There is a teaching in our day that rebels against the “health, wealth, and prosperity” gospel. The prosperity gospel, in short, says if you pray to Jesus he will bless you materially beyond your wildest dreams. The emphasis is on power, blessings, and avoidance of suffering.
In response to the prosperity gospel, many on the other side point to all the places in Scripture where God’s saints had to suffer to be blessed. Often times the take away from the message is, “If you want to be great for God and be blessed with power for the kingdom, then you must suffer to get it. Pray more, fast more, read more, and cry out for the power of God more than anything else, and maybe your name will be remembered in the history books like Billy Graham, Jonathan Edwards, or D.L Moody.”
One side says it will be easy to be blessed with earthly power and possession if you become a Christian. The other side says you will have to suffer to get spiritual power and blessings as a Christian. So what does the Bible say about the price of spiritual power?
The Poverty Gospel Is the Other Side of the Same Coin as the Prosperity Gospel
The danger of the poverty gospel (suffer to be blessed) is much harder to detect. Desiring power to do great things for God certainly is not the worst thing one can pursue. But I would also note it is not the best. Throughout the Bible we are not instructed to simply seek the power of God, but rather to seek God himself, and then he will bless you with power that may or may not draw the attention of the masses.
The reason it feels safe to listen to this message of “paying the price of suffering for spiritual power” is because of the emphasis on suffering. In reaction to the obviously false teaching that promises only happy days if you become a Christian, we assume that if someone is advocating suffering for Christ then their message must be true. However, God never gives anything to anyone because they have earned it. He always gives out of grace, because he had it in him to do so.
The poverty gospel looks different than the prosperity gospel, but they both preach to the same end – getting stuff from God. The real gospel is not about getting things from God but rather encountering God himself.
Suffering Is the Price of Spiritual Power, But Not the Price to Buy Spiritual Power
The poverty gospel says the price for spiritual power is suffering for Jesus. There certainly is a relationship between spiritual power and suffering in the Bible, but I think many of us have got it backwards. Suffering does not earn you power, but when God gives you power you will suffer for his sake.
God states that when we come to him, he blesses us right from the start with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3). We already have all that we need, now we just need to learn to live in all that God has already given. But with this will come suffering, which is why Jesus instructs us “to count the cost” of following him (Luke 14:28).
The cost of following Christ is not the price we pay to get anything from him, but rather the price we will pay for being his. He states, “Any of you who does not give up everything cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). This does not mean we earn the right to be his disciple through suffering, but rather that we will never be able to experience the free gift of being a disciple unless we are willing to suffer. The life of following our Master is given through grace. But to live this life freely given we will need to make sacrifices, giving the lesser to gain the greater. Jesus is not saying we earn a relationship with him through giving everything up; but rather when we are given a relationship with him, we will need to give everything up.
Spiritual Power Causes Suffering, Suffering Does Not Cause Spiritual Power
Jesus purchased our spiritual power and we receive it through faith. But God’s grace is not cheap, meaning it still costs us something. It does not cost us anything on the front end but on the back end.
When John and James asked Jesus for power and authority, he responds, “You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” (Mark 10:38) This cup is a reference to his suffering (Psalm 75:8, Isaiah 51:17–22, Jeremiah 25:15, Ezekiel 23:31–34). Jesus did not warn them of the suffering they would have to endure to show them how to earn their spots, but rather he warned them of the suffering that would accompany this power if it was given to them. Just before they asked him these things, Jesus predicted his own death (Luke 14:32-42). Jesus did not suffer to gain his power, rather he knew that because he had God’s power he would suffer.
The Price of Spiritual Power Is Suffering Because Power Is to Be Used for Self-Sacrifice in Love for Others
Everyone who truly has God’s power will suffer to some degree because this power is meant to be spent for the benefit of others, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Luke 14:45). God’s power given to us is meant to be given away in selfless acts to other people, and self-sacrifice by its very definition always causes a form a suffering.
So next time we are tempted to think we can earn something from God through our suffering, let us remind ourselves that we already have everything we need in Christ Jesus. However, we must not neglect the reality of suffering. We must count the cost and prepare ourselves for what’s ahead, for “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48). Suffering does not earn your power. But when you express and use spiritual power, it typically brings suffering.
Christ paid the price to give us spiritual power, and he gives it freely to us. Spiritual power is free, but it’s not cheap. It will cost us nothing to gain it, but will cost us to use it. And it’s always worth it!