The Prosperity Gospel vs. Taking Up Your Cross :: by Howard Green

“God has a big dream for your life. God is positive, there is nothing negative about him. God wants to increase you financially, by giving you promotions, fresh ideas, and creativity.” —Joel Osteen

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world” —Jesus.

The two quotations above were both spoken by men who have preached the gospel. One section represents the true gospel, and the other a different gospel. One section contains the words of Jesus and the other contains the words of Joel Osteen. By reading the words above, you can identify which selection represents the true gospel and which one is false.

We are living in the days when feeling good about yourself is king. We are told to have a positive self-image. We just have to believe in ourselves, or we just simply…have to believe. There is a lot of nonsense being taught in many evangelical churches and it’s masquerading as the true Christian life. To be certain, this isn’t anything new. Over the years I’ve heard everything from: “We are King’s kids” to “You are the head and not the tail” to “God’s got a great plan for your life.” So this dominion thinking and prosperity gospel has been around for quite awhile.

Here’s the difference these days: What an overwhelming majority of Christians quickly identified as a false gospel in times past, has become much more difficult to identify now. Let me clarify: It is not difficult for a believer who spends time in the Word, seeks God daily, and prays frequently to decipher truth from error. But to people who are new in the faith, weaker in the faith, those who don’t read the Word often, and even some who desperately want a miracle…the lines can be blurred.

Why is this different gospel so popular now and why is it making headway in many of our evangelical circles? Because in days past, we could spot erroneous teaching from miles away. Teaching that “I AM” or “We are Little Jesus,” that was easy to avoid, identify, and lovingly reprove a fellow believer about. The contemporary version of false or prosperity gospel doesn’t have the same humanistic banner out in front. Instead, it’s tucked under words and beliefs that sound positive and up-lifting. The problem at the core of the message is this: WE are the persons being focused on, not Jesus.

I’m not going to debate the validity of Mr. Osteen’s walk with the Lord, his heart’s sincerityor where he will spend eternity. I’m not God and I don’t want to play the judge when it comes to matters of heaven and hell. I have to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling. I do call the biblical content of his teaching and many other prosperity gospel teachers into question. This is because they have exposure to so many souls. The message of the prosperity gospel at its core is a….false gospel. Lost people need salvation from sin and God’s direction only. It’s my heart that these teachers turn from promoting a:

Life is good gospel, to modeling the: To live is Christ and to die is gain gospel.

Why is this teaching false, different, and dangerous?

When it’s lined-up next to Scripture it’s full of error, deceit, and idolatry. You might say, “Howard, the word idolatry is kind of extreme.” Putting my agenda, wants, needs, happiness, schedule, and future plans before the will of the Lord Jesus Christ…that is extreme. There are so many people who are hurting. They may not know Jesus and have never heard the gospel. They may not know about the new life Jesus can give them. It’s a life of mercy, heart cleansing, repentance, dying to old nature and desires, of true peace and contentment.

Unsaved people need to know that he is on a collision course with the God of heaven and their only hope is coming to an end of themselves and giving their lives to Jesus. This will result in a n believers who can boldly face anything life brings, because he or she walks with Jesus now. That is true peace and contentment in this life.

In Mr. Osteen’s popular book,Your Best Life Now, the title is very telling.Yourbest lifeNow.It’s all about me, living for this world, and being focused on the here and now…not God’s will or eternity. Diametrically opposite, is the word of God. We exchange our will and desires, for His will. Our lifenowwill be full because of His presence. Our best life, is living as an exile while here with our worldly passions and desires crucified. Our earthly gain is as nothing. Let’s set our minds on treasure that will never rust. Lets bear fruit, reach out to the lost, and glorify the name of Jesus in all we do. This is Your best life foreverin God’s economy.

Here is just one of many scriptures warning us about why this teaching is so dangerous:

1 Timothy 6:10 (I’m paraphrasing):The (love) and craving for money causes big problems… some people will wander away from the faith.What happens when an unsaved person is presented with a “different gospel” via Mr. Osteen’s books, and his preaching? What happens when he walks into a church where “life coaches” have replaced men who teach the gospel? This man would leave the same way he came in. He would be assured: “God has a plan for him, he is important, and to expect the best.”

The tragedy is that this man wasn’t told about his heart’s hopeless condition without Jesus. He may even think God is smiling down on him and he’s going to be okay. That’s a shame…and his eternity may be spent in torment because he thought everything was okay.

God help us to love people enough to tell them the truth. We need to preach a gospel that confronts people with the reality of a sinful heart before a holy God. We need to drop the Christian platitudes, feel good seminars, the life enhancement message, and replace it with the truth and grace of the gospel alone.

What about the new Christian who is just learning to walk with Jesus?

He needs godly discipleship and solid biblical teaching. If he were to be exposed to the same teaching…he would be in serious danger. He would be taught the following false gospel message: “You will have favor everywhere you go. You will have doors of opportunity and prosperity open wide. You will be successful at everything you do. God intends for you to have a certain lifestyle, and things will go well for you. If you picture your promotion, house, new car, you can have it. God has the best for you.

What about when tragedy strikes? Anyone who has lived long enough knows life is full of hardship. Unexpected death of a loved one, miscarriage, job loss, foreclosure, unwanted divorce, bankruptcy, sickness, disability, and the list can go on for miles. The point is this: People who are new in the faith and have been sold a prosperity gospel, may very well crumble. They may go back to the world, numb the pain with substance abuse, even blame God and become callous toward him.

The very God they can depend on seems estranged, because they bought into every day being a Friday and having “their” best life. They didn’t hear that God will carry them through even the worst this life can bring them. It’s been said that this message wouldn’t make any sense to our Christian brothers and sisters in N. Koreas prison camps or in dark corners of the Middle East. This false gospel is a deception and a lie. It has no business in any fellowship that proclaims Jesus’ name.It sets people up for spiritual shipwreck.

Friends, this isn’t just a different gospel…it’s a false gospel and idolatry. We are elevating MY self, MY wants, MY needs, MY comfort, and MY will…above God’s will. God seems to be a life enrichment, a genie, or a nice grandpa who makes the world all about you. It also sets up people for complete breakdown when tragedy strikes. They may very well shake their fist at God and say, “I’m a Christian…this wasn’t supposed to happen to me.”

When we have a correct understanding of living for Jesus, even the tragedies in life will be seen in a different light. We may never understand why God allows some things to happen, but praise His name…I belong to Him and He will see me through. John the Baptist said these words with all humility, respect, adoration, and yielding of his will: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” I think he summed up how the Lordship of Jesus must be lived out in a believer.

The true gospel is where Jesus is in his rightful place and I’m in mine. God is God and I’m not. God is in control. I must relinquish control and surrender my will to His.

Second Timothy 4:3 tells us a time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off.

Notice Paul didn’t tell us that people will run after a teacher who openly denies Jesus and refutes the gospel. He said they will seek after teachers who suit their own passions. In twenty first century lingo: They tell me what I want to hear. Paul also uses the word: “accumulate.” There are plenty of teachers and evangelical fellowships where this message sells…or as it’s been said, “That will preach.” If that is the what people are wandering away for let’s end with: What people should cling to.

The true gospel of Jesus Christ which is about Him and Him only. He is front and center, not me. My wants and desires are surrendered upon the altar of His will. What a truly rich, prosperous, full, and desirable life. If our desire is to live for Jesus and walk with Him daily, then we must die to ourselves daily. We will have the same circumstances the un-believer faces, but we will have hope. Our Lord is near to the broken heart and saves those who are crushed in spirit. He is a very present help in time of trouble. The word also tells us that: Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.

Christian friend, we also have the trust factor: Even when we don’t know why or how, we know the Lord is right here with us. Job didn’t know why, but he trusted in the Lord. Daniel was an exile living 500 miles from home in pagan Babylon, and God was right there with him. Peter and the other men didn’t come to grips with the cross and even confronted Jesus about going to Jerusalem to die. On the third day, the suffering made sense.

It’s God’s right and His only to judge someone’s soul and eternal destiny. As believers, we leave that to Him. My purpose here isn’t to judge false teachers. It’s to warn people about their dangerous teachings. We are to correct false teaching and certainly admonish a fellow believer caught-up in this net that will ultimately work as a snare in the end. If it were not for God’s grace, I could be deceived as well.

This admonishment isn’t a high-minded slap in the face. On the contrary, we are looking out for fellow believers and correcting false doctrine with a heart of love. As the days grow darker and the world seems to offer more diversions, pleasures, and even a form of godliness, we must pursue lost sinners with the true Gospel of Jesus and keep Him front and center. It’s the gospel of Him…not us.

All for Him,