I once heard a sermon entitled “If God Loved Me He Would Give Me a Cadillac.” The title was a spoof, of course. But many subscribe to the notion that abundant faith is certain to resolve critical health needs or lead to remarkable wealth.
It is true that health and wealth are often side benefits of the Gospel. A new believer may be delivered, whether instantly or by a process, from addictions that have been robbing him of health and his family of material support. As a result of this, the whole family begins to thrive spiritually, emotionally and financially.
Or, a woman eaten up by bitterness because of a failed marriage turns to the Gospel and may find peace in forgiveness and support from a caring Christian community. Soon, various symptoms that have been driving her to the doctor begin to ease, and her health is gradually restored.
In such situations, the Gospel has paved the way to health and wealth. But this isn’t its first purpose nor always the result, because the Gospel is still first of all a call to discipleship, whatever that entails. Think of Paul’s beatings, shipwreck and imprisonments, for example. There are no first-century equivalents to Cadillacs in that picture. Instead, he suffered afflictions and beatings for Christ but released the life-transforming Gospel into much of the known world.
And remember these words of Jesus: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
This verse is at the heart of Jesus’ call to discipleship. The New Living Translation says it more explicitly: “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me.”
Renounce the ‘“me first” impulse so deeply ingrained within us? Say no to self-indulgence, the love of ease, the desire to be pampered? It all seems so grim, so demanding.
It all seems forbidding until we read what follows in Luke’s account: “As (Jesus) was praying the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning” (verse 29).
In that moment, the disciples saw who Jesus really was: God in human flesh. Catching a glimpse of who Jesus really is changes his call to discipleship — from a call to self-abasing, grim duty to one of ever-expanding joy in his kingdom’s service. Either we say yes to Christ and discover true health and wealth of the soul or we say no to him and deprive ourselves of the fullness of life that only he can give.