The advice Job’s friends gave him typifies quid pro quo thinking: if you do well, you prosper; if you do evil, you suffer. If you are faithful to God and follow His precepts, only blessing follows; if you don’t follow His precepts, you are cursed—bad things happen to you. It is important to note that God personally appeared to rebuke Job’s counselors for thinking that way. Unfortunately, that is the way most teachers and preachers (especially televangelists) present the gospel and the way most believers live it. It shows a deep lack of understanding of the realities or the new covenant.
Unfortunately for our natural mind, God’s kingdom cannot be shrink-wrapped and packaged like so much sandwich meat. It does not operate on simple dualities. One of the major changes from the old to the new covenant is the shift away from quid pro quo (Latin: “this for that”) simple dualities. The old covenant is characterized by: do this (behave) and live (receive life as a result); fail to behave (obey) properly and you shall die (be punished, be cut off from life). If you do well, you will be blessed and if not you will be cursed.[i] The blessings and curses in Deuteronomy 28 are a classic example of the old covenant order of things.
Televangelists are steeped in this utterly legal and old covenant mind set.[ii] They have to be. Their system of support depends on it. Their thinking and teaching follows Deuteronomic equations like these:
The scriptures + your obedience = “blessing” (usually interpreted as health, wealth, and ease)
The scriptures + your disobedience = “cursing” (failure to receive the above)
Why is this message so phenomenally popular? Because the promise of reward for spiritual effort draws the spiritually stillborn and blind like maggots to a corpse. It is the age-old appeal to the carnal, fallen, Adamic nature to reward itself for spiritual energy expended and spiritual pursuits attained. The obedience and reward message that saturates the airwaves effectively keeps the “seed-offerings” and “first-fruits offerings” flowing into headquarters by using scripture to shamelessly appeal to the believer’s self-interest and keep the organization’s coffers full. The new covenant messages of forgoing our right to our own lives, His death and resurrection in us, serving Another’s purposes and plan with no regard for self-interest, will empty the TV studio or the “victory living conference” faster than yelling fire in a theater.
The new covenant reverses the old covenant order. It is live (receive life/blessing) and do this (behave/obey). The new covenant equations read like this:
You are dead in your sins+receive His blessing (life) + yield to His death and resurrection = obedient fruit
You are blessed + experience His transformative living Word by the Spirit = walking in obedience
We obey because obedience is consistent with our new nature, because it is right, and because the new creation is inherently empowered from within to do so. [iii] Our obedience is impelled from within by a new life-source: the fountain of the indwelling Spirit (Assuming the Spirit is really there! That is another conversation!). Our obedience is not conditioned on the prospect of “reward.” If it were so, what happens to our obedience when “blessing and reward” is slow in coming or does not arrive at all? The world is full of obedient believers who do not experience health, wealth, and ease. Our obedience could cost us our life, family, finances, and reputation: hardly the “guaranteed prosperity” promised on TV.[iv]
If the old covenant is still in effect and the television evangelists are correct, what hope do you and I have of any goodness from God when our obedience is in short supply at any moment? (For myself, a frequent state of affairs!) How much obedience do we have to muster to qualify for the blessing? Is 80% obedience enough? Is 95% obedience enough? I have actually heard it said[v] that to access the “promises in His Word,” only immediate, complete, 100% obedience satisfies God. Allegedly, partial or late obedience is disobedience and therefore does not qualify to receive His blessing. Since only the Son of God is perfect in His obedience, the inherently blasphemous and idolatrous thinking behind this teaching is self-evident: we become as God, and reward ourselves for it at the same time!
Thank God, that the blessing of abundant grace in the new covenant is not dependent on my obedience to His principles, but rather my faith in Him, in me, and His death and resurrection power in me. The needed blessing of the moment is always accessible through Calvary faith, not my behavioral perfections.
In the new covenant, God is not dependent on humanity living correctly to receive His life and blessing. He secures His own interests in humanity by putting His Spirit in us as a free gift of His sovereign and unmerited goodwill. The indwelling Spirit is both the life gift and power source. Out of the life given, behavior follows. Therefore, in the new covenant our obedience is not our gift to God, which merits His blessing. Our obedience is His gift to us, the fruit of the life we have freely received manifested in our actions.
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[i] This is particularly true in the so-called Wisdom Books: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, and to a lesser extent, the Psalms. It is imperative that third-dimensional death and resurrection and New Covenant glasses be worn when a teacher attempts to apply Scripture from these passages. If third-dimension New Covenant realities are not applied, a quid pro quo theology will result, which will be inconsistent with the message of grace and the New Covenant. Bad things happen to folks who are doing everything right and good things happen to people who are sinning. Simple Old Covenant dualistic polarities, and much popular success and prosperity teaching based from it, cannot accommodate that the righteous should suffer or the sinner be blessed. Life is a little more complicated than that. The Calvary Act has transformed the cosmos and must influence our interpretation and application of Old Covenant Scriptures.
[ii] For example, Joel Osteen: “My message is God is a good God. When you live according to his principles that I believe, he wants you to be happy and healthy and whole. It’s really a message of encouragement.” Quoted in Investigators: A Look at Evangelist Joel Osteen on the WXYZ Web site: http://www.wxyz.com/wxyz/ys_investigations/article/0,2132,WXYZ_15949_3927523,00.html. It is really a message of Old Covenant bondage. Where is the hope if you fail to execute one of the principles?
[iii] When conversion is genuine and Spirit-wrought, not the result of Western psychological techniques. Dr. D. James Kennedy said on one of his television shows that he believes that 75% of Americans in attendance in churches are not born again. I agree with him, but that would be another book.
[iv] I believe in prosperity, Biblically defined, not culturally defined by Western, capitalistic, consumerist values.
[v] Frequently, in sermons I have heard in person and on TV.
man I don’t see how anyone could say it any better than you just did–that’s worth a print off.thanks
good words of encouragement. I wish you and your family the best. If we could be good enough then the cross would not be needed.
Thank you, Mary.