“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 . . . for am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:6-10).
Modern evangelicalism, or should I say, the modern gospel movement seen in America today has had a disastrous effect on many believers’ understanding of the truth. Many faces seen on Christian television broadcasts today as well as many top-selling Christian books are preaching a gospel different from that of Christ and the Scriptures. We have seen from personalities such as Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes, Joel Osteen, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, and Joyce Meyer what has been called the “Word of Faith” movement (other names include: Positive Confession, Think Big Message, Name It and Claim It, or Health, Wealth, and Prosperity gospel).
This movement promises believers that if you have enough ‘faith’ then God will bless you financially or that you will have perfect health. This gospel teaches to pursue your dreams and goals and to believe in yourself and emphasizes the importance of a healthy self esteem. This gospel says that if you just believe enough, then you will have gold rings on your fingers, you will have a coat on your back, you will have a nice house, nice car, nice toys, your wife won’t miscarry, and your dreams will come true.
The question to ask the leaders of this movement is, “faith in what?” Paul warns us about these so-called teachers who would try to distort the gospel message by preaching something that is opposed to the message of Christ. There are two main issues within this belief that must be addressed.
First, they have a wrong understanding of biblical conversion. The prosperity gospel is actually no gospel because it offers people what they want as natural people. You don’t have to be born again to want to be healthy or wealthy; therefore, you don’t have to be converted to be saved by this message. All people want money, health, to pursue their dreams, to have a good self esteem and believe they can reach their goals. By appealing to people to come to Christ on the basis of what they already want, you undermine the message of the gospel. 1 Cor. 2:14 says, “The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” Therefore, if the message you offer isn’t considered foolishness to the natural man, then it isn’t the gospel. This gospel offers to people what they desperately want as fallen people, gives it to them, grows huge churches, and the message is lost behind the greed.
The true message of the gospel is a message that tells the sinner of his need for a new heart (Ps. 51) and is the message that Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:3, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God,” and then in v. 6, “That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of Spirit is spirit.” The change that must take place in the human heart is a change that can only be brought about by the regenerating work and effectual call of the Spirit of God. Unless the cross of Christ is the central message of the gospel that is preached, then it is an abomination to the gospel message and robs God of his glory. 1 Cor. 1:18 says, “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (cf. Ez. 36:26,27; 1 Cor. 2:1-5, 10-13; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:14, 15).
The second aspect that must be addressed is God as central to the gospel. The prosperity gospel centers the gospel on man rather than on God. This so-called gospel isn’t the gospel because it is nothing more than idolatry. It focuses on the gift rather than the Giver. It focuses on man’s needs and wants rather than on taking up your cross and dying to yourself (Luke 9:23-25). In Matt. 5:11-13 Jesus says, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth.” Now, what does Jesus mean that we as followers of Christ are to be salt to the world? John Piper says, “The salt of the earth are people that are so satisfied with their reward in heaven, namely God, that they joyfully endure persecution and pain in the service of Jesus Christ.” The fact is that the Christian church should be marked by suffering for the sake of Christ. The world isn’t simply going to be impressed by a church that is motivated by what motivates them. A church that is motivated by money, and fame, and worldly pleasures is just like the world.
We need churches that will rise up and proclaim that we are to rejoice in hardships and trials and persecutions because our reward in heaven is God! God is the gospel! It isn’t health, or money, or fame or accomplished dreams; it is God! Where are the Christians who are just satisfied with God and God alone? By joyfully enduring persecution, we will taste so different to the lost and dying world—a flavor that can only be found in suffering for Christ. Paul says in Phil. 1:27-30, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come to see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (cf. Rom. 8:17; 1 Peter 3:14; 2 Tim. 1:8,9; 2 Cor. 1:5; 1 Tim. 4:2-5; Luke 12:33).
- Joshua York is a guest contributer at Elect Exiles, a husband and a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.