As a family we get to meet Christians in various nations from various ethnic, social and church backgrounds. This gives us an opportunity to see and hear how believers are doing, and we try to encourage as many as possible to remain steadfast in the faith.
Over the past several years we have become increasingly aware that many Christians we meet—whether they be from India, Indiana, Beijing or Birmingham—are struggling in many areas. They are being tested in their marriages, jobs, finances, health and moral purity. Many have told us that “whatever could go wrong has gone wrong” in their lives. Satan knows his time is short, and the heat is being turned up everywhere on those who identify themselves as followers of the Lord Jesus.
We meet believers who have become disillusioned in their walk and service for God. There seems to be two different traps that many struggling Christians we meet have fallen into.
On one side of the path lies the danger of legalism. Countless people have been crushed by legalistic church environments, where unbiblical rules, regulations, traditions and ‘principles’ are forced upon them. Environments like this are toxic, and over time many people simply give up because they can’t endure the burden and shame of living by rules they are unable to keep.
Multitudes of people who believe in Jesus Christ have found themselves trapped in a spiritual desert. Legalism is a vicious yet subtle master. It promises living water for your thirsty soul but ends up giving you a mouth full of gravel. Young people are deserting such churches in droves, running in the opposite direction to get as far as away as possible.
If you are a believer who finds yourself in this position, we encourage you not to give up on Jesus.
Realize that Satan is a very cunning foe, and his favorite strategy is designed to rot Christianity from the inside out. He doesn’t care what we believe, as long as it isn’t the Gospel that gives life and nourishment to our souls. The Bible says, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ... These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Colossians 2:8,17).
Friend, if you find yourself trapped in a cycle of continually striving and failing to obey human rules, we encourage you to keep placing your hope and trust in Jesus and continue to feed on His Word. The reality is always found in Jesus Christ, not in obeying rules and man-made traditions.
Many believers we meet have fallen into a ditch on the other side of the road. These brothers and sisters believe aspects of the ‘prosperity gospel’. Perhaps for a while all seemed well in their lives, but as the poisonous teaching worked its way through they found themselves growing progressively more distant from the Lord. After a while their faith began to falter and their heart grew less responsive to the Word of God. The poison of the prosperity Gospel will always bring death and destruction to a believer’s life unless the Great Physician removes it from their system.
The Bible warns us with great clarity about the perils of this false gospel. Paul told the Galatians, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel, which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!” (Galatians 1:6-8).
Be aware that the ‘prosperity gospel’ goes much deeper than just matters to do with money and finances.
It is a general and wide-spread philosophy that says if you follow the Lord your life will go well and each day will be better than the previous one. This belief system teaches that if you do and say certain things, then your life is guaranteed to get progressively better.
The truth is that Jesus said if we follow Him we must take up our cross daily (ie. prepare to be crucified). He promised the world will hate us and persecute us. Jesus didn’t tell us these things to make us scared. On the contrary, He told His followers, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Often people who believe the prosperity gospel collapse as soon as hardship and trials come along. When things start to go wrong, the false foundation they have built their lives on begins to disintegrate.
How can you tell if such poison is in your system? There are a few things to check for. Over time the prosperity gospel results in a believer losing the fear of God. Sin becomes tolerated and practised, rather than being something to be feared and discarded. This false teaching is so destructive that a believer may start their Christian life humbly bowing before the Lord Jesus, but within a few years they ascend His throne and act as if God is their servant and they have the power to order Him to do what they want. The Apostle Paul spoke of the need for believers to “hold on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith” (1 Timothy 1:19).
If you are a Christian who finds yourself struggling because of false teaching you have believed, we encourage you not to give up! As long as you have oxygen in your lungs there is hope! The antidote for those who have fallen prey to the prosperity gospel happens to be the same as for those ensnared by legalism. The answer is Jesus! The reality is found in Christ.
As the world grows darker, we need to humble ourselves before the Living God and plead with Him to help us steer clear from the two dangers of legalism and false teaching. Both are places of destruction that millions of believers have fallen into. If you are struggling, don’t hide from God like Adam and Eve did, but rather come running into the arms of Jesus. Remember these wonderful words of the Lord, and allow them to soak into your heart and mind:
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty... All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:35, 37-40).