Beware of the False Gospel of Prosperity Theology

Does God want you to be rich and healthy?  Christianity stands upon the firm foundation of justification by faith alone in Christ alone for the remission of sin.  Prosperity theology (otherwise known as the prosperity gospel or by the tag line, “health, wealth, and prosperity”) stands upon the sinking sand of good health, increased wealth, and your best life now.  What many people fail to realize is that prosperity theology is bankrupt.  That’s right – it has nothing to offer your soul.  It’s a cloud without rain or a well without water.  It’s an empty dream that people chase with fervency only to find themselves in utter disappointment in the end.

Prosperity teachers are a dime a dozen in our modern culture.  These preachers and teachers harness the modern technological advances (radio, television, Internet, and applications for smart phones) to spread their message of health, wealth, and happiness to a wide viewing audience.  Some of the most common prosperity theology teachers include Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn, and T. D. Jakes (I believe naming names is important.  See why in this article: “Calling Out Wolves Dressed In Wool).

The Bankruptcy of Prosperity Theology

The premise of prosperity theology is that it’s possible to thrive in this world as God’s child and be lavished with blessings so that you can literally have your best life now.  At the heart of this message is the idea that if you are strong enough in your faith, courageous in your giving, and truly believe – God will supply you with health, wealth, and prosperity.

The prosperity preachers have developed their own religious vocabulary in order to get you to “sow seed gift offerings” into their ministries.  Joel Osteen wrote to his congregation in 2005 and stated, “God wants us to prosper financially, to have plenty of money, to fulfill the destiny He has laid out for us” [Source: The Washington Post].  Recently Creflo Dollar, a well known prosperity teacher in Atlanta has made national news as a result of his open campaign to raise $60 million dollars to purchase a luxury Gulf-Stream jet.  According to the website for Creflo Dollar’s ministry, they were requesting “200,000 people committed to sow $300 or more (to) help achieve our goal to purchase the G650 airplane.”  This is not the message of the gospel of Jesus.  In fact, it’s antithetical to the gospel of Jesus and should be condemned by Christians.

When I spent time in Africa in 2014, Conrad Mbewe told me that the major obstacle in his ministry in Zambia was prosperity and faith healing ministries that have swarmed the entire continent of Africa.  You could not drive more than a couple of blocks in the city of Zambia without seeing an advertisement for a faith healer or prosperity preacher.  One reason for this growth in Africa and Asia is due to the extreme poverty and lack of good health conditions.  As a result, these faith healers and prosperity teachers will seize the minds and consciences of these people and cause them to think that if they will give up what little they have in faith – God will open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing upon them in the form of better health and increased wealth.  Their audacity is startling, their message is corrupt, and the end result is tragic.

The bankruptcy of prosperity theology is that the entire focus is on the temporal rather than the eternal.  Prosperity theology is focused on money rather than Jesus.  The fact remains, the only people getting rich in the world of prosperity theology are the liars.  Jesus warned about focusing on your “best life now” by saying, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. [25] For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. [26] For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26).  Many people go to hell each year while being very committed to prosperity theology.  Their faith was in the god of gold rather than the God of grace.  John MacArthur rightly stated, “this is your best life, if your next life is in hell.”

The Riches of Christ

The heart of the gospel is that fallen sinners are reconciled to God through the death, burial, and resurrection of King Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).  The sinner comes to God in faith that His Son has died in the sinner’s place and that through faith in His finished work, the sinner can receive the forgiveness of sin.  What is more costly than salvation?  Peter explains in 1 Peter 1:18-21:

Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, [19] but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. [20] He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you [21] who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

The message of the gospel is that we lose our life in this life for Christ and as a result – we find it in Him.  In other words, there is a better life awaiting us in Christ than anything this world has to offer us.  The writer to the Hebrews describes Abraham’s faith and says, “For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10).  The message of the gospel is that we press on through this life in order to make Christ known as His ambassadors.  We are heralds who proclaim the riches of grace that are laid up for us in heaven.

Jesus made it abundantly clear in His famous sermon popularly titled, The Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus said in Matthew 6:19-21:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, [20] but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. [21] For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The real pointed question that all prosperity teachers should answer is:  What is your ultimate treasure in this life and the one to follow?  Is it earthly riches?  Is it the wealth to come in heaven?  Is it Jesus?

Do you know someone who is entrapped by prosperity theology?  Urge them to find their joy in Jesus.  Ask them to evaluate their faith and theology on the basis of the following questions:

  1. What is the basis of your joy – the pursuit of happiness in prosperity or in Jesus alone?
  2. What is the basis of your faith?  If you stood before the throne of God today, why should He allow you into His heaven?
  3. What if you never achieve better health, increased wealth, or worldly prosperity – what does that say about your faith?
  4. Is your financial commitment to the prosperity teacher on television or to God through your local church?
  5. Do you realize that many of the greatest Christians from the early church (the apostles and early church disciples) and modern church history (missionaries and preachers) have suffered greatly under trials, poverty, and martyrdom?  What does that say about their faith in God?

Prosperity theology is a lie.  It’s a false gospel.  Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24).  God’s plan for your life may never be good health.  It may be God’s will for you to live in extreme poverty.  It may never be God’s will to lavish you with worldly prosperity.  However, the heart of the gospel is focused on this reality – we came into this world with nothing and we will likewise leave this world with nothing.  It matters not how much wealth we accumulate in this life.  What matters most is how we leave this world.  It’s not about the cars we drive or the houses we can afford.  It’s about Jesus.  As we leave this world we must be clinging to Christ alone.  In the words of Augustus Toplady from 1776:

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.