Do You Want to be Healed?

In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis describes a man who carried the lizard of lust on his shoulder. The lizard tormented the man night and day, and the man could never seem to escape its tyranny. 

One day, God sent the Holy Spirit to rescue the man from his serpentine tormentor. In order to free the man, the Spirit would have to kill the lizard. The man—having become quite attached to the lizard—was hesitant at the thought of this operation, intuiting that the lizard’s death would require a kind of death to himself. 

Below is an excerpt from the interaction (the Holy Spirit is poetically described as an angel and the man as a ghost):

‘Would you like me to make him quiet?’ said the flaming Spirit—an angel, as I now understood.

‘Of course I would,’ said the Ghost.

Then I will kill him,’ said the Angel, taking a step forward.

Oh—ah—look out! You’re burning me. Keep away,’ said the Ghost, retreating.

‘Don’t you want him killed?’

‘You didn’t say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that.’

‘It’s the only way,’ said the Angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the Lizard. ‘Shall I kill it?’

‘Well, that’s a further question. I’m quite open to consider it, but it’s a new point, isn’t it? I mean, for the moment I was only thinking about silencing it because up here—well, it’s so damned embarrassing.’

‘May I kill it?’

‘Well, there’s time to discuss that later.’

‘There is no time. May I kill it?’

‘Please, I never meant to be such a nuisance. Please—really—don’t bother. Look! It’s gone to sleep of its own accord. I’m sure it’ll be all right now. Thanks ever so much.’

Don’t you want your sin killed?

The Apostle John records a similar interaction between Jesus and a sick man (see John 5:1-9). The man had been lame for 38 years before he met Jesus. Curiously, instead of immediately healing the man upon meeting him, Jesus first asks him an odd question:

“Do you want to be healed?” (v. 6)

On the surface, this question may seem offensive to us. We picture the man having the same thought as the lizard-tormented ghost in Lewis’s story—Of course I want to be healed! What kind of question is that?

Yet Jesus’s question isn’t quite as strange when we remember that his healings reflect spiritual realities—and that Jesus often asks us the same question as we lie paralyzed with indwelling sin:

Do you want to be healed? Do you want to be freed from this sin you are clinging to?

If we are honest with ourselves, our answer is often no. (Or, at best, a mix of yes and no.) That is, after all, why we continue to sin. Like the ghost in Lewis’s story, we are hesitant to let the Holy Spirit kill the slimy creature which oppresses us—afraid that such an operation would require a kind of death to ourselves.

Wanting to want what God wants

By asking us what we truly want, Jesus exposes the sickness that exists in our hearts. Fortunately, Jesus never exposes us to harm us. He exposes us to heal us. While Jesus isn’t surprised that sinners want to sin, he does grieve when he sees sin’s stranglehold—and he wants to free us from its crippling tyranny (see Romans 7:18-8:11; Revelation 1:5).

So, what can we do if our answer to Jesus’s question is no? What can we do if we—like the ghost in The Great Divorce—don’t fully want to be freed from the sin which oppresses us?

Here’s the good news: While you may not presently want what God wants, if you only want to want what God wants, the Holy Spirit can work with that. God has long been in the business of righting the desires of willing hearts.

Start by making this confession to God: “Lord, right now, it’s clear that my heart doesn’t fully want what you want. Forgive me for this. But I want to want what you want. Will you help me get there?”

That prayer—Lord, help me to want what you want—is one God loves to answer. Commit to praying this daily for a month. Ask him to show you steps you can take toward healing and commit to taking these steps. Then watch how God provides.

Trying to heal ourselves

The lame man’s response to Jesus’s question is noteworthy: “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up—and while I am going, another steps down before me” (v. 7).

In other words, the man says, “Of course I want to be healed—I have been trying to heal myself for 38 years. I’ve even looked to other people to save me. And it hasn’t worked.”

How often is this our response to Jesus? “I have been trying to heal myself for years. And it hasn’t worked.”

And guess what? That’s the point. We can’t heal ourselves. Sure, we may be able to crowbar our way to better behavior. But we can’t crowbar our way to true healing. True, lasting, heart-transforming healing comes through Jesus alone.

Our ultimate hope

This, of course, is not to say that our efforts don’t matter. God commands us to put to death what is earthly in us (Colossians 3:5-17). Beyond that, Jesus almost always uses ordinary means to meet us and heal us—consistent time in God’s word and prayer, regular fellowship and accountability from the body of Christ, an ongoing practice of communion, worship, and service, setting up roadblocks to sin, and yes, good ol’ self-discipline (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

The question is not whether or not we should work hard at sanctification. We should. The question is where our ultimate hope rests.

If we think the gospel is that when we sin, we just need to try harder, we are missing the whole point. Our highest goal in this life—and in sanctification itself—should not be sinning less, but knowing Jesus more (which will, invariably, lead to new obedience).

Which race are you running?

As you run the race of faith, what words are on the banner above the finish line? What are you sprinting toward? Is it “Be better”? “Try harder”? “Sin less”? None of these are the path to true freedom and healing.

The path to true freedom and healing is found beneath the banner which reads “Know Jesus” (cf. Hebrews 12:1-2, also see Philippians 3:7-11). Don’t put your ultimate hope in your own ability to do better. Put your ultimate hope in Jesus—run to him, and let him heal you.

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Blake Glosson is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been published by The Gospel Coalition and Crosswalk.com and republished and/or referred by Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn)Challies.com (Tim Challies), Moody Radio (Dawn and Steve Mornings—here and here), The JOY FM (The Morning Cruise with Dave, Bill, and Carmen)ChurchLeaders.comThe Aquila ReportMonergism.com, and numerous other sources. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

Read “Five Habits That Kill Contentment” here.

Read “Three Ways to Glorify God in Worry and Anxiety” here.

Read “An Answer to Prayer Even Better Than Clarity” here.

Satan’s Two Favorite Lies (and Christ’s Victory)

Key verses:

“The devil was a murderer from the beginning… there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44, NIV)

Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (John 14:6, ESV)

Satan has been lying since the beginning of creation and he’s got very good at it. If you want evidence of his craftiness, consider this: Satan lures us every day with the same two lies (he has zero originality!)—and even though both sentiments have proven time and time again to be fraudulent and harmful to us, we are still tempted to believe them. 

As if that’s not striking enough, what if I told you that these two lies are contradictory to one another? Yes, within a matter of seconds, Satan often gets us to believe two polar opposite, completely contradictory notions. Here’s how it works:

Lie #1: Temptation (Satan downplays sin)

First, Satan—the Tempter—downplays sin. He tempts you with statements like, 

  • Do it (or believe it)! It’s not a big deal!
  • You deserve this!
  • This is what’s best for you!
  • This is what will make you happy!
  • No need to resist—God will forgive you anyway!

Then you sin. 

Immediately—without a moment’s hesitation—Satan reverses his course. You glance over the shoulder from which the Tempter once whispered promises of happiness and God’s awaiting grace, but now he’s gone. Suddenly you hear hissing from the opposite shoulder—words of guilt and shame. The Tempter is now the Accuser.

Lie #2: Accusation (Satan downplays God’s grace)

Next, Satan downplays God’s grace. He tempts you with statements like,

  • You did that?? That’s a huge deal!
  • Fool! How could you think you deserved that? Shame on you!
  • That was the worst thing you could’ve done!
  • You’ll never have joy again!
  • God will never forgive you!

Notice that the claims Satan makes in accusation are often in direct contradiction to those he speaks in temptation. Yet we believe him again. Somehow—just moments after being conned by Satan’s fraud—we are already biting into his next hook.

We are not ignorant of the devil’s schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11)

This is Satan’s game plan: He tempts us to do something or believe something and then he accuses us when we do. His vile service is a running subscription with no earthly expiration date; it may be hidden at times but it’s never dormant. Satan is always sowing seeds of temptation or accusation. Often both.

Of course, Satan doesn’t need us to sin today to bring harm. The Accuser loves to use our past mistakes and sins against us. Satan’s favorite words are, “Look what you’ve done!”—and he’s perfectly content pointing to regrets from years ago. As long as we are looking at what we’ve done—whether from 20 minutes ago or 20 years ago—we aren’t looking at what Christ has done for us. That’s a win in Satan’s book.

In one sense, Satan already has more than enough ammunition to accuse us for a lifetime. Sure, he will never stop tempting us to sin and doubt God’s promises. But as life goes on, Satan often makes accusation his primary method of attack. As Tim Keller put it, “Accusation is the main problem that we [face] from the forces of darkness, even more than temptation.”

Our defense when Satan tempts us to despair

Here’s the good news: While we are often weak and vulnerable to the lies of Satan, we have a strong Defender who fights for us—and his victory is sure. In fact, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:‬8; see also Hebrews 2:14-15). The same Christ who brings peace to us brings destruction to Satan (Romans 16:20)—this is central to his mission!

If you want a beautiful picture of Christ defending you in the midst of Satan’s accusations, read Zechariah 3. When Satan accuses us (v. 1), Jesus stands by us (v. 5), rebuking and silencing the devil’s accusations (v. 2). Through Christ, Satan is disarmed (Colossians 2:13-15), crushed (Genesis 3:15; Romans 16:20), overcome (1 John 4:4), conquered, thrown down, and defeated (Revelation 12:9-11).

Rejoice, Christian! In the presence of the slain Lamb of God, Satan’s accusations against you have no power (Zechariah 3:1-10; Colossians 1:22; Revelation 12:9-11). Does Satan charge you of sin? Jesus came to take away sin (1 John 3:5). Does Satan charge you of being a sinner? Jesus came to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Does Satan charge you of being weak? Ungodly? Sinful? Rebellious? These are the exact categories of people Jesus came to deliver (Romans 5:6-11). Does Satan charge you of weak faith? Weak faith in a strong Savior is saving faith (Mark 9:20-24). Does Satan charge you with wasting your life? Christ will redeem the years the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25-28) and will bend all things for your good (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28). Does Satan call you worthless or unloved? God himself tells you otherwise (Isaiah 43:4; Colossians 3:12). Does Satan tell you God has left you? He is irrefutably wrong (Hebrews 13:5). Does Satan bring any charge against you? He will fail; no one will lift a finger against God’s people or separate them from his love (Romans 8:31-39). Yes, because of Christ we can confidently sing,

The Prince of Darkness grim,

We tremble not for him;

His rage we can endure,

For lo! His doom is sure.

One little word shall fell him.

At the word of Christ, the Accuser is instantly silenced. Through Christ, we are already free from sin’s penalty (Romans 8:1) and power (Romans 6:1-14), and one day we will be freed from its very presence (1 John 3:1-3; Colossians 1:22; Revelation 22:3). Rejoice in this glorious hope!

The ironic truth behind Satan’s lies

Satan’s accusations contain a glorious twist of irony: they are actually the first verse of every believer’s joyful song of redemption. Fortified by gospel hope, we don’t need to silence Satan’s charges of our sinfulness—we can actually join him in singing and remind him of the rest of the gospel refrain! (I provide two examples at the bottom of this page.) Thus when Satan accuses us, saying, “You are a sinner!” we can tell him we agree! As Martin Luther famously put it,

“When the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!’”

Victory in the blood of the Lamb

Believer, do not forget this: We conquer the Accuser not by trying harder or promising to do better next time, but by boldly claiming the blood of the Lamb (Hebrews 4:14-16; Revelation 12:11). To quote another precious hymn, “When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within, upward I look and see Him there, who made an end to all my sin.” As long as we are looking at Jesus—the Truth himself—Satan’s lies have no power. Let’s rejoice afresh today in Christ’s victory!

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Blake Glosson is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been published by The Gospel Coalition and Crosswalk.com and republished and/or referred by Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn), Challies.com (Tim Challies), Moody Radio (Dawn and Steve Mornings—here and here), The JOY FM (The Morning Cruise with Dave, Bill, and Carmen), ChurchLeaders.com, The Aquila Report, Monergism.com, and numerous other sources. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

Read “Five Habits That Kill Contentment” here.

Read “Four Burdens Jesus Never Asked You to Carry” here.

Read “Three Ways to Glorify God in Worry and Anxiety” here.

Read “An Answer to Prayer Even Better Than Clarity” here.

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Satan’s accusations are the first verse of every believer’s song of redemption!

Consider parts of two church favorites, All I Have Is Christ and His Mercy Is More:

Key:

[RED: Satan and Saints sing together]

[BLUE: Saints sing alone]

All I Have Is Christ

I once was lost in darkest night

Yet thought I knew the way

The sin that promised joy and life

Had led me to the grave

I had no hope that You would own

A rebel to Your will

And if You had not loved me first

I would refuse You still

But as I ran my hell-bound race

Indifferent to the cost

You looked upon my helpless state

And led me to the cross

And I beheld God’s love displayed

You suffered in my place

You bore the wrath reserved for me

Now all I know is grace

His Mercy is More

What riches of kindness

He lavished on us

His blood was the payment

His life was the cost

We stood ‘neath a debt

We could never afford

Our sins they are many

His mercy is more

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Recommended resources:

Recommended songs: