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Prosperity in Christ

(This article was published in Grace Magazine (Kenya) [1], 2010/4).

Many in Kenya preach that Christ brings believers prosperity in this life. By this, they mean the prosperity of this world – money, success and comfort. It is easy to show that this is a false teaching. Jesus himself owned no house (Luke 9:58) and had to borrow a donkey when he wanted to ride one (Mark 11:2). When he died he had nothing to leave behind except his clothes and his mother (John 19:24-27), and he was buried in another man’s grave (Matthew 27:57-60). The apostle Paul warns us against desiring riches in this world, telling us that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and commanding us to be content with food and clothing (1 Timothy 6:5-10).

When the Bible is so clear about this, we have to ask “Why do so many preachers teach these false things?” The answer is easy. It is implied in 1 John 2:15 – men love this present world. Why do they love this present world? Because they do not love God: “Do not love the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

If we know about the true riches in Christ, then we cannot love this present world any more. We can use the Bible to see that the “prosperity teaching” is wrong. But we can also use the Bible to discover something much better. We can see the true spiritual prosperity that Jesus gives us. You will not see the President or Prime Minister riding to work on a matatu or boda-boda. They do not need matatus or boda-bodas, because they own much better cars. In the same way, no Christian needs to love earthly riches, because there is something so much better in Christ.

What are some of those riches which believers have in Christ? We will look at three of them.

Justification – Being right with God

The first great blessing we have in Christ is “justification”. This means that we are accepted and forgiven by God. Because Jesus died for us, God looks at us and sees no sin. Instead, he sees all the beauty and perfection of Jesus himself. God looks at the believer and sees the goodness and holiness of his own beloved Son. Jesus’ perfect life is given to us instead of our sinful life. Jesus died under God’s anger so that we would never see that anger. Justification means that in God’s court-room, God has said “this person is not guilty – he is perfect in my eyes”.

This is a blessing worth more than all the money in the world. All people everywhere will one day come to God’s judgment (Acts 17:31). On that day, our greatest need will be to be forgiven and accepted by God. That blessing comes only to believers – not because of being rich, or powerful, or famous. Nobody can buy it with money, or use their powers to force God to give it to them. Peace with God comes only through trusting in Jesus. Without Christ, unbelievers are facing an eternity of God’s anger (Mark 9:43-48). But if we have justification through faith, then we have peace with God now and forever (Romans 5:1-2). The rich people of this world will have to die one day, and their money will be given to someone else. Those who have the blessing of knowing God will lose nothing at death, but will begin to know him more and more forever.

Sanctification – Becoming more like Jesus

The second great blessing which believers have is “sanctification”. Sanctification is a work which the Holy Spirit does in every believer. It is the work of making us holy – of teaching us to walk like Jesus walked, and to love the things which Jesus loves, and to hate sin as Jesus hates it.

“Sanctification” means that God makes us more and more like Jesus himself. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul says that we are being changed into the image of Jesus, going from one stage of glory to another. When we are born, we are like our first father Adam – choosing sin and disobedience. When we are born again, we begin to become like our Saviour, the “last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45), the Lord Jesus.

It is a fact that Jesus not only had greater sorrow than any other man, but also that he was the happiest man who ever lived. He never knew sin (2 Corinthians 5:21), or guilt, or regret (John 8:29). He never wished that he could change himself. He never wished he could change his past or his decisions. Everything he did was perfectly pleasing to God the Father. The full delight and joy of God the Father always shone upon him. The only misery he knew was the misery that came to him when he took our sins. The only suffering he faced was the suffering that we deserved.

Jesus was happy because he was holy. There is no true happiness without true holiness. God made our souls, and our souls can never rest happy without God. The night is a time of darkness, but as the sun begins to come up, we can see more and more clearly. Sin is like darkness, and prevents us from seeing the truth. As we learn to sin less, and to obey God more, it is like the coming of the light. We can begin to truly live in the way that God desired for us.

Glorification – Being made perfect

The third blessing we will discuss here is to be glorified. Everything in this world is rotting and decaying and everything needs repairing or replacing after a time (Romans 8:20-21). But there is a better world which is coming. It is a world of glory, of eternal life and perfect joy in God. It is a world where “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). It is a world where everybody who is there sees Jesus Christ and is completely like him (1 John 3:2).

This coming glory is so great, that Paul wrote “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). Paul really knew about sufferings. He had a lot of experience of them. He was a man who was often beaten, imprisoned, who was stoned and shipwrecked, who was continually in danger, hungry, thirsty, cold and without clothes and much more (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). We could ask him – “Paul, is it really worth it to suffer all this? Should we really be ready to suffer in following Christ like you do?” Paul’s answer is clear. He says that these things are not even worth comparing with the glory that is to come. The glory is so great, that we could suffer them all one hundred times over and still it would be worth it.

We cannot describe the coming glory, because of its greatness. It is far beyond what we can even imagine. In another place, Paul said that it was like comparing seed with the final plant. A seed is so small, and looks useless. But when it goes into the ground and the plant grows, we see something very different – so much greater and wonderful that the two seem completely different. In the same way, even our bodies will be gloriously changed at the future resurrection, being “sown in corruption … raised in incorruption … sown in dishonour … raised in glory … sown in weakness … raised in power” (1 Corinthians 15:35-43).

This is the treasure which is waiting for the believer in heaven. Every treasure on earth can rot, or be taken away by thieves who break in to steal (Matthew 6:19-20). But our inheritance in heaven is “incorruptible, undefiled, and does not fade away” (1 Peter 1:4). We enter this world naked, and will leave it naked (Job 1:21). But in heaven we shall be clothed, and death shall be overcome with life (2 Corinthians 5:4). Therefore Jesus told us to make sure that our real treasure is not on earth, but in heaven, “for where your treasure is, there will your heart also be” (Matthew 6:21).

How shall we now live?

This is the teaching of Jesus. He tells us that if we follow him, then we shall have the true riches of justification (being right with God), sanctification (growing more holy) and glorification (being made perfect at last). To be given these riches, though, we have to make a choice. In this life, we have to take up the cross to follow him. We have to deny ourselves and give up our own lives. Instead of seeking our own desires, we have to obey Jesus’ commands. We must repent and trust in Jesus alone for salvation, and then follow him.

We cannot love both money and God. No man can have two masters (Matthew 6:24). Jesus warns us that if we try to keep our present life, then we will lose everything. “Because whoever wants to save his life will lose it; but whoever will lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, that person will save it” (Mark 8:35).

The light of the sun is much better than the light of a candle. A king’s feast is much better than a handful of old beans. And the true, spiritual riches of the gospel are much better than the empty, fading riches of this present world. Only a blind man would choose a candle to light the world instead of the sun. Only a man with no taste would choose some old beans instead of the king’s feast. And only those who have never known Christ at all could prefer the riches of this present world to the glories which are in Jesus.