“I’m so disappointed in God”

It doesn’t take much to get Christians admitting they’re confused over what to pray for when someone is sick or dying. We know Scripture says, “pray for each other so that you may be healed,” James 5:16, and that “the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well,” verse 15, but in reality it doesn’t seem to happen.

It’s not surprising, then, when a Christian says, “I’m so disappointed in God,” when – after days, months and even years of praying for someone – the person dies from his or her sickness anyway. But wasn’t the Christian fulfilling his duty by relying on God to heal? So why didn’t God heal? He heals according to faith, so if faith is expressed by the Christian why doesn’t God come through with the healing?

The healing of what, though? Well, the healing of the person’s body, right? But why would we be seeking the healing of a body that’s already dead? “For you died,” Paul writes in Colossians 3:3. The focus of our interest as Christians, then, isn’t on the body we were born with that died on the cross with Christ. Our interest is on the body that was “raised with Christ,” verse 1, and “is now hidden with Christ in God,” verse 3. We already have a brand new life that we’ve been raised to, where “Christ is (our) life,” verse 3. The focus of a Christian’s heart and mind, then, is on the “things (we’ve been raised to) above, not on earthly things,” verse 2.

When praying for someone sick, therefore, that “the Lord will raise him up” (James 5:15), what “raising up” are we praying for? Is it the raising up of a person’s earthly body or the raising up of a person to their new life of “being transformed into (Christ’s) likeness with ever-increasing glory,” 2 Corinthians 3:18?

The context in James 5 answers that for us, because the healing sought for is from sin. “If he has sinned, he will be forgiven,” James 5:15, “Confess your sins to each other,” verse 16, and “Whoever turns a sinner away from his error,” verse 20. Sin is the sickness we seek God’s healing from, because sin is what stops us experiencing our new life to the full. And physical sickness is a great reminder of that, that we live in a dead and dying body because of sin, but God has raised us to a new life where sin is forgiven and he’s constantly healing us of sin’s effects.

And on that score  – according to James – God never disappoints.

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“Whether I pray or not makes no difference”

A friend is dying from cancer. She has a daughter, 11 years old, about to enter the ups and downs of teenage, and her Mother won’t be there to guide her or share her joys and sorrows.

As news of this sad story spreads, appeals and petitions are made to God, full of feeling and compassion. Expectations and hopes are expressed that God will intervene and heal the mother. Some Christians talk themselves into believing God will heal her. Others, however, wonder whether their prayers make any difference. The mother’s going to die anyway, whether they pray for her, or not.

But the Bible says, “pray for each other so that you may be healed,” James 5:16. The clear purpose of prayer in that verse, then, is to get a sick person healed. “The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up,” verse 15. It can’t get any clearer than that.. On the one hand, then, we have Scripture saying prayer does make a difference, but in real life it doesn’t seem to work that way at all, because Christians die from cancer, no matter how many hundreds or thousands of people are praying for them.

So why pray for healing at all? Well, we hear through the Christian grapevine of people who are healed and it fuels the flames of hope that God might just heal the person we’re praying for too. But what would make God select the person we’re praying for to be healed, and not all the others being prayed for? It’s like a lottery where we might strike lucky, because the conditions are right in God’s mind for a healing. Maybe the people praying had enough faith. But enough faith in what? That God will heal? But how can you have faith that God will heal when the weight of evidence leans to all sorts of people having faith in God who aren’t healed, or whose prayers for others’ healing aren’t answered?

But the weight of evidence in James chapter 5 points very clearly to God healing every time a prayer is offered in faith. James talks of prayer being “powerful and effective,” verse 16. When Elijah prayed he could stop and start rain falling with his prayers, verses 17-18. That’s the power of a prayer offered in faith. It makes a huge difference.

So why don’t our prayers make the same kind of difference today? And why would those verses in James 5 be part of the Bible if they aren’t true for us as well? Or is it, in context, that the prayers for healing God answers are for healing from sin?

WHY “must” we obey?

There are several scriptures that say we “must” obey, expectations we must meet. and obligations we must fulfill, as in Colossians 3:8, “But now YOU MUST rid yourselves of all such things as these,” followed by a list of 6 things we should get rid of. And Ephesians 5:3, “But among you there MUST NOT BE even a hint of…,” followed by another list of 6 things we’d better not do. And there’s another list of 6 things we must get rid of in Ephesians 4:31 too.

Romans 8:12 also bluntly states that “we have an obligation” to not live according to our sinful nature, and it’s up to us to “purify ourselves by obeying the truth,” 1 Peter 1:22. There are tons of scriptures saying what Christians must do.

But WHY must we do all these things? It’s not for our salvation because “it is by grace you have been saved,” Ephesians 2:5, and salvation can’t be “attained by human effort,” Galatians 3:3, including our efforts at obedience. So if we’re not obeying to gain salvation, why all these lists of things that WE MUST do?

Because Paul had learnt by experience what a Christian is capable of when he’s “been crucified with Christ” and the resurrected Christ now lives in him, Galatians 2:20. He’d learnt an amazing “secret,” as he called it, the secret being, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength,” Philippians 4:13. There wasn’t any sin, or temptation to sin, that Paul couldn’t handle. He could respond to it exactly as Jesus himself would have responded. It was an amazing discovery that made him want to know a lot more of “Christ and the power of his resurrection,” Philippians 3:10.

And he discovered that “(all) the righteous requirements of the law” could be “fully met” in him, Romans 8:4, and “by the Spirit” he could “put to death (all) the misdeeds of the body,” verse 13. In other words, he could obey God in every circumstance. So when he wrote that “we must” obey, it’s because he’d discovered “we CAN” obey – because Christ is now living HIS perfect life in us through the Spirit.

Everything Paul tells us we must do, therefore, is actually a promise of what the SPIRIT will now do in us. So our focus is not on trying our hardest to obey, but to recognize – and keep recognizing, Colossians 3:2 – that “Christ is our life” now, verse 3, and because he’s our life HE is now transforming us into his likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18). In what ways? They’re all listed for us in those “must” and “must not” commands in Paul’s writings. Every one of them is what Christ through the Spirit is now making possible in those who trust in him.

Does our sin affect our salvation?

No, sin does not affect our salvation, but it does affect our experience of salvation.

Sin does not affect our salvation because sin has never stopped God saving us. “While we were still sinners,” that was the time that “Christ died for us,” Romans 5:8. And “when we were God’s enemies,” verse 10, that’s when “we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son.” And  God “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions,” Ephesians 2:5.

So sin has never been a barrier to anyone’s salvation. Christ “died for all,” 2 Corinthians 5:14, and because of Christ’s death God is “not counting men’s sins against them,” verse 19. Sin, therefore, no longer affects our salvation, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless,” Romans 6:6. When Christ died, we all died with him, and “anyone who has died has been freed from sin,” verse 7. John goes one step further too, when he writes that “anyone born of God does not continue to sin,” so sin isn’t our problem any longer. Christ has taken care of that.

But we can still “obey sin’s evil desires,” verse 12, and what that does is affect our experience of salvation, or what it’s like to actually live as a saved person freed from sin. We enter a new life after we know we’re saved, and it’s a whole new experience for us, where “you (and I) may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God,” Ephesians 3:19. We can literally experience “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ,” 4:13. It’s all part of “how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through Christ’s life!” Romans 5:10 – the clear goal of Christ’s life being that we experience our salvation to the full.

There’s more to salvation than just knowing we’re fully saved. We also get to experience it fully too. Because ever since Christ rose from the dead and God “appointed him to be head over everything for the church,” we are now “his body,” which Paul describes as “the fullness of him who fills everything in every way,” Ephesians 1:22-23. As Christ’s body he wants to fill us with everything that he is, and “transform us into his likeness with ever-increasing glory,” 2 Corinthians 3:18.

We’ve been given the chance to “participate in the divine nature,” 2 Peter 1:4, so live it to the full “in increasing measure,” verse 8, because that’s also what Christ died for, verse 9. He’d love us to experience life without sin influencing us with its “evil desires,” verse 4, so that sin does not affect our salvation in any way.

Experiencing the perfection we’ve already got!

Because of Jesus Christ we are already perfect, Romans 5:19 – “through the obedience of the one man (Christ) the many will be made righteous.” Add to that 2 Corinthians 5:21 – “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Plus 1 Corinthians 1:30 – “you are in Christ Jesus, who has become FOR US wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” And John 17:19 – “For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” And Colossians 1:22 – “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” And Ephesians 5:25-26 – “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy…without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”

Even before he created us, Ephesians 1:4, God saw us as “holy and blameless in his sight.” And his goal for us has never changed, 1 Corinthians 1:8 – “He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And in Jude 24, it’s Christ’s goal too to “keep you from falling and to present you before (God’s) glorious presence without fault and with great joy.”

Since Christ, then, has already done our perfection for us, and he’s also making sure we are perfect all the way to the day he comes back, what’s left for us to do?!

Paul’s answer was: understand what Christ has done for us, believe he’s doing it for us every day, and LIVE in that knowledge, rest in it, and enjoy it. “The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me,” Galatians 2:20. Every day Paul lived in confidence and joy. So did John, knowing that “(Christ) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness,” 1 John 1:9.

Christ is living his perfection in us every day. All that’s left for us to do, then, is experience it! How? Galatians 5:16 – “live by the Spirit.” Don’t live as if perfection depends on us. Live knowing the Spirit is perfecting us. It’s the Spirit who’s filling us with “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control,” verse 23, not us. The Spirit counteracts our sinful nature, verses 17-18, we don’t. It’s by the Spirit’s power that “you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature,” verse 16, not ours. It’s by the Spirit, therefore, that we learn about the perfection we’ve already got, because it’s by the Spirit that we constantly experience it.

“Convince me it’s real!”

“If Christianity isn’t real, I don’t want anything to do with it.” Meaning – why waste time on all that Bible Study, going to church and being a good Christian if what the Bible promised me isn’t happening?

The Bible, for instance, talks of “joy inexpressible” (1 Peter 1:8), of “peace which transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), of a “love that drives out fear,” (1 John 4:18), of “no anxious thoughts” (Philippians 4:6), of “being content in any and every situation” (Philippians 4:12), of “comfort in all our troubles” (2 Corinthians 1:4), of being “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19), of our “faith growing more and more, and our love for each other increasing” (2 Thessalonians 1:3), of “the evil one not touching us” (1 John 5:18), and of actually living together with Jesus Christ “whether we are awake or asleep” (1 Thessalonians 5:10).

Remarkable joy, remarkable calm, remarkable confidence, remarkable strength, remarkable change, remarkable attitude, remarkable awareness of Christ’s presence, and remarkable freedom from the evil influences of the culture. All clear signs of a real God creating something new and wonderful in us.

But there I sat, pen poised in hand, staring at the words I’d just written: “Convince me it’s real!” Because here I’d been a Christian for years, but I was still having weird thoughts and black moods. What, then, was the point of all that study, going to church and being a Christian, when none of those verses seemed to be happening to me?

And then I realized I’d never consciously looked to the Holy Spirit to make all those verses real in my life. In fact, I’d never actually depended on the Holy Spirit for anything in my life. Which was totally daft because Paul prayed in Ephesians 3:16 “that out of (the Father’s) glorious riches he may strengthen you with power THROUGH HIS SPIRIT in your inner being.” The whole point of the Father sending the Spirit was to give us total confidence and total conviction in the reality of his presence, and deep down in our innermost being where it counts too, not just in head knowledge.

I realized (at last) that I couldn’t, by head knowledge alone, create what only the Holy Spirit can create. It’s “the Spirit who helps us in our weakness,” Romans 8:26. It’s the Spirit who creates in us – and for us – all that God has promised to us. That’s why “God gives us his Spirit,” Galatians 3:5. It’s to “work miracles among you.”

How, then, do we become convinced that God and all this Christian stuff is real? 1 John 3:24 – “this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.”The Spirit makes it real.