Destined Victory In Defeat
Perils Of The Health, Wealth, And Prosperity Gospel
Jerry Savelle, an advocate from the Word-Faith Movement, recently wrote, “Defeat is not in my future. You ought to write that on an index card and put it on your refrigerator so you can see it every time you pass by. Defeat is not in my future.”[i] Granted, the saying sounds authoritative, unyielding, and triumphant, it made me stop and think for a moment. I couldn’t help but take another hard look at that towering statement from the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel.
If I was one of Jesus’ followers when he became flesh and lived among us, I’d be sitting at his feet and walking in the light of his teaching. What a thrill it would be to witness the wonder of his words uttered from his mouth accompanied by an unheard of amazing authority. At his command Jesus healed various diseases and drove out many demons. He overcame every satanic test in the wilderness, never backed down from a spiritual challenge, exposed those who abused their authoritative powers, and squarely faced his illegal trial by the religious establishment at night.
In our amazement, the powers of darkness had a field day snuffing out the Son of God at dawn. He was abandoned by his friends and followers! He was falsely arrested and accused! He was stripped and beaten! He was nailed to a cross and lifted up for all to see! He was mocked and insulted by the authorities, soldiers, criminals, and passersby! And a written inscription, not an index card, on a wooden placard was nailed on the cross by Pontius Pilate. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”[ii]
Powerful Victor Or Helpless Victim?
As one of Jesus’ followers, tracking this wholesale gruesome slaughter from a safe distance, I must honestly admit that the final words inscribed upon a wooden placard spelled out the end of my King’s rule. It would cause me to question everything that he taught and stood for. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Would the heavenly kingdom ever come? Who then will save the Jewish nation from this powerful evil empire? Let’s be honest and not succumb to denial. If you were to bare your true feelings as to how the death of Jesus affected you during that moment in Calvary, what would you say? If the truth be told, all the hopes and dreams of Jesus’ disciples were dashed to the ground and thoroughly crushed. From the vantage point of his followers, the inscription on the wooden placard was painfully accurate, “Defeat was in Jesus’ future.”
If Jesus wanted to defeat the enemy and rule the world, his death on a cross didn’t seem cut it. Nobody ever factored this form of execution for him. The cross doesn’t quite compute over and against the disciple’s dreams and ambitions. Their leader didn’t just lie down and quit. He laid down his life and died. Standing at the foot of the cross that day, you’ll have to admit that Jesus’ suffering and giving up of his spirit was far from what you’d expect from a conquering king. Did God intend his Son to be a victor or a victim? Was he the triumphant King of the Jews or the sacrificial Lamb of God? Overcome or stepped upon?
One does not become free from the worldly Principalities and Powers by defeating them in an all-out frontal attack. Rather, one dies to their control. When confronted by the Powers That Be,[iii] Jesus did not have to suffer, but chose to suffer. Jesus said, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.” [iv] And therein lies the secret power of the Son of God. It was shrouded in the form of a ‘seemingly defeated victim’ at the hands of the powerful Roman Empire—a sacrificial lamb who chose to suffer in plain view for the sins of the world. Jesus was not a victim overtaken by evil, but a hunter who stalked the Powers That Be into the open by offering as bait his very own body. He martyred or ransomed his life for the many powerless victims trapped by this fallen world’s system. Ultimately, Jesus chose to suffer and die to save you and me.[v]
Sacrificial Surrender Or Egocentric Resistance?
Today, the cross is our model: we are liberated, not by striking back at what Powers enslaves us, but by dying out from under its commanding control. The ways of this fallen world wires us to retaliate and get even, while Jesus, the light of the world, calls us from out of the world’s dark control that we may choose to suffer for his sake: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” [vi]
The likes of Jerry Savelle and the health, wealth, and prosperity crowd declares, “Defeat is not in my future! Divorce is not in my future! Being overweight is not in my future! Losing everything I’ve worked hard for is not in my future! Alcoholism is not in my future! Victory is in my future! Prosperity is in my future! Divine health is in my future! Success and winning are my future! Joy and peace are in my future!” Sadly, every statement is selfishly ruled by “my future” rather than humbly surrendered to “my God’s will.”
By our Savior’s example, he calls us to take up our cross daily and die to self—meaning “to deny utterly or to disown” that which claims our lives by getting in the way of following him.[vii] One’s ego is defined as “somebody’s idea of his or her own importance or worth.” Taking it a step further, egocentricity by definition is the “limited outlook or concern to things mainly relating to yourself rather than, or at the expense of, society as a whole.” Our individual egos must not attempt to conquer and cave-in to the selfish delusion of what “my future” holds, but rather surrender to the saving act of God in his struggle against the Powers That Be even if that spells out our own participation in suffering for the sake of the many. That’s what the apostle Paul meant when he said, “We know that our old self [ego] was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.” [viii]
Our ego’s have been held captive and conditioned by this fallen world’s system. Our dying to sin is never complete if we continue to desire or value, as individuals, the things of this world. Please don’t misunderstand me, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to overcome a grim future of defeat, divorce, obesity, alcoholism, ill-health, financial woes, and the like. And who doesn’t want a life blessed by God with health, wealth, and prosperity? What happens when we wish to sidestep these obstacles in life? And what does it mean for the self to die to these desires for the greater good of others?
If Mahatma Ghandi or Ninoy Aquino treasured their health, these men would have avoided their life-threatening fast in behalf of their suffering nations. The price they paid for their lives was the people’s freedom from tyranny. India was freed from the grip of the mighty British Empire while the Philippines was released from the stranglehold of the Marcos Regime. If Martin Luther King, Jr. valued his life and dreamed of future, he would have kept his mouth shut and turned a blind eye from the lawless beatings and inhumane treatment of his brothers and sisters. He chose to speak against the Powers of Prejudice and suffer the consequences in behalf of a powerless people. The Civil Rights Movement was given a resounding voice that “let freedom ring” for all African Americans across the nation. If Mother Theresa and her Order turned her back on her vow of a life of poverty, what will come of the poor and disenfranchised in Calcutta? Her humble actions allowed her to embrace the terminally sick and treat them as human beings that they may die in dignity. Like Jesus, these selfless men and women not only recognized the resistance their mission provoked, but had to live with that likely prospect of death every single day of their lives—all liberation leaders must.
If Jesus desired to fight back the religious leaders and Roman authorities to maintain his claim to kingship, could he have exercised his divine option? The Son of God could have made an appeal to the heavens and his Father would at once send him more than twelve legions of angels.[ix] But rather than selfishly preserve his own life and secure his own future, Jesus voluntarily laid down his power thereby allowing the power of darkness to have its hour and way with him. Even before he was illegally apprehended by the detachment of soldiers and temple police under the cover of night, Jesus determined in his heart to make God known to this fallen world. He set aside his wish to live and obeyed his Father’s will that he should die that others may live. Jesus triumphed over the last temptation as he knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup [of suffering and certain death] from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” [x] As he was found in anguish with his sweat like great drops of blood falling down on the ground, the Father, on his own accord, sent one solitary angel from heaven to give him the strength to fulfill his Son’s choice to suffer and die for humankind once and for all.
Agonizing Defeat Or Triumphant Victory?
While it is true that ultimate defeat is not in the future of the child of God, it is not for his children to decide how that future should be played out. We cannot nor should not erect idols to the gods of positive thinking and cry out before them, “Economic hardship is not in my future! Job loss is not in my future! Credit card debt is not in my future! Bankruptcy is not in my future! Vehicle repossession is not in my future! Foreclosure is not in my future! Ruined marriage is not in my future! Rebellious kids are not in my future!” These hollow cries are telling. Empty chants simply expose our selfish greed to save our personal necks or promote our hidden agendas at the cost of God’s ultimate purpose for our lives.
In the tenth chapter of Mark’s gospel, James and John strove to successfully secure prominent places for themselves. They asked Jesus that they be granted special seats, one at his right and one at his left, at the coming of his kingdom. Jesus makes it clear that they were oblivious to their self-serving future request. Their ability to share the King’s drink and become partakers of the suffering to come was in question. As we read on, the hidden message is brought to bear. For Mark, Jesus is crowned King when he is publicly crucified as “King of the Jews.” And on his right and left hung two criminals—guilty as charged! James and John hadn’t the slightest clue as to what their future request entailed.
We don’t know nor can we pretend to know what is or should be in store for us in our future. Yet we will do well to surrender our will to God’s as the uncertainty of powerlessness besets us. As we embrace and enter into the trying times before us, we maintain our trust and dependence upon the God we love and serve. What we do know is that Jesus said to his followers, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.”[xi] But to win a place while playing “musical chairs” for the best seats in coming kingdom is not for Jesus to grant. Those special places have been prepared way in advance. As those who serve the Servant King, we don’t hold our lives in high regard by lording it over others as do tyrants. Nor are we governed by our selfish desires to get ahead or save ourselves in times of peril. Voluntarily stripped of our rights—past, present, and future—we will become like Jesus, who humbled himself by becoming a slave to serve and give his life a ransom for many.[xii] As we are found wholly dependent upon power of the Holy Spirit, we can rightly reply, “We are able.”[xiii] Only then will we realize our destined victory in defeat. In the agony of defeat alongside Jesus, we will experience the triumph of victory.
[i] Chris Hand, False Teachers Exposed, “Kenneth Copeland & Hagin Word-Faith Heretics,” April 14, 2006. Jerry Savelle is numbered among those who propagate the teaching of the Word-Faith Movement. The powers indiscriminately delegated to believers appear limitless. We can ‘speak’ health and wealth into being because ‘the material world is subservient to the spiritual one’. Master the laws of the spiritual world, and you have mastered the principles governing physical health and the creation and distribution of wealth. Here is man trespassing where God holds the prerogative. Its man-centered pandering to human pride and crude materialism is transparent. Were not New Testament disciples frequently sick, suffering and poor? When this biblical reality intrudes, the case for the power-filled, circumstance-dominating life portrayed by ‘word-faith’ teachers collapses spectacularly.
[ii] John 19:19.
[iii] “The Powers That Be” is in reference to the invisible tyrannical forces that are at work in the world seeking to dominate and enslave humankind. These powers have penetrated and saturated the spheres of the geo-financial and political arenas thereby controlling and or dictating the outcome of human existence.
[iv] John 10:18.
[v] Matthew 20:28.
[vi] Mark 8:34.
[vii] Luke 9:23.
[viii] Romans 6:6; ref. Gal 2:19-20.
[ix] Matthew 26:53.
[x] Luke 22:42.
[xi] Mark 10:39.
[xii] Mark 10:45.
[xiii] Mark 10:39.
© 2010, Gicky Soriano. All rights reserved.
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