Even if you’ve read just a bit of this blog, you’ve probably figured out a few key things about what I believe about God. For example, I believe God exists and that this God is accurately described in the Bible. I believe that Jesus is God and that the good news of Jesus Christ is true. Those things lead me to believe that God has tremendous goodwill towards human beings. I believe God loves us more than we can fathom, wants us to be with him forever, and desires to bless us more than we can imagine.
I don’t expect everyone to believe my way. I know that by holding these beliefs I’m a bit of an oddity to most of the world. And while I’d like people to consider believing in Jesus, I don’t get offended if they don’t. I’d much rather focus on sharing about Jesus and clarifying the good news whenever I can.
What does offend me, though, is when a preacher, teacher, and/or church takes the good news of Jesus and spins it towards some agenda, resulting in what I’ll call the fake good news. The good news of Jesus frees people, but the fake good news enslaves, corrupts, and harms people, by preying on their basic wants and fears.
Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elements of the world, rather than Christ. (Colossians 2:8 CSB)
Ultimately, the fake good news leads to confusion, inaccurate beliefs about God, and disillusionment with God and the church. I’m convinced that many people think they have tried and rejected the good news of Jesus, when actually they have tried and rejected some fake good news instead. The fake good news often takes one of the following forms:
- A preacher/teacher/church promises that if we trust Jesus and follow God in a particular way, then God will grant us a measure of wealth, health, pleasure, or protection in this life.
- A preacher/teacher/church insists that in order to receive forgiveness and eternal life from God, we must do something beyond genuinely trusting in Jesus.
The first form adds promises that God has not made, while the second form adds requirements that God has not required. I’ll get to the second form in my next post, and it’s probably more important; but I must admit that the first form actually gets me more upset.
Perhaps the first form gets me so upset because it’s so close to the truth. God does want to bless those who trust in him, and God loves to show his faithfulness to those who are faithful to him. Moreover, any person (believer or not) will experience some benefits if they forsake sinful behavior and follow God’s ways more closely. Those who obey God’s commands find themselves more in harmony with God and his original design for creation, thus lessening the suffering that they can encounter and increasing their potential for success.
But when someone teaches that a particular way of following God will guarantee prosperity, they have introduced two deceitful twists into the good news. The first twist involves hidden knowledge. They claim to know how to obtain God’s blessings, and they say they’ll gladly release these blessings or train people in this knowledge if people will just give them money. The second twist involves redefining the blessed life. They claim that if a person is not prosperous, then that person is not experiencing the blessed life that God wants them to have.
We tend to be susceptible to both twists, especially the second, because our world already makes judgments on one’s life according to one’s prosperity. But God never defines life in terms of prosperity. God defines life in terms of relationships, particularly a reconciled relationship with God himself.
You reveal the path of life to me; in your presence is abundant joy; at your right hand are eternal pleasures. (Psalm 16:11 CSB)
“This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and the one you have sent — Jesus Christ.” –Jesus (John 17:3 CSB)
Besides, if we believe the Bible at all, then we have to eventually throw out the idea that God guarantees his true followers with health, wealth, and a trouble-free life. There are simply too many Bible stories about people who faithfully obeyed God and yet faced trouble, struggle, suffering, and death.
Look at Jesus himself: he was financially poor, harassed by persecutors, betrayed by a friend, and put to death by his enemies. Look at most of the original apostles: all of them (save John) were executed for their faith in Jesus. Look at the apostle Paul: he was slandered, beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, often in danger, survived multiple attempts on his life, and finally was executed. Were these men not following God faithfully? Where was their blessed life? Answer: their life was found in their relationship with God through Jesus.
Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
Because of you
we are being put to death all day long;
we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39 CSB)
God never guarantees that this life will be easier if we believe in Jesus. Nowhere in the Bible does God promise that believers will not be poor, or sick, or wanting, or in danger. But God promises to them that he will never leave them. They will never be separated from his loving presence, ever. And when their life is over, God promises to deliver them safely to the other side to be with him forever. Not even death can separate them from God.
Somehow this promise is enough for those of us who believe. I told you it was odd. But I guess I’d rather be odd with Jesus than normal without him.