If we know God then we know he has been incredibly merciful to us, and our gratitude manifests itself in our obeying God’s commands and purifying our lives of sin; because we know what sin cost Jesus, we therefore hate it and want nothing more to do with it. To me, this is perhaps the most striking difference between the true gospel and the prosperity gospel: while the true gospel recognizes that knowing Christ is worth losing everything (Phil 3:8-10) the prosperity gospel encourages people to commit idolatry by focusing on their wants and felt need.
What do you think of when you hear the term ‘prosperity gospel’?
Until recently, I thought of the stereotype perpetuated by the movement’s prominent leaders: someone who either was wealthy or wanted to be wealthy. Then Dr Kate Bowler’s article changed that by showing me that, for every story about a leader’s extravagant wealth, there were hundreds and thousands of stories of distressed people being bilked while hoping God would grant them relief from their difficulties. Thanks to Dr Bowler, I started thinking about how I might try to help these people see the movement’s lies and find freedom.
Then it hit me: Christ’s actions and attitudes during his time in Gethsemane can help them see through the prosperity gospel’s many falsehoods.
A Very Human Moment
Using Jesus as an example of what the prosperity gospel gets wrong about being a Christian first came to me during a lunch break at work. While eating, I pondered how to reach people trapped in the prosperity gospel, and I was suddenly struck by the fact that Jesus arguably had one of his most human moments in Gethsemane. After all, it was in that garden that Jesus asked God to take away the cross and wrath he was about to endure. It’s not a pious prayer at all; it’s the prayer of a man desperate to avoid the agony he knows is coming.
Prosperity gospel followers have likely been told that if God isn’t answering their prayers it’s because he is unhappy with their faith. Jesus, however, taught that “a servant is not greater than his master” (John 13:16)—which means we don’t occupy a greater status than Jesus.