Christ died to free his people from their self-centeredness to enjoy the freedom of God-centered living. Prosperity teaching leaves man in the bondage of his self-centeredness.

One of the most glaring expressions of the contemporary church’s deviation from the gospel of Jesus Christ is pointed out by Os Guiness, when he observes, 

“Theologies compete brazenly to rationalize wealth, success and material blessing. Prosperity doctrines gush forth from rallies, radio and television (God’s got it, I can have it, and by faith I’m going to get it”). Even Psalm 23 has been revised (The Lord is my banker, my credit is good…He giveth me the key to his strongbox. He restoreth my faith in riches. He guideth me in the paths of prosperity for his namesake”).” 

Certainly, this baptized covetousness is inconsistent with the stance taken by the believers described in Hebrews 10:32-34

“But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.”

Suffering? Public reproach? Affliction? Plundering of property? But I thought it was God’s intention that his children be happy, healthy and wealthy! Consider, then, the apostle Peter’s description of the Christian’s calling in 1 Peter 2:21-25  

“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls”.

His description consciously alludes to Christ’s call to discipleship: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” In the same way that Christ’s life on earth was defined and shaped by his redemptive mission that could only be accomplished by his sacrificial death on the cross, so should the lives of his followers be shaped by his cross. 

An integral part of this call means that in the same way that Jesus lived on earth to fulfill, not his will, but his Father’s will, so believers are to live in absolute commitment to God, setting aside their personal goals and dreams and conforming to God’s purposes for their lives. This is in stark contrast to the prosperity gospel, which implicitly denies the need for self-denial in its brazen assumption that our desires must be God’s desires for us. 

Furthermore, the prosperity gospel’s emphasis on health and wealth is indicative of a faulty understanding of the purpose for man’s existence. For the proponents of the prosperity gospel, sin must be dealt with because it keeps us from enjoying life in the present. Thus, consciously or unconsciously, this teaching makes our pleasure the purpose of existence. Jesus’ death becomes merely the means to our enjoyment of God’s material and physical blessings. Peter’s account, though, speaks of Christ  dying on the cross to pay for the sins of his people so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness because we have strayed away from God.

In this, he deliberately echoes the servant song of Isaiah 53 and declares the purpose of Jesus’ death in terms of reconciliation with God. For Peter (and for that matter, in the biblical account), sin must be dealt with because it has separated us from God, who created us for his pleasure and for his glory. We, in our willful rebellion, have turned away from God’s purposes for us to live for our own pleasure. Jesus’ died and rose again so that his people, united with him through faith, would be freed from sin’s dominion to live righteously for the glory of God. In the words of Paul in 2Corinthians 5:15, Christ died and rose again so “those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and rose again.” Christ died and rose again to accomplish nothing less than the reversal of Adam’s self-seeking that was the beginning of our separation from God.

If this be the case, then the prosperity gospel is no gospel at all, because it ends up making self-centeredness acceptable, which is the opposite of what Christ died to achieve. Christ died to free his people from their self-centeredness to enjoy the freedom of God-centered living. Prosperity teaching leaves man in the bondage of his self-centeredness.

It is a paradox captured in Jesus words: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” True freedom is to be found, not in self-seeking, but in living to fulfill the good and gracious purposes of the God who created us to glorify him and enjoy him forever.

But does this mean that God is a sadist who delights in torturing people for no reason whatsoever? Absolutely not. Again, we need to look to Jesus as our example. His suffering was unjust, for he had done no wrong. However, his suffering was not pointless. It was a purposeful self-giving intended to redeem his chosen people. This is not to say that our suffering is somehow redemptive. The point is that in the same way that Jesus’ suffering had a purpose, so our suffering has a purpose, which Peter has already pointed out in the first chapter. Our suffering is needful to demonstrate the reality of our faith so that it may be found to result in praise, glory and honor at the coming of Jesus Christ.

On one hand, our patient endurance of suffering for the sake of Christ demonstrates to the watching world the value and worth of the Christian message and displays the life-transforming work of Christ in our life, to the glory of Christ. On the other hand, in the words of Paul, these afflictions are preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. It’s not something we earn, since the very ability to endure suffering comes from God. Rather, it’s God’s gracious way of preparing us for glory so that our glory might redound to his greater glory.

To that end, my friend, let us follow the model and mandate of our Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow him, regardless of the cost. And as we face the suffering that is the inevitable result of faithfulness to Jesus Christ, let us do what he did: let us endure suffering patiently, entrusting ourselves to our heavenly Father who will make all things right in his perfect time. 

Topics: Christian Living