Scientific studies over the past several decades have proved what the Bible has tried to tell us for thousands of years, forgiveness and healing go hand in hand. Research papers from John’s Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic have said that forgiveness can lead to these physical health benefits: lower blood pressure, a stronger immune system, improved heart health, and a decrease in diabetes. Whether we are the ones being forgiven, or the ones forgiving someone else, when forgiveness becomes part of our lives we experience less stress, less anxiety, and less anger, which leads to better health. Forgiveness leads to healing – every time.
There was a moment when Jesus linked forgiveness and healing together, and he did this to make several points about forgiveness and healing. Before we look at this, however, we need to make one thing clear. While forgiveness can lead to healing and improved health, it does not mean that all sickness and disease is caused by sin. In Jesus’ day, the idea was that if someone was sick it was due to some kind of sin. If someone was blind, people assumed it was because that person sinned, and if someone was born blind, then it was their parents who sinned. Without the science we have today, this was just how they made sense of their world, but Jesus separated sin and sickness. Jesus makes clear that sickness is not directly caused by sin, but the beauty of what we see in Jesus is that when he forgives it leads to better health, a better life.
In Mark 2 we find a story where Jesus links together forgiveness and healing. It is early in Jesus’ ministry and he has healed a lot of people, which has made him very popular. People from all over the region around Capernaum were flocking to Jesus in order to be healed, and to hear his teaching, and while the crowds were thick, people just kept coming. One day four men brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus. They couldn’t get to him because of the crowds, but they could get to the roof of the house where Jesus was speaking. They took their friend up onto the roof, found the right spot, and dug a hole large enough to lower their friend to Jesus. They were desperate for Jesus to heal their friend. Mark 2:6.
Have you ever wondered what these friends must have thought in that moment? What is Jesus talking about? Doesn’t he see that “Joe” is paralyzed? We brought him here so Jesus could help him walk, not to be forgiven. That Jesus chose to forgive this man before he healed him tells us that forgiveness is that important. That Jesus forgives the man before he talks about or considers healing him tells us that the priority for Jesus is forgiveness first.
Have we made forgiveness a priority in our own lives? Have we made receiving God’s forgiveness a priority? Have we made forgiving others a priority? What priority have we given forgiveness? We spend billions of dollars on our physical health and many more billions on our mental health, which is fine – we need to care for ourselves in these ways, but have we made this kind of healing and wholeness THE priority? Have we placed our physical and emotional well-being ahead of our spiritual well-being?
If forgiveness always leads to better health, maybe we need to make sure that we are taking as much time, and spending as much energy, on our spiritual lives. Have we asked God to forgive us and are we asking God to help us forgive others, so that we can feel better. If sin, shame, and our own sense of failing God can cause us to feel anxious, and stressed, which can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and a compromised immune system, then maybe we need to shift our priorities and examine the role that forgiveness can play in our lives so that we can be healthier and happier.
Now please don’t hear in this that I am saying we don’t need to go to doctors for our physical problems. I am not saying that all! What I am saying is that if forgiveness can become a priority, as Jesus made it, then maybe we would experience better overall health. Jesus forgives the man first to show us that forgiveness needs to be a priority in our lives, but he also forgives first to prove to everyone involved that he has the authority and ability to forgive and to show that God’s forgiveness is real and complete.
When Jesus said this man’s sins were forgiven, he was not forgiving a personal offense between the two of them. Jesus was forgiving sin, all his sin. Jesus was claiming to have the authority to forgive sin in this man’s life – an authority and power that belonged to God alone. While we can forgive one another, only God can forgive sin, but here’s Jesus forgiving sin, and to prove that he can do this, he tells the man to get up and walk, and the man gets up and walks. This miracle was proof that Jesus had the power to forgive sin, which told the crowd that Jesus was God in the flesh. The forgiveness Jesus offers is real, and complete, and what we see here is that it leads to healing and new life.
Let’s look at this story from the perspective of the paralytic. When Jesus forgave him, he still couldn’t walk. He was still lying there. He may have felt something change in his heart and life, he may have felt some assurance of forgiveness in his soul, but at some point he would have been left asking himself if what he felt was real. Have I really been forgiven? But when Jesus told him to get up and walk, it was the proof he needed that he was forgiven. His healing was not just a physical gift from Jesus, but a compassionate spiritual gift Jesus as well because the healing told this man, beyond any shadow of doubt, that he was forgiven.
And think about the crowd. They heard Jesus forgive the man’s sin and they must have wondered what he was doing, or if what he said really meant anything, but then they too saw the man get up and walk. They also had this visible sign that Jesus not only had the authority, but the ability to forgive sin. They were looking at the Savior, the Messiah, and in Jesus they knew that forgiveness was possible – and if forgiveness was possible, then healing was possible, and new life was possible. The forgiveness of Jesus changes everything.
While we see here that forgiveness leads to better health, what we often miss is that the healing was also the visible proof to the paralyzed man, his friends, the home owner, and the crowd, that Jesus has the power to forgive sin and that God’s forgiveness is real, and available, and really does change everything. Can this story help us see the same thing?
We often talk about how we are forgiven through the blood of Jesus, or the work of Jesus on the cross, or how God forgives us, but then we are left wondering, am I really forgiven? Has God really forgiven me? Are my sins really washed away, removed as far as the east is from the west? What this man got to see and experience, we have to take on faith. While the crowd got proof of Jesus’ power to forgiven, we have to just that it is true. Can this story help us trust Jesus more? Can this story of forgiveness and healing help us see and believe that we too are forgiven, and that just as it did for this man, our forgiveness can lead to healing, wholeness, and new life?
John Wesley, one of the founders of the Methodist movement struggled with this very issue. While he believed in God and trusted in Jesus, he often wrestled with whether or not God had forgiven him. It was many years after Wesley had been a missionary and preacher that he attended a meeting where he heard once again that we are forgiven by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Wesley writes in his journal, “While he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
Some have said that this was not just a turn of phrase for Wesley but that he actually felt a physical burning in his chest when he realized that he was forgiven. There was this physical sign for Wesley that he was forgiven, and that moment led to a changed life. It was from this moment on that Wesley’s work took off and the Methodist movement and church was born.
Jesus goes to great lengths to show us that God’s forgiveness is real, it is personal, it is powerful, and it is available, all we need to do is come to God in faith. We may not get a visible sign of forgiveness, but we will feel free, lifted up, or maybe filled up in some way. When we have this assurance of forgiveness our lives are different, we are healed in some way, and life is better.
For me it came on an October afternoon as I sat on the campus of MSU. There was no physical healing, there was no burning in my soul, there was no powerful sign that anyone else would have seen, but there was a lightness to my being, as if a burden of guilt and shame had been lifted. I’ll be honest, there are still moments of doubt, and moments of fear when I wonder if God still forgives me because I still sin and fall short – but I think back to that moment, that day, that feeling, and it helps me trust that God has forgiven me, and that, yes, God still forgives me. God’s forgiveness is real.
I’m sure there were many days this once paralyzed man felt the same way. Does God still forgive me? Has God forgiven my sin from this day, this year? So what does he do? He goes back and remembers that day when forgiveness led to healing, and when his healing was a sign that he was forgiven. We can go back and remember that same day, see that same miracle, and hear the same words spoken, but this time not to a paralyzed man, but to us, your sins are forgiven. Our sins are forgiven and we can get up and walk into a new life.
God’s forgiveness also brings us great joy. Mark 2:12.
They praised God. They celebrated God’s forgiveness. I’m not sure we know how to celebrate God’s forgiveness, either our own forgiveness or the forgiveness we extend to others, but if the power of forgiveness is really life changing – it should be something we learn to celebrate – every day. While studies haven’t shown this is how it works, I wonder if it is the celebration of forgiveness that leads to improved health.
Studies have shown that gratitude and thankfulness improve our health, so if we are praising God every day for the forgiveness he offers, then we will experience better health. Maybe it is the joy and the freedom we find in forgiveness that leads to improved health. So let’s learn how to celebrate forgiveness in our lives, our families, and the life of the church so we can be healed.
One last observation we need to make about the forgiveness of Jesus is this, the paralyzed man was only forgiven and healed with the help of his friends. They were the ones who brought him to Jesus. There is a world that needs to know about the forgiveness of Jesus. There is a world that is laying diseased, and dying, and they need to know about the forgiveness of Jesus, and we are the ones being called to carry them to Jesus.
When we pray for people, we carry them to Jesus. When we make a simple invitation for someone to worship with us, serve with us, or join us in a small group, we carry them to Jesus. When we forgive someone, we carry them to Jesus. When we accept the forgiveness offered to us, we carry them to Jesus. In all these ways, and more, we need forgiveness to flow in and through our lives to a sick and dying world so that they can experience the forgiveness of Jesus and the healing it brings.
A Forgiveness that Heals
Connect To God
- Ask God to forgive your sin.
- Ask God for the healing you need.
- Ask God to help you see Jesus as the One who has the authority and ability to forgive and heal.
- Surrender your life to the authority of Jesus.
- What would it look like for you to live with the conviction that God has forgiven all your sin?
Connect to the Church
- Identify someone who needs the forgiveness and healing of Jesus.
- Pray for this person.
- Identify ways you can help bring this person to Jesus.
- Volunteer in a Sunday morning ministry of Faith Church so that you can help the church welcome those looking for forgiveness and a deeper faith.
Connect to the World
- Identify people around the world who need to know the love of Jesus.
- Pray for these people.
- Ask God to show you how you can reach them.
- Pray for the authority and love of Jesus to be seen through your life.