What The Prosperity Gospel and Moralistic Legalism Have In Common

Perhaps one of the hardest truths of the Gospel for man to embrace is the cold hard truth that you bring nothing to the table. God is completely independent, self-sufficient, and sovereign above all. Man is dead, heart of stone, desperately without hope of self-improvement. But oh how the human heart is prone to perform, and wired toward the age old axiom of ’cause and effect’. If I do this, then the following will occur … But it is a counter-gospel axiom in the spiritual life. You can go to church everyday of your life, and new life isn’t guaranteed to occur. You can give money, serve on boards, and teach Sunday School, and a healthy marriage is not achieved. You can read your Daily Bread, say your family prayers, and serve at the local shelter, but that won’t prevent rebellion in the hearts of your kids. God is not obliged to service the desired “effect” of your effort-filled “cause”. And sadly this can take all kinds of forms, even ones that seem like polar opposites. Allow me to explain …

Moralistic Legalism

This vein of man-centered religion says, “don’t drink, don’t chew, and don’t go with girls that do … and God will bless your life.” Ok, they might put it a little differently than that, but that is the essential message. Work hard at doing the right things, and avoiding the wrong things is what honors God. A life of holiness, purity, and integrity is what makes God smile, and therefore makes God open his hand to you. It’s no surprise then that the emphasis of this teaching is on imperatives. Do this! Resist this! Flee that! The promise of the Christian life is hidden behind moral imperatives, religious prohibitions, and political conservatism. Sounds a lot like the apostle Paul’s exposing of this in Colossians 2:20-23 – “…do you submit to regulations ‘Do not handle, do not touch, do not taste’ … These indeed have an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism, and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh”. Nope … moralistic, fundamentalistic, man-made, crusty, stop-doing-that, sort of “gospel” doesn’t honor God nor bring Him glory. So it’s no surprise then to think that in rejecting this and in claiming “authority” is where real power is to be found. Consider next …

Word of Faith, Prosperity Gospel

Yep, they are indeed twin sisters. The name-it-and-claim-it version of man-centered religion says, “You have been given all authority, speak into your deliverance, boldly claim what is yours out of Satan’s hand”. So, obviously I’m a little less familiar with the exact language they put into our mouths, but this is essentially their message. Instead of work hard at holiness to get God’s pleasure, it is asserting your authority over creation, declaring atoms in the body relocated for healing. It is prayers prayed like mantras over someone afflicted with suffering. It is techniques for controlling the Holy Spirit, or activities that demonstrate external evidences of spiritual activity. They have exchanged the imperative commands for the indicative promises, and now use them as leverage to get God to work for them. And the promise of the Christian life is hidden behind spiritual shenanigans, empowered man, and the guise of freedom. All the while it is beholden to the master teacher who has determined what buttons to push, or action to perform this month or at this service, always having to come up with something new to keep it fresh (or to keep the loyal enslaved). And this sounds quite a bit like Paul exhorting Timothy in 1 Timothy 6 to avoid those who have been ensnared by the love of money, power, and possessions and “have the appearance of godliness, but deny its real power (2 Timothy 3:5)”. Nope, name-it-and-claim-it, wacky, man-made, weaselly, just speak it, sort of “gospel” doesn’t honor God nor bring him glory. And it’s shockingly scary how similar these two version of “Christianity” really are. They both are about our performing … Do this and God will act, don’t do this and God is pleased. They both focus on you doing (or not doing) something. So, what then is the answer?

Christ Crucified

Yeah, yeah, I know … both of these say that they believe this, and I’m sure to some extent they do. The problem is they just don’t rest in it. It is not about what man does or doesn’t do, it is always about what God has done, continues to do, and will do. God the Father is not manipulated to act according to our holy living, nor is He swayed by our bold declarations … He has acted on our behalf through Christ, and He freely blesses His children with exactly what they need to be sanctified and delighted in, whether that be riches or suffering. He does not withhold when His children “blow it”, and He does not pour forth grace only when we “claim it”. He is infinitely pleased with His Son and the redeeming work He accomplished for those who believe. Nothing we do, good or bad, sinful or righteous, religious or secular, can get us more of Him or prevent His work over us. When we are ‘In Christ’ God is pleased with us … Period! And He is free to act completely apart from us for us! And that is the glory of the Gospel … and it is most definitely for our joy! Which is why Paul says, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). Rest in that my friend … and that alone!

In love with a God who acts,
Pastor Mark