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The False Hope of So-called Prosperity Gospels

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
Christian, never accept a cheap substitute for your hope in Christ and His Word.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part five (final) of a series. Read part four.

Christian, never accept a cheap substitute for your hope in Christ and His Word.

Having seen from Romans chapter 15 the great truth of super-abounding hope rooted in the Scriptures and resting on the person and work of Christ, let me conclude this series with a sincere warning. In our time, many churches are preaching a prosperity gospel or "name-it-and-claim-it" gospel - a false gospel that says that you have the power to speak good things into existence. We find this all over television and radio.

The purveyors of this heresy are preaching that the goal of the so-called Christian life is to have physical health, to have material wealth, to have personal success, and to have a psychological uplift. These preachers say that if you truly belong to God, you will have these things. In fact, not only will God give them to you, you will be able to give them to yourself. You will be able to bring these things to pass. If you do not have these things, these people say, it is because there is something wrong with you.

But that is not what we find in the Bible.

God may give you physical health - or, He may withdraw it for a time, to accomplish His plan and purposes, as he did with the Apostle Paul, and God gave him a thorn in the flesh instead.

God may give you material wealth - or, He may remove it, as God did with Job for a time.

God may give you a sense of personal success in the world's terms, as He did with Solomon - or, He may bring you to a point where you think you are a failure, as happened to Peter; but then Jesus encouraged him and lifted him up, and Peter went humbly onward in the power of the Spirit and not of his flesh.

God may permit you to experience psychological uplift, as David often did. And yet there may be other times when you want to join in David's cry in Psalm 88 where he said, "My soul is full of troubles. . . I am like a man who has no strength. . . You have laid me in the lowest pit." As David said in Psalm 130, "Out of the depths I have cried unto Thee, O Lord."

What do you do in times like that? What do you do in the dark periods of life? What do you do when health fails? What do you do when you find that circumstances beyond your control have eaten up your savings? What do you do, how do you think about God and about yourself, when spiritual depression comes? What do you think, when it seems that in human terms you are a failure? Do you think that God has forsaken you? Do you think that there is something wrong with you? Do you think that God is finished with you? Do you think that God has failed you? Do you think you are not saved?

Those kinds of thoughts are inevitable for anyone who buys into what the health-and-wealth, name-it-and-claim-it churches are selling today. The reason is that those false gospels testify to a poverty of understanding of God and His Word. They may talk about "joy and peace in believing" - but the problem is what they are believing. Let me explain what I mean.

What did Paul say when God withdrew his physical health and replaced it with a thorn in the flesh? He took God at His word when He said this, as Paul records it in Second Corinthians chapter twelve: "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9). And so we read in the next verses that Paul responded with understanding. He said, "Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). That is Paul's testimony of joy and peace in believing.

What did Job say when God took away not only his wealth, but also his loved ones and his health? Job clearly did not understand everything, but he understood that God was at work, even in such great adversity. He said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." And Scripture tells us that "in all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong" (Job 1:21-22). Job testified of confidence in God, despite everything. He said, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!" (Job 19:25-27). That is Job's testimony of joy and peace in believing.

At times David cried out from the depths of despair, but he also gives this testimony, in the opening verses of Psalm 40:

I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth - even praise to our God; many will see it and fear, and will trust in the Lord. Blessed is that man who makes the Lord his trust, and does not respect the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies. Many, O Lord my God, are Your wonderful works which You have done; and Your thoughts toward us cannot be recounted to You in order; if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered (Psalm 40:1-5).

That is David's testimony of joy and peace in believing.

The health-and-wealth, name-it-and-claim-it false gospels teach the direct opposite of these things. These false gospels do not teach true joy and peace in believing. They are not trusting in the genuine Christ of the Bible. They are cultivating spiritual poverty through a misplaced confidence in fallen man's flesh, in sinful man's own purported ability to make things happen.

A few years ago one of the leading name-it-and-claim-it charlatans, Joel Osteen, published a book titled The Power of I AM. But the "I AM" of his book is not the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let us see clearly what Scripture tells us in contrast: "I AM" is the name of God. We read of this in the account of God's calling of Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt:

Then Moses said to God, "Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they say to me, 'What is His name?' what shall I say to them?" And God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And He said, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.' "

We read of this again when we come to the Gospel record. When the Pharisees questioned Jesus' authority He said to them,

"Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad." Then the Jews said to Him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM." Then they took up stones to throw at Him... (John 8:56-59)

Why did they try to stone Jesus? Because He used the name that God had used when commissioning Moses. Jesus was identifying Himself as the "I AM" - almighty God Himself. The unbelieving Jews understood this, and rather than receiving their Messiah they took up stones to kill Him.

What do charlatans like Joel Osteen offer? They offer not the "I AM" of Scripture but the "I AM" of the flesh. Osteen writes,

Rather than being down on ourselves and discrediting who we are and focusing on all of our flaws, I wonder what would happen if all through the day - not in front of other people, but in private - we were to be as bold as David was and say, "I am amazing. I am wonderful. I am valuable." When you talk like that, amazing comes chasing you down. Awesome starts heading in your direction. You won't have that weak, defeated, "I'm just average" mentality. You'll carry yourself like a king, like a queen.[1]

The "I AM" of Joel Osteen is fallen man - an appallingly cheap substitute for the One who alone is "Wonderful, Counselor, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6).

The tragic fruit of that kind of thinking - walking not according to the Spirit but according to the flesh, diminishing the glorious Christ in His resurrected power and elevating sinful, wretched flesh - is all around us in the post-evangelical church. When adversity comes there is a fearful doubting of God, instead of a confidence in the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. All kinds of wrong thoughts can come into the heart of an individual, and into the thinking of the church, when flesh-centered thinking takes hold because of ignorance of Christ and His Word.

As I mentioned previously in this series, several times in his epistles the Apostle Paul uses a particular attention-getting phrase. He says, "I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren." I want you to have understanding. God does not want you to walk in ignorance, as so many people who call themselves Christians are doing. God wants you to have super-abounding joy and peace in believing, by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures tell you of that hope and confidence. Jesus Christ is the confirmation and fulfillment of that hope and confidence. And God the Holy Spirit lives within you to make that hope and confidence a reality, as you walk with the Lord through this life and onward toward glory.

Never forget your hope that is founded on Christ and His Word, dear Christian. And never accept any cheap substitutes for it. Join in the testimony of the hymn writer,

My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus' name.
 
When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
my anchor holds within the veil.
 
His oath, His covenant, His blood,
support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.
 
When He shall come with trumpet sound,
O may I then in Him be found:
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
faultless to stand before the throne.
 
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand:
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

 

References:

1. Joel Osteen, The Power of I Am: Two Words That Will Change Your Life Today (New York: Faith Words, Hachette Book Group, 2015) page 5.

 

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