One of the most dangerous perversions of the gospel of Jesus Christ is called the prosperity gospel. It is a version of Christianity claiming that God promises Christians a healthy and financially prosperous life if only they are sufficiently faithful.
Any time someone adds an adjective to the gospel, whether it is “full,” “prosperity,” or “social,” they risk modifying the beautiful simplicity of God’s redemption of believers who repent through Christ’s blood on the cross.
The prosperity gospel is a false gospel that substitutes a vision of present earthly happiness for a vision of the final restoration of heaven and earth that the Bible anticipates. It is a trap that ensnares the poor and the weak and leads them away from the love of Christ. It is a potential danger even for those who avoid its more obvious expressions.
Wealth and Holiness are Not Directly Related
In contemporary society, the prosperity gospel is most attractive as it inspires the poor to seek holiness in exchange for God’s blessings. The message of prosperity gospel preachers is that believers who give “seed money” are sowing a financial blessing that they are guaranteed to reap. Demonstrated personal faith will lead to financial wealth and physical health.
In her book, Blessed, historian Kate Bowler documents the many Christians, particularly in lower socio-economic classes, who attend prosperity gospel churches and fall into giving beyond their means to their local church in the hope of receiving a greater financial blessing back from God.
As Bowler documents, however, what usually happens is that the pastor and his family live in luxury while the people in the pews pay late fees on credit cards and have their utilities disconnected.
Prosperity preachers justify their wealth because they believe God financially blesses those who are holy. Often Abraham and Joseph are cited as clear biblical evidence that God gives riches to those that are faithful to serve him.
The preacher’s wealthy lifestyle, including private planes and immense mansions in some cases, signals to the average church member that God is richly blessing the person who is speaking this message of hope to them on Sundays. A 2013 television series, “Preachers of L.A.,”exposed the bankruptcy of a number of prosperity preachers as they defrauded their congregations.
Job and the Prosperity Gospel
The most obvious biblical example of the false equation of personal holiness with material blessing is in the book of Job. As Job’s family is killed, his financial status in ruin, and his health poor, Job’s friends surround him to convince him that his plight is the result of his sin.
Their logic was that God blessed the holy with prosperity; the absence of prosperity meant the presence of sin. As we read the book of Job, however, we see that it was God who allowed Satan to test Job’s faith by taking away his wealth. At its most basic level, Job’s story teaches us that wealth and holiness are not directly correlated.
The false message that holiness leads to prosperity leads some within the prosperity gospel movement to associate financial riches with God’s blessing. Perversely, this leads some within the prosperity movement to overlook obvious signs of moral failure as they celebrate the fabulous wealth of people in society and view the uber-rich as anointed by God.
Avoiding the Prosperity Gospel
Even if we avoid the more obvious versions of the prosperity gospel in our lives, it is easy to fall prey to the same error in a different key.
A soft prosperity gospel is a temptation for many Christians in the United States. We believe that if we pray over our proposal at work, our boss will be more likely to grant it. It’s easy to equate a bullish stock market with God’s goodness as our retirement portfolio climbs. When we get laid off from our steady employment, it’s easy to wonder if being a more faithful Christian might have prevented that personal tragedy.
David Jones counsels us to watch out for the prosperity gospel in our own heart. Believing God always provides material blessings for holiness and removes them for unfaithfulness is enticing for big and little issues in life.
The prosperity gospel is a false gospel because it makes people feel they have control of their material condition. If people are holy, God will be generous in return. Right standing before God is evidenced by good standing in society.
Don’t forget that what makes the prosperity gospel so attractive is that it caters to the desires of the fallen human heart. It promises much while requiring little. It panders to the flesh.
The true gospel of Christ stands in contrast to any version of the prosperity gospel. The gospel tells us that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. It tells us we can have hope in the future renewal of all things. It is that hope, not our present comfort, that we should pursue in our daily lives.
Learn more about the importance of rejecting the prosperity gospel and discover more reasons why it isn’t biblically sound.