Francis Schaeffer, the theologian and cultural critic, said years ago that US Christianity, in fact, Western Christianity, was primarily concerned with “personal peace and affluence.” He meant by this that as long as God was supplying us with enough money to buy all the things we wanted in life and as long as things were going generally well in our lives, we had all that we desired from religion, and all that we wanted to give for our faith. On the other hand, to the extent that God was not delivering on the American Dream, we were disaffected with him and dissatisfied with Christ’s performance as our Lord. It is no wonder that the health and wealth Gospel has so many adherents in the US, it is the gospel we far prefer.
One little problem. This view of Christianity has little or nothing to do with the True Gospel that Christ proclaimed to us. Jesus was abundantly clear that following him would be no bed of roses. “If anyone would come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me, for whoever wants to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matt. 16:24) One wonders what part of deny yourself, take up the cross, lose your life, is lost on those who preach the health and wealth Gospel, or for that matter, on us when we want to live as though personal peace and affluence were the central call of the Gospel.
For example, we want everyone to like us, for friends and family to appreciate the fact that we are living for Jesus. We think Christianity ought to make our personal relationships easier. But Jesus did not say, “When you become a Christian your family will really love you for that!” Instead he said: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” (Matt. 10:34-36) Why are we surprised that our family life is often fraught with difficulties and feels so often like—well—war?
Or, consider how often we think that following Christ should make us more popular in the world. Our bosses, workmates and acquaintances should really appreciate our deep spiritual natures. We are shocked, however, when the gang goes out after work and once again they “forget” to invite us. Or the time for promotions come and we wonder why we are passed over, again, while others who work less and are less skillful move by us. But Jesus did not say, “Follow me and the world will just absolutely love you!” Instead he said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” (Jn. 15:18)
Jesus is so consistent in warning us of how difficult life in the world will be as we follow him, it is astounding that we are still surprised every single time the world works just as Jesus told us it would. If the book of Revelation reveals anything to us it is this: that these last days are filled with suffering, persecution and difficulties, for those who follow Christ.
Yet with all the trouble that Jesus warns us will come our way there is one silver lining in the midst of it all, this too from Revelation. All the trouble we experience in this world is not outside of his sovereign rule of the universe, rather, it is at the behest of his will, and he is working all things—even the really bad, terrible stuff—for our good, read—for our salvation, not for our ease.
This then is our confidence as Christians, not that health and wealth are to be ours in this world, that is the promise of heaven, but that in the troubles of this world, we follow the one who has ordained the troubles and has overcome the world. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
The very one who troubles the waters of our lives has the power to work them all to our good. He rules and reigns even today as the absolute Monarch of this world which he has overcome. This should help us to take heart, this is the source of our hope, and the reality of the expectation we should have daily. Trouble in the world, hope in Jesus who has overcome it all.
With Jesus we will have trouble in this world. Expect it. And expect him who has overcome the trouble in this world, to be right there with us, working out his good plan.
Author: Rev. Dr. Tom Hawkes
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