This article is part of the 5 Myths series.
Myth #1: God only blesses good people.
Perhaps one of the greatest misunderstandings concerning the Christian faith is that God is only concerned with “good people.” Despite numerous biblical passages and faithful pastors pleading the contrary, there seems to be a natural inclination for us to believe that God gives good things to good people and bad things to bad people. Certainly, this line of thinking is attractive to those who see themselves as “good,” but the reality is that God always give good gifts to his people.
God promised to bless Abram in Genesis 12:1-3, and he does so, even when Abram deceived the Egyptians about his wife. Despite Abram’s less-than-honorable actions, God blessed him by protecting his wife (Gen. 12:17-20) and enabling him to leave Egypt with great wealth. Abram’s grandson Jacob was a trickster and a liar who stole from his brother, yet God continued to work in and through Jacob’s life on account of God’s covenant promise of blessing. The descendants of Jacob—like their progenitor—also strived with God and rebelled against the Lord in the wilderness (Num. 14:1-4). Yet God again promised to bless his people in the Promised Land if they would walk in faith, keeping his commands. God’s grace-filled commitment to bless his people extends far beyond their moral deserts.
If the Bible teaches us anything, it is that God works in and through broken people. Jesus came to save sinners, not the righteous (Mark 2:17). God delivers us by his grace and calls us into a holy life of obedience that results in blessing. When we draw near to God in faith, he draws near to us (James 4:8), and as the psalmist teaches, “Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts” (Ps. 65:4). His blessings cannot be simplified to what we think are good things and good people. This is not a theological math problem that means when we obey God, he gives us what we want. God’s design for his image bearers is much bigger than this. God’s blessing is not reserved for good people; God’s blessing is what makes his people good.
Myth #2: Health and success are proof of God’s blessing.
Asaph was not alone in his confusion as he watched the wicked of his day become wealthy, successful, and happy. Psalm 73:2-3 reads,
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
Despite the antiquity of this passage, most of us, like Asaph, have wrestled with how various outward circumstances line up with God’s divine economy. Too often we think that we can exegete God’s actions and gain visage into the inner courts of heaven, determining who God is for and who he is against. Like Jesus’s disciples, we are often quick to condemn the suffering (John 9:2) and extol the wealthy and strong (Mark 10:26).
The biblical response to this myth is that God’s blessings cannot be sorted based on human standards. The prophet Isaiah understood this when the Lord spoke to him, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:9). What Asaph came to understand in Psalm 73 is that prosperity and wealth, apart from God, are not blessings but a slippery slope toward judgment (Ps. 73:18). Any “good” thing that carries a person away from God is, in effect, not good. God’s blessings are designed to always lead us ultimately to himself.
In this addition to the Short Studies in Biblical Theology series, William Osborne traces the theme of blessing throughout the Bible, equipping readers with a fuller understanding of God’s benevolence for everyday life.
Myth #3: The New Testament teaches that Christians experience only spiritual blessings, unlike the material blessings of the Old Testament.
The apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Does this passage support the common notion that Old Testament blessings were material (that is, crops, land, children, wealth) but New Testament blessings are only spiritual? No. God’s blessing toward his people has always been material, spiritual, and—ultimately—relational. From Genesis to Revelation, God’s design is to provide the fullness of life for his people in his presence. The New Testament focuses on spiritual blessings because the new covenant established by Jesus fulfills the promised blessing of Abraham, so that “we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” The material blessings of the land in the Old Testament served as a continuation of the pattern established in the Garden of Eden and a typological harbinger of the heavenly garden that we presently await (Rev. 22:1-2).
The Garden of Eden, the Promised Land, and the new heavens and new earth are all material places designed for spiritual beings to live in relationship with the Lord. We now live in a time between the blessings of Canaan and the heavenly city. The Spirit testifies that we are God’s children and are waiting for our eternal home (Rom. 8:12-25). For this reason, the blessings in our lives often take the form of struggles producing spiritual transformation over against mere creature comforts. Make no mistake, physical health is promised to God’s people . . . in fact, we will live forever. Material wealth and far-reaching success are also guaranteed . . . to the extent that we will reign with God! But, not now. Paul explains in Philippians 2:1-11 that Jesus’s life looked like humble cross-bearing before it took the shape of glorified crown-wearing. As those who call themselves “little Christs,” we should be prepared to carry our crosses, until the divinely appointed time when we receive our crowns.
Myth #4: As Christians, we should love the Giver, not the gift.
While this myth has an element of truth to it, Randy Alcorn recently reminded me of the danger of creating an unhealthy and unnecessary dichotomy between God and his gifts. In fact, Scripture compares God to a human father who loves to give good gifts to his children (Matt. 7:11). As human parents, wouldn’t it be hurtful if our children became suspicious of the good things we wanted to give them? Aren’t our gifts toward our children (in our best moments) expressions of love flowing out of our relationship with them? Simultaneously, we do not want our children to grab a box out of our hands, head into a room, and shut the door. In similar fashion, God’s blessings for his people are to draw them into a closer relationship with him. His gifts should never replace him or lead us to view him like a heavenly vending machine; but at the same time, we should not be afraid to delight in the good things given to us by our Heavenly Father.
God’s blessings are designed to always lead us ultimately to himself.
The apostle Paul had to address some in the Christian community who had apparently become too spiritual to delight in God’s blessings. In 1 Timothy 4:1-5 Paul writes to Timothy to warn him of those who would reject God’s good creation, especially the design of marriage and the freedom to partake of certain foods. Many commentators believe that this heretical group embraced ideas that would later develop into a more thoroughgoing Gnosticism. While Gnosticism is a general category for many different thinkers and writers, at its core it embraced a severe dualism between the spiritual world and the material world. Early Gnostic writings retell the creation of a pure spiritual world, while a lesser god (Demiurge) created the material world and humanity. Consequently, the material world was viewed negatively and seen as inferior to the spiritual. Paul addresses such notions in his letter to Timothy writing, “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:4). God’s creation is good and his gifts to us are good as well. Let us not become so “spiritual” that we begin to question the goodness of God’s blessings in our lives. Instead of embracing a dualistic vision of gift versus Giver, we should receive God’s blessings in our lives with thanksgiving, allowing the gifts to lead us ever closer to the Giver.
Myth #5: Blessing is only God’s work.
The Bible clearly presents God as the Creator of all life and originator of all blessing. In Genesis 1, God calls forth life and commands his creatures to carry out his blessing by filling the earth with other image-bearers. The old hymn is certainly correct, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow . . . .” The myth is that we too often believe that we have no role to play in God’s design for blessing.
The Bible frequently uses the word “bless” to describe an act of worship or praise. “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” writes the psalmist in Psalm 103:1. In Psalm 34:1 we read, “I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.” When we bless God, we are not addressing some deficiency in his person or character. God is completely good, perfect, and holy. Instead, when we bless God, we are reciprocating his goodness, perfection, and holiness, acknowledging him as the only true source of blessing. God blesses his people, and in turn, his people bless him.
Not only are we to bless God, but we are to bless others. God promises Abram blessing and then tells him “you will be a blessing” (Gen. 12:2). Part of what it meant for Abram to experience God’s blessing in his life was for Abram and his family to become mediators of blessing to those around them. Abram’s son Isaac experienced this first hand while digging wells in Beersheba. The neighboring peoples saw God’s blessing upon Isaac and entered into peaceful agreements with him (Gen. 26:26-33). In the New Testament, the apostle Peter writes, “have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Pet. 4:8-9). God has called us to lives and words of blessing, life-giving and grace-filled words and actions that flow from hearts truly blessed by God.
William R. Osborne is the author of Divine Blessing and the Fullness of Life in the Presence of God.
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