Your Best Life…Now? (Part 2)


by Stacey

As mentioned in our last post, we are looking at the theological foundation of what has been coined the “Prosperity Gospel.” We previously described the claims of this system and now we will evaluate, what we are persuaded, to be its main flaws.

Prosperity Gospel: Where is the “Not Yet”?

Did Jesus die to heal of us of our diseases, give us bodies that function perfectly, and ensure our wealth? Well, kind of. The argument of the New Testament authors is that Jesus died for our sins and in addition to forgiveness and a right relationship with God, believers are also adopted into the family of God, promised to bodily resurrect from the dead, and enjoy the wealth of Heaven forever.

However, whereas justification before God is promised immediately upon faith, health and wealth are not guaranteed until the New Heavens and the New Earth. One of the problems with Prosperity Theology is that it places health and wealth in the wrong age. Christians on this earth yearn for the day when there will be no more death, no more crying, no more pain and this day is coming, but this day is not yet here. Revelation 21:1-4 says

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 

The “former things” described in this passage belong to our age that we live in right now. Our age is an age of tears, of death, of crying, and of pain. Are there joys that have already been brought about during this time because of Christ? Of course. Christians are free from a condemning conscience, free from slavery to sin, free to worship God, and get to enjoy the warmth of Christian fellowship. And yet, there is still more to come. We are in an age of “already” experiencing the beginnings of God’s Kingdom but we have “not yet” experienced it in its fullness.

The Prosperity Gospel promises the relief, comfort, and luxury that God reserves mainly for Heaven. In doing this they are also forced to ignore the promise that Christians will suffer in this world.

Suffering: God’s Promise to the Christian

During this era, Christians follow in the steps of Christ’s first coming and suffer. In the era to come, Christians will follow in the steps of Christ’s second coming and be glorified. As Christ suffered, so we suffer. As Christ will rule and reign, so we will rule and reign. And until the Kingdom of God is manifested in all its fullness the Christian motto is:

Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22)

Pain and tribulation are normal for the Christian. Through the tribulation of being hated by family members because of our commitment to Christ, we enter the kingdom of God. Through the pain of being imprisoned for our faith, we enter the Kingdom of God. Through the pain of dying to the lusts of our flesh every day, we enter the Kingdom of God. It is not through a light life of ease and comfort that we enter God’s Kingdom, but rather it is through pain and hardship.

Ironically, the message of the Prosperity Gospel teaches exactly the opposite. For instance, take the Christ’s teachings on the Beatitudes (Luke 6:20-26). Jesus said that:

Those who are now
These people…
Poor
Own the Kingdom
Hungry
Will be satisfied
Weeping
Will laugh
Hated
Will be rewarded in heaven

Clearly, in the mind of Jesus, his followers would be marked by hunger, tears, a lack of wealth, and rejection by people. On the other hand, he pronounced woes to…

Those who are now
These people…
Rich
Have received their consolation in full
Full
Will be hungry
Laughing
Will mourn and weep
Well thought of by others
…Woe to them

Those whose lives are marked by wealth, the applause of people, laughter and an abundance of food will suffer later. Can there be a more opposite message to the teachings of Jesus than the Prosperity Gospel?

Our family recently started writing letters to brothers and sisters in Christ who are in prison for their faith, many of whom have been beaten, have lost property, loved ones, etc. Some of these believers are children who have been beaten by their parents for following Christ. I know that Jesus had these poor, sick, abused believers in mind when he spoke these Beatitudes. On the other hand, what would the prosperity preachers say to them? Would they comfort these believers? Or would they enter their prison cells in their three piece suits and call them to have more faith? There is no place for suffering in Prosperity Theology. Ironically, according to Jesus, those that suffer are the ones who are the most blessed and should leap for joy.

And suffering is also God’s means to shape his children more and more into the image of Christ.

Holiness: God’s Priority for His Children

It is true that God only wants what is good for his children. His disposition towards us is one of a loving Father. He knows what we need even before we ask, he loves to give good gifts to his children, and he generous. And yet, our Father has a not-so-hidden agenda. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess 4:3). His goal is that we be transformed into the image of his Son and his means by which this goal is accomplished is often to cause his children to have a lack. This lack could be a lack of health, or a lack of a country where one can worship freely, or the lack of a believing spouse. Is he committed to giving good gifts? Yes. But sometimes he puts the good gift aside now to give a better gift later. And the better gift is often something that can only be learned
Endurance is not learned by driving a nice car, it is learned by praising God while having to walk in the rain. Never feeling hunger nor pain does not produce character, but rather character is produced in meditating on Heaven while laying in a hospital bed. Being surrounded by the applause of men does not produce a hopeful longing for Heaven, but being cursed at because you are a Christian does. In the words of Paul:

We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame (Romans 5:3-5)

God teaches his children endurance, character, hope, joy, patience, and love for enemies through suffering. And not only that, but he is glorified in giving them the grace to endure the trial. The believer is so cognizant of these truths that he is even able to rejoice in his suffering. And the suffering Christian also knows that the very burdens that he is bearing are the very things that are preparing him for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor 4:17). An easy life cannot be compared to the endless glory that will come as a result of suffering.

Where are these truths within Prosperity Theology? Where is the truth that sanctification is progressive and is often brought about through trials? Where is the hope for the believer going through a period of suffering? Where is the desire to be formed more into the image of Christ even if that comes at a price? These truths have sadly been sold in exchange for a new, shiny car.

In sum, the Prosperity Gospel places health and wealth in the wrong age. Proponents teach that these blessings belong in this age, but the Bible teaches they mainly belong in the age to come. Prosperity theologians also fail to “claim” all the promises of God. For example, they fail to claim the promise those who follow Christ will be persecuted and will endure suffering. Further, they ignore the important role the suffering has in the life of a believer. So with all this in mind we will discuss in our next blog post how to counter “prosperity thinking” in our daily lives…

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Author: Stacey Hare

Stacey is a wife, mom, linguist, and Bible translator. Right now she is working on the writing system for the Kwakum including how to mark tone. Literacy among the Kwakum is already beginning and translation is scheduled to begin in September 2019!

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