You may have heard that Jesus wants us to be happy, healthy, wealthy and comfortable.
But does He?
The idea that Jesus came to earth, incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary, for our happiness, health, wealth and comfort is false distortion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ known as the “Prosperity Gospel.”
This “gospel” is defined by pastor Joe Carter, writing in The Gospel Coalition, as “a perversion of the gospel of Jesus that claims that God rewards increases in faith with increases in health and/or wealth.”
He quotes Stephen Hunt, who explains,
In the forefront is the doctrine of the assurance of “divine” physical health and prosperity through faith. In short, this means that “health and wealth” are the automatic divine right of all Bible-believing Christians and may be procreated by faith as part of the package of salvation, since the Atonement of Christ includes not just the removal of sin, but also the removal of sickness and poverty.
But here’s the rub.
One of the primary problems with the Prosperity Gospel is that it builds an entire theology around partial truths and select verses from Scripture.
Advocates of this “gospel” frequently point out that Jesus often performed miracles and healed people. That’s true, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the rest of Jesus’ ministry – the crucifixion, for example – and many of Scripture’s other teachings.
Consider that, contra the Prosperity Gospel, poverty can be a virtue. And in this life, suffering should be expected, and God can use our suffering for good.
The Virtue of Poverty
The Prosperity Gospel teaches God will increase your wealth and bless you materially if you increase your faith.
But repeatedly throughout Scripture, Jesus Christ teaches about the virtue of poverty and how those unattached to material wealth are blessed. Here are just a few examples.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3, ESV).
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19, ESV).
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money (Matthew 6:24, ESV).
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24, ESV).
Jesus repeatedly warns the rich about the dangers of wealth. And though wealth is not inherently evil, it can quickly corrupt and lead us to put our desires for material gain above all else.
Part of the solution to this danger? We should all practice being open handed with the resources God has provided and be “rich toward God.”
The Redemption of Suffering
It’s true that God is One who heals, redeems and restores – and sometimes, that includes physical as well as spiritual healing. Unlike the Prosperity Gospel, however, Scripture repeatedly teaches us that we must suffer in this life. Yet, thanks to God’s wisdom and providence, He can use our suffering for good. Here’s three examples.
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:16-17, ESV, emphasis in original).
Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:13, ESV).
Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:27, ESV).
In short, the Prosperity Gospel distorts the real Gospel by ignoring many of Scripture’s teachings on poverty and suffering. Scripture is clear – Jesus Christ did not come to make us healthy and wealthy. He came to save us from ourselves, forgive our sins, establish His Kingdom, and suffer – thereby granting us eternal life with Him and making us “partakers of the divine nature.”
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25, ESV).
The late Chuck Colson once wrote, “we ought to be thinking of ways … to educate people and inoculate them against the allure of the prosperity gospel,” adding, “Ultimately, the only defense against false gospels is the true one.”
For those who wish to receive the Gospel, what should you do? The Apostle Peter was asked the same question after he preached his first sermon on the day of Pentecost. Peter’s reply is recorded in Acts 2:38,
Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (ESV).
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