I know what you’re thinking. Is such a question even necessary? Doesn’t God tell us in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”? That settles the case, doesn’t it? God said He wants us to prosper. Now, what’s left for us to talk about? Well, quite a bit actually, and a lot of it depends on how we understand the words ‘hope’, ‘future’ and ‘prosperity’.
I was recently sent the picture of a poster hanging outside a church. The graphic on it read, GOD LOVES YOU and has an amazing plan for your life. SIN GOT IN THE WAY and separated you from God. JESUS the Son of God GAVE HIS LIFE on the cross to take away your sin. Repent, believe in Him and you will have ETERNAL LIFE AND HOPE WITH GOD!!! This statement on the Gospel represents the majority Christian position in our own culture, and around the world. But I take issue with this statement. Although each of these individual statements are actually true, stringing together a set of true statements does not necessarily communicate the entire truth in the right context. In fact, some such statements are prone to misinterpretations. That’s the problem with the message in this poster. It offers you truth, but without clarity. It seems to suggest that we were innocent creations who were kidnapped by sin. And God, in His infinite love for us, gave His life upon a cross and in so doing defeated sin. And, for those of us who repent and believe in Him shall have eternal life. Do you see the problem? This story seems to suggest that God is the protagonist and sin is the antagonist. That we are caught up in this cosmic battle as God tries to save us and sin tries to kill us. This is a common misinterpretation and is far from the truth. So what is the Gospel message then? Let us go over each statement on that poster and understand them in their proper contexts.
- GOD LOVES YOU and has an amazing plan for your life. When any gospel statement begins like that, it runs the risk of putting man at the centre of the gospel message, instead of God. And we love being that child on his birthday fighting to keep all the attention on himself. You see beloved, God does love you and He does have an amazing plan for your life, but there are two things to remember here. First, there is no guarantee that God’s amazing plan for your life must match your own amazing plan for your life. In fact, the two can be complete opposites. Secondly, and more pertinent to our context here, this love toward us is probably not for the reasons we might assume. It’s not because we’re awesome. And it isn’t because He sees something in us that is worth loving. But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Now, I’m sure most of you would agree with me thus far. But, that’s not all. You see, beloved, It’s not just that we are unworthy of His love, but that we are deserving of His wrath. A statement on the gospel ought to begin with GOD IS HOLY. In Psalm 5:5, we read how He hates all evildoers. His righteous judgment is reserved for all who sin. Unlike, popular teachings that say that God loves the sinner but hates the sin, the Bible clearly tells us that God hates both the sin and the sinner. Therefore, brothers and sisters, ‘GOD HATES YOU and in His righteousness wants to destroy you’, is a biblically sound statement. Surprised? Don’t be. This is the truth we read across Scripture. How can this be? How can God both love me and hate me? The answer, is the cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus took upon Himself the wrath of God’s hatred and anger toward us, and in its place, clothed us with the righteousness of Christ, by which God now extends His love toward us. At this point, let me jump to the second statement on the poster and then sum up these first two statements together.
- SIN GOT IN THE WAY and separated you from God. Sin, beloved, is not a person. It is impersonal. It is an impulse in our fallen nature. Sin did not “get in the way” of our otherwise innocent lives of communion with God. The point is that we are not innocent bystanders while “sin” is doing all the bad stuff. We have all turned away from God and willfully sinned in disobedience to Him. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). ‘All have sinned’, not ‘sin has captured all’. We are individuals, each with a will of his own, who have, intentionally and continually, even to this very day, disobeyed and dishonoured God. Therefore, the righteous and just response of a Holy God must be to hate us and destroy us. He is a good judge, a perfect judge, and such a judge will not let the guilty go unpunished. If we are the centre of the Gospel statement, then it’s a dire picture my friends. For wrath is what we deserve. Another problem with these first two statements and the order in which they are given, is that they seem to suggest that God’s love for us and His amazing plans for us were hindered by sin getting in the way. This is far from the truth. Sin never surprised God. The fall of man did not occur outside of God’s perfect plan in redemptive history, but perfectly in line with His sovereign will. The fall of man was always part of God’s plan, in order that He may show the glory of His wrath on those who do not believe in Him, and the glory of His salvation for those who do (read Romans 9). Surely you see it now. We cannot be the centre of the Gospel. God must be. For all this is the work of God not because of anything good or right that we have done, but because of grace. And so, no man may boast in His salvation. Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:31).
- JESUS the Son of God GAVE HIS LIFE on the cross to take away your sin. This is the heart of the Gospel, but do you see what happens when you take such a beautiful and true statement and put it in the context of the misunderstandings that occur above? What the Son died for and why this sacrifice was necessary are two very important questions. Saying that He died because of the overwhelming love He had for us and in order that the wrath of the devil might be satisfied tells a very different story than saying that He died to bring glory to His Father’s name by loving and saving a people for Himself in order that the wrath of our Father in heaven might be satisfied. Beloved, I tell you again, if we are the centre of the Gospel, then it is not good news. For this reason, I often say that John 3:16, although it is a wonderful summary of the Gospel, is not an exhaustive explanation of it. It does not tell us why the Son had to die, or what it means to believe in Him, or even what we need saving from. We need the rest of the Bible to elaborate and explain what this verse summarises.
- Repent, believe in Him and you will have ETERNAL LIFE AND HOPE WITH GOD!!! Yes beloved. Repent and believe in Him! But not the ‘him’ who is made by the human hands of cultural Christianity. But, by ‘Him’ of whom the Bible teaches us is sovereign, glorious, majestic and holy. Not the modern depiction of a God who is desperately in love with us and is doing His best to save us, but a God who predestines and ordains all things for His glory, and does all things for the good of those who are called according to His purpose, those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
Therefore, words such as ‘hope’, ‘future’ and ‘prosperity’ can mean very different and dangerous things if we have a worldview where God’s purposes revolve around us. God does all things primarily for His glory (Isaiah 48:9-11). And we are saved in order to bring Him glory. Therefore, our hope is secured in Him and His purposes, and not ours. Our future is to follow Him wherever He leads us whether it be as chiefs of big multinational companies, or the slums of India as missionaries to the poor and destitute. And finally, our prosperity is not in money. Money may be one way He prospers us, but have you not heard Jesus say that it is easier for the camel to enter through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24). For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils (1 Timothy 6:10). You can have all the money in the world and yet have nothing. The hope of prosperity, or rather the reality of it, is that we can prosper even in the slums of India and be a mighty instrument for His glory all the days of our lives, and we’d have been more prosperous than the millionaire who does nothing more than go to church every Sunday. Our lives are meant to be lived, not for us, but for Him. Because we are not the centre of the Gospel, God is.
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