June 11, 2012

One of my friends is doing the hard work of facing the devastating effects of childhood abuse and various unspeakable horrors. She knows that she needs to accept the full impact what happened to her in order to grieve it and forgive the people who wounded her so she can walk in freedom. But one of her friends recently gave her some disheartening counsel: “Oh, there’s a spirit of grief harassing you. You don’t need to go around digging up the past like you’re doing. Just speak your inner healing into existence! Declare that you are healed and whole in Jesus’ name!”

This lady has bought into the dangerous (and unbiblical) “word of faith” theology (WOF) that puts faith in one’s words instead of in God Himself. It’s a religious version of “wishing will make it so,” having morphed into “speaking will make it so.” This wrong thinking can range from an unfortunate misunderstanding of the Scriptures to a blasphemous presumption that creatures can create reality by the power of their words—just like God did when He spoke creation into existence by the power of His word.

It’s certainly an appealing idea, bypassing the hard soul work of grieving and forgiving to get to the prize of a healed heart at peace. Just say the magic words, like waving a magic wand, and POOF! you’re healed! Who wouldn’t want to go that far, far easier route?

Shortcuts don’t work. They do, however, result in major disappointment when people are taught unrealistic expectations of God about promises He never made. One of the most basic principles of Bible reading and study is that “context is king.” We must never wrench verses out of their surrounding paragraphs, chapters, and books. And if we come up with an understanding or application of a verse that is contradicted by other passages in scripture, we need to jettison our wrong thinking.

So, for example, if someone points out Isaiah 53:5 to my friend, which says “by His stripes we are healed,” and promises she can claim healing of any and every pain or ailment, what happens when nothing happens? This wrong-headed promise tempts people to conclude that God is not good, and He is not faithful, because He didn’t keep His word. But that cannot be the meaning of Isaiah 53:5 since the supposed promise of immediate healing is contradicted in other scriptures such as 2 Cor. 12:7-9, where Paul tells us that God said no to his pleas for healing from his thorn in the flesh, promising instead that His grace was enough. Claiming inner healing without submitting to the process of facing the full impact of what happened to her so that she can release it to the Lord not only isn’t truthful, it doesn’t work like that.

WOF taps into legitimate longings for a life free from want, from sickness and death, from pain, which are promised to believers in Christ in the new heavens and new earth. But it illegitimately promises that life NOW. It’s simply a matter of praying in faith, believing not in God’s goodness, but the power of one’s own prayers. Our own words. That’s a form of idolatry.

But this theology is not consistent with reality, which means it cannot be of God. One night I was at an event where there would be a drawing for some jewelry. I watched several people lay hands on the blingy stuff and say, “I claim this in Jesus’ name.” Guess what—none of them won the drawing. What happened? It’s the same dynamic as when believers on both sides of a football game claim victory for their team in Jesus’ name. God cannot grant two opposite requests—or, in this case, demands. (He’s not much into demands of any kind, actually.)

God deals with truth, not fantasy and illusion. WOF violates the scriptural principle of embracing truth, such as the psalmist’s powerful statement in Ps. 51:6, “You desire truth in the innermost being.” Another friend, Cathy, was dying of cancer, but she refused to believe what the doctors said. She insisted right up to her last breath that she was believing health for herself, and would not talk to anyone about funeral arrangements or even what to do with her house and her possessions because that would be faithless. But she wasn’t putting her faith in God, who was actually calling her home, but in her wishful prayers.

Beware of spiritual shortcuts, especially those that are created by your own words. If there were such a thing, don’t you think Jesus would have bypassed the Cross?


This blog post originally appeared at blogs.bible.org/tapestry/sue_bohlin/just_say_the_magic_words

Sue Bohlin is an associate speaker/writer and webmistress for Probe Ministries. She attended the University of Illinois, and has been a Bible teacher and conference speaker for over 40 years. She is a speaker for MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) and Stonecroft Ministries (Christian Women's Connections), and serves on the board of Living Hope Ministries, a Christ-centered outreach to those dealing with unwanted homosexuality. Sue is on the Bible.org Women's Leadership Team and is a regular contributor to Bible.org's Engage Blog. In addition to being a professional calligrapher, she is the wife of Probe's Dr. Ray Bohlin and the mother of their two grown sons. Her personal website is suebohlin.com.

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