The Prosperity Gospel (aka the Health and Wealth Gospel/Word of Faith Movement) teaches that Christians can live a life of financial prosperity and perfect health in this life. All you have to do is have faith. Jesus bought these things for us on the cross and wants us to have them. If we don’t have these things, it’s our fault for not believing enough. Christians who get sick are not welcome in their churches because they are not providing a good example for the rest of the church. It is their own fault for not believing enough. The test of true faith is the things you get in this life. If you get health and wealth it proves you have faith. If you don’t get these things, there is something wrong with your faith.
I have recently been preaching through Hebrews 11, the great faith chapter of the Bible. It starts out by giving us one of the most famous definitions of faith in the Bible: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” It then proceeds to illustrate what it means by faith by giving examples of faith from numerous Old Testament believers, urging us to follow their example. It mentions Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and many more, and each time it introduces a new character it says “by faith” they did this or did that. The whole chapter is about faith from beginning to end.
What is most interesting is that this chapter diametrically contradicts the prosperity gospel understanding of faith. They could not be more opposed to one another. Hebrews 11 proves the prosperity gospel is a false doctrine and a dangerous spirituality that leads Christians astray.
We see this in the very definition of faith that starts the chapter. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for.” Faith is not about getting things. Faith is about hoping for things. Faith is about living in hope for things to come, not about receiving them in this life.
If you think this is too subtle, the writer makes this point clear two times, once in the middle of the chapter and once at the end. In 11:13 the writer says of the Old Testament believers, “All these died in faith, without receiving the things promised, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance,” and in 11:39 he concludes the chapter by saying, “And all these people, having gained approval through their faith, did NOT receive what was promised.”
The letter is written to believers who were being threatened with persecution to the point of death. They are being tempted to leave the faith to avoid physical and economic ruin. The writer is encouraging them to follow the example of the Old Testament saints. They kept believing, even at their deaths, even though they didn’t receive all the things God had promised them. He says “they were looking for a heavenly city built by God” (v 16). The writer is encouraging his readers to replicate that faith. Keep believing God’s promises even if you don’t receive health and wealth in this life. God has something better in store for you beyond this life.
Heroic, mature faith is not shown by what you get in this life, but by stubbornly believing God will give them to you beyond the grave having not received them here. This is the exact opposite of the prosperity gospel definition of faith. It’s almost as if Hebrews 11 was written to refute the prosperity gospel. It certainly exposes it for what it is: a religious con game to cheat people out of their money. It is American greed baptized with a coating of Christian lingo.
Faith is delighting in God and his promises regardless of what my life circumstances are. Faith is believing he is good even if I don’t experience health and wealth in this life. Faith is saying to God, “I love you for who you are, not what I get out of you.” Faith is trusting God as my father and friend to what is best for me, not treating him like a cosmic candy machine that will produce treats for me in exchange for my faith.
I would like to make it clear that I don’t believe all Christians will be poor and sick all the time. Not in the least. Some will. Some won’t. Some will experience difficulties for periods of their lives and have relative health and wealth the rest of the time. Our life circumstances are not fruits of our faith. They are tests of our faith whether those circumstances be good or bad. Why God gives health and wealth to some and sickness and poverty to others is a mystery beyond our understanding. We trust him that it all falls within his good plan and that for eternity, all will be well for all his people.
What I am writing against is the idea that Christians are supposed to receive health and wealth in this life and something is wrong with our faith if we don’t. This wickedly puts a false burden of guilt on those going through suffering telling them there is something spiritually wrong with them. In fact, their persevering faith in the face of difficulty shows they have the greatest faith of all that we all should emulate.
For more on this subject read my The Spiritual Dangers of the Prosperity Gospel” found on this blog. For more on why God may allow us to go through suffering, read my “The Problem of Evil” also on this blog