Charles Spurgeon said, “Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.” Today, church planters and even established churches must help people discern the difference between the biblical Gospel and the prosperity gospel.
In the urban context of New Orleans, where I serve, one of the primary focuses in our local church is to ensure every person we encounter hears a clear proclamation and articulation of the Gospel. Nine years of planting and pastoring in New Orleans led me to no longer assume people understand or have ever heard the biblical Gospel. Sure, they may know the name of Jesus, or even give the Sunday school answer that He died on the cross, but for many it seems to stop right there.
The Apostle Paul gives us a clear articulation of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians. The Scripture states, “For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then he appeared to over five hundred brothers and sisters at one time; most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one born at the wrong time, he also appeared to me” (15:3-8).
If we wanted to surmise this passage, we could say, all people are separated from God by sin, unable to save ourselves, but Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried, rose on the third day, and appeared to His disciples. It is by trusting in His finished work that we find forgiveness and are given everlasting life. In short, the biblical Gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ.
Colossians speaks of the Good News in this way, “He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it away by nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; he triumphed over them in him” (2:14-15). So this good news of the Gospel even proclaims how Jesus in His death, burial, and resurrection defeated Satan.
The Good News is robust, life-changing, and biblical, but the counterfeit message of the prosperity gospel is void of power, destroys lives, and is unbiblical. Why, you may ask? Well, the prosperity gospel promises a life of financial abundance, no suffering, health on demand, and anchors people to the world system instead of the Kingdom of God.
When comparing the biblical Gospel and the prosperity gospel, we can see a stark difference. First, we can go directly to the Scripture, find the biblical Gospel, and see it clearly defined. Remember, “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:3–4). Nevertheless, the prosperity gospel takes Scripture out of context in order to say something it does not.
The prosperity gospel or health and wealth message was made famous in the late ’80s by teachers such as Kenneth Copeland, Fred Price, and others. However, it does have roots that stretch back to the ‘50s. This teaching, popularized through Christian TV and radio, has now been exported across the globe and, I would argue strongly this message is now the face of modern-day western Christianity.
This new health and wealth message is sly. For example, let’s look at the following verse: Deuteronomy 8:18, “but remember that the Lord your God gives you the power to gain wealth, in order to confirm his covenant he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.”
Proponents of the prosperity gospel will say, “See, it’s right there, wealth is a promise from God.” However, if you simply back up a few verses we can see the context of this verse and the audience. God is speaking to the children of Israel and giving them a warning to remember Him and keep His commands when they enter the promised land. In writing on this verse, Warren Werisbe stated, “How easy it would be for Israel to become proud, to forget how helpless they were before the Lord rescued them, and to think that their success was due to their own strength and wisdom—and that they deserved it!” Why bring this up? Well, this promise was not made to those in the new covenant, nor was God directly speaking to those in the church age either. He was dealing directly with the children of Israel, under the old covenant, and declaring what He expected of them in coming into the promised land.
How then do we help ensure our people are not deceived in this way? First, teach those you are leading to read the biblical text entirely and in context. Next, encourage them to ask good questions while reading. Questions such as: What do these words mean? What is God saying? What is the cultural context? How does this passage relate with everything else in the Bible? How does this text apply to us today? In the end, we must teach those we are leading to sit and wrestle with the biblical text before jumping to application.
Again, looking at the distinctions between the biblical Gospel and the prosperity gospel. The health and wealth message promises the whole world to the detriment of your soul. Fredrick Price, in his book High Finance: God’s Financial Plan, wrote: “We need to realize that prosperity is the will of God. It is God’s perfect will that everyone prospers in every area of life. Primarily, we are dealing with material and financial prosperity because it has to do with tithes and offerings.”
However, the Scripture teaches, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10). The question for prosperity gospel adherents is, “Did Jesus teach that the result of His death, burial, and resurrection was immense wealth, health, and a life free of suffering for his followers?” In fact, this is a great question to those we are ministering to as well, to help them discern between the biblical Gospel and the prosperity gospel.
Understand the lynchpin of the prosperity gospel isn’t that Jesus forgives our sins, but the end goal of the death, burial, and resurrection is financial abundance, wealth, and health in this life. However, we see Jesus’ own words to His disciples, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). The argument isn’t against having material possessions, but within the prosperity gospel, possessions are the goal interwoven with why Jesus came. On the other hand, the biblical Gospel does not exclude the poor, nor does it promise that the poor will become wealthy in this life. However, as a result of having new life in Christ, according to Ephesians 1:3, every believer is given, “every spiritual blessing in the heavens in Christ.”
Regardless of your context, the way to protect those you lead from the deception of the prosperity gospel is to saturate your preaching, teaching, and discipleship with the biblical Gospel. A large part of your ministry may consist of helping people unlearn an unbiblical gospel which is so common in our American culture. Even so, if your ministry is saturated with the biblical Gospel, it will lead to those who can discern the lie of the prosperity gospel. This chart lays out the clear distinction between the prosperity gospel and the biblical Gospel.
|Prosperity Gospel||Biblical Gospel|
|Jesus’ death and resurrection provide wealth and healing.||Jesus’ death and resurrection offer forgiveness of sin and right relationship with God.|
|Suffering is never in the will of God.||Jesus promised in this world you will have suffering, but our confidence is in the Lord.|
|Money is a sign of blessing and favor.||The believer has been given every spiritual blessing in Jesus Christ.|
|Give and you will prosper financially and live your best life now.||It is more blessed to give than receive, trusting that God will give you what you need.|
|Giving to specific ministries will expedite the return of Christ.||Christians go and preach the Gospel to every nation. Trust that the Lord knows the day and the hour.|
The prosperity gospel resembles the parable of the rich man in Luke 12. The man in the parable sought to fill his barns to the brim instead of giving thought to eternal things. What were Jesus’ words regarding this man? “You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared–whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20).
So, how do we help the church discern between the prosperity gospel and the biblical Gospel? Repeatedly proclaim and articulate the biblical Gospel, confront in love wrong misinterpretations of the Scripture, teach how to properly read the Biblical text, and continually ask hard questions of those wrapped in teaching that anchors them to this world system instead of the Kingdom of God.
The best news to proclaim in a broken world, where wealth is fleeting and unreliable, is that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again according to the Scriptures. The Good News — the Biblical Gospel — promises the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life, despite whether or not we have wealth, health, or trouble in this life.
Published February 20, 2023