There is a problem in the church today. It is called the prosperity gospel.
The thought is that, if you can muster enough spiritual energy and believe hard enough, God will grant whatever you desire. Proponents of this view also claim that you will never get sick or be without substantial wealth.
Because God “helps those who help themselves,” He cannot help but bless the true intentions of your heart. After all, they claim, follow your heart’s desire and your dreams will come true.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? Very few people would ever want to be sick or have to live paycheck to paycheck. Certainly, life would be much more convenient!
Here are at least 5 reasons why the prosperity gospel is false. Please feel free to comment with others, as this is just a brief outline:
1. The prosperity gospel is preached without the true Christ.
Paul’s call was to preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified, not one of personal wealth, health, and prosperity:
1 Corinthians 2:1 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
William Bacon Stevens, in a sermon he gave in 1865, said:
The pulpit loses its dignity, when it descends to any other theme; the pulpit is shorn of its spiritual power, when it speaks of anything but Christ and his atoning work. We are not the ambassadors of men, nor of societies, nor of governments, nor of the world — but of God. It is God’s work that we are to do, not man’s — and that work is to preach the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
2. The prosperity gospel sets the terms of a relationship with God, not the other way around (as it in Scripture).
The biblical gospel emphatically declares that we are sinners from birth and must rely wholly on the completed work of the God-man, Jesus Christ, in order to be accepted by Him:
Ephesians 1:5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
Henry Law in his commentary on Ephesians wrote:
As Jesus was chosen of the Father to represent Him unto His people, and to represent His people unto Him; so believers are chosen to be the members of His body—the Spouse to whom He is united—to be washed in His blood, clothed in His righteousness, sanctified by His Spirit, conformed to His image. Thus every thought, and every act of redeeming love, from first to last, centers in Christ.
3. The prosperity gospel points people to the “desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 John 2:16), not denying ourselves, taking up our crosses, and following hard after God and His glory (Mark 8:34).
The foundational hope of those that believe this “gospel” is in dreams, money, accomplishments, social standing, etc. At best, these things are superficial and temporary.
1 John 2:15 says we are to flee from such things:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
Thomas Watson (the Puritan, not the golfer) wrote in his commentary on The Lord’s Prayer:
The world is a flattering enemy. Whom it kisses—it betrays; it is a silken halter. The pleasures of the world, like opium, cast men into the sleep of carnal security. Lysimachus sold his crown for a cup of water. Just so, many part with heaven—for the world. They are enslaved with the world’s golden fetters!”
4. The prosperity gospel emphasizes “faith in faith,” while the Bible says to believe in Jesus and His power alone.
Believers are never commanded in Scripture to have faith in words, thoughts, or powers.
Rather, true faith, according to J.C. Ryle is:
not a mere ‘mental assent’ to certain theological propositions—but a living, burning, active principle—which works by love, purifies the heart, overcomes the world, and brings forth much fruit of holiness and good works.
Philippians 3:8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
5. The prosperity gospel promises a life of ease and suffering, not one of persecution and poverty.
Certainly, salvation is a free gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9). However, salvation comes with divine demands. Rightly applied and understood, salvation, literally, costs true believers everything. Jesus never, ever promised His followers an easy life. He said again and again to count the cost and be ready to suffer immensely or die for your trust in Him.
Acts 5:41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.
2 Timothy 3:12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
Psalm 119:71 It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.
Hebrews 12:11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Presbyterian minister J.R. Miller wrote:
“Prosperity has never enriched the world, as adversity has done. The best thoughts, the richest lessons, the sweetest songs which have come down to us from the past — have not come from the minds and hearts of those who have known no privation, no suffering, no adversity. They are the fruit of pain, of weakness, of trial.
Men have cried out for emancipation from the bondage of hardship, of sickness, of infirmity, of poverty — not realizing that the very trial which seemed to be hindering them in their career — was making whatever was noble, beautiful, and blessed in their life. The cost of all truly helpful and holy living, is pain!
We must not forget that redemption and Heaven come to be ours, only through the bitter sufferings and cross of the Son of God. “
For the genuine follower of Jesus Christ, the prosperity gospel fails to line up in the bounds of Scripture (Jer. 17:9, for instance). The Bible records over 200 times in the New Testament alone that the life we live under the Lordship of Jesus Christ will go challenged by satan, the world, and those who say there is no God (Psalm 53:1). There is never any mention of prosperity of this kind. If we are taking up our cross daily to follow Jesus, we can expect opposition.
Through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, God changes people through hard times. To believe ourselves or to teach others that they should come to Jesus for happiness, peace, and fulfillment is dangerous. While Jesus offers us these wonderful things, the highest and most important we come to Him for is salvation from the wrath due upon us because of our offense of His perfect Law.
Any other motive is not biblical.
2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.