Joy in God or Joy in God’s Gifts?

One of the distinctive marks of a healthy Christian spirituality is gospel-centeredness. The word “gospel” means good news. Thus, the Christian gospel is an announcement of good news which teaches that although God created humankind to live under his authority, and although humankind has rebelled against his authority and has become separated from Him, Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for the sins of his people and was raised on the third day to give new life to those who ultimately put their faith and trust in him. This is the Christian gospel.

However, there are other gospels. There is, for example, the gospel of self-help. In the gospel of self-help, the bad news is essentially that you’re not happy. Maybe you struggle with worry and doubt. Maybe your finances are out of sorts. Maybe you’re not living a healthy lifestyle, you don’t feel motivated, and you feel like something has to change. The alleged good news of the gospel of self-help is that there is something you can do about it. The gospel of self-help says that there is a storehouse of untapped power, happiness, and motivation within you. And if you follow some simple steps, you can supposedly tap into this power and happiness so that you can start living the life you want to live.

Notice that the good news is not that Jesus died on the cross to restore you to a relationship with God so that you can experience joy and satisfaction in him. With the gospel of self-help, the good news is that you can rescue yourself. You don’t need a Savior.

The Christianized version of the self-help gospel is called the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel teaches that Jesus has secured health, wealth, and prosperity for you. Essentially, all you need to do is believe it strongly enough and untold riches and healing will be yours. In my opinion, this is a gross error.

But many Christians are aware of the dangers and abuses of the prosperity gospel. Yet there is a “softer” version of the prosperity gospel that is particularly dangerous because of its subtlety.

The soft prosperity gospel (like the hard prosperity gospel) elevates God’s blessings and gifts above God himself. It elevates the blessings of a healthy family, a healthy marriage, and generally, the blessings of the American dream, above the delight that is found in the beauty, love, perfection, power, grace, and mercy of God himself. In biblical Christianity, God is the joy of his people. He is the object of worship. When biblical Christianity is perverted, however, we can become so enamored with what God can give, that we lose sight of God himself. This is idolatry.

Yet, we experience God’s blessings every moment of every second of our lives. The air we breathe, the food that sustains us, the relationships and families that we have, the material blessing we enjoy—everything we have comes to us from God. And so how do we experience all of these things and not have them become the object of our joy? How do we keep our stuff and our families and our work from becoming idols in our lives?

We must first see that the gifts that God gives aren’t the good news. The gifts God pours out upon us should never become our ultimate source of joy. Rather, we must begin to see these blessings for what they are. The gifts and blessings that God pours out on us are designed to communicate something to us. They are designed to convey something about God. When we see the blessings that God brings into our lives, our joy, worship, and happiness cannot terminate on the blessings. Rather, when we behold the blessings, we ought to see beyond the blessings. The trajectory of our joy should overtake and bypass the gift so that it terminates in worship on the one who gave the gift. The blessings should remind us of who God is. God’s gifts should stir within our hearts a sense of God’s goodness, grace, mercy, love, faithfulness, power, and kindness.

True joy is not found in the health and wealth of the prosperity gospel. True joy is not found in the American dream of the soft prosperity gospel. True joy can only be found in the one who secured the gifts of God on our behalf by dying on the cross so that we could be restored to a relationship with God. True joy is only found in the true gospel.

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