Toxic substances are properly labelled with a warning. Imagine how dangerous it can be for an insecticide to be packaged in a Coca Cola bottle.
What is true for toxic substances that can harm us physically is true for false teaching that can harm us spiritually. However, false teachings and distortions of the gospel do not come with warning labels. In fact, false teaching mostly comes packaged as the true gospel.
In the last few decades, perhaps the most prevalent and nefarious poison to infiltrate the church is the prosperity gospel. This teaching is no gospel but rather pure poison that corrupts one’s soul. This is why it is vital for believers to identify and resist such teaching.
Recognising Prosperity Gospel Theology
Sickness & Poverty Result From Our Unbelief
The prosperity gospel—or the “health and wealth gospel”—insists that the gospel of Jesus brings physical wellbeing and material prosperity. It redefines Jesus’s death upon the cross such that his atonement not only provides salvation from the guilt of sin, but also promises freedom from sickness and poverty.
One of the easiest ways to recognise prosperity gospel theology is by its view of sickness and poverty. It does not see them as merely a consequence of the fall. Instead, it sees sickness and poverty as sin itself, resulting from unbelief, from which one must be saved by faith. The prosperity gospel falsely promises that God will eradicate them from a believer’s life.
This false gospel denies God’s providential ordaining of suffering in the believer’s life. Instead, it claims the Christian life is one that is always victorious and devoid of sorrow and loss.
Faith Unlocks Material Wealth
In this teaching, material wealth is a sign of God’s favour and faith is the key to unlock this blessing.
Often its teachers quote the Abrahamic covenant as proof (Gen. 12, 15, 17). However, this misses the point that God’s provision of material prosperity to Israel in the Old Testament is a typology of the greater spiritual prosperity that believers in the church enjoy in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:11-14).
All false gospels replace the gift of God’s grace by a religion of works.
Rather than godliness with contentment being great gain (1 Tim. 6:6), this false gospel presents material possessions as our ultimate hope and proof of God’s favour.
This teaching corrupts the means of grace. It sees prayer as a tool to unlock and unleash material blessings. Since it is God’s will to eradicate illness and poverty from one’s life, the prayer of faith will always bring forth healing and success.
In the prosperity gospel theology, prayer is a way to get out of any difficult situation in life, just by exercising enough faith. When there is no healing or blessing, Christians must receive the blame for lacking sufficient faith and not properly claiming God’s promises.
Faith Means Proclaiming Positive Affirmations
Teachers of the prosperity gospel call Christians to name it (God’s promises) and claim it (receive it) by faith. Christians exercise faith by proclaiming positive affirmations to alter the material world. For instance, “I am loved by God. I will be blessed”.
The right positive confession or word of faith will create material wealth and physical healing. Often such positive confession goes with pledging one’s finances towards a ministry or a preacher. This “gospel” calls Christians to “sow money by faith” to “reap the harvest” of God’s blessings. Often, it exploits the poor so its preachers can become rich.
With its emphasis on “faith-filled” positive thinking, this teaching undermines the gospel realities of the depravity of man, the work of Christ, and the need for confession, repentance, and obedience.
God’s Work is Replaced by Our Work
All false gospels replace the gift of God’s grace by a religion of works. The work of the prosperity gospel is to give our money to receive God’s favour.
Biblically, it is true, right, and good for a Christian to support ministers and ministries with their financial resources. However, this must never be done with the motive of gaining or earning God’s favour. Giving is a privilege, not a strategy for a bigger and better payout in return.
God’s Word warns us against greed and the love of money
God calls Christians to be good stewards of financial resources. He wants us to give cheerfully because of everything he has joyfully given to us. Our giving is a response to God’s grace, not an effort to earn it. We do not give to receive more. We give because he has already given us his Son.
The prosperity gospel uses the same Bible and the same Christian terms as everyone else. But its message is anything but Christian. In a nutshell, the prosperity gospel presents the comforts and benefits of modern consumeristic lifestyle in spiritual wrapping paper.
Recognise Prosperity Gospel Teachers
Real Advertisements of a False Gospel
It is usually easy to recognise prosperity gospel teachers. They are largely within the Pentecostal and Charismatic circles, though they are not accurate representations of these theological streams.
Many of them present themselves as larger-than-life personalities. They come across as the combination of a spiritual guru, social media influencer, and corporate CEO. Such teachers often enjoy celebrity-like stature with large cult-like followings.
You cannot criticise the prosperity gospel without someone calling you an unbeliever, faithless, misled, or demonic. Anyone who makes an accusation against such teachers will hear the rebuke, “touch not the Lord’s anointed” (Ps. 105:15).
Prosperity gospel teachers flaunt their luxury with mansions, private jets, and designer clothes. After all, if God desires one to be healthy and wealthy then the preacher who proclaims it must evidence the special favour of God. He must be a convincing advertisement of such blessings. Aspiring and impressionable Christians clamour to become more like such preachers than like Jesus.
These teachers are wolves in sheep’s clothing who must be avoided (Matt. 7:15). Their greed has overwhelmed them and they seek to exploit vulnerable people for their personal gain (Acts 20:29, 2 Tim. 4:3-4).
Resist the Allure of the Prosperity Gospel
Look Away from Worldly Aspirations
The prosperity gospel uses Jesus to satisfy the modern Indian aspiration of a comfortable and prosperous life. It presents material comforts and good health as the criteria for happiness and uses the Bible to legitimise greed. This is worldly thinking and violates the gospel.
God’s Word warns us against greed and the love of money (Eph. 5:5, Matt. 6:24, Heb. 13:5, Luke 12:15). In his sovereignty, God ordains both seasons of comfort and seasons of suffering in the life of the believer. The saints of God are not exempt from suffering just because they have believed in Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:29-30). God’s Word exhorts us to rejoice in suffering (Rom. 3:3-5, Matt. 5:12).
Look to the Real Jesus
The life of Jesus is the ultimate antidote to the prosperity gospel theology. He left the glory of heaven to be born into poverty and obscurity. He had no place to lay his head (Luke 9:58). Our Lord experienced opposition, suffering, and persecution (John 15:20). He became poor for our sake, by emptying himself and being obedient to the point of death, even death upon the cross (2 Cor. 8:9, Phil. 2:2-8). The resurrection of Christ shows that God uses the suffering and death of his Son to accomplish the blessing of salvation.
Let us look to the cross and savour the suffering and crucified Lord Jesus Christ, more than any health and wealth in our lives. We too, like Moses, must consider the reproach of Christ to be of greater worth than the treasures of Egypt (Heb. 11:27).
We must fix our eyes on eternal things and understand that the things of this world are transient. Only then can we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and shun the deceptive and decadent prosperity gospel (2 Cor. 4:18, Matt. 6:33).