Jesus, in case you didn’t know, was a doctor. One of the primary things he spent his time doing during his earthly ministry was healing the sick and the lame. Restoring sight to the blind. Making the crippled walk. Indeed, even bringing the dead back to life. But it wasn’t only physical healing that he offered, but spiritual as well. Indeed, it was his mission to make the spiritually diseased whole that brought reproach upon him:
And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:29-31)
Although it seems to be often missed in popular Evangelical preaching, the Bible says Jesus’ saves by healing us. Indeed, the word salvation takes its roots in the concept of wholeness and health. Though some may think otherwise, the older Reformed did not forget this theme. Calvin commonly used the image of Christ as a physician, a doctor who heals us. When speaking of the life of the disciple carrying the cross, he spoke of it God’s medicine, used to heal the soul of its sin (Institutes, 3.8.5). Or again, in speaking of the Lord’s Supper, he referred to it as “medicine for the sick” (ibid, 4.17.42), that nourishes and renews us, because through it we partake of Christ’s benefits, his nature that he assumed, healed, and through which, he gives us life. This is unsurprising as he was a student of the Fathers and the theme of salvation is ubiquitous with them. Simply consult Athanasius, almost at random, and you’ll run across the idea.
This is an immensely important theme that should not be ignored in Christian preaching and teaching. It is a great comfort to know that we will not always be sick with sin, but are being healed by Christ, and will one day stand whole and complete before our Maker.
But once again, we need to be careful not to over-react. The other day I saw a friend share a quote to the effect that what we need is Jesus who is a doctor who can heal us, not a lawyer to defend us, as if admitting the one rules out the other. Or again, some people, allegedly looking to the Church Fathers or the East, think that looking to Jesus for “ontological” healing of our nature, rules out any kind of “forensic” or legal approaches to salvation that characterize “Western” theology. But is that true? Is that what Scripture says? Is that what Jesus says?
Well, as it turns out, no it’s not. In John 14:16, Jesus tells his disciples he “will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever”, and again in 14:26 he speaks of when “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” While the term is often translated “helper”, “comforter”, or “counselor”, A.T. Lincoln has shown that it belongs most properly in the legal setting of John’s Gospel. Jesus speaks of the Spirit as a legal advocate, a lawyer, and calls him “another” one, the implication being that he himself is our first advocate. This is confirmed by Jesus’ teaching about the work of the Spirit who is the other Advocate:
And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. (John 16:8-11)
Sounds like a lawyer to me.
If that wasn’t enough, 1 John 2:1 clearly declares, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” In this case, we clearly see Jesus identified as our advocate before the Father, who as the Righteous One, can plead our case on the basis of his own work, because he is the “propitiation for our sins” (2:2). Through the Cross, Jesus has done away with our guilt, which is precisely why if we “confess our sins” before God “he is faithful and just” to forgive them (1:9). Because we are united with Christ, the Righteous One who stands before the Father as our Advocate, we have a new status as righteous in him. Jesus is our great Lawyer.
Just as we need to cling to all of the names God gives us in order to understand the fullness of his character, let us not fall into the silly trap of denying or denigrating any of the titles by which the Scripture describes Christ’s multifaceted work on our behalf. In Jesus, we have a mighty doctor who heals us. We also have a powerful advocate, who defends and vindicates us. We need him to be both of these things and more.
Soli Deo Gloria