fish moves and has its being in the water, we were born into a world that is anti-Christ. We were born and raised in an ocean of darkness, sin, and flesh and it’s all we know until Christ saves us. Instantly, we are made spiritually new and transported out of that dark kingdom into God’s kingdom of light (Colossians 1:13). But now we have to learn how to live as beings of light and that takes some time. Actually, it takes a lifetime. Sanctification is learning to live according to who we are now in Christ and where we live in the light (1 Thessalonians 4:7). At the end of the process, we will be completely transformed so that we look just like Jesus in our spirits, souls, and bodies (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
But here’s the rub. Whereas salvation is something that we simply receive by faith, sanctification requires more from us. It’s a room we have to enter into and the only way to do so is by opening the door and walking in. Or, if salvation is receiving a gift, sanctification is actually unwrapping it. With sanctification, we have a (another) choice to make and we can choose wrongly. How? By walking according to the flesh instead of according to the Spirit, by living in disobedience and sin.
The Spirit in us will lead us further into godly living if we heed Him and enter into the process of sanctification. Our flesh will lead us into ungodly living and death, which may include illness if we heed it.
The final reason we get sick is due to separation. We are born separated thanks to our spiritual birth defect of indwelling sin and spiritual death all humans inherit from Adam and Eve. Their sin separated them from God, from themselves, from each other and from creation. They not only lost their life-giving relationship with God but also their identity, purpose, and destiny. Ever since, mankind has been trying to get back to Eden and recover what was lost, but to no avail.
But God in His mercy brought us back to Himself through Christ on the cross. He ended separation there for those who trust in Christ. In God’s economy, everything has been made new through Jesus and now He is working in all things to manifest in the physical what Jesus accomplished in the spiritual. And at Christ’s coming, we will see with our eyes the manifest reality of what Jesus did on the cross.
Intimate relationship – actually the Bible calls it – oneness, with God, ourselves, each other and creation is the believer’s reality in Christ. Nevertheless, many believers still choose to live as though they are still separated. Although God is as close and intimate as our next breath, many of us still live from misconceptions about God’s character and heart of love for us. We can’t (won’t) believe that God is a kind, loving, tender, caring Father. Instead, we paint him in the colors of our experiences with earthly fatherhood. Christ reveals God’s loving and caring heart for us but we may still believe He is distant, absent, angry, or even vengeful and cruel and untrustworthy. A meaningful relationship with someone is impossible without trust and so God remains far away, out there, separate. And we remain untouched and unchanged by His grace and love that lead us in our sanctification. Without sanctification, we continue to live in disobedience and sin and experience the curse of sickness and death instead of the blessings of health and abundant life.
Heart of the Matter
In conclusion, there are 5 reasons for sickness in the Bible:
- Lack of knowledge
- Walking according to the flesh
- Lack of sanctification
When you get right down to it though, the heart of sickness is really sin. And that makes perfect sense when we consider our identity in Christ. Most believers think they are sinners saved by grace. That was true when we were in Adam. But the moment we placed our faith in Christ, God took us out of Adam and placed us into Christ. Our identity changed. We became saints who still can – and do – sin. As a sinner, you were captive to your sin nature. Your basic nature and desire were to sin. As a result, you could never live a holy life. As a saint, indwelled by Christ, you’re free. It’s now your basic nature and desire to live a holy life with the help of the Holy Spirit. Do you see the massive difference between these two identities?
Given who they are, sin and its deadly consequences make absolutely no sense for the Christian. It’s contradictory, not to mention stupid and foolish (Paul’s words, not mine!) Why live like a caterpillar when you’re a butterfly? Why bear fruit for death in sin when you can bear fruit for God in holiness? Why suffer the curse of sickness when you can enjoy the benefits of the blessings of health?
Be a Butterfly
Maybe no one has ever told you who you really are in Christ. I know that was true for me. I loved Jesus but did not experience the abundant life Jesus promised because I just didn’t know who I was in Christ. I was living like a caterpillar, wishing to be the butterfly I already was. Well, I’m telling you who you are. You’re a saint, not a sinner. You’re a glorious butterfly, not a lowly worm. Now, live that way. Ask God to show you how. Ask Him if a cursed root of sin and disobedience in your life is causing your sickness. Listen to and obey what He tells you.
Now it’s your turn. Share your heart with us. What are you struggling with in your health? What insights have you gained about sickness from this post? Did it help you? How can we pray for you?
Finally, please like and share this post. There’s a lot of people out there who don’t know who they are in Christ!