Life + Culture

The Prosperity Gospel in Our Closet

The Prosperity Gospel in Our Closet

Christianity is the religion of delight. But not any delight — delight in God himself. Listen to Psalm 84:

A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. (Psalm 84:10)

On holidays as a child, I visited my cousin’s house up north. Year after year, I would wander into his bedroom to admire a poster he had on the wall. In the foreground was a row of supercars in private garages. Just beyond them, sitting on a hill overlooking the Pacific coastline was a Malibu mansion. The title of the poster read, “Justification for Higher Education.” I was enthralled.

Not so in Psalm 84. That poster bores the psalmist. He’s tasted too much happiness in the presence of God to let the things of this world have any decisive pull on his heart. This is what it means when he writes, “A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” A Christian is someone who knows no higher joy than God. No surplus of trinkets, no company-keeping among the powerful or wealthy, can compete with the appeal God has. They’ve seen what the world has to offer and have found it wanting.

Shiney stuff bores the saints.

The Greatest Gift

For many of us, this point may be one we’ve had settled, in theory, for some time now. We know God is better than all the world offers. But if that’s where our delight in God ends, we’ve stopped short of how far the Bible goes. The staggering claim of the gospel is that God is not just better than anything the world has to offer — God is even better than anything God has to offer.

As Christians, we have access to a thousand gifts that are breathtakingly wonderful in their own right (Ephesians 1:3): forgiveness of our sins (Isaiah 43:25), relief from God’s wrath (Romans 5:9), escape from hell (Revelation 20:15), heaven forever (Luke 23:43), promise of a new glorified body in a new heavens and new earth (Romans 8:18–24). But for the Christian, these are not what we write home about. Our main gift in the gospel is God. The punchline of our good news is this: You get God!

Listen to Peter’s words: “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Christ died primarily to allow us access into the presence of our Creator.

Christ Wants to Give You Christ

This was not the way I heard the gospel as a teenager. What I heard was essentially this: “You’re a sinner and hell is hot. Jesus is the only ticket out. Believe and be saved!” All of it is true, but it falls short of showing the real beauty of Christ’s coming. Christ didn’t just come to give us heaven — Christ came to give us himself!

Think about it in terms of a marriage. What an insult it would be for you to find out one day that your spouse married you simply to avoid being single! Fear is a terrible reason to get married, because it belittles your husband or wife. If all we have in our coming to Jesus is fear of hell, we will always only see him as a means to our end — not the great end he himself means to be for us.

Two Simple Questions

This truth confronts our shallow affections. Here are two simple questions to help expose the depth of your delight: 

1. What do you do when you falter in spiritual disciplines?

Several years ago, I began to notice something on days when I wouldn’t make time for Bible reading or extended prayer. I was sad. Not because I missed out on time with my heavenly Father, but because I now had a blemish on my record of spiritual consistency. To put it another way, my response revealed that I prized my self-righteousness more than my Lord.

It’s ironic that many of us are able to see the lies of the prosperity preachers, who promise new cars and houses for anyone willing to believe a little harder, but we don’t have eyes to see the more subtle threat of using our relationship with God as a means to boost our spiritual resume. This is the orthodox man’s prosperity gospel — going through the spiritual motions to acquire an elevated sense of self-worth. It’s the prosperity we keep in our closet, even our prayer closets.

Spiritual disciplines exist to bring us nearer to our Beloved, not to provide an ego boost.

2. How do you explain the gospel to others?

Is the punch line of your good news that we don’t have to go to hell when we die? If so, you’re not only holding back the brightest gem of the good news from others, you also might be betraying what you treasure most in being saved: yourself.

Heaven will be amazing, no question. But without Jesus as the centerpiece, there will be nothing of lasting good in heaven. Do you believe that? David tells us that joy isn’t found in a location, but in God himself: “in your presence there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11). 

God Is the Gospel

Four decades ago, recording artist Keith Green said, “If your heart takes more pleasure in reading novels, or watching TV, or going to the movies, or talking to friends, than in just sitting alone with God and embracing him, sharing his cares and his burdens, weeping and rejoicing with him, then how are you going to handle forever and ever in his presence? You’d be bored to tears in heaven if you’re not ecstatic about God now.”

More than a decade ago, John Piper in his book God Is the Gospel put it this way: “Christ did not die to forgive sinners who go on treasuring anything above seeing and savoring God. And the people who would be happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there. The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God.”

We must have our God, or we truly have nothing. All the great joys ring hollow without him. Every blood-bought pleasure and treasure are dollar-store trinkets until he takes his place as the center of our delights. But when he does, every other gift is sweetened forever.

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