I watched a VERY thought provoking film last night…

Have you seen “American Gospel: Christ Alone?” If you haven’t then you should consider it. Written and directed by a member of my church, Parkside Church in Chagrin Falls, the young man named Brandon Kimber is as clear as day on the gospel, and every step of the way through his documentary he provides thought-provoking and Christ exalting analysis and commentary. Throughout the documentary you will see some recognizable faces like, Mark Dever, J.D. Greear, Jackie Hill Perry, Jon Macarthur, Steve Lawson, etc. At the same time, there are a number of featured speakers who are not well known, but whose lives have been radically transformed by the Gospel of grace. I perceived, as I watched, that the goal of the documentary is the same goal Martin Luther had hundreds of years ago, to plead with the church of our day that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone; there is no such thing as a Jesus + something salvation.

For this particular blog, I want to jump off a topic brought up in Kimber’s documentary to address the question posed at the end of the film, and the question may be posed like as, “Is it always God’s will to heal someone?” Bill Johnson is the leader of Bethel Church in Redding, California, and he wrote a blog response to this exact question. Here is how he answers the question

“How can God choose NOT to heal someone when he already purchased their healing? Was His blood enough for all sin, or just certain sins? Were the stripes He bore only for certain illnesses, or certain seasons of time? When He bore stripes in His body He made a payment for our miracle. He already decided to heal. You can’t decide not to buy something after you’ve already bought it.

There are no deficiencies on His end- nor His compassion or promises. All lack is on our end of the equation.” He then goes on to stake a claim that the only time people were not healed in the gospels was when the disciples prayed for them rather than Jesus. This is an interesting statement when we consider that Jesus himself was not healed from his earthly sufferings, and he indeed did in a very real way die from the torture and pain he went through. His failure to point this out is a de-emphasis on Christ’s suffering and dying in our place, and an over-emphasis on Christ’s resurrection. We must hold the both in high esteem and theological significance.

Again, I’m struck by Johnson’s next words in his blog when he writes, “Jesus Christ is perfect theology- He is the will of God.” No, Jesus IS God. Jesus is not merely “perfect theology,” Jesus is actually the second person of the Trinity, and this ups the stakes when discussing who Jesus is and what Jesus has done. So, Johnson goes on to write about “How do we fix the problem,” by giving 8 words of advice. I don’t have the time in this post to dissect each of the 8 pieces of advice, however suffice it to say, they all agree with the direct quotes featured in “American Gospel:  Christ Alone.” These quotes featured essentially consider healing and miracles as a formula that we wall can learn, follow, and get results out of, so here is what he has published in one of his books,

“He (Jesus) performed miracles, wonders, and signs, as a man in right relationship to God… not as God. If he performed miracles because He (shouldn’t his ‘h’ be lower-cased in his view?) was God, then they would be unattainable for us. But if he did them as a man, then I am responsible for his lifestyle.”

 Somehow, Bill Johnson believes that in the Incarnation, Jesus emptied himself of his deity, and thus for a time was not fully God. However, when we read Phil. 2 here is what we actually find, “Who, though he (Jesus) was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, ‘but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, and being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” You see, Jesus did not empty Himself of His deity when he was Incarnate, but He empties himself by taking, and in his taking he was humbling himself by taking on a nature less than the nature He has had for all eternity. So, Jesus did not become less than God, Jesus remained fully God, and yet became fully man. In the New Testament, Jesus did not always exercise his divine attributes; however, Jesus has remained fully God for all eternity, and to consider himself as anything less strays from orthodoxy. In the film, the commentator on this section points out that at the Mount of Transfiguration, before Jesus was even crucified, the veil of His deity was pulled back and He was revealed to be God. I’ve preached sermons on both of these passages (Phil. 2:1-11 & Matt. 17:1-8), so if you’d like to dive into each of these topics further I can provide you with that content here… https://www.parksidechurch.com/learn/resources/media-center/sermon/speaker/brandon-smith/

So, that is one featured view from “American Gospel:  Christ Alone,” but allow me to focus on two other voices from the film to help address the question, “Is it always God’s will to heal somebody?” Maybe you’ve heard of Nabeel Qureshi who died in 2017 after converting to Christianity from Islam. Here is Qureshi’s conversion to Christianity in his own words: 

“But Jesus,’ I said, ‘accepting you would be like dying. I will have to give up everything.’

The next verses spoke to me, saying, ‘He who does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for my sake will find it. Jesus was being very blunt:  For Muslims, following the gospel is more than a call to prayer. It is a call to die.

I knelt at the foot of my bed and gave up my life.”

Qureshi goes on to write “To follow him is worth giving up everything.” Qureshi went on to receive a degree in apologetics at Biola, and he worked for Ravi Zacharias. In 2014, Qureshi published his most well-known work, titled, “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus:  A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity.” Qureshi may have expected to receive backlash from his Muslim family, from the broader Muslim community, and from critics of Christianity, but he probably didn’t expect what came next. What came next was a cancer diagnosis. On the day of the diagnosis this is what he wrote, “This is an announcement that I never expected to make, but God in His infinite and sovereign wisdom has chosen me for this refining, and I pray He will be glorified through my body and my spirit. My family and I have received the news that I have advanced stomach cancer, and the clinical prognosis is quite grim.”

Well, is it always God’s will to heal somebody? Nabeel Qureshi did pray for both medical and supernatural healing. He did have faith healers literally proclaiming that because of Qureshi’s faith he will be healed. Yet, in 2017 he was placed on palliative care, and there were no other medical options to save his life. In his final vlog ever recorded, which is also featured in Kimber’s documentary, Qureshi admits “It’s looking pretty grim and I could really use your prayers.” He then asks the question, “Where does my faith need to be versus me as a believer and a real person, where can I actually find my faith? In other words, do I need to perform? Do I need to say ‘I’m going to have this level of faith right now? And honestly I don’t think so. I think God understands where I am right now, and he comes alongside us in that, and he loves us, and gives us our strength for today.”

The last thing we really ever heard from Qureshi was this prayer, “Father we come before you trusting you even now for a miracle, and we know that John 11 uses those exact words ‘even now’ you can do a miracle. And we saw him raise Lazarus from the dead. We see the Lord in Genesis 22 rescue Isaac at the very last second. We see the dead girl raised from the dead. Luke 7 we see a boy raised from the dead. So, God is able; God is more than able; and I will rest in that as best I can. Lord we know you are able please heal; please come through. But, if it shouldn’t be your sovereign will at the end of the day then I trust you and I love you anyway. We praise you Lord and I love you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.” Qureshi died shortly after this vlog was published.

Was it God’s will to heal Nabeel Qureshi physically? Obviously not. And you might read that and reject it off-hand saying in your human, finite, and imperfect wisdom, “I just don’t understand what good could possibly come out of Qureshi’s death? If my kid were sick I would never allow them to die, and I would always heal them.” Consider this, you are right that you often can’t see the reasons for pain, suffering, or death in our world, but just because you as a finite and fallible human can’t see a reason doesn’t mean a reason doesn’t exist. Furthermore, you can’t project yourself and your own thoughts, desires, and morals onto the Almighty and Sovereign God. If Jesus is less than God, or God is not sovereign, then yes you may have a point; however, the Bible clearly declares Jesus is Yahweh, the Great “I Am,” and God is Sovereign over all things, so everything that comes about does so according to His great purpose and plan. To limit God’s work in our world to your own understanding is to reduce God to being made in a human’s image rather than humanity made in His image. And oh by the way, Qureshi has been healed in the deepest and truest way, because His soul has been healed, and that is the real miracle. Qureshi is actually currently in heaven with the giver of gifts, the Creator God, and He is also with the greatest gift, and that is Jesus Christ our Lord.

Towards the end of the documentary here is a quote from Bill Johnson delivered in one of his sermons, “Any definition of God’s Sovereignty that allows for evil to exist as a part of His will and purpose is an immoral definition of sovereignty.” On February 9th, I wrote a blog post called, “Lessons From Studying Job & Experiencing Pain/Trauma, if you read that blog you will find that contrary to Johnson’s claim, the truth is, Job did not suffer because He was disobedient, but actually it was on account of His righteousness and uprightness and blamelessness that Satan sought to test Him, and so He had to go to God and ask Him for permission to strike Job. God did not strike Job, because God is not the author of evil, and yet God allowed the suffering of Job by His Sovereign will. One of the main ideas of the book of Job is that innocent suffering does exist, and Job comes to understand this and He worships Yahweh even in the midst of the deepest and darkest of pain.

I’d like to point out that if it is true that “Any definition of God’s Sovereignty that allows for evil to exist as a part of His will and purpose is an immoral definition of sovereignty,” then that would mean you must deny the gospel. The gospel itself is a true story which is good news about God sovereignly allowing for evil to come against the Son of God in order to achieve salvation for sinners, and in order to purchase us by the bloodshed of Christ. Without the shedding of blood there is no salvation. Were those who beat, tortured, and caused Jesus to bleed accountable for their free actions? Yes, absolutely. But, did God use all of this evil to actually redeem us and ransom us from sin and death? Yes, absolutely! Christ voluntarily gave His life on the cross in order to bring about the greatest thing of all time-salvation from sin.

I want to end this post (And I know it’s a long one), but allow me to end with the Sermon that changed my life and has been ingrained in my brain like no other sermon I’ve ever heard. This sermon is actually featured in “American Gospel:  Christ Alone.” This sermon is also featured in my blog from January 30th, titled, “The Power of Memorizing Quotes and Which One’s Have Helped me Most.” Here is the quote along with what I wrote on that day…

One of the most powerful sermons I’ve ever heard was by John Piper speaking against the Health, Wealth, and Prosperity Gospel which is often preached by many televangelist types. Here is what Piper said, (again it’s from memory so don’t knock me if I’m a little off on the quote) “Do you know what I feel about the health, wealth, and prosperity Gospel? Hatred. It is not the gospel. It is shipping a bill of goods and crap they call “gospel”- like believe this message-your pigs won’t die and your wives won’t have miscarriages. And this is coming out of America! And when was the last time that any African, Asian, American said ‘Jesus is all satisfying,’ because you drove a BMW? NEVER! Here is what makes Jesus look beautiful is when you get in a car wreck and your loved one goes smashing through a windshield and you’re able to say in the deepest and darkest of pain ‘Jesus is all satisfying!’ That makes Jesus look glorious.”

I want you to stop and watch this sermon jam and you can find it at this link:

Long quote I know. But, the reason I always come back to Piper’s quote is because it helps me to check all preaching I hear and all preaching I myself do to make sure what I’m preaching is actually the gospel and not some false-gospel or some sort of behavior modification or moralism. When we preach we want to make Jesus look glorious and we want to not make the mistake of elevating gifts above the giver!

*** If you want to know more about this topic then I suggest you just go watch “American Gospel:  Christ Alone.” I know you can stream it at Amazon, because that’s how I watched it, but I think it’s also available on Itunes, and I know there are also DVD copies, and it’s available on Vimeo.

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