The traditional prosperity gospel says, “Give to God in order to get from God.” It believes financial blessing is God’s will for Christians. It’s like a contract — if we fulfill our duty of faith, God will provide prosperity and blessing. This blessing also includes health benefits and so is often called the “health and wealth gospel.” Well known proponents include Joel Osteen and Creflo Dollar (who made recent news by asking for a new jet).
The problems of this gospel should be apparent. It’s commensurate with preaching the resurrection of Jesus Christ with no comment of the crucifixion.
As such, you and I easily detach ourselves from such obvious idolatry. We presume to be above treating God like a cosmic Santa Claus.
Not too fast.
In moments of clarity, I’m seeing too much prosperity thinking is impacting my gospel believing.
Here are a few that I see in my life:
- The false belief that faith should be easier than this. Put another way, it shouldn’t be this hard. Right? Belief – or, a complete and perpetual trust in the unseen God who eternally exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – should be easy. Really? When put that way, it’s easier to see the error. It is absolutely a challenge to maintain eyes of faith when we’re physically seeing much to the contrary. The Bible calls it the good fight of faith for a reason. Persevering in faith is our challenge. A prosperity gospel lies when it says faith is easy.
- The false belief that fighting sin should result in immediate and/or total victory. So many Christians long to be free from their sin once and for all. They want deliverance — deliverance from their sexual struggles or angry outbursts or greedy heart. I love that sentiment. And in one sense, uniting ourselves to Christ results in certain victory over sin. But in another sense, the fighting remains. The prosperity gospel lies when it promises immediate and/or total victory in fighting sin. Rather I’ve experienced deliverance through fighting sin rather than deliverance from fighting sin. I’m not saying it can’t happen, in a moment, with complete deliverance, once for all. I’m saying that’s been the exception rather than rule in my life.
- The false belief that faith should be accompanied by a certain feeling. God should feel closer. You should feel more spiritual than you do. You should feel better than this because you’re following God. I recall the little booklet I read as part of making a decision to follow Christ. It had faith as the train engine. Feelings were attached to it as a separate trailer. But the point was faith can and must continue chugging along even in the absence of a certain type of feeling.
- The false belief that really really bad things don’t happen to Christians. Then I see the news headlines. I hear accounts of terrible violence being inflicted on our brothers and sisters. A type of prosperity gospel prompts us to avert our attention from these reports. We can avoid this reality. Seth Godin said, “Part of being our best selves is having the guts to not avert our eyes, to look closely at what scares us, what disappoints us, what threatens us. By looking closely we have a chance to make change happen.” Listen to this: “The goal of the World Watch List is to keep Christian persecution on the radar of those enjoying the privileges of freedom. The perpetrators of persecution need to know that the world is watching and stands in opposition to persecution. And for the persecuted, we want them to know that they are not forgotten.” I don’t want to close my eyes to modern-day believers undergoing martyrdom for the gospel.
- The false belief that you deserve to be making more money. *gasp* That sounds eerily close to the traditional health and wealth gospel, the same one we’ve already made clear that we don’t hold to. But you’re an American (I assume…this blog has yet to reach Africa…or even beyond my friends). And Americans believe in bigger and better. More, more, more. Though we have the most, we don’t have contentment. Though we’ve already found abundant prosperity, we’re gripped with a fear of poverty. I hate that I see traces of this in me.
Here are a few others that I think could be added to the mix as well but don’t have time to develop.
- Health is my right.
- I deserve to feel well rested.
- I shouldn’t be asked to wait in faith on future steps.
- Sin doesn’t really have consequences.
- My sin doesn’t need to be acknowledged and confessed.
- If I’m living as a Christian in the church I shouldn’t be hurt by others.
- The really really nice people I’ve known will actually live with God forever too.
Friends, always remember the gospel is comprised of both crucifixion and resurrection.
And we don’t need to give in order to get God. We already have him because of what he has given.