Maybe I should explain.
If you’re unfamiliar with the prosperity gospel, here’s a quick introduction. It’s a form of teaching that propagates the idea that God wants to give you wealth, health, and material riches for following Him.
God is the genie. Prayer and faith are the magical formulas. Your discipleship is the process for how “blessings” that ought to be yours get realized. Oh, and if your life go south, it’s because you don’t have enough faith.
If you’ve been around certain Christian scenes, you know something is off about this. You may already know that the prosperity gospel is, in fact, no gospel at all. God is no genie to be controlled, but our object of worship and devotion. God Himself is our blessing. Material things are blessings from God, yes to be enjoyed, but also to be used to further bless other.
Countless articles have been written about this, sermon clips denouncing its teachings have gone viral, and yet, it lives on.
Books on the subject continue to be sold. It show up on TV screens. It continues to grow overseas.
Oh, and I see it living in my own heart.
The Heart of Entitlement
No, I don’t outright believe that God owes me a million dollars for saying “Yes” to Him. I don’t believe God owes me a big house or a jet for trusting Him.
The problem is that I believe God owes me.
I don’t need the biggest, brightest, and best. But I still expect God to give me what I want.
And this attitude is glaringly evident when life doesn’t go the way that I want or expect. When I don’t get the opportunity I feel deserve, or when someone else gets a better deal than I think they deserve, I start having issues. I start questioning the goodness of God or whether I’m lacking faith in my prayer life. I start scrambling for genie’s lamp.
See, it’s easy to dismiss prosperity gospel and think it utterly foolish of people to subscribe to something that so clearly deviates from the Bible, but at the core root of the prosperity gospel is the quiet and often subtle belief that God owes me something. It’s an attitude of entitlement. We believe we deserve more.
See, we believe the prosperity gospel when we post a special moment on social media with “#blessed,” but feel cursed and unhappy when it seems like someone else is doing better. We believe the prosperity gospel when we’re jealous and envious of another, swallowed up in bitter rivalry. We believe the prosperity gospel when we’re not happy with today simply because we have God and God alone.
The Unclear Path to Entitlement
To be clear, it would be wrong to say we shouldn’t expect anything from God. No, that would put us in danger of overreaction into the realm of what’s known as “poverty theology,” which is the rejection of all material things in the name of holiness.
No, we ought to expect from God everything that He said we should expect from Him. The Bible teaches us to ask for our needs - things like wisdom, daily bread, strength, forgiveness and so forth, and then to expect God to bring them our way. We should therefore expect God to meet our needs.
But there’s a world of a difference between our needs and wants. It’s just hard to tell sometimes because the hyper consumeristic Western world we breathe in has masterfully marketed its way as to blend the two together.
But when we confuse the two, we’ve created the pathway for the attitude of entitlement to grow.
It will only be a matter of time before we begin asking God for our wants, believing they’re our needs, only to blame God for not providing us with the life we believe we deserve.
We’ve turned Him into a functional genie, our savior from the unhappy hell that is our reality. The Bible has become a lamp - not to our feet - but to our entitlement, to house the giver of our wants.
The Gospel Path to Joy
This is why the gospel is not only beautiful, but also powerfully subversive.
At the heart of the Christian message is the resounding chorus that I am not deserving, not even undeserving, but rather ill-deserving! I deserve death in every sense of the word. I deserve hell. I deserve judgement from God. That’s what I’m truly entitled to on account of my sins.
But God miraculously brought us to Himself and gave us the glory of relationship with Him. He gave us what we don’t deserve (Himself!) by taking what He didn’t deserve (our death) bringing us to a whole new world of life we could have never achieved by the sweat, blood, and tears of our own broken existence.
This begins to reorient my entire reality.
I don’t have a lot? I still have God. I have a lot? It still pales in comparison to God. I have health and life? To live is Christ. I’m going to die? To die is gain. Others are doing well? I am secure in God to rejoice alongside them. Others are hurting? I am secure in God to weep with them.
The gospel of Jesus Christ subverts my understanding that God owes me. No, it helps me to realize that God owns me. I belong to God. He purchased me completely. What could be better than that?
The gospel of Jesus is not just more Biblical and more beautiful than the prosperity gospel, it redefines prosperity altogether! It brings us to divine heights of prosperity.
We Are Prospering Sinners
God doesn’t owe you and me the life that we want.
God has given us something far better. He has given us the life that He wants for us. And this life comes in all sorts of different templates.
Some templates have marriage in them whereas others have singleness. Some have the template of Indonesia and Cambodia, while others the template of American suburbia. Some have good health, and others not so much. Some have little wealth and thriving friendships whereas others have a lot of wealth and limited relationships. They all look different.
But there’s a unique commonality in all of them - they’re all templates of sinners prospering in God.
Their prosperity is that they know God, love God, and that God is enough for them. The gospel of Jesus grows in their hearts and advances where they go. Their prosperity cannot be taken away from them. It is an unstoppable and eternal prosperity.
God Himself is their prosperity. #blessed
Pastor Steve Bang Lee is the College Pastor and Teaching Ministry Lead at Living Hope Community Church in Brea, CA. He received his B.A. from Cal Poly Pomona and M.Div. from Talbot School of Theology. Steve also serves on the Board for CCM (Crossroads Campus Ministry).