It may be repackaged for a new audience, but this modern version of the prosperity gospel is just as dangerous.
Over the years, scores of Christians have caught on to the fact that the glittering promises of “health, wealth, and prosperity” from the mouths of charlatans are unbiblical and idolatrous. It’s become so well-known that even the unbelieving world has called it heresy.
Today’s wolves have realized, with their bellies grumbling, that they need a new approach in order to deceive the flock–something more subtle, seemingly more innocuous. Teaching that we should use God to get material riches and physical healing is far too obvious now.
But what if we use God to get something else? Like, let’s say… a better, happier life, fewer problems, and feel-good spirituality?
And so they feed their poisonous teachings to an unsuspecting, disarmed flock… accomplishing their goal of stealing God’s glory to benefit themselves.
How has the old “prosperity gospel” been revised and updated? Let’s take a look.
BEFORE: Come to Jesus to get health and wealth.
NOW: Come to Jesus to get your life problems resolved and your selfish desires fulfilled.
If the prosperity preacher declares that Jesus will heal your cancer or make you rich, he’s bound to run into a big problem–reality. How long before his followers realize that what he’s promising is a bunch of baloney? When they realize they’re still living paycheck-to-paycheck and paying for hospital bills, at least some folks are going to wake up from the disillusion.
That’s why false teachers will say that it depends on the strength of your faith. That way, they can fall back on the refrain, “You’re not healed or rich yet because you need a stronger belief that it’ll happen. Your doubts are getting in the way.”
But what if there was an even easier way to avoid this problem? What if, rather than promising things that are as tangible as healing and riches, they instead focused on a less-visible prosperity?
“Jesus will take away your disease” becomes “Jesus will fix your marriage.”
“God will multiply your bank account” becomes “God will make your kids behave like angels.”
Beware if the teaching you’re hearing makes becoming a Christian (or becoming a “better” Christian) all about assurances that your earthly issues will be resolved, your insecurities will vanish, your relationships will improve, you’ll be happier in life.
No matter which version is taught, the focus of this false gospel is always on the selfish trinity of “me, myself, and I,” and never on glorifying the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We should never come to Jesus–whether as an unbeliever or a Christian–as a means to get something for ourselves. Jesus is never a “means” to anything. He’s the end, the goal, the prize. Godliness for the sake of gain is one of the oldest false teachings in existence–even the early church had to deal with it (1 Tim. 6:5). It just reshapes and reforms for each generation.
So why should we come to Jesus? We come as sinners in need of salvation, yes, but not just to avoid pain and suffering and hell, or to “get to heaven.” We come to have God as our inheritance–to be in His presence, to know Him and be known by Him, to experience His love and to love Him in return.
As Samuel Rutherford wrote, “O my Lord Jesus Christ, if I could be in heaven without Thee, it would be hell; and if I could be in hell, and have Thee still, it would be heaven for me, for Thou art all the heaven I want.”
I would rather have suffering and illness and poverty, if it means having and honoring my Lord, than to have all the riches of the world and not have Him.
Jesus is our prosperity. If we have Him–even if we have nothing else–our cup overflows.
BEFORE: Name-and-claim what you want and speak your desires into existence, so that God grants your wishes.
NOW: Name-and-claim your “identity” as a worthy, beautiful princess and speak your goodness into existence, so that God makes you feel better about yourself.
There is only one Being who can speak things into existence, and that is God Himself.
The idea that you should just “speak positively” about something–as though it has already happened–in order to make it real, is worse than pagan superstition. It is nothing other than rebelliously seeking to become God. In other words, it’s satanic. Who else but Lucifer, the fallen angel who envied the throne of heaven, could have invented this lie–that our words have the power to force God’s hand?
Saying things like “I’m claiming healing for my aunt,” or “I’m claiming that my sister will be saved” is a wicked attempt to manipulate the Lord Almighty into doing something He hasn’t promised.
On the flip side, the concept that speaking negatively will make your worst fears come true is equally as false and contrary to God’s Word. The Lord alone is sovereign.
Today, we see this show up in a more subtle, insidious form: identity claiming.
They want you to stop calling yourself a sinner, and start saying you’re just a good person who loves God but occasionally makes mistakes.
They want you to stop focusing on your unworthiness, and start proclaiming how priceless, amazing, and totally-worth-saving you are. After all, didn’t God go through all that trouble to make you a princess? How great you must be!
The goal of all this “positive-talk” is to make ourselves feel better and to quiet down our guilt-ridden consciences. Hopefully, by repeating over and over again how good we are, we’ll actually “live up to” what we’re saying.
Don’t be deceived: this identity claiming is just as dangerous as the name-it-and-claim-it Osteen variety. It is still an attempt to do what only God can do–assure us and transform us.
But God’s way is more difficult for sinners. It isn’t focused on glorifying us, but giving all the glory to Him. We aren’t assured of our worth and beauty, but of His; not our righteousness, but Christ’s, given to us as a gift. We don’t become better by ignoring our sins and thinking we’re better than we are; we are transformed by the Spirit as we confess and repent of our sins, and gaze upon the perfections of Christ.
BEFORE: The Holy Spirit is a powerful force we can wield for our pleasures.
NOW: The Holy Spirit is a powerful force that speaks to us and directs us according to our pleasures (and not according to God’s Word).
Sadly, the heretical belief that the third Person of the Trinity is a “force” or a “gut feeling” is still very prevalent today.
Prosperity teachers have taught their followers to view the Holy Spirit as a tool we can employ to get what we want, especially through prayer. They misrepresent His identity and work so that, instead of being a Helper who transforms us and leads us to do God’s will, He becomes a servant of man’s desires.
Now, the new trend is to attribute words and feelings to the Spirit that the Bible does not assign to Him. People claim that the Spirit “whispered” or “spoke” to them, yet what He apparently says cannot be found in Scripture–which is where the Spirit has spoken to us.
They often won’t claim an audible voice, but a kind of inner voice, “leaning,” or “feeling.” Thus, the Holy Spirit is diminished to nothing more than our own thoughts and emotions.
No wonder what they assert to be “the Spirit’s words” are more in line with their own desires, what they want Him to say–rather than what the Word actually says!
The truth is that the Spirit is a Person, not a force. The Spirit is concerned with glorifying Christ, not glorifying you or me. The Spirit speaks to us through the Bible, God’s holy, inspired words, illuminating the truths therein. The Spirit leads us and guides us according to His will, and not our own.
THE SAME FALSE GOSPEL
Traditional prosperity preachers teach that the “good news” of Jesus is one of material gain. Today’s preachers cleverly disguise and reword their message, often removing materialism from the picture, but replacing it with more man-centered, selfish promises.
In the end, both teach the same false gospel: that we can use God to get what we want.
That if we want the good feelings of being forgiven and happy, all we need is to say a little prayer.
That if we desire the outward label of “Christian” and all the earthly “benefits” it entails, we just need to claim it for ourselves.
This false gospel always hands out cheap grace without repentance. It promises gifts without mentioning the cost. It never warns of the wrath of God that abides on us unless we turn from our sins to Christ. Nor does it focus on our ultimate purpose of existence– to enjoy Him, not just His gifts, and to glorify Him forever.
Let’s refuse to accept any “gospel” other than the true good news of Christ. He is the Savior of all those who genuinely put their trust in Him. He saves us for His purposes–that we would be holy lovers of God, pure worshippers in His kingdom. And that’s what we desire more than anything.
We may be poor, suffering saints, with bad health and no earthly joys to claim; but this world isn’t our home. The prosperity gospel, old or new, doesn’t tempt pilgrims who know they have a better inheritance in Christ. He, alone, is our treasure.