The “prosperity gospel” has been a contagion slowly infecting much of the nation, and many places around the world, for over a decade now. I add the quotation marks for many reasons. First of all, it offers only the leaders of the movements prosperity. The masses get ripped off and grow poorer. So it is false advertisement as it offers no one prosperity of any kind. The more important reason behind the quotation marks is the fact that it is a false gospel, and that there is not actually another Gospel, as Paul makes clear in Galatians 1: 6-9,
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.“
Paul’s words make clear the kind of hostility we ought to have toward anything which sets itself up as the Gospel, when it is in fact not the Gospel. It is Paul’s desire for Christian churches that they not be so gullible as to accept false gospels, rather than anathematize them. 2 Corinthians 11: 3-4,
“But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.“
However, what also must be noticed about the false-gospels Paul deals with within Galatia and Corinth is that they are very Christianesque. They distort the true Gospel more than they present a completely novel way of thinking. This means that typically false-gospels which parade around as sound Christian doctrine is typically more devastating that those false-gospels which openly repudiate Christianity all together. A wolf in sheep’s clothing is more dangerous than a wolf in a wolve’s clothing.
Because of this principle, much of the false teaching today has some truth to it. It has principles which are biblical and true, and that is what makes them so tantalizing to so many people. Just like the false-gospel in Corinth, the falsity is covered in Christian like language. There is a lot of “Jesus,” lots of “the Spirit,” and lots of “the Gospel.” The problem is that Paul says they are all the wrong ones.
I find this to be genuinely true of the “prosperity Gospel” and all of it’s many forms today. It is a false gospel that cannot save. It does seek to bring Jesus into people’s lives, but it does so in a way which keeps idols on the throne, and asks Jesus to bow His knee to them.
“For what is idolatry if not this: to worship gifts in the place of the Giver Himself?” – John Calvin
The prosperity gospel is a virus, and the true apostolic Gospel is the only successful vaccination. However, given all that, there is a kernel of truth in this message that must not be lost. The phrase which has come to be so vintage to the prosperity movement, that God wants us to have our best lives now, is in some way true.
The issue came up for me during a staff discussion, and the theological question of what God desires for His people needs to be thought of in certain ways as to reject the prosperity heresy, but maintain God’s love and good desires for His covenant people at the same time. We never want to be a people that adopt and confess the prosperity gospel. But may we also never be a people who maintain a fundamental attitude that our loving and gracious God is apathetic and disinterested toward us. May we never accept a version of God wherein He so much delights in our misery that He cares nothing about our well being.
Jesus calls out to His sheep this way,
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Jesus offers us a light yolk. He extends to us a life that is less burdensome and less wearisome then any we are currently living. Jesus wants to give us a better life. That is true.
This is consistent with much of the Old Testament. The Law given to Moses (although the New Testament reveals much about the impossibility fulfilling it) was given in many ways to bless God’s people. Most of the covenants made and Laws given were accompanied with promises from God to bless and remain faithful to His people. Many of those Laws were for the protection and perseverance of the people and their nation. Following God’s Law made life better.
By giving us a holy Law, God is offering us something good. God’s Law is not arbitrary. The Law of Christ (1 Corinthians 9: 21) is objectively good. It is good, so by therefore enabling us to do His will, and by revealing His will, He has offered us a better life. James 1: 25 says,
“But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”
A life lived in obedience to God’s holy and righteous Law will be a better life than one lived in direct opposition to it. The Law is freedom!
So, if the Law is good, and if Jesus wants us to submit to His Law, then Jesus offers us a good life. The best life now is one of forgiveness, holiness and obedience. Jesus’ commands for us to know Him, be His disciple, and obey His Law, is Jesus offering us the best life possible.
This is why Peter describes communion with Jesus as causing us to be filled with inexpressible joy. 1 Peter 1: 8,
“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory…”
That is what Jesus offers: goodness, holiness, glory, and joy. Even in the midst of pain and trials, we have a joy so great it cannot be expressed. That’s a best life, and we can have it now; Jesus wants you to have your best life now.
The fundamental difference then becomes one of an objective good over and against a subjective good.
The difference between the true Gospel’s version of “your best life now” and the modern prosperity proponents’ is who gets to define what “best” means. The latter insists that we get to define what our best life would be, and that Jesus is obliged to accomplish that for us as if He is the brand new intern taking our coffee orders in the office of our lives.
The former says that Jesus not only wants to give us our best life, but that He gets to define and decide what that life looks like and consists of. Jesus does not offer you the best version of your life that you can envision; Jesus offers you the best version of your life that He can envision.
And that version of life can come through riches or poverty. The trail of that journey can pass through sickness or health. But it always leads to holiness, it always leads to obedience, and it always leads to Christ. And that is why every step of the way is one taken with “inexpressible joy.”
In one story, we decide, subjectively, what life ought to be like, and then expect God to come up with it in prime-time. In the Bible’s version, Jesus gets to define what our best life would be, and then hands it to us, expecting the Spirit to conform us to it. He opens our eyes and compels us to embrace the new understanding of what we actually want and need.
Discipleship is, in one way, the process whereby Christians are conformed into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Christ does not offer us a life contrary to His image, and that is why the life He offers can be riddled with much of the poverty and pain He was acquainted with, but that is also why this life is so much superior to any fantasy concocted in the deep recesses of the feeble and finite minds of men.
A life of discipleship is the best life you can have, and it’s available now. Your life will be better in Christ, both on earth and in eternity.
Repent of your sins, follow Jesus everyday, and love Him whom you have not seen. And it is there that you will find your best life, one better than any you previously desired.