We’ve all heard the mention of the “Prosperity Gospel.” Articles circulating the internet concerning the latest statements made by Victoria Osteen have reaffirmed what we already know to be true: the Christian life isn’t all peaches and cream and the gospel isn’t about material prosperity. While it’s always nice to have reminder of theological truth, eventually we must put our attention with a false gospel to the side, and be diligent in preaching the true gospel to ourselves on a daily basis. If we are to dismantle a false gospel, we must do it with a true gospel. And when I speak of the true gospel, I’m talking about a gospel that is affirmed with actions, and not merely with words. The world will never see the beauty of the gospel if we’re only talking about it. We have to live it out daily. At the heart of the gospel is the doctrine of forgiveness; and it is a difficult doctrine to swallow.
When Peter asked Christ how many times we should forgive someone who has done wrong against us, Jesus responded, “70×7,” (Matthew 18:21-22) or if you’re familiar with significant numbers in the Bible, Jesus practically said, “A perfect amount, times a perfect amount,” which translates into, “An infinite number of times.” But come on, Jesus said that. He knows we’re not perfect, so we can’t possibly be expected to do that, can we? This is where we need to preach the true gospel to ourselves.
So what is the true gospel?
The true gospel is this: God loved humanity enough to take on human form and die for it. Why did he die for it? Because relationships are costly. For an imperfect people to be reconciled to a perfect God, someone had to pay a steep price. Every single relationship has a price. We subject ourselves to pain and hurt and we all know that in order to have a deep, fruitful, and loving relationship with anyone, we have to sacrifice for them. Just last night, I was in a terrible mood. I was absorbed in my problems, and so deep in my own selfishness that I wasn’t thinking about anyone else but me. The end result was my wife finding herself in the crossfire between my frustration, and my self-pity. I was ugly. Who do you think paid the price to be in a relationship with me during this time? My wife. When I refused to die to myself, my wife stepped in and put herself before me. She died to herself, so that our relationship could live. How did she do this? She was forgiving and gentle towards me when it wasn’t easy. And of course, she didn’t leave me! All functioning relationships must work this way. Two people must regularly die to themselves to keep the relationship afloat. If I refuse to die to myself by being selfish, then the other person will have to die to themselves by staying with me even when I’m ugly. This is what Christ did for us on the cross. Even while we’re spitting at him, he says, “Father forgive them—they don’t know what they’re doing.”
So how does this play out practically in our lives today?
You must forgive. It is the bittersweet truth of the gospel. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15). The bitter part is that we must forgive. There is no alternative. The sweet part is that we’ve been forgiven, and through the gospel we have the resources available to us to forgive when we are lacking the strength. No relationship is as costly as your relationship is to God. The central theme of the gospel is not just about gain (as in the prosperity gospel), but about loss. There is no gospel without loss. But through loss, we gain more than we could have ever dreamed possible—even our own freedom. John Eldredge once said that “Forgiveness is setting the prisoner free, and then realizing the prisoner was you.” We show the gospel through our actions by forgiving others since we’ve been forgiven. It is God’s command to go and do likewise, what he has done for you.