The following post was written by Andy McLean, editor of The Gospel Project for Students. This is the third post in a series called “Bible-ish.” This series is designed to help bring light to passages of Scripture that are often taken out of context.
Have you ever heard, or even personally held, the belief that, ultimately, believers are to be healthy, wealthy, and prosperous this side of heaven? And if that’s not the case, then something must be wrong with your faith?
At the heart of this theology is the belief that personal faith operates on a merit system—you believe, thus you shall receive. Any time you’ve ever heard the phrases, “You just got to have more faith!” Or “You just need to believe, and then everything will be okay,” you’re hearing this theology influence the thinking and actions of people you might know.
Instead of showing how they mishandle the verses they reference, let’s instead look at one chapter in the Bible and see how it addresses this belief.
Hebrews 11, often called the Hall of Faith chapter in the Bible, gives us some great insight into whether personal, saving faith in God always results in a life of health, wealth, and prosperity this side of heaven. It is an inspiring chapter, containing people of such character and godliness that the Bible says the world was not worthy of their presence (v.38).
Yet even through this long list of biblical heroes we see the common denominator between them all—faith. There’s no question as to their faith, for the biblical writer makes it clear that it was “by faith” that these things happened—all of them. It’s important to stress that because you see a pretty sharp division in the chapter, one from remarkable and glorious victories to horrific acts of martyrdom—all done “by faith.”
Take a look:
By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice… (v.4)
By faith Enoch was taken away so he did not experience death… (v.5)
By faith…Noah built an ark to deliver his family… (v.6)
By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed and went out to a place he was going to receive an inheritance… (v.8)
And the list goes on and on to talk about how “by faith” Isaac, Moses, and other Old Testament figures were used by God to do amazing things in redemptive history. He talks about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, who by faith…
1) conquered kingdoms
2) administered justice
3) obtained promises
4) shut the mouths of lions
5) quenched the raging fire
6) escaped the edge of the sword
And the list goes on and on. Wow! Pretty amazing stuff, all done “by faith.” But the list doesn’t end there. Not only were there some pretty amazing things done by faith, but so were some other things as well—some things that makes the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel difficult in believing.
Keeping in mind that this is all “by faith,” the middle of verse 35 describes:
1) Some men were tortured, not accepting release…
2) Others experienced mockings and scourgings…
3) Bonds and imprisonment
4) They were stoned
5) They were sawed in two
6) They died by the sword
7) They wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted and mistreated.
8) They wandered in deserts, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
I stress all of this not only because I believe that the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel is unbiblical, but because I have known students who, like myself at one point, fell victim to the subtle mindset that personal faith was like a merit system, and that if bad things were happening, then it must have been due to my lack of faith. This chapter shatters that thinking, helping to put biblical faith in the right perspective once again.