Want to Suffer? Become a Christian.

Does becoming a Christian make life better? Will converting to Christianity solve all your problems? Will you be happier or more prosperous? Will your circumstances will improve as you live by “Biblical principles”?

This is a common assumption in the church. You may have heard of a little booklet published by Campus Crusade (now called Cru) way back in 1952. Written by Bill Bright, it’s called “The Four Spiritual Laws,” and was intended to be used as an evangelistic tool to quickly and concisely share the gospel. According to this booklet, the first law is, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” That sounds so positive. Who wouldn’t want their life to follow a wonderful plan?

Hope for a wonderful life is one reason for the popularity of the “name it and claim it” prosperity gospel. It’s all about what I can get to make my life better—how God can make me happy if I’ll only claim His promises for myself.

This false gospel teaches us to approach God with a “what can you do for me?” attitude. It places the focus on me, rather than on God, and reduces the Lord of Creation to a heavenly Santa Claus.

Sometimes God is gracious and gives us the things we ask of Him. We find we can afford the car or the dream house. Our wayward child reforms. He heals our incurable disease. But sometimes God says no. We lose our job, the child refuses to return to the faith they were raised in, our spouse dies. If we base our faith on how God answers our prayers, what do we do then? So often, if He doesn’t come through on our expectations, we get angry, or even decide that God doesn’t exist. After all, we tithed. We took our child to Sunday School and church. We prayed. We did our part; why didn’t He do His?

Of course there are benefits to being a Christian, but there is no Biblical basis for claiming that following Jesus gives us an easier life, a happier life, or a more prosperous life. In fact, we’re promised just the opposite:

  • These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, italics mine)
  • … that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:9-11, italics mine)
  • Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God,… (2 Timothy 1:8)
  • Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. (Colossians 1:24)
  • “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” (1 Peter 4:12-13)
  • “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22b)
  • “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.” (Matthew 24:9)

If we advertised Christianity with these versus, I doubt we’d see many converts!

There’s also no guarantee of material prosperity. Consider all the believers in less wealthy parts of the world. Some of the most vibrant, joy-filled believers I’ve ever met were living in mud huts, thankful for a chicken or a bag of beans or rice. And some of the most miserable people I know have great wealth. We would do well to imitate the apostle Paul, who wrote in Philippians 4:12

I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.

In fact, Jesus tells us not to accumulate great wealth:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  (Matthew 6:19-21)

So why in the world would anyone decide to become a Christian? Becoming a Christian means that we give up control over our own lives, and submit to God’s authority in all things. It means putting His agenda ahead of our own. Why would we do this?

This is enough for one day. Tune in October 6 for some more thoughts on this question!

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