I once heard a sermon entitled If God Loved Me He Would Give Me a Cadillac. The title was a spoof, of course. But many subscribe to the notion that abundant faith is certain to resolve critical health needs or lead to remarkable wealth.
It is true that health and wealth are often side-benefits of the Gospel. A new believer may be delivered, whether instantly or by a process, from addictions that have been robbing him of health and his family of material support. As a result of this, the whole family begins to thrive spiritually, emotionally, and financially.
Or, a woman eaten up by bitterness because of a failed marriage turns in desperation to the Gospel and may find peace in forgiveness and support from a caring Christian community. Soon, various symptoms that have been driving her to the doctors begin to ease, and her health is gradually restored.
In such situations, the Gospel has paved the way to health and wealth. But this isn’t its first purpose nor always the result, because the Gospel is still first of all a call to discipleship, whatever that entails. Think of Paul’s beatings, shipwreck, and imprisonments, for example. There are no first-century equivalents to Cadillacs in that picture. Instead, he suffered afflictions and beatings for Christ but released the life-transforming Gospel into much of the known world.
And remember these words of Jesus: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
This verse is at the heart of Jesus’ call to discipleship. The New Living Translation says it even more explicitly: “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me.”
Put aside your selfish ambition? Renounce the ‘“me first” impulse so deeply ingrained within us? Say no to self-indulgence, the love of ease, the desire to be pampered? It all seems so grim, so demanding.
And consider our being asked to shoulder the cross — an instrument of torture and death. Does our Lord then call us to seek suffering? Wouldn’t that make us appear a bit sick in the head?
No, Jesus transformed the cross into a symbol of divine redemption through his suffering. It’s “the narrow gate” that led to his resurrection. And our lives are to be redemptive on a human scale.
It all seems forbidding until we read what follows in Luke’s account: “As (Jesus) was praying the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning” (verse 29). This is Luke’s report of the Transfiguration, on the Mountain.
In that moment, the disciples saw who Jesus really was: God in human flesh. Many years later Simon Peter recalled that moment and wrote, “We were eye-witnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’” (2 Peter 1:16b-17).
Peter added: “We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mount” (verse 18). Peter bears witness to the certain health and wealth the Gospel provides.
Catching a glimpse of who Jesus really is changes his call to discipleship from a call to self-abasing, grim duty to one of ever-expanding joy in his kingdom’s service.
So to reiterate: It’s true that for many, the Gospel makes our lives here on earth healthier and wealthier. But that isn’t even close to the main thing.
The wealth all are assured of in the Gospel is that of knowing God in Christ and experiencing fellowship with him. And the health that’s certain is the promise of eternal life — that informs our existence in this life and in the next.
Either we say yes to Christ and discover true health and wealth of the soul (with or without earthly prosperity) or we say no to him and deprive ourselves of the fullness of life that only he can give.
Photo credit: Ervins Strauhmanis (via flickr.com)