Is This Other Gospel Really Any Gospel At All?

I was browsing through one of my favorite blogs when I came across this link to the front-page article of the latest Time magazine which asks the question, “Does God Want You To Be Rich?” (Here’s the CNN.com summary.) More and more of our country’s “Christian” leaders are answering, “Yes, oh yes.”

Some of the Leaders
Joel Osteen, while appearing on Larry King Live, says, “I think what sometimes you see is it’s just all about money. That’s not what I believe. It’s the attitude of your heart, and so you know, we believe – but I do believe this, that God wants us to be blessed. He wants us to be able to send our kids to college, excel in our careers. But prosperity to me, Larry, is not just money, it’s having health. What good is money if you don’t have health?”

Popular speaker and author Joyce Meyer is more obvious when she says, “Who would want to get in on something where you’re miserable, poor, broke and ugly and you just have to muddle through until you get to heaven? I believe God wants to give us nice things.”

Atlanta, GA, pastor Creflo Dollar says on his website, “We believe that God wants us to have a full life, free from poverty, sickness and disease.” Dollar recently told his TV audience,”When you understand what you have a right to, you won’t tolerate being broke, in debt, living in shortage.”

The Biblical Response
What is troubling about these questions and responses is not that they are coming out, but that very few biblical, Christ-loving voices are speaking up against them. This is what the Scripture, speaking through Paul, calls those who love the Jesus of the Bible to do: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal, but the word of God is not bound!” (2 Timothy 2:9)

I want to first make it clear that I love each and every word of faith, prosperity “gospel,” health and wealth, or otherwise God’s-good-gifts-seeking person I have ever met. I regularly pray for many of them to be turned from their vain pursuit of things that will fade away and to the only treasure that will last – Christ Jesus. I have spent much of my life with many of them, and they are very near and dear to my heart.

So, dear reader, please hear me out on this one. I am more grieved and saddened than angered and frustrated at such developments in local churches and ministries. False teaching always hurts the sheep of God. Wolves in sheep’s clothing will arise, even out of the true church, Paul tells the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:29-30, and we must be on the lookout. If you become convinced of the Bible’s witness to this subject, please ask and beg your friends and family to stay away from such false teaching! It will certainly lead many to destruction (1 Timothy 6:9)!

So, I have your eyes for the time being, now let us turn them toward God in His Word and let us pray that He would seek out any wicked way in us and lead us in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:24).

A Few Readings
Probably the plainest teaching on the subject of the temporal quality of life for the Christian comes, fittingly, from Jesus Himself in the Gospels. Take Mark 8:33-38, for example. Here Jesus responds to Peter’s attempt to divert Him from the cross by saying,

” ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’ And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, ‘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 and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’ “

He effectively tells Peter, the disciples, the crowd, and every reader who would every read the book of Mark that to follow Him is to (1) deny yourself, (2) take up your cross, and (3) follow Him to the cross where you will die a death like His.

Is this not what Christ Himself tells Peter again at the end of John’s Gospel? “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God. And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:18-19) So John inserts a comment to explain to us, the readers, that Jesus’ words were specifically meant to tell Peter that he would die a helpless death by following Jesus. Folks, it doesn’t get much plainer than that.

What links these two passages together is clear: following Jesus. The Gospel is how we follow Him. And the Gospel is clear – it is about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus for all the sinners who will ever believe in Him (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Jesus is saying in these passages that those who follow Him will follow Him to His death. But all of His own will also follow Him to eternal life.

All Christians claim to follow Jesus. But, at the same time, all people in their sin and even many of us in our professed Christ-ianity still want to avoid the cross. So many Christians, and beware of them, dear friends, construct a theology in which the cross is something that only Jesus did, while life is what we all get. And that is simply false. The Bible tells us that those who follow Jesus will follow Him to His death in this life, and into His eternal life of perfection and happiness and eternal treasure after their death, not before.

Dear reader, I know your heart longs for a life of true joy and lasting happiness and no more crying or pain or sorrow, but the only way that is acheived is through the shed blood of Jesus and His resurrection from the dead. So look for Him, hope for His eternal life, see it shining through into this sinful world. But the Bible warns us not to attempt to skip Jesus’ cross in this life. He paid for sins in love on that cross, and we do not pay for sins but do love Him and others by following Him there to suffer and die. Believe it. Believe it is the way to true joy and lasting happiness in Him.

But why? Why would Jesus call us to such a life and such a death? Why does He say we must lose everything in order to gain everything? Why can’t we have it both ways? Because in Matthew 13:44 He explains to us that the kingdom of heaven, not of earth, is the treasure for which we must give up everything. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

And what is so great about heaven? It is not the golden streets or the missed loved ones, the perfected character or the endless feasting on food. It is Christ Himself. When the Jews questioned how Jesus could give them His own flesh to eat in John 6:52-58, He responded:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not as the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

Do you hear him sounding like Isaiah 55 when He says, “Eat on Me! Drink on Me! I am your sustenance! I am your bread and your water! Me!”? He sounds so inviting, so trustworth, and so treasurable – because He is. And nothing and no one else is.

But Someone Would Say . . .
Some would still respond, “But this life He speaks of, isn’t that supposed to be your best, richest, fattest, happiest life now?” And the Bible responds, “Not exactly. It depends on what you mean by each of those words. Because meanings matter.” So let us compare and contrast a few definitions for a moment.

If by, “best life,” you mean, “the most possessions for the most worldly enjoyment possible, with the happiest emotions for the maximum amount of time possible,” then Bible answers, “No. That is not the life that Jesus means. Have you not read the prophets? The Gospels?” But if by, “best life,” you mean, “the maximum amount of happiness in Christ and His ways because of the cross that I can have in this life no matter what the cost,” then the Bible answers, “Yes, exactly.”

If by, “richest life,” you mean, “the maximum amount of money I can have in this life so I can feel safe and secure in my bank account,” then the Bible answers, “No. No. Not at all. Have you not read Hebrews 13?” But if by, “richest life,” you mean, “the deepest and richest enjoyment I can have in Jesus Christ in this life and the next because of His cross so I can be safe and secure in Him for all eternity,” then the Bible answers, “Yes, forever He is your refuge.”

Ephesians 1:3 says that believers already have “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,” including all the fullness of God’s riches given in love by election, adoption, forgiveness, reconciliation, and His Holy Spirit. So, as Al Mohler says, “The saddest aspect of that question is its focus on material prosperity at the expense of the limitless spiritual riches we are given in Christ. The problem with prosperity theology is not that it promises too much, but that it promises so little – and promises that so falsely.”

So the Bible must not only be our guide in asking and answering questions, but in how we ask and understand questions and define words. Words really do matter. That’s how God has spoken and is speaking to us – in His Word. And if someone twists and contorts God’s words to give them meanings that He did not mean, then that person is a false prophet teaching a false gospel and they are to be marked and avoided.

False gospels do no good, only harm. So watch out. Watch out for wolves in shepherd’s clothing. Watch out, in love for Christ, love for your neighbor, love for your family, and care for your own soul.

Concluding Thoughts
All of this is not to say, “Start blasting away at the false gospel of prosperity,” but rather, “Believe that God’s best for you is to suffer well with Jesus in love for others.” Believe it. Don’t believe in money and don’t let your neighbors do it either. Plead with them, beg them, pray for them to turn away from the deceit of this world and toward the truth of Christ. His worth cannot be measured in money so stop trying. He supercedes everything this world has to offer. All He created is good, and it is to be received with thanksgiving (not as though we are deserving) and sanctified by the Word and prayer (1 Timothy 4:4-5).

Let us close as Paul does to Timothy in his second letter, keeping in mind that he is building upon the Gospel of Christ and His death and resurrection. See if this sounds like a taking up of Christ’s cross for the display of Him in truth to the church and to the world:

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time–he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you.

1 Timothy 6:6-21

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About B Treece
loved by God before I ever loved Him, saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone by the authority of the Bible alone to the glory of God alone, made to enjoy Him forever, happily married with wonder-filled children.

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