27 Jun

The Israel of God

In Galatians 6:16, the Apostle Paul promised, And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.  It’s pretty simple to determine what the rule is that Paul is referencing.  You only have to go back one verse to Galatians 6:15 to find it, For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. So peace and mercy are promised to those who believe that being a new creation is what really matters to God, but Paul also says that peace and mercy will be upon the Israel of God.  Determining who Paul is referencing on this point is much more difficult.  However, that’s the task of this post.  I’m going supply my answer to the question:  who is the Israel of God?

As I begin, let me just say that the Israel of God might not be who we first think it is.  Perhaps you’ve thought or been taught that Israel and the Church are so distinct and different that God has different plans and promises for each.  Perhaps that’s the water you’ve been swimming in for decades now.  However, at the offset I must confess that I cannot reason that understanding from Scripture.  Therefore, what I’m about to put forth might cause you some difficulty, but I pray that you will be moved by Scripture.  I will cover a lot of Scripture, and you’ll really have to chew on this and digest this, but in the end, I pray that you would receive this teaching and rejoice in it!

Let me give you my answer to the question, and then I’ll spend the rest of the post defending my answer.  So, who is the Israel of God?  All believing Jews and Gentiles—past, present, and future—who put their faith in the Messiah Christ are part of the Israel of God. I will use four truths to defend my answer.

1)  Physical descent is irrelevant.

Galatians 6:14-15 says, But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.  You see, God’s favor has never been by birth.  It has never been about a physical reality and has always been about an internal reality.  It has always been about the heart.  It’s always been about faith.

This misconception is probably the greatest one that Jesus faced during his earthly ministry.  He was constantly trying to help Jews see that their physical descent from Abraham was no reason for assurance or boasting.  Jesus’ conversation with the Jews in John 8:38-41 is typical of many other interactions:

I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.”  39They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. 40But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. 41You are doing the deeds of your father.”

Even here, Jesus is saying, “I know your bloodline is Jewish; you are physically Israel, but the internal reality of your heart is not Israel.  Your heart is the proof that you are not spiritually a descendent of Abraham.  You’re not doing the deeds of Father Abraham.  Rather you’re doing the deeds of your father, Satan”.  This reason is why Paul says that circumcision isn’t anything.  It doesn’t matter.  But on the flipside, neither does uncircumcision.  Uncircumcision isn’t anything either.  In other words, salvation has nothing to do with whether you are a Jew or Gentile

Notice what Paul says matter in Galatians 6:15, For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.  What matters is whether or not a person has been made a new creature by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit.  That’s the difference!

The Bible makes a clear differentiation between physical Israel and spiritual Israel, and one of the most profound passages that illustrates and explains this is in Romans 9-11.  Paul is struggling with the fact that national Israel has rejected their God-appointed Messiah, namely Jesus Christ.  Given that fact, one might conclude that the Word of God had failed, but listen to Paul’s emphatic declaration in Romans 9:6, But it is not as though the word of God has failed.  Notice why Paul is so sure as he continues on in Romans 9:6-8.  Basically, he gives the same reason in three different ways.  The word of God has not failed because:

  • v6, they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel
  • v7, nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants
  • v8, It is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants

Paul’s reason is that there is a difference between physical, ethnic Israel and the true, spiritual Israel.  He’s saying that God’s promises are still “yes and amen” because they were never given to a certain physical people.  There are physical Israelites who are not true Israel.  Not all of Israel is Israel.

Think about it in the following way as carried on out in Romans 9.  Ishmael, Abraham’s other son, had just as much claim to Abraham as Isaac, did he not?  Yet God did not show him favor.  Esau, Isaac’s other son and twin brother of Jacob, had just as much claim to Isaac and to Abraham as Jacob, did he not?  Yet God did not show him favor.  There is a difference between physical, ethnic Israel and spiritual, true Israel.

The same basic assertion is made in Romans 2:28-29, For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.  Paul is saying that being a true Jew is actually an internal reality.  Therefore, a physical Jew might not be a spiritual Jew, and a physical Gentile might be a spiritual Jew.  Physical descent is irrelevant.

So, in trying to determine who the Israel of God is, we cannot look to DNA or the family tree, but there is a person to whom we should look, namely Jesus Christ.

2)  Jesus Christ is the Israel of God.

Have you ever noticed that the Old Testament pictured Israel as God’s son?  That language is first used in Exodus 4:22-23, Then you shall say to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn.’ So I said to you, ‘Let My son go that he may serve Me’; but you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your firstborn.  It’s used again in Hosea 11:1, When Israel was a youth I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son.  As R. Scott Clark says, “In the Hebrew Scriptures the expression “out of Egypt” occurs more than 140 times. It is one of the defining facts of the existence of national Israel. When God gave the Law he said, ‘I am Yahweh your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.’ They were a redeemed people belonging to their Savior” (“The Israel of God,” http://www.wscal.edu/clark/israel.php).  So, in the Old Testament, Israel is pictured as God’s son.

But notice how Matthew under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit interprets these passages.  Matthew 2:14-15 says, So Joseph got up and took [Jesus] and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. 15 He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” Matthew says that Jesus going into Egypt and coming out of Egypt fulfills the prophecy found in Hosea 11:1.  Given that the Bible has been progressively revealed to us over centuries, we must read the Old Testament in light of the New Testament.  Therefore, Matthew’s inspired interpretation of the Old Testament must norm our interpretation of Scripture, and according to Matthew’s interpretation, it is our Lord Jesus, not the physical Jewish nation, who is the true Israel of God.

Jesus Christ is the true Israel of God.  As John 3:16 so clearly tells us, Jesus is God the Father’s only begotten Son.  Jesus is the true firstborn of God.  Therefore, the Jewish nation was only a type of Christ.  Indeed, it is not too much to say that the only reason God orchestrated the first Exodus from Egypt through Moses was so that He might orchestrate the second Exodus here with Jesus Christ so that we might know that Jesus is the true Son of God.  As one author says, “It is because Jesus is the true Israel of God that, in his infancy and indeed in his entire life, he [recapped] the history of national Israel. What rebellious national Israel would not do, Jesus did: He loved God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength and his neighbor as himself (Matt 22.37-40)” (R. Scott Clark, “The Israel of God,” http://www.wscal.edu/clark/israel.php).

If we need further evidence, Paul argues along the same lines in Galatians 3:16-18, Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ. 17What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. 18For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise. To cut to the chase of what Paul is arguing, he’s basically saying, “The covenant promises given through Abraham were to Abraham and Jesus Christ.”  Jesus Christ is the seed of Abraham, and therefore, the true Son of Abraham and the true Son of God.  Every page of the Scripture is about Jesus Christ.  He is the focus and darling of the Bible.  Jesus is the Israel of God.

But the question remains:  so, what does that have to do with us and the rest of humanity?  That leads me to my next point.

3)  All who are united to Christ are also the Israel of God.

The truth that Jesus is the Israel of God is massively important to us and the rest of humanity.  If you want to enter into the Promised Land, you must be united to Jesus.  If you want to receive the covenant promises given to Abraham, which say that in him all the families of the earth will be blessed, you must be united to Jesus.  It’s in union with Him that we receive the promises.

By grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, every believing Jew and Gentile—past, present, and future—become the true Israel of God.  Those who lived and died before Christ looked forward to His day.  Those who lived and died after Christ look backward to His day.  But from the beginning of history until the end, Jesus Christ is the key to salvation.  Read what our Lord said about Abraham in John 8:56, Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.

Now, what is the scriptural support for saying that all believing Jews and Gentiles past/present/future who put their faith in the Messiah Christ are also the Israel of God?

Let’s begin with the only text in the Bible that contains the phrase “Israel of God,” which is Galatians 6:16, And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.  We have to be careful here.  Many have used this text to say, “See there are two groups:  the New Covenant people who will walk by this rule and the Old Covenant people who is the Israel of God.”  But this interpretation does not fit with the argument Paul is making here in Galatians 6:15.  Circumcision and uncircumcision mean nothing.  Being a new creature is what matters.  Again, it has nothing to do with birthright, and that’s the way it’s always been.  Just look at Hebrews 11 for examples of how faith was essential to the religious life of Old Testament saints.  Therefore, the best way to understand Paul’s summary statement in Galatians 6:16 is like this, “Peace and mercy be upon those who will walk by the rule that being a new creature is what matters, and this group is the Israel of God.”  This interpretation is fully supported by the Greek syntax and follows perfectly in line with Paul’s argument throughout the book Galatians.  For this reason, the NIV translation captures the true gist of the Paul’s words, Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.  The Israel of God is those Jews and Gentiles past/present/future who follow this rule.

Galatians 3:6-9 makes this abundantly clear, Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. 7Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. 8The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” 9So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. Take special notice of v7, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.  If you want Abraham, then you must believe the gospel of Jesus Christ and be united to Him.  That’s how a person becomes a son of Abraham.  It’s those who are of faith who are blessed with Abraham the believer.

It’s for this reason that Peter can use such magnificent and glorious covenant language to describe New Testament believers in 1 Peter 2:9-10, But [those who are united to Jesus Christ] are a chosen race, A royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.  These Old Testament terms which seemed to be given to physical Israel are actually given to the true Israel, the spiritual Israel.

My friends, union with Christ is irreplaceable.  The gospel is probably best summed up in John 3:16, For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  If you have Christ, you have eternal life.  That’s the same gospel that been preached since the Garden of Eden when God told Satan who was manifest as a serpent that the seed of the woman would bruise Satan’s head.  That seed from Eve coming up through Abraham and finally through the virgin Mary is none other than Jesus Christ, and if you are united with Christ, you are the Israel of God

Now to the final aspect of the Israel of God that I want us to look at in this post…

4)  God has only one people.

Now some might say that what I’m putting forth here is Replacement Theology, which says that the church has replaced Israel as God’s covenant people.  In no way is that what I’m saying.  The replacement theologian would say that God had a people, namely Israel, and then got rid of them because of covenant unfaithfulness and now has the Church as His people.  Essentially this teaches that God has two peoples, but just one at time.  That is not what the Bible teaches.  On the other hand, the dispensationalist would say that God has two peoples at the same time, namely Israel and the Church, but I believe this understanding flies in the face of Scripture as well.

So again, I’m saying that God has always had only one people.  It’s all believing Jews and Gentiles—past, present, and future—who put their faith in the Messiah Christ, and this one people stretches from creation to Christ’s second coming.  This people is a community of faith in Jesus Christ.

We have two vivid illustrations of this reality from the New Testament.  Romans 11 pictures redemptive history as a tree:

If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too. 17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21 for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. 22 Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree? (Romans 11:16-24 ).

The root is the patriarchs, and the tree trunk begins with the Jews, but some Jews were broken off because of unbelief, and in their place some Gentiles were grafted in.  Yes, there are two types of branches representing at least two distinct people groups—namely Jews and Gentiles—but there is only one tree, representing only one people of God.

Ephesians 2 pictures redemptive history as a building:

But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17 AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; 18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:13-22).

Believing Jews and Gentiles are the building blocks built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone.  Again, there are two types of blocks representing at least two distinct people groups, namely Jews and Gentiles, but there is only one building representing only one people of God.  This building, this tree is the Israel of God.

Conclusion

So all believing Jews and Gentiles—past, present, and future—who put their faith in the Messiah Christ are part of the Israel of God.  May we see this truth and rejoice in Jesus Christ!

21 Jun

Just Sow a Seed: A Critique of Seed-Faith Teaching

If you have tuned into Christian television channels like the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), you’ve probably heard Galatians 6:7 and 2 Corinthians 9:6 either quoted or alluded to a lot.  Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap,” and 2 Corinthians 9:6 says, “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”  In fact, if I had a nickel for every time a person on TBN pleaded with me to sow a seed, I’d be a prosperous man.

Seed-faith teaching is rampant and a scourge on the body of Christianity.  Christians are being led astray and taken advantage of by snake oil salesman and false prophets, who have taken the biblical principle of sowing and reaping and twisted it for selfish gain.  My hope is to equip you against such tricks and charlatans.

So, what is “seed-faith” teaching?  Seed-faith teaching is part of the larger movement that’s been labeled the Prosperity Gospel.  Adherents of this teaching prefer to call it the Word of Faith Movement.  Those who preach the prosperity gospel teach that God aims to make every believer healthy and wealthy in this life, and the mechanism said to bring this prosperity about is “sowing seeds in faith.”  For prosperity preachers, “sowing a seed in faith” means that you give money to their ministry, and in return, God will make you healthy and wealthy.  Your “seed,” in their understanding, is dollar bills.

The modern trend we see today can be traced directly back to the teaching and ministry of Oral Roberts.  In fact, one of Roberts’ most famous disciples, Joyce Meyer, said this, “When I talked with Dr. Roberts today and we talked about this seed-faith thing, he said…when you give you get a receipt in heaven that when you have a need you can then go with your receipt and say ‘You see, God, I have got my receipt from my sowing and now I have a need and I’m cashing in my receipt’” (Joyce Meyer, Praise the Lord, TBN, November 3, 2003).  Roberts unashamedly used the seed-faith tactic to raise probably billions of dollars.  In fact, at one point in January 1987, Roberts declared to his followers that if he didn’t raise a total of $8,000,000 by the end of March, God was going to kill him.  Apparently, either he raised the money or God changed His mind because Roberts just died last year in 2009.

There are many contemporary preachers who have picked up the mantel and methodology of Oral Roberts, but Rod Parsley, pastor of World Harvest Church in Columbus, Ohio, seems to be excelling.  While explaining Deuteronomy 14:26, Parsley said, “God is saying you can sow that money for whatever you want….Your job. For sheep. That’s your covering and your food. How about for wine? That symbolizes to us fruit, joy, peace….You mean if you need some love you can sow money? Well, that’s what it says” (Rod Parsley, Praise the Lord Spring Praise-a-thon, TBN, April 3, 2003).

But he didn’t stop there.  He went on to include salvation as part of the harvest you will reap if only you would sow your seed money, “Salvation for your family….Is that what you really want, to know that all of your children are saved, to pillow your head at night knowing if Jesus split the eastern sky, that your children are all within the ark of safety? Is that what you want? Then sow for it.”  With real entrepreneurial spirit, he offers his followers spiritual bargains.  For only $50 sent to Parsley’s ministry, he offered these things, “I believe God will give you a harvest of protection from deception and an uncommon ability to discern between truth and error in your life….First, God is going to release to you the ability to hear and recognize His voice as never before. Second, protection over your decisions. I’m believing with you for one year of no bad choices in your life. Finally, thirdly, protection from the deception of the adversary” (Rod Parsley, Breakthrough, TBN, May 24, 2006).  All of that for only $50?  Now that’s a deal!

But even more, Parsley doesn’t want to get you ready for spiritual blessings only when you “sow your seed.”  He also wants to prepare you for material blessings as well, “Some of you better get ready to drive around in neighborhoods where you never thought you’d be able to afford to live. Some of you better go down to that Lexus and Mercedes dealership and just sit down in one of those things with that leather all over it. And when they say, ‘what are you doing,’ just say, ‘well, I’m, I’m just feeling out what my Father is going to give me.’ How’s He gonna give it to you? ‘Because I’m gonna be obedient. I heard a word from the man of God and when I obey that word, it unleashes that anointing into my life and I’m on my way to houses I didn’t build, full of good things I didn’t have to buy’” (Rod Parsley, Breakthrough, TBN, March 27, 2002).

Hank Hanegraaff, president of the Christian Research Institute, lists the following proponents of the prosperity gospel, in addition to Roberts, Meyer, and Parsley:  Essek William Kenyon, Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, John Hagee, Creflo Dollar, T. D. Jakes, Frederick K. C. Price, John Avanzini, Robert Tilton, Marilyn Hickey, Charles Capps, Jerry Savelle, Morris Cerullo, Paul Crouch, Juanita Bynum, Paula White, and Todd Bentley (Christianity in Crisis:  21st Century, Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 2009, p15-82)

Sadly, this brand of teaching is being exported from America to the world.  The prosperity gospel is exploding in the economically developing continents of Africa, Asia, and South America.  An African pastor was quoted as teaching, “Many are ignorant of the fact that God has already made provision for his children to be wealthy here on earth.  When I say wealthy, I mean very, very rich…Break loose!  It is not a sin to desire to be wealthy” (John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad!, 3rd ed., p19).  Biblical Christianity must stand against this terrible tide.

So, what is wrong with seed-faith teaching and prosperity preaching?  I want to point out to you 6 problems.

1) It leads people to give in order to get.

Seed-faith teaching encourages givers to be motivated by selfish gain.  In other words, it all comes back to what’s in it for me.

In church history, the prosperity preachers have a powerful example in John Tetzel.  Around the turn of the 16th century, the Roman Catholic Church came up with a plan to boost giving amongst its people.  So, someone came up with the idea of “indulgences.”  An indulgence was a special release from the punishment of sin.  For a donation, a person could buy grace for themselves or a loved one.  The Vatican tapped the charismatic John Tetzel to be the preacher of indulgences.  To promote indulgences, Tetzel coined this catchy phrase, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”  Put simply, you can buy spiritual favor.  To say the least, Tetzel’s methods proved very effective and partially financed the construction of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome.

The same thing is going on with contemporary seed-faith teachers, but they’re not just offering spiritual blessings.  Material blessings are for sale as well.  If you want God to move, then you must pay for it.  God’s blessing has basically been reduced to a business transaction.  According to Parsley, the bigger your need before God, the bigger your giving should be, “I don’t know how big a miracle you need, but let your seed represent your need.  Some of you need to do that $4,000 right now; some of you need to do $5,000, or $10,000.  Some of you need to do $100,000 tonight.  There’s a miracle attached to your seed” (Rod Parsley, Praise the Lord: Praise-a Thon, TBN, November 9, 2000).

This teaching flies squarely against the teaching of Scripture.  Jesus taught in Matthew 6:3 that when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.  In other words, we’re not to give with some agenda, such as what we’ll get in return.  2 Corinthians 9:7 teaches that we should not give grudgingly or under compulsion because God loves a cheerful giver.  But the seed-faith teaching makes us give under compulsion because if we want God to move, we must pay Him for it.

But God doesn’t say, “If the price is right, I’ll answer your prayer.”  Instead, in James 4:2-3, the Bible says that we have not because we ask not, and when we do ask, we ask with the wrong motive, wanting to spend it on our own pleasures.  Giving to get is certainly the wrong motive.

2)  It leads people to sow to their flesh.

Let me reiterate that the Bible certainly affirms the principle of sowing and reaping, but prosperity teachers have twisted the principle.  Galatians 6:7-8 is an important text here.  It says, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”  Seed-faith giving is undoubtedly motivated by greed and selfishness—what’s in it for me.  Paul would certainly categorize this as sowing to the flesh.

Therefore, it’s vital for us to notice what we actually reap when we sow to the flesh.  Paul says that we reap corruption.  If we’re not careful, the weight of that word “corruption” can be easily missed.  In Galatians 6:8, corruption is the opposite of eternal life.  So by “corruption,” Paul means eternal death in Hell.  That’s a terrible harvest, but as Galatians 6:7 reminds us, God will not be mocked.  We’re deceiving ourselves if we think that God doesn’t know the wicked, greedy, selfish motives of our heart when we give to get.  Even our motives are laid bare before God.

The seed-faith teaching leads people to sow to their flesh, which is pathway to destruction.

3)  It minimizes the dangers of wealth.

Wealth can be dangerous.  I want to show three ways that this is so:

a) Wealth can be a roadblock to salvation.  You probably know the gospel account of Jesus meeting the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-26.  The young man wanted to know what he must do go to heaven, and eventually Jesus told him to sell his possessions, give to the poor, and follow Jesus.  Verse 22 captures the young man’s response, “But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.”  He wanted his money more than he wanted Jesus!  This response prompted Jesus to state in v23-24, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  Wow!  Money can be a powerful roadblock to salvation.  And why is that?  Jesus, in Luke 16:13, provides the answer, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

b) Wealth can be so easily destroyed.  We who are living through this current recession know this well.  Jesus taught us this long ago when he said in Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Money and material stuff is so easily here today and gone tomorrow.  Robbers, natural disasters, stock market crashes, and busting housing bubbles can wipe you completely out.  And if your hope and happiness is in money and stuff, your hope and happiness dies when the stuff is gone.  That’s what incited men to jump to their deaths out of buildings when the stock market crashed during the Great Depression.

c)  The love of wealth leads to untold evil.  It’s true that money is not evil, but it can certainly motivate people to do evil.  That’s Paul’s very point in 1 Timothy 6:8-10, “If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”  People will do unspeakable things to satisfy their lust for money.  It can easily be a dangerous temptation.

4)  It undermines God’s purposes of suffering in the life of the believer.

God’s plan according to Romans 8:28-29 is to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ, and He does that by various means.  One of which is suffering.  Suffering is a powerful tool in God’s hand, but the prosperity gospel and seed-faith teaching says that God desires only for us to be healthy, happy, and wealthy.  Yet Jesus told us that we would suffer in John 15:20, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.”  Furthermore, Paul encouraged and strengthened his fellow Christians by declaring in Acts 14:22, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

Trials and tribulations are very important in the life of believers.  John Piper points to 6 benefits of suffering in the Christian’s life:

  • Suffering deepens faith and holiness;
  • Suffering makes your cup increase;
  • Suffering makes others bold;
  • Suffering fills up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions;
  • Suffering enforces the missionary mandate to go;
  • The supremacy of Christ is manifest in suffering (John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad!, 3rd ed., p27)

God’s ultimate desire is not to make you healthy and wealthy.  He desires more than anything else to make you more like Jesus, which leads to true happiness.

5)  It forces our gaze downward and stifles our hunger for Heaven.

Paul makes it clear where we’re to fix our gaze in Colossians 3:1-4, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.”  Paul says that the Christian’s hope is up Heaven, in the next life, and not on the earth.  If you’re going to Heaven, you are not having your “best life now.”  That’s only true if you’re going to Hell.  But the prosperity gospel and seed-faith teaching force our gaze constantly back down on the earth and the things of the earth—cars, houses, clothes, money, influence, prestige.  In doing so, our hunger for Heaven is deadened.  Why long for Heaven when we’ve prosperous right here?

6)  It prostitutes God.

I know that’s a strong verb, but I really see no other way of describing it.  The prosperity gospel and seed-faith teaching implies that God is for sale and will dance at your whim if the money is right.  How blasphemous to present God in that way!  In the end, God is used for man’s pleasure just like a prostitute.  It makes God a means to an end instead of the end Himself.  It other words, the seed-faith teaching makes God a way to get what I really want.  How belittling to the Creator and Lover of souls!

In conclusion, the heresy that is the seed-faith teaching blasphemes God and takes advantage of multitudes of gullible Christians.  It’s a sad situation.  It’s leading people to great disappointment and disillusionment.  Just like a Ponzi scheme, the one who sends the money gets poorer, and the one receiving the money gets richer.  You know, it’s absolutely true that whatever a man sows, he will also reap, and in 2003, Rod Parsley lamented a change that he was seeing in his ministry’s prayer request line, “Five years ago the number one request coming into prayer lines across America was ‘Pray for my lost family and loved ones that they do not go to hell.’ Number one request five years ago. It’s number eight today. It has been replaced by—neck and neck—number one, ‘Pray for my physical body,’ number two, ‘Pray for my financial prosperity.’ This has become the cry of the church” (Rod Parsley, Breakthrough, TBN, September 12, 2003).  He’s reaping what he’s been sowing, but I’m praying for a much different harvest.

For further reading, I recommend John Piper’s blog and Hank Hanegraaff’s book Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century.