4 Reasons Why You Should Forgive Yourself

forgive yourself

I watched a “Dateline” episode recently where a woman had previously had an affair with the man convicted of killing his own wife. The wife was the woman’s friend. Though she had been cleared of any involvement in the crime, she still felt immense guilt for her involvement with her friend’s husband.

She had this to say: “I will never forgive myself for what I’ve done.”

At one time I would have thought her statement noble. Why should a person forgive herself for getting involved with a friend’s spouse? Like the woman in the “Dateline” episode, I, too, used to hold the belief that I should punish myself for wrongdoing when I didn’t measure up to my own standards. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with being angry at myself. I thought Jesus would want me to be mad at myself when I did something wrong.

But that is actually not what Jesus wants from me or the woman in the “Dateline” episode. Although Scripture talks about a godly sorrow that can lead to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10) — this is not a continual unhealthy beating up of oneself over wrongdoing.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I even realized I had a problem with unforgiveness of self. I was sitting in a counselor’s office, and she had me write a list of everyone I was angry at that I needed to forgive.

It turns out, I was on my own list. And I was surprised to discover that Jesus wants me to forgive myself. He advocates that I do — and for several important reasons:

1. Because not forgiving yourself rejects Jesus’ work on the cross.

A verse that has become my favorite is Romans 8:1: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Even though Jesus is clear that we shouldn’t live in sin, and we need to resist sin and temptation, Jesus never expected us to punish ourselves for our sin. He is very clear in Romans that we are under no condemnation for our deeds.

Earlier, in Romans 7, Paul explains that grace doesn’t give us free license to sin — however, when we do fall short and make mistakes, God tells us in His Word that we don’t have to condemn ourselves.

Condemning ourselves rejects Jesus’ work on the cross. He became a sacrifice for our sins. We can brush ourselves off when we fall, ask Jesus to forgive us (and ask forgiveness from others if we need to) and keep going. To continually think about what wrong we’ve done or the mistakes we’ve made and beat ourselves up for them isn’t biblical.

2. Unforgiveness of self leads to relationship problems.

Not being in right relationship with ourselves affects our relationships with others. Unfortunately, when we choose not to forgive ourselves and carry around this idea that we are “too bad” to forgive, we are not able to embrace or like ourselves. We see ourselves only through the filter of what we’ve done. This affects not only our relationship with self but our relationships with others as well.

Someone who can’t let go of a past wrong may feel inferior to others and feel “too bad” to be liked by another person. Satan can get his way in and convince us we are so unworthy of relationships that we become isolated — all because we won’t accept what Jesus has done for us. Sadly, not only may we begin to feel not good enough for others, we may convince ourselves that God doesn’t want us either.

However, the idea that we’re not good enough to be loved is a lie that Satan spins to get us out of relationship with others and out of a relationship with God. God is clear that He loves us in spite of what we do! He wants us no matter what we’ve done.

 3. Unforgiveness of self can cause health problems.

In a book I reference often in my posts, A More Excellent Way, Henry W. Wright details three ways that we can open the door to what he calls “spiritually rooted disease” — disease that has a root in a relationship breach with God, ourselves or others. Not forgiving ourselves can lead to feelings of shame, self-hatred and low self-worth. Even if we have made a really bad choice and there are earthly consequences for that choice, God wants us to repent and forgive ourselves.

According to Wright, continual negative emotions towards ourselves — rehearsing words of guilt or unforgiveness or shame — can lead to health problems such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and other autoimmune diseases.

Also, not forgiving one’s self can lead to mental torment — emotional instability, depression, anxiety, and negative thinking. As I was preparing to do this article, I felt that this term “mental torment” kept coming to mind as something I needed to include. The Bible is clear that anger that is not dealt with can give the devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:26, 27), and we will be handed over to tormenting spirits if we choose not to forgive (Matthew 18:23-35).

One reason we may not want to forgive ourselves is because we are so angry at ourselves for what we have done. We may not even have sinned. We may have made a careless mistake that caused great damage, and we can’t get over what happened.

I remember after a significant breakup with another person the feelings of anger I held not only towards the other person but towards myself. I felt like what happened was my fault. I kept replaying scenarios in my mind of what I could have done differently to keep the relationship. I spiraled into a dark depression that lasted for several years — and only when I let go of my unresolved anger and forgave the person and myself did I begin to feel free from the dark thoughts that had tormented me about that situation.

4. Because the Bible says to do it.

One of the reasons I haven’t really known about self-forgiveness until recently is because I didn’t know that this mandate was in the Bible. I had read all of the verses about forgiving others, but I didn’t realize that this instruction about forgiving others also extended to one’s self. Recently, I read an article on a deliverance ministry site I have frequented before, and the author pointed out that the “one another” referred to in Colossians 3:13 in the Greek also can be a reference back to one’s self. The verse is as follows:

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

I had skipped over this because I generally don’t make it a habit to study the Greek translation of words — however, “allélón” (the “one another” used in the verse) is a reciprocal pronoun that refers not only to others but yourself.

God knew that we would make mistakes and mess up. Romans 3:23 reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Often, unforgiveness of self makes us feel like we’re the only ones with a problem or broken behavior. The truth is all have fallen short. Because we can’t achieve perfection, God made a plan for us, so that we can be made a new creation, by accepting Jesus’ free gift of salvation.

We shouldn’t abuse that gift by doing whatever we want, excusing bad behavior with, “It’s OK, Jesus will forgive me.” But when we fall into sin, we can call out to Jesus and ask for forgiveness. We were not meant to carry the burden of our guilt or shame. We can give it over to Jesus, knowing that He doesn’t expect us to self-punish or hold unforgiveness against ourselves.

He wants us to confess our sin, accept His forgiveness, forgive ourselves — and move on.

Suggested prayer for self-unforgiveness: Jesus, forgive me for the sin of unforgiveness. I forgive myself for ______________________. Help me to see myself as you see me and not hold my mistakes against myself any longer. Help me to walk freely in the freedom that I am under no condemnation for my sins because of your work on the cross. Amen.

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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Part Three: How Repentance Brings Healing

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After I birthed my son, I got sick. Sinus sick.

I rationalized that my hormones were a little off-kilter, my immune system worn down. My son was a fitful sleeper, colicky. I couldn’t get him to take naps during the day, and I woke up fatigued from nights of tending to him every few hours.

My 2-year-old, on the other hand, popped out of bed every morning refreshed from 10 hours of peaceful sleep, wanting to play.

I existed in a never-ending cycle of sleep-deprived exhaustion where days and nights blurred together. But even as I eventually coaxed my son into a sleep schedule, I couldn’t get rid of my cold. Three months slipped by, and the inflammation and stuffiness didn’t budge. Medicine didn’t have any effect.

I re-joined choir, and every practice was a painful reminder that my voice was enveloped in a pillowy cloud of sinus. I forgot what it was like to breathe out of my nose or sing without sounding like a faint whistle stifled beneath an elephant’s bottom.

I called in a mold specialist to look at the possibility that there might be black mold in our house. I had remembered my sister telling me about how sick she got after they had moved into a house that had a hidden mold problem.

It turned out the mold “inspector” was fairly new to the business. Not only did he not give me a decisive answer about whether or not I had a mold problem, he left a 3″ diameter hole in the base of my cabinet trim.

I was starting to feel desperate. What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t I getting better?

A worship team audition loomed ahead of me. I just had to get well for it. I made a doctor’s appointment. One steroid shot later, I was nowhere closer to finding a solution. A sheepish me showed up at the group audition and warbled through a song, unable to show what I could really do. No amount of apple cider vinegar gargling or cough drop popping moved the build-up in my sinuses. And, probably, because they felt sorry for me more than anything else, I still earned a spot on the worship team rotation.

Determined to get to the bottom of my mysterious ailment, I went down to the altar for prayer one Sunday at church. As a woman began to pray for me, some names floated up — and what started as a faint wisp of an idea turned into a really persistent thought as the day wore on.

The names were names of people in church leadership that I had decided I didn’t really like.

It started with an event that I had attended where the couple appeared very distracted and distant when I tried to strike up conversations with them. From there, I allowed the enemy to worm his way into a series of small offenses and convince me that this couple had it out for me. One day, when the wife showed up to an event where I was also in attendance, I noticed that she looked nervous and out of place. Rather than approach her, I let pride rise in me. I felt a little smug about the fact that she looked so uncomfortable. I found my circle of acquaintances and left her to fend for herself.

After I received prayer, Jesus brought to mind those moments that I hadn’t reached out to that couple. Those moments that I let petty wrongs creep in and sow bitterness in my heart. For the first time, I began to feel bad for the way I acted. I realized that I had been at fault just as much if not more so than they had.

I cried for the rest of the afternoon as I felt God changing my heart. I knew I needed to apologize.

The moment that I uttered the words to Jesus, “I’m so sorry for the way I’ve acted” and determined to make that difficult contact with the couple, a beautiful thing happened: my nose began to get runny. Really runny. I needed a tissue. And all of that sinus blockage that had been stuffing up my head for months came draining out. And kept right on draining the rest of the night.

I could breathe again. I was healed.

I followed up with an apology email to the couple that week. It was awkward and hard for me to admit my wrong. They were gracious, but I felt really ashamed. What I was perceiving as purposeful rejection was really just misunderstanding: they had never intended to overlook or slight me.

In looking back, a few things stand out to me about my healing:

1. Jesus often does things before we understand.

My healing happened before I had gone through Hope ministry training, heard the term “spiritually rooted disease” or been introduced to the connection in some cases between illness and sin. However, I did sense inside of me that something was wrong that couldn’t be fixed by doctors because the illness had persisted through a doctor’s visit, a mold inspection and prayer at the altar.

In John 5, we encounter a lame man who also didn’t understand. He didn’t know how Jesus was going to heal him (he made a suggestion about the healing pools to Jesus). Even when Jesus gave him the command to stir himself and walk, he had no idea that Jesus was the Savior with the power to heal. But what must be noted is that the lame man obeyed when Christ said to “get up” (v. 8). He didn’t demand to know all the whys and hows before rising. He just did what Jesus asked and got the use of his limbs back. The cripple’s willingness to have a child-like faith and do as Christ said enabled him to receive healing.

2. Many times Jesus will give us more understanding after our obedience.

It was not until after Jesus healed the man that He found him again at the temple and said, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (John 5:14). In saying what he did, Jesus not only cautioned the man against falling into the same trap again, He essentially gave the man an explanation for the paralysis of his limbs. As I expressed in a previous post, not all disease is caused by sin (we can get illness as a result of the fallen world we live in or we can be born with a disfigurement or disability). However, as commentator Charles J. Ellicott states: The lame man was freed from the effects, but to be truly remedial he had to be freed from the cause too.

Ellicot makes the important point that Jesus didn’t just want to free the man from the effects of his sin, he wanted to enrich the man’s knowledge so he would not end up confined to his mat again. The reality is that even after we’re healed, we have to guard ourselves carefully so that which entangled us in the first place does not slip us up again.

Jesus’ words about not sinning sounded harsh, but He was saying what He was so that the man could maintain his healing. As Luke 11:24-26 reminds us:

When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of the man is worse than the first.

3. Healing of spiritually rooted disease comes when you target the cause.

Pastor and author Henry W. Wright relates in A More Excellent Way: Be in Health that when he started out in ministry, he prayed for people but was dismayed to find that only about 5 percent of the people he prayed for got well. As he started to investigate the Bible and ask the Lord for insight, he began to find that in the case of spiritually rooted disease (disease caused by a problem in our relationship with God, self or others) he saw people getting healed when he addressed the cause (the root or block of the problem). People got healed when he discerned the cause and gave them an action to participate in their healing.

This is not to say that Jesus can’t heal people through prayer. In fact, He instructs us in His Word to get prayer from our elders at the church (James 5:14) and pray one for the other (James 5:16). These are avenues we should definitely pursue. However, from my own experience, sometimes we don’t get well from those avenues alone.

Jesus many times will give us a step we have to take (like repentance of a sin or forgiveness of an individual). Prayer may give us knowledge of what step to take, but it is in taking that step that we will receive the healing we need. Jesus gave me the cause of my sinus issue before I really understood that my repentance of unforgiveness and bitterness towards the leadership he had put in place would open the door to healing. More comprehension came flooding in after the fact.

God is not a formula God — and I must stress that not all illness is caused by sin. However, sin that is unconfessed or not dealt with can indeed open the door to illness. A verse Wright frequently refers to in A More Excellent Way is Proverbs 26:2 (KJV):

As a bird by wandering, as the swallow by flying, so the curse causeless shall not come.

As this passage suggests, spiritually rooted disease does not come in our lives without there being a cause for it. Therefore, as Wright emphasizes – targeting the cause unlocks the cure.

Related Resources:

In A More Excellent Way: Be in Health, Wright stresses that sometimes people don’t get healed even when he discerns the root of the illness — in that case, he also has them address possible blocks to healing such as unforgiveness, lack of transparency, or problems with leadership (he lists many others).

I have used Wright as a reference in many of my posts because the information in his book confirms and correlates with that which I have experienced personally both in my own healing experiences and those that I have witnessed in others. I encourage you to investigate the book yourself and read more on spiritually rooted illness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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Part Two: How Confession Brings Healing

 

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Arthur Dimmesdale, a minister in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic The Scarlet Letter, hides a secret: he has engaged in a secret love affair and fathered an illegitimate child.

While he continues to present a spotless appearance to the town, he allows the mother of his child to bear the shame for the incident and wear a scarlet “A” on her breast. The weight of his past sin causes him to suffer from a mysterious illness so much so that a mark forms on his own chest — the mark an outward sign of his inward turmoil.

Eventually, when the weight of his deed becomes too heavy for him to bear, Dimmesdale comes clean in front of the village. Yet, when he does, he collapses and dies — as the difficulty of telling the truth takes a toll on his weak heart.

Although his actions contribute to a thrilling tale, I have to submit the idea that most likely Dimmesdale would not die from telling the truth in real life. He most likely would live from it. Truth-telling is an essential part of the healing process, and while we may feel like we’re dying from the excruciating act of professing an unsavory action — the toll it takes will be momentary and afterwards will be a wonderful freedom for us.

We need only look at John 5:1-13 to see how Jesus directs us to confess and share our stories. In the passage, He heals a lame man and then instructs him to walk into town:

Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.’ … So they asked him, ‘Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?’ The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.”

Several things stand out to me about this passage.

1. Sharing our story helps to break the power of the sin in our life.

Essentially, what Jesus was doing in asking the lame man to “carry his mat” was share his story. As I stated in a previous discussion, the lame man was most likely in the condition he was in because of sin. Everyone would see the mat that he had lain on for thirty-eight years and remember his previous life. We may feel that carrying our mat makes a “public momento” of our sin, as one commentator put it. However, I believe one reason Jesus asked the lame man to carry his mat was not to humiliate him but to show that he was no longer bound to his past.

For me, carrying my mat has been both the making of the cure public and the cure itself. Jesus revealed to me in the healing process I have been walking in that I had an addiction to approval and had made many wrong choices to gain acceptance. I had experimented with some same-sex relationships as a teenager — and looked for that acceptance in other ways as an adult, particularly from the males around me. Even as a former high school teacher, I had cultivated the worship of my classes and had a male fan club in every class. Although this never ended up in a relationship of any kind, I certainly encouraged attention because of my own low self-worth.

He wanted me to go back to people in my past and apologize for my part in wrong relationships and tell them how I was changing. This also included going back to some women where I had been flirtatious around their husbands, my teaching community and the families of my students — and some pastors at my church to talk about what God was doing in me.

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. (James 5:16)

While I have always sought out prayer for healing, the verse makes it clear that confession is equally as important. Not just individual confession, but at times a more public confession, whether this be to a close friend or people in your realm. Let me stress that a public confession doesn’t always have to happen, and we need to be wise about the words we use. A private confession to God is what He asks for, and if the sin involved others in a public way, then He may nudge us to go and make a more corporate admission. Other times, we may find a burden lift when we share our struggle with a friend or small group. (See more on guidelines for this in my note after the post.)

Henry W. Wright, author of A More Excellent Way: Be in Health, asserts that not being forthright can actually hinder healing. A woman at one of his seminars felt convicted during the course of his teaching and stood up and confessed her sin. Wright notes that she was healed of five incurable diseases on the spot. He felt God saying to him, “Because she has humbled herself before Me and before you and this congregation, I am going to deliver her and heal her.” She came back to the next year’s seminar and gave her testimony.

Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)

Even though my own process has been very embarrassing for me in many ways, I have experienced this same freedom in making public what I felt was so shameful about my past. Many of us are afraid to do this because of what it will cost us, but the Bible gives a clear link between confession and healing.

2. Sharing our story will sometimes go against societal norms.

One thing that we cannot overlook in this passage is that Jesus purposely healed the lame man on the Sabbath knowing that the Jewish leaders would view both the healing and the man’s mat-carrying (burden-bearing) as Sabbath-rest violations. The reaction by the community was certainly not favorable. As soon as the man stepped away from Jesus, he was immediately pounced on by Jewish leaders and questioned.

In reaching out to people from my past as well as my former students and their families, I have been walking a path that has very much defied tradition. However, Jesus has been teaching me through this process that it is more important to follow Him and obey Him even if His ways are unconventional.

Far too often, we judge the rightness of a thing based on whether or not we are comfortable with it or we’ve seen other people do it. But this passage shows us that Jesus’ commands should always have dominion over our man-made rules and preferences.

Despite the discomfort the lame man must have felt in being questioned, Jesus used the man’s healing and mat-bearing as an instructional point for the Jews. In a later passage, Jesus explained with perfect articulation why He cured the man and asked him to bear a load on the Sabbath (5:17). The hard-to-wrap ourselves around truth is that there are painful and uncomfortable moments to our healing — but Jesus always has a purpose for those uncomfortable places. Jesus often has us walk through momentary discomfort because He knows there is healing for us on the other side.

3. We have authority to share our story because of our personal encounters with Jesus. 

The lame man had very little understanding of who Jesus was when He was healed, but he had authority to speak because of his experience with Jesus and Jesus’ directive to him. Many of us shrink back and don’t speak because we don’t have a title or feel that we are adequate enough in God’s eyes.

However, despite the lame man’s speckled history, Jesus chose the man as a public display of His miraculous power.

‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he.’ (Isaiah 43:10)

Not only have I had to complete some really hard assignments in repenting of past sins, Jesus has wanted me to further carry my mat by sharing my experiences with others in my blog. I’ve had many a night sweating over the posts I will have to release the next day. I know that telling the truth is going to get other people healed. But I have had this conversation with God before publishing my posts: Maybe someone else should do this. Someone with more knowledge. Someone more spiritual.

In reaching back into my past, I’ve had a lot of questions from the people I’ve contacted, and my answers haven’t always been eloquent. I have been piecing together the truth as I’ve been going along. But we see from John 5 that we are God’s witnesses not because we know everything but because of our personal encounters with Him.

The lame man had “no idea who it was” who healed him (5:13), but even that witness of him carrying his mat was enough to pave the way for Jesus to come in and explain some important truths about the Sabbath at a later time (5:17). Jesus can accomplish much from what author and blogger Bonnie Gray refers to as our “unfinished” places.

Picking up your mat when Jesus requests you to share your story may feel hard and wrong, but that may be a key part of your healing or the healing of others. For when you share your story, rather than have it buried inside, crippling you, the mat you once used to lie on becomes the one you can carry openly as you walk upright through the streets.

Stay tuned next week as I dive into Part Three of the healing series.

Carol’s Note:

Last week I noted the importance of repentance and seeking prayer for healing, and this week I stressed the importance of confession. Commentator Matthew Henry makes the observation that confession does not mean we run around sharing our every wrong thought or misdeed. Sometimes we have thoughts that pop in our mind that aren’t even sin because we haven’t acted on those thoughts. And sometimes individual confession in our own prayer time is enough.

However, when does God want us to share with a small group or a larger audience about a struggle? Henry suggests some great guidelines in his analysis of James 5:16:

Where persons have injured one another, acts of injustice must be confessed to those against whom they have been committed. Where persons have tempted one another to sin or have consented to the same evil actions, there they ought mutually to blame themselves and excite each other to repentance. Where crimes are of a public nature, and have done any public mischief, there they ought to be more publicly confessed, so as they may best reach all who are concerned. And sometimes it may be well to confess our faults to some prudent minister or praying friend … But then we are not to think that James puts us upon telling every thing that we are conscious is amiss in ourselves or in one another; but so far as confession is necessary to our reconciliation with such as are at variance with us, or for gaining information in any point of conscience and making our own spirits quiet and easy, so far as we should be ready to confess our faults.

Quite honestly, God has told me in what instances I should share in a more public setting. I have just felt a knowing inside. His Holy Spirit has counseled me about the choices I’ve made. He will do that for you to if you are seeking the best way to approach a particular situation. I encourage you to go to Him and pray before rushing off to make public a misdeed.

Related Resources:

Are you interested in the spiritual roots of many diseases? Henry W. Wright’s A More Excellent Way: Be in Health talks about spiritual causes for many illnesses such as depression and his advice about how to look at disease from a spiritual standpoint.

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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Part One: Is There a Healing Formula in the Bible?

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I started a series on healing last week, and I want to continue it this week by looking at a passage in John 5 where a crippled man is healed.

I never noticed this passage until recently. About a month ago, I felt drawn to read the accounts of healing in John, and I was astounded to see similarities in the John 5 and John 9 passages — similarities that closely correspond with my own healing experience.

I want to share a few of my observations on both passages in the next few weeks, and perhaps some of what I am saying can illuminate some things for you in your own situation.

The Lame Man by the Pool

In John 5, Jesus approaches a man lying by a healing pool. Apparently, the pool was one where the sick (including the blind, lame, and paralyzed) would come for healing. As legend had it, in a particular season, an angel would descend and stir the waters. Once the angel had stirred the waters, the angel would leave, and it was up to the diseased to get in. The first one in the pool would get the benefit of the medicinal qualities in the water. The man whom Jesus approaches has had no such luck; his friends have all had the benefit of getting in the water, but he has been left behind.

When Jesus comes up to him, Jesus asks him if he wants to be healed. The man complains that no one has helped him in the waters, but Jesus doesn’t need the water to heal him. He tells the man to “get up” and carry his mat. The man does so and is able to walk after thirty-eight years of being paralyzed. He then goes out into the streets and is questioned by Jews as to the man who healed him.

Several important things should be noted about this passage.

1. The man was most likely crippled because of sin.

This may be a highly unpopular way to start this discussion, but one thing that we can learn and observe by reading the account of the cripple’s healing is that it shows us that there can be a connection between sin and illness. This idea is implied because after the healing, Jesus finds the man at the temple and says, “See you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (John 5:14).

Sin is not always the reason for infirmity, and we must be cautious to assume that our every illness is caused by sin — but, in some cases, our malady can be invited in by unconfessed sin or sin we are not willing to part with. (Please note that illness can just be a result of the state of our fallen world or an affliction we are born with that has nothing to do with sin.)

In my own experience, my unforgiveness and unresolved anger in the past has brought on problems of severe depression and other physical issues. The sentiment in most Christian communities is that our sin has no affect us because of Jesus’ work on the cross; however, while it is true that we are under no condemnation as Christians (Romans 8:1), this passage suggests the correlation in certain instances between sin and sickness.

2. The healing begins with a stirring of the waters.

The healing in the passage started with a “stirring of the waters.” It’s not clear whether the angel that came down to stir the waters was legend or truth; however, what is understood is that the angel descended only at a particular season and it was the job of the diseased to “get in” (John 5:7).

What this has felt like for me has been a “stirring” or churning in my heart during a church service, and I have felt the need to get out of my seat and go down to the altar for prayer. As I have received prayer, I have felt a directive about an apology I need to make or a resentment I need to let go of. For whatever reason, the stirring initiated the process.

On a larger scope, I have recently very much been on a journey these past few years to allow God to reach some of the broken places in me that haven’t been touched in previous experiences. And the stirring has been more of an outside force — a violent storm taking place in my life with me at the bottom of it. I’ve been confused and scared. But in the midst of the chaos, God has stepped in and chosen to use the undoing — the spinning of elements out of control — to be the starting place for an emotional healing.

3. Jesus may use means that do not make any sense to us in our healing.

For our crippled man in the passage, Jesus came directly to him. The cripple voiced the fact that many of his friends had been healed, and he had never been able to get in the waters. I searched long and hard for an interpretation of this, and I couldn’t find much. But a few things came to mind: Jesus sought him out when he thought his opportunity had passed him by. Jesus did not leave him behind.

And what also very much stands out to me is that the man had a very narrow idea of the method in which he would be healed. He fixated on the one way he thought that it would happen for him: He believed that he had to be the first to get in the healing pools (John 5:7).

You and I are very much the same way. We have an idea in mind about how a healing or promise will come to pass for us. We may think that it has to come through a doctor, or a certain series of steps to get to our goal — but Jesus shows us in this particular passage that He can heal us by means that are beyond our understanding of how it should happen. He will ask us to do things or a series of things that don’t seem to have any correlation to what’s wrong with us. Our way to healing is to follow His directive and trust that it may happen differently for us than we originally envisioned. As commentator Matthew Henry notes:

We are all by nature impotent folks in spiritual things, blind, halt and withered — but effectual provision is made for our cure if we will but observe orders.

All we have to do is “observe orders” by reading the Word and putting ourselves in a position to hear from God to do what He says. However, even if we have completely screwed things up, He still comes for us.

Quite frankly, in my journey of inner healing these past few years, I feared that my chances for God using me had passed me by. I knew I had made bad choices earlier in my life, and I didn’t know that God would open any more for me. But even as I had squandered some of my earlier opportunities, God has found me in a similar way that He found the lame man and given me some steps to get free.

4. You may have to participate in the process.

When Jesus approached the man by the pool, he posed the question: “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6). Obviously, the man wanted healing. He had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years. However, Jesus asked the question because he wanted to know the man’s commitment level to the process: Did the man really want to participate in his own healing? According to Henry:

In spiritual cases, people are not willing to be cured of their sins, are loth to part with them. If this point therefore were but gained, if people were willing to be made whole, the work were half done, for Christ is willing to heal, if we be but willing to be healed.”

As Henry notes, “Christ is willing to heal, if we be but willing to be healed.” And again, we see the implied connection between the man’s sin and his infirmity. Jesus is God. He can do anything He wants to. He can heal people in multiple ways through multiple means — with just a snap of his fingers. And often He does.

However, what I have found to be true in my experience is that God has asked something of me. When my infirmity or brokenness is spiritually rooted, I have to repent of the sin to be healed. The way it has happened for me in my most recent journey is that He has presented me with some things to do in digging back in my past — make some contacts. That has been the “getting up” in my process.

As I finish with one, another pops up. I haven’t wanted to do them, and I haven’t even really understood all the reasons why God has given me the directives that He has. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me that I didn’t have to do anything because of God’s grace. But what I think can be said about that is that my journey has not been about earning forgiveness or earning God’s favor — it has been about obedience. As I have been obeying God, He has begun to work in me supernaturally to bring about change.

5. He didn’t get up in his own power — He got up in Christ’s power.

A strange thing happens when we obey God. We stir ourselves to act, but it is actually Christ who strengthens and straightens our limbs as we get up. Note what Henry says about this section of the passage:

But if he had not attempted to help himself, he had not been cured, and he must have borne the blame; yet it does not therefore follow that, when he rise and walk, it was by his own strength; no it was by the power of Christ, and he must have all the glory.”

Even in our action, it is still Christ’s power which enables us to walk.

Jesus will not take the steps for you. He will point you the way, show you the step, meet you in the act of faith. But there is a movement on our part that has to happen. We see that just as there is a “getting in” component of the sick into the healing waters, there is a “getting up” component to Jesus’ command.

Jesus can heal people any way He wants to and there is not necessarily a formula that Jesus uses every time He heals in Scripture; however, we can observe some of the steps that occur in His approach to the lame man and recognize how we can allow those to be implemented in our own lives.

Carol’s note:

It can be really scary to read a post like this because the enemy wants to get into your thoughts and condemn and accuse, but we should notice how compassionate Jesus was in this story. He wasn’t concerned with accusing the man; he was concerned with healing the man. One of my favorite verses is Romans 8:1 because it reminds us that we are forgiven no matter what we’ve done.

If you feel like you have a disease that is spiritually rooted but aren’t sure, ask God and see what He tells you. He promises to give you the wisdom you need (James 1:5). I would also recommend getting prayer at church by your elders or prayer team (James 5:14). In addition, Henry W. Wright’s A More Excellent Way is an excellent resource that gives further insight into spiritually rooted disease.

Related Bible Verses:

John 5:1: “Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie — the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’ ‘Sir,’ the invalid replied, ‘I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.’ ”

Romans 8:1: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Related Resources:

The website biblegateway.com is a free online Bible resource. It offers different translations of Scripture as well as notes and commentary (such as Matthew Henry commentary) to better understand the meaning and context of Scripture passages.

Are you interested in the spiritual roots of many diseases? Henry W. Wright’s A More Excellent Way: Be in Health talks about spiritual causes for many illnesses such as depression and his advice about how to look at disease from a spiritual standpoint.

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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