“I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10b)
If the “life” that Jesus referred to here is manner of life, lifestyle or way of life on earth, then how do you explain the fact that so many Christians around the world are suffering for the Faith? Besides, why would the rich in this world need to come to Jesus for that?
My big brother Doug accepted Jesus Christ shortly after seeing “The Exorcist” when it first came out in the 1970s. It scared him so much, he had to sleep with the light on for two days even though he was already grown and on his own!
He saw it at a time when he was searching for answers in life, first being into astrology during that period. He was searching for a firm foundation to believe in. So, after seeing that movie, he changed direction and started going to church.
Understand, this was a big deal, because we were not a religious family. To make matters worse, at least from our agnostic/atheistic perspective at the time, Doug quickly became one of those annoying, zealous hell-fire-and-brimstone Christians with nothing else to talk about every time he came over.
Soon, because of the church he started going to, that zeal extended itself to the “Word Faith” doctrine so that, in addition to needing Jesus, we also needed to watch our words because they have creative power, even power over life and death (Proverbs 18:21, taken way out of context). Doug was so into this “name it and claim it” way of thinking and its close, natural companion, the “Prosperity Gospel,” that it seemed to almost consume him. It puts a heavy emphasis on material success and among its tenets is that you have to be very specific about what you desire from the Lord.
Doug started speaking the things he wanted into existence, or at least he tried: a particular wife, a mansion specifically in Pacific Grove, a certain make and model luxury car, etc. He was following the formula to the tee, and yet, not surprisingly, he did not get most of what he “confessed.” I don’t know all of what Doug was praying for in life, and although his prayers weren’t answered exactly as he had confessed them, he did marry a wife he completely adored, had a comfortable home in an L.A. suburb, two beautiful children, a steady job and a reliable Toyota sedan.
What I do know most of all is that years later, following one unanswered “confession” after another after another, Doug got increasingly disillusioned. His foundation in Christ, in my opinion, was eventually shaken. Then, after years of trying to bolster that foundation of belief, he started talking about mysticism and then became a Gnostic. (Gnosticism is a false religion that combines some elements of Christianity with mystical, occultic concepts.)
After years of thinking Gnosticism was the answer, in 2005 Doug eventually alienated himself almost completely from the family. By this time I had been a Christian for more than 20 years, but he said he didn’t want to have anything to do with Charlton and me anymore because we didn’t believe in the same God. I was devastated. Devastated more because of what this might mean for his eternity than because my big brother didn’t want to speak to me anymore, and I really love my only big brother.
A few months later, in early January 2006, out of the blue Doug emailed me. It was a nice message encouraging me to keep standing up for the Faith regardless of what our family (they all still haven’t accepted Jesus) or anyone else says or thinks. I was encouraged that maybe his conversion to Christ really was authentic way back when, that maybe he just had a long struggle with doubt after all those years of disappointment with the Word Faith/Prosperity “gospel,” and that maybe he was finally coming back around. This hope was bolstered by the fact that his best friend from those early Word Faith days had stayed close to him like a brother through all those spiritually tumultuous years. (Thank you, Pastor Ron and Louise Johnson.)
Two weeks later, four days after his 51st birthday, Doug died suddenly of heart failure.
Why tell you this story? Am I saying that the Word Faith Movement/Prosperity “Gospel” killed my brother? Of course not, not at all! There are too many other factors that I know about, and I’m sure many that I don’t, that came into play with Doug’s unexpected death.
But I am giving him as an illustration of why the doctrine is so problematic. My brother’s story, while admittedly being from my perspective only based on my conversations with and observations of him over a 20-plus year period, is just one of countless others I know of first-hand where failure of the Word Faith/Prosperity doctrine has injured God’s precious sheep. Too many people are told to come to Jesus so they can have a better life now, and so they respond; but when their material status in life doesn’t really change as much as promised if they followed the formula, they falter or rebel.
Don’t get me wrong. People, including my brother, are very much to blame for following false doctrine so blindly. They won’t be able to pass the buck on their pastors when it’s judgement time for believers, because God will say, “But didn’t you have your own Bible, and don’t you know how to read and understand it for yourself? Can’t you think for yourself?” Scriptures repeatedly warn the sheep to beware of false teachers who teach that material gain is godliness and to leave those churches. However, God will also definitely hold pastors accountable for what they teach. For example, for accountability on both sides of this coin, read 1 Timothy Chapter 6 and Colossians 3:1-6.
While my brother started out understanding that you need Jesus for forgiveness of sins, I can’t help but think that his focus on his own material prosperity slowly but surely diminished or overshadowed the true Gospel of forgiveness of sins in his own mind. The more the formula wasn’t producing the promised results, the more he became obsessed with trying; and the more he kept trying, the more he got disillusioned; and the more he got disillusioned, the more it affected his faith in the Lord.
Again, this is only my own opinion. The point is, is that what Jesus died for, to give us a better life now? “Too many houses, too many cars, too much money” as one televangelist put it? If so, then how does that apply to Christians who are being imprisoned, condemned, tortured and killed for their faith? Besides that, how does the promise of “your best life now” make Jesus attractive to the uber-successful like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey or Jay Z who are having a better than best life already?
Followers of the mega-popular Word Faith/Prosperity “gospel” point to John 10:10 as proof out of Jesus’ own mouth that He wants us to enjoy life to the fullest here on earth. Jesus is talking and says in the second part of verse 10, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”
“BAM!”, material prosperity proponents will say, “abundant living in your face!”
But slow your roll there, buddy! A simple and honest reading of the context easily reveals that the “life” Jesus is talking about is not manner of life but life as the opposite of death. In other words, eternal life with God as opposed to eternal separation from God. Just read verse 9 and 11 with verse 10.
Isn’t eternal life truly the more abundant kind of life Jesus Christ died on the Cross to give us? Especially when you consider the alternative? Indeed, that’s what the Greek word for “more abundantly” in verse 10 means: “above the ordinary measure.” What kind of life is above the ordinary measure of just being alive, other than to live forever in the glorious presence of Almighty God in heaven?
Hallelujah! That’s what Jesus died for!
If more preachers taught that truth, imagine how many souls like my brother Doug’s would have been spared the great disillusionment that comes with the false promises of the Word Faith/Prosperity “gospel.” Imagine how many precious sheep would be more content in this life, filled with hope regardless of their earthly status because they’re focused more on the abundant life to come in heaven. Imagine how much stronger their faith in Christ would be if they weren’t constantly told that it’s their fault if their prayers go unanswered. Imagine how less resentful and bitter people would be about church and preachers, and maybe even Jesus Himself, if they were taught the eternal benefits of following Jesus — eternal salvation, fellowship of the saints, peace through the storms, strength to endure hardships, uncommon favor when and where it really counts, eternal rewards in heaven for good fruit produced for God’s glory here, etc.
I hope my brother Doug came to the end of his life re-dedicated to Jesus as his Lord and Savior. I don’t know for sure, unfortunately. But since there’s nothing I can do about that now, I can only pray and proclaim to anyone who will hear it: Don’t diminish Christ’s blood by promoting or following the prosperity doctrine like my brother did. It is a shaky foundation. It appeals only to the desparate, not to mention the selfish and the greedy. If we’ll be honest, it seems to work mostly for the preachers who teach it; and it is meaningless to nonbelievers who are already living their best life now.
Is it okay for Christians to aspire for “above the ordinary measure” of material prosperity in this life? Sure, but just as long as you realize that’s not what Jesus died a brutal death on the Cross for. Thank You, Lord, for Your sacrifice!
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