Question: Jesus’ comment in John 5:14 seems to support the teaching of some that the bad things we encounter in life are a direct result of sin in our lives. Can you clarify?
Here’s Jesus’ statement (NIV, 2011):
John 5:14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”
One of the principles for correctly interpreting Scripture is that a narrative—the recording of an event—cannot (by itself) be treated as establishing a doctrinal truth. For example, when Matthew 27:5 records that Judas “went away and hanged himself,” that account cannot be treated as a doctrine supporting suicide! That same principle of interpretation applies here in John 5:14 as well.
The situation in John 5 provides one example from the life of an invalid whose illness had kept him from walking for 38 years (Jn. 5:5). Jesus questioned whether the man really wanted to be get better (Jn. 5:6), and identified the cause of this particular disability as sin of some kind (Jn. 5:14). That one example, however, cannot be used to teach that all sickness results from the sick person’s sin.
In fact, in contrast to this man’s experience, the Gospel of John recounts another time when Jesus healed a man who had been born blind—where sin was not the cause:
John 9:1-3 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”
Not all suffering, hardship, tragedy, financial setbacks, etc. can traced back to some specific sin. We live in a sin-broken world contaminated by disease, wickedness, pain and death. Sickness, trouble and pain afflict us all. Sometimes it is of our own making; sometimes not.
Ps. 34:19 A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all…
That being said, when sickness and hardship come, it is time to take a spiritual health exam. If there is un-confessed sin in our life we need to identify it and deal with it immediately. Sin creates spiritual stress. As such, sin can cause both illness and trouble, and it can prevent healing from taking place.
Ps. 38:3 Because of your wrath there is no health in my body; my bones have no soundness because of my sin.
Therefore, when sickness strikes the Bible instructs us to get spiritually healthy first, removing any barrier to the restoration of our physical health.
James 5:14-16 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 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. 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.