15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Why would James immediately switch from talking about sickness to talking about sin? It is because our physical well being and our spiritual well being are closely tied. This doesn’t imply that people get sick because they are sinful. Instead, there is a progression to be recognized.
It is more important for a person to be spiritually healed than it is for a person to be physically healed. A person who is healed physically will still grow old and eventually die. A person who is spiritually healed, or forgiven, will not become spiritually sick again. They only need to be saved once.
James appears to be emphasizing the need for spiritual health along with physical health. God is concerned about both. Jesus taught this when he healed a paralytic in Matthew 9:1-8:
1 Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. 2 Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”
3 At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”
4 Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? 5 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 6 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” 7 And the man got up and went home. 8 When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.
Jesus wanted to demonstrate that He didn’t just have the ability to heal physical problems but that He also was able to fix spiritual ones. The crowds who followed Jesus wanted to see a spectacle. People who approached Him wanted physical healing. And while this showed mercy on people’s physical suffering, Jesus didn’t heal everybody. Physically healing people was not why Jesus came to earth. His mission was for spiritual healing – the forgiveness of sins.
Christians tend to focus on the physical even when we should focus on the spiritual side of things. We are hindered by our nature because we are physical and we can only see the physical. We can tell when someone is physically hurting and we know when they are physically ill. What we can’t see or detect all of the time is when someone is suffering from a spiritual illness.
God cares about both our physical and spiritual well being. However, our physical well being will only be temporary. The people whom Jesus healed still died later on. Even those who were raised from the dead died once again. Those who receive spiritual healing – the forgiveness of their sins – have no further need to be healed a second time.