Is the call to Christian discipleship with its potential discomforts and dangers passé in modernity? After all, it can be argued that the Gospel has directly and indirectly brought the world better health and a greater material abundance. Perhaps, then, the health and wealth gospel is the more current expression.
For example, a man embraces the gospel seriously and finds deliverance from his addictions that have been robbing him of health and his family of the material necessities of life. As a result, he becomes responsible with his spending and in months the whole family begins to feel the positive material effect of the changes -– to say nothing of the greater material blessings the years may bring.
Or, a woman whose health is being eaten up by bitterness because of a failed marriage turns to the gospel and finds peace in forgiveness and support from a caring Christian community. Soon the symptoms that have been driving her to the doctors begin to ease and her health is gradually restored.
These are not imaginary results. In such situations, the gospel is a pathway toward health and wealth. But, despite these blessings, the gospel is still first of all a call to discipleship.
I read thoughtfully 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 is at the heart of Jesus’ call to discipleship. The New Living Translation says it even more clearly, “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? Is that where discipleship starts? 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. Where is the promise of health and wealth there?
And to be asked to shoulder your cross? The cross is an instrument that stands for torture, and death. Does our Lord call us to invite suffering? Wouldn’t that mark us as psychologically disordered? Neurotic? No, Jesus made the cross for himself a symbol of redemption through suffering. It’s “the narrow gate” that led to his resurrection.
It all seems so 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” (verse29). This is Luke’s report of the Transfiguration, on Mount Hermon.
In that moment, the disciples saw who Jesus really was, in his hidden glory and splendor. He was indeed 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.”
Peter added, “We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mount” (2 Peter 1:16b-18).
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.
The issues of health and wealth must be dealt with separately from his call to discipleship. It’s true that some find purpose in life through the Gospel and this makes life fuller even in the issues of possessions and bodily well being.
But the wealth that all are assured of through 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 – in this life and the next.
This reality of the gospel can only be experienced from the inside. Either we say yes to Christ and discover the true health and wealth of the soul or we say no to him and deprive ourselves of the fullness of life that only he can give.