Issues of the true faith are issues of great importance. We are dealing here with the honor and glory of God. We are dealing here with the eternal souls of men and women. It matters a lot.
Sadly, there are many who would claim the faith who are misled, either intentionally or unintentionally, to a kind of faith that uses the Bible, that claims to be Christian, but which is an almost exact opposite of the true faith. People who follow this faith meet in buildings they call churches. Sometimes they sing the same songs that other Christians sing. They speak prayers. But their ultimate belief system is a perversion of the faith.
I am speaking here of the believers in versions of what is often called the prosperity gospel. This might be followers of Joel Osteen and his ilk, or it might be embracers of a sort of liberation theology. Either way, we are here talking about people who take Scripture out of context, who rip from the Bible the heart of the meaning of the words of God, and who pollute any form of the genuine faith with a superstitious claim to health, wealth, and prosperity. It involves people who think Christianity promises them worldly wealth, and it includes people who think that Christianity will allow them, as an oppressed people group, to rise up and conquer. But neither of these views is biblical.
Often prosperity preaching people will claim a verse like Deuteronomy 28:12-13a as their promise.
Deuteronomy 28:12-13a – 12 The Lord will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. 13 And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you shall only go up and not down…
Boy, that all sounds good! If we belong to God, we get good all the time. We go up and never down. We lend but never borrow. We are the head and not the tail. We are rich. We conquer. We rule!
Before even pointing out the interpretive error, let me say that such a view is a way to play on mankind’s most sinful desires and to mask it as a form of the faith. Adam and Eve sinned in the garden by rejecting the rule and authority of God for selfish rule. All human sin, at some point, is the intentional throwing off of the authority of God for my own desires. And every human-centered, godless religion out there tells us all to focus on self, to fulfill our own desires, to see ourselves as great.
But look again at the verses, this time with the incredibly important clause at the end of verse 13.
Deuteronomy 28:12-14 – 12 The Lord will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. 13 And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you shall only go up and not down, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, being careful to do them, 14 and if you do not turn aside from any of the words that I command you today, to the right hand or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them.
Yes, God told a particular people that he would promise them prosperity. But he told them that they could have this prosperity if, and only if, they would fully obey his commands. They could have prosperity if and only if they would have God as their God, their Lord, their Master. And, to let you in on a little secret, the people to whom God spoke these words never really obeyed. Instead, they proved that humanity, left to ourselves, will always rebel against the ways of God and bring to ourselves destruction.
Here is the truth. Mankind is naturally rebellious against God and destined for destruction. In the Old Testament of the Bible, we proved that we would not obey God, not even for clear promises of blessing. And we proved that we will not obey God, not even in the light of promises of terrible punishments for disobedience (see all of Deuteronomy 28-30.
Deuteronomy 30:19-20 – 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”
That is the promise God made to Israel through Moses. Obedience and faithfulness would be met with unbelievable blessing. Rejection of God and his ways would be met with similarly unfathomable cursing. And Israel did not obey.
But what about the modern Christian? Should we claim half of the Deuteronomy verses as our own? Should we say that we get all the blessings if we just speak positive words and think positive thoughts? Of course not.
The Lord has given us a different kind of promise. The Lord has promised us in this life his presence and his blessing. He has also promised us hardships and persecutions. God calls us to believe in Jesus and turn from sin. God calls us to obey his word in the here and now. And God calls us to set our minds and hearts, not on earthly reward in this life, but on the eternal life that he has promised us and proved to us through the resurrection of Jesus.
If your church is telling you to “claim” a promise of health and wealth in this life, your church is misleading you. If your church is telling you that God has promised you an easy life of any kind this side of the resurrection, your church is misleading you. If your church is telling you that, if you just believe, you can have all the money you want and live in selfish luxury in Christ, your church is misleading you. If your church is applying to you partial Old Testament promises without any sort of biblical context, your church is misleading you.
Yes, there is glory and joy in Christianity. There is life, blessing, peace, and hope. But these are part of a life that is also a battle for sanctification, a battle through persecution and sorrow and suffering. The promise of God is that he will sustain us in this life with the joy of his glory as we press on in obedience to his word toward the ultimate prize of being conformed to the likeness of Christ. That promise is not that we will win an election, that our particular people group will prosper, or that we will have a nice house or a healthy body. The promise is eternal life in Christ as we bow to him in faith and yield to him as Lord.