9 May 2023
By Dr. Adi Schlebusch
The doctrine of God’s just punishment of sinners is explained in Westminster Confession 6.VI as follows:
Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, does in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal.
It is precisely because of this just punishment of sin rooted in divine righteousness that mankind is in need of Christ for redemption through His atoning sacrifice on the cross (Romans 5). By attacking God’s righteousness as described in the Westminster Confession, many false teachers of our day attempt to destroy the very foundations of our religion. Many apostate heretics deny the existence of hell altogether, but even among professing Christians under the lamentable influence of heresies, there is a denial of God’s omnipotent freedom to punish sin here on earth prior to the final judgment of Christ (also known as the Parousia, or in the original Greek παρουσία). They hold that God reserves all punishment of sin until after King Christ’s second coming, damning sinners in the eternal fires of hell, so they deny the reality of God’s terrestrial punishments (and blessings) in this life, manifested upon all those spheres of existence in which man is related to Him: as individuals, families, clans and nations.
But understanding the covenantal relationship between obedience and blessings on the one hand and disobedience and curses on the other also entails carefully distinguishing it from both the infamous Health, Wealth and Prosperity heresy as well as what I call the anabaptist and reactionary anti-prosperity gospel. The Health, Wealth, and Prosperity heresy, as popularized by such Word of Faith teachers as Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, and others, is radically different from what I suggest here. The danger of this heresy lies not in its teaching that Christians should expect earthly prosperity as God’s children, but in 1) the means by which it is acquired, i.e. faith as abstracted from to obedience, 2) its carnal definition of wealth and prosperity, i.e. denying all Christian suffering as integral to the advancement of God’s Kingdom, and interpreting suffering as necessarily being the result of a lack of faith, and finally 3) its neglect of the fact that God not only sometimes puts his own children through trials as tests of faith—as in the case of Job (Job 1:8-12)—and often disciplines them by means of suffering (Hebrews 12:6-7). Furthermore, all suffering on earth here prior to the Parousia is directly related to sin, since if there were no sin, there would be no suffering (Genesis 3:14-19). As such, even the suffering of the non-elect on earth needs to be understood as part of the righteous judgment of God.
By advocating faith as abstracted from obedience to God’s Law as a means to acquiring material wealth and prosperity, this false gospel offers to carnal man, not Christ, but exactly what he wants in his depraved state to satiate his appetites. The Bible teaches, however, that regenerated Christians, by virtue of their participation in God’s Kingdom, should expect Kingdom prosperity in our obedient walk under God’s Law (I Corinthians 15:58). God’s Kingdom will always continue to prosper as God works all things according to His pleasure (Eph. 1:11), and Christians, as subjects in Christ’s Kingdom, share in that prosperity (Ps. 35:27; Rom. 8:28; Phil. 4:19; I Tim. 6:17). However, while the carnal man understands prosperity as advancing his own individual carnal kingdom, the regenerated man sees true prosperity within the context of God’s Kingdom (Deut. 8:18; 28:1; Josh. 1:8; Prov. 3:6; John 15:6). This is why the apostle Paul, in the midst of persecution and suffering, could write to the Church that we are “more than conquerors” (Rom. 8:37).
Oftentimes we experience misfortunes as individuals, families, communities, and nations, but even these misfortunes are ultimately good in the sense that God uses it to advance his Kingdom (Gen. 50:20), of which we are citizens. As believers in God and His Word, we are to view prosperity as a gift from God and value it not only for the earthly comfort it may offer us, but also as a means in itself to advance God’s Kingdom (Proverbs 13:22). This is why I also think anabaptists like John Piper errs when he tries to refute the Health, Wealth, and Prosperity gospel by teaching that “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him in the midst of loss, not prosperity.”
The truth is that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him and the prosperity of His Kingdom, regardless of how convenient our own present circumstances might be (Job 1:21; Prov. 30:8). God is of course glorified through our suffering for his Kingdom, but not any more or less than He is when we actually use wealth and prosperity to advance that Kingdom, the purpose for which we have been created in the first place (I Corinthians 10:31).
Like God’s Kingdom, the blessings of eternal life are not to be abstracted from this creation and its socio-covenantal order as something exclusively spiritual or extraterrestrial. Eternal blessings must be regarded as interconnected to the very real created realities which shape our life here on earth.