At a recent breakfast this week a friend of mine lamented the number of churches in our area that preach the so-called “Prosperity Gospel.” These churches teach that if we trust in Jesus, tithe regularly, and support the church’s mission, God will pour out incredible financial blessings upon us. For evidence, just look at that fancy car the pastor drives. My friend asked why no one every seems to realize this simply does not work. Most of the people in those churches do not become rich, no matter how many years they give their money. And if some do question why they are not financially blessed, they are told it is because they do not have sufficient faith or because they are not mature Christians yet. Keep waiting, keep trying, keep giving, and God will bless you richly. Don’t ask questions, just send in your check.
And then suddenly it hit me. We ‘evangelicals’ have our own prosperity gospel. Rather than telling people that if they simply send in their check they will prosper financially, we give people the five steps or seven secrets to spiritual prosperity. Much like a preacher in a congregation who proclaims a prosperity gospel of financial blessing we tell our church members that if they will simply follow tips from Scripture or put into practice easy techniques, they will spiritually prosper. We tell fathers that if they stop losing their temper but instead respect their children and love them unconditionally, both they and their kids will spiritually prosper. We tell women that if they will simply love their kids more they will feel less stress and anger and have more patience. If wives would have unconditional respect for their husbands and husbands unconditional love for their wives, marriages would spiritually prosper. If men would stop idolizing their jobs they would feel less pressure and spiritually prosper at work. If people in our churches would simply do these things, they will spiritually prosper. For evidence, simply look at the pastor.
On the one hand, there is an element of truth to all of these. If you stop sinning, you will spiritually prosper. On the other hand, you won’t stop sinning! In a very real way, we often make the mistake of attempting to boil down the Christian life into a series of easy to follow steps when the reality is that these steps are simply more Law. The Law, though, can only condemn; it has no real power. When we offer our congregations more Law as the so-called ‘secret’ to spiritual prosperity, we are offering them as big of a lie as the financial prosperity Gospel. They will grow frustrated because they keep trying to ‘do’ but aren’t prospering. Our churches will be filled with people who think that they are not prospering because they haven’t the faith or the spiritual maturity and some day as they grow older they will finally master these seven steps and begin to spiritually prosper. But none of that is true!
Instead of giving Christians the ‘evangelical prosperity gospel’ of “do this and you will spiritually prosper” we should giving them the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, because the Gospel has the power to transform lives. Do you want to prosper spiritually? Know Jesus and the gospel. Know that you have been adopted into Christ’s family and given an eternal inheritance with the saints in heaven. Know that God sees you as holy and blameless. Know that God is at work in your through the power of the Holy Spirit, transforming you and making you more like Christ. It is knowing the Gospel and having our faith increased by the Gospel that changes how we live and causes us to spiritually prosper. It is the power of God’s grace and the power of the Spirit of Christ at work within us that causes us to prosper. It is through understanding our sin, repenting of our sin, and turning in faith to Christ again and again that we prosper. It is not what we ‘do’ that makes us spiritual prosper but understanding and believing what Christ has ‘done’ that makes us prosper. Rather than pointing to our pastors as spiritual giants who spiritually prosper by what they do, our pastors should point to themselves as chief sinners and chief repenters who boldly proclaim and believe the Gospel because it is only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ that there is true spiritual prosperity.