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The prosperity gospel fails to identify our greatest need

In this series of four articles, Revd. Ken Mbugua writes on the prosperity gospel. 

In part 2, Revd. Mbugua states how the prosperity gospel fails to identify our greatest need.

When you visit a hospital because of illness, the doctor’s most important task is to diagnose the cause of your symptoms. If he gets the source of your problem wrong, then his solution he offers will also be wrong and not just wrong but it could lead to even greater suffering. In order to correctly help people, we need to correctly diagnose their greatest need.

What is their greatest need? What problem in us did God address when he sent his only son to die? The prosperity preacher points people to their physical, financial and relational struggles as the main problem that requires fixing. The Christ being preached is only a means for solving those problems. But the Bible is clear about man’s greatest problem and it is far worse than being broke. However, this misdiagnosis is not a new problem.

One of the most famous miracles recorded in the Bible for us happened when Jesus fed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish. But many people do not know what happened next - after the crowd had been fed. Amazed by what they saw, the crowd decided that they needed to lead a coup and make Jesus their king (John 6:15). Did they have the right idea of the gospel? Not according to Jesus. The crowd zealously sought for Jesus to the point of jumping into boats to follow him across the lake (John 6:22-24). But, when at last they found Him, he did not commend them. He saw their motives and strongly rebuked them:

Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal. (John 6:26-27)

They were following Jesus for material advantage. Jesus performed signs and wonders in order that people would believe in him and receive eternal life (John 20:30-31). But these people were more interested in a free lunch. They thought the Messiah would give them all they wanted in this life but were missing the incomparably better thing that he offered. In the texts that follow we see Jesus pointing to Himself as the Bread of life who could satisfy more than any earthly “bread”, the people however had their hearts set on their physical needs and unlike the Samaritan woman in John 4, these could not appreciate Christ’s offer of Himself to satisfy their true need. If you are following Jesus for material benefits, you have failed to identify your greatest need.

Jesus is clear: health and wealth are not our greatest needs. But what is? In order to understand this, we have to go back to basics: who is God and who are we? In Romans 1, we are reminded that God is righteous and we are sinful. And because of God’s righteousness and our wickedness, his just judgment stands against us. If I understand that the almighty and holy God is angry with me, then my financial struggles, relationship stresses and career ambitions can no longer be my first priority. My sin problem must be the priority now.

What exactly is this sin problem? Again Romans 1 is helpful. It explains that although we know God, in our corrupt hearts we do not glorify him as we should. Instead of giving proper glory to the Creator we give glory and worship to what he has created (Rom. 1:22-23). Sin is idolatry. Sin drags us away from God to pursue the things of this world. Our greatest problem is our gravitation to worship possessions, careers, relationships, health or wealth in the place of the one true God. For some the problem of idolatry is so twisted that they see no problem in going to God to ask him to provide them with these idols so that they can fulfill the desires of their idolatrous hearts! This is what these men in John 6 were doing, this is what churches that preach the health and wealth gospel do.

When we grasp that all the pains of life are symptoms of our real problem, our God-ignoring sin, we will realize that we need a gospel that addresses not just the symptoms but the root cause. We need God to forgive our sins, take his wrath away from us and make us right in his sight. This is what we need now and for eternity. When the preacher, as a spiritual doctor, misdiagnoses the problem, then he is treating his patients with a false gospel that, like fake medicine, will just make us worse.

Ken Mbugua is senior pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, Nairobi, Kenya. He is married to Arlette and they have a little girl. He was trained in Zambia, has done short term mission in South Sudan and undertook an internship at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington DC, USA. Ken is passionate about the true biblical gospel and the growth of healthy reformed churches of different traditions which guard this precious gospel.

This article was originally published in 'Conversation Magazine', a publication of iServe Africa on sale in major outlets across Kenya and Uganda, and is an excerpt of a book by Michael Otieno Maura, Ken Mbugua, Conrad Mbewe, Wayne Grudem and John Piper - 'Prosperity? Seeking the True Gospel'

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