Pastor John, last time, on Wednesday, I played an old sermon of yours, and we talked about healing. God has promised to heal our bodies. He could heal us today if he wanted to. But he has a timeline for that healing. And until then, for most of our ailments, we groan inwardly, awaiting the redemption of our bodies. This waiting is what we saw in Romans 8. But you balanced that waiting with a faith-filled eagerness for God’s healing mercy to be experienced today too. And that point leads us to consider how much trust we should put in faith healers and healing ministries today. And if we avoid them, are we doing so because those ministries are fraudulent, or because we simply lack faith that God heals today?
The perceptive question comes from Dana, a woman who listens to the podcast. “Pastor John, hello, and thank you for this podcast! I would certainly call myself a skeptic toward healing ministries. But I am left wondering if this is unbelief in me. Jesus said to his followers, ‘Whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father’ (John 14:12). After the ascension, this amazing promise carries over ‘to every single believer,’ you said in APJ 63. Amazing! But how does this promise of Christ relate to healing ministries today? I could attend a healing meeting at a church in my area. I’m in need of healing and deliverance. But I cannot do this until my skepticism is addressed. And if these people, these faith healers, are really doing the work of God, I don’t want to disobey him by my skeptical unbelief. Pastor John, can you help me?”
As you can imagine, it is difficult to give counsel to Dana when I don’t know the nature or the degree of her skepticism, and I don’t know anything about the healing ministries that she is thinking about going to. So let me speak more generally about the text, John 14:12, and then the possible legitimacy of the healing ministry and the kinds of questions you might want to ask about that.
In John 14:12, Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the father.” Now, she alluded to the fact that in APJ 63 we gave a whole session on this text, so I’m not going to defend my interpretation again. There’s a whole sermon on it, by the way, at Desiring God called “Doing the Works of Jesus and Greater Works,” in my series on the Gospel of John.
So let me just give my summary here. This text is not about people who have the gift of healing. We know that because Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do” — and greater works. This is true of every believer. But 1 Corinthians 12 says that only some have the gift of healing. “Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues?” (1 Corinthians 12:29–30). The answer is no.
So what makes John 14:12 so puzzling is that it’s true of every believer. Every believer does the works of Jesus. That’s scary, right? Every believer does the works of Jesus, and every believer exceeds the works of Jesus. That’s what the verse says. It’s not like there’s a select group — “Well, somebody attained to it finally.”
The second thing that makes this so puzzling is that nobody — underline nobody — has ever in the history of the world exceeded the works of Jesus, if the supernatural wonder of the miracles is what’s meant. Turning water into wine, healing everyone who comes to you without fail, feeding five thousand with five loaves and two fish, walking on water, raising the dead, casting out demons with a word infallibly — nobody has ever come close to this kind of consistency and awesomeness of miraculous work. So how do all Christians exceed the works of Jesus? That’s what is perplexing about this verse.
“We get the superior ministry of pointing people by our lives and by our words to the risen and glorified Christ.”
And my answer, defended in APJ 63 and in that sermon, is this: we exceed the works of Jesus, we go beyond the works of Jesus, by living in the power of the Spirit — the Spirit of the risen, glorified Christ, whom Jesus himself poured out, and who thus points people to the glory of the crucified and risen Christ so that, through faith in that risen Christ, their sins might be forgiven by believing in the crucified and risen one. That’s my answer.
In other words, what’s greater is that Jesus has now died for sinners and risen from the dead, and he is reigning at the right hand of God so that, by the power of the Spirit, we can point people to the risen and glorified Christ, where they can find forgiveness of sins. Jesus never did this. This is greater. He had not died or risen from the dead. He didn’t point people to have specific faith in his crucified self or risen self. We get the superior ministry of pointing people by our lives and by our words to the risen and glorified Christ.
Five Questions for Faith Healers
So I don’t think Dana should make her decision about the validity of a healing ministry on the basis of this verse. I don’t think they’re connected. There are better ways for her to assess this healing ministry than to use the controverted John 14:12. I would suggest five kinds of questions to ask about the people she calls faith healers.
1. What do they believe?
First, what do they believe? What’s their theology? Are they doing their ministry in the service of truth or in the service of error? What do they believe about the nature of God and the way he saves sinners and the way he sanctifies the church? What do they believe about Christ and what he accomplished on the cross? What do they believe about the Holy Spirit and about the ultimate purpose of God in the world?
“Power without truth will almost certainly damage the cause of Christ in the end, even if miracles are happening.”
And if they are hesitant to talk about these things or to provide written materials, that’s a problem. Lots of people want spiritual power these days — they always have — without loving biblical truth. “Give me the power! I don’t care what’s true. I just want to be able to heal people or raise the dead or make something amazing happen.” But power without truth will almost certainly damage the cause of Christ in the end, even if miracles are happening. And yes, miracles happen aplenty in the hands of unbelievers — and they will at the end of the age, Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 2:9–10.
2. What’s their goal?
Second, is healing the body the goal of their ministry, or is healing a means to the end of glorifying Christ and sanctifying human life and building up the local church? I’ve attended healing services, and it seemed to me in some of them that it became quickly clear that the word of God was subordinate to what they considered “power encounters.”
Wherever the word of God was simply used as a kind of brief priming of the pump — in fact, that language was even used: the “priming of the pump of power.” “So I’m going to use a little bit of a homily here to prime the pump of power that we can all enjoy at the end.” Wherever that happened, my trust level in those situations went way down. All the physical miracles of the New Testament serve to confirm the word of truth and the glory of the saving word of God. If these get turned around, the long-term effect is going to be unhealthy.
3. Do they believe healing is always God’s will?
Third, do the faith healers believe that God’s will is for every sickness of every believer to be healed, and that the reason they’re not is because of lack of faith? That’s a hallmark of many faith healers. They believe that faith will always heal, and that if you’re not healed it’s because you are defective in your faith.
And I would say this simply does not fit with the apostle Paul’s teaching about the suffering and groaning of this age as we wait for the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23–24). God can heal and he does heal, and we should pray for healing always when we get sick or we love somebody who’s sick. But he does not teach us that we are God, as if healing lay decisively in our hands if we can just muster enough of this so-called faith.
4. Do they rank healing over treasuring Christ?
Fourth, do these faith healers rank physical wholeness above treasuring Christ through pain? That is, do they think that the miracle of physical healing is a greater miracle than the miracle of strong, joyful, unwavering faith through sickness and pain? Do they see that both of these are wonderful miracles? Do they see that the miracle of faith in the face of suffering may be a greater miracle than the removal of suffering? Medicine can remove suffering, but no human medicine can produce Christ-exalting faith in the face of suffering. How do they think about this?
5. Have you asked your elders for prayer?
Fifth, and finally, is just a personal question to Dana. Have you asked the elders of your church to pray for you? James 5:14 says, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” I say this not only because that may be the way God gives you healing, Dana, but also because in those encounters with the leaders of the church, God may give them wisdom as to whether a healing ministry is advisable or not in your case.
Gifts of Healing
So let me end with this. When 1 Corinthians 12 says that the Holy Spirit gives to one faith, to another gifts of healing, to another the working miracles, and so on (1 Corinthians 12:7–11), don’t assume that the Spirit’s giving of those gifts is locked into specific people. It doesn’t say that, which means you don’t know through whom you might receive healing when a person prays for you. Anybody may be given a gift of healing. The word is always plural — “gifts of healing” (1 Corinthians 12:9). They may be given a gift of healing.
Therefore, perhaps the question before you is not only whether you should go to a so-called faith healer, but also whether you should go to a trusted spiritually minded friend and very seriously and earnestly ask them to put their hands on you and pray that they would receive a gift of healing that they could impart to you.