By Dr. Randy Hedlun
Consider this quote from a sermon John Wesley preached more than two hundred years ago:
The only inference I will draw . . . shall be, the reasonableness of those precepts of self-denial, daily suffering, and renouncing the world, which are so peculiar to Christianity, and which are the only foundation whereon the other virtues, recommended in the New Testament, can be practised or attained, in the sense there intended. . .
One would think it should be no hard matter to persuade a creature to abhor the badges of his misery; to dislike a condition or mansion which only banishment and disgrace have assigned him; to trample on the grandeur, refuse the comforts, and suspect the wisdom of a life whose nature it is to separate him from his God.
Wesley exerted his considerable influence as a Christian leader in times quite unlike ours. Yet the truth to which he points is still inescapable, and the challenge is perhaps even more unsettling than it may have been to his audiences. How should Christ’s followers relate to the affluence surrounding us? Are we convinced that following Christ and immersing ourselves in prosperity are unconditionally compatible? Can we assiduously obey Jesus’ teachings and successfully replicate His example while at the same time indulging ourselves in material prosperity?
There is a profound warning in Scripture that gives urgency to Wesley’s message, even across the centuries. No less than Jesus himself caused a personal message to be sent to a first-century church in what was then Asia that addressed this very issue. Jesus confronted the community of believers living in and around Laodicea by exposing the self-deception in their pursuit of material comforts. He described them as being convinced they were fully supplied with material goods and the trappings of success to the point they were self-sufficient and lacked no necessary thing. But this unrestrained indulgence in their affluent environment was actually self-deceiving. The trappings of prosperity hid them from the reality of their own desperate plight (Revelation 3:17–20).
God’s imminent response to their self-deception was rejection. He was simply going to disassociate himself from them. Would they even know when that happened? Or would the intoxicating lies of prosperity conceal this fact also—that they were helplessly, hopelessly on their own, left to their own sick and shallow means of self-fulfillment, unaware that even the empty contrivances of religious emotionalism were God-abandoned imitations?
To John Wesley, self-denial, suffering, and renouncing the world were the only foundation upon which a true Jesus follower could build obedience and faithful service. The truth has not changed. The badges of misery have only become so much more enticing and deceiving.
Randy Hedlun, D.Th., is Dean of Berean School of the Bible at Global University. For more information about Global University, visit http://think.globaluniversity.edu.