The Peril of Prosperity

Sow for yourselves righteousness;
reap steadfast love;
break up your fallow ground,
for it is the time to seek the Lord,
that he may come and rain righteousness upon you. —  Hosea 10:12

Our women’s Bible study is currently digging into Romans chapter 8, and we have just considered verse 13, “if you live according to the flesh you will die,  but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” This is the verse upon which the 17th Century Puritan John Owen built his treatise, The Mortification of Sin. Owen’s main thesis was that:

The choicest believers,

who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin,

ought to make it their business all their days,

to mortify the indwelling power of sin.[1]

Owen makes the point throughout his book that we must be killing sin, or it will be killing us. Sin takes no holidays from endeavoring to shipwreck our faith, separate us from God, and destroy the fellowship of the church. Owen saw clearly what we seem to grasp only when times are tough—that we are in a spiritual battle every minute of every day. But when times are good, we Spirit-empowered believers may forget that we must be making every effort to grow in holiness and put to death our indwelling sin.

In Hosea chapter 10 we see that the Israelites have clearly lost their bearings in their spiritual battle against indwelling sin. The people of Israel have become so incredibly corrupt that the Lord is reversing every blessing he promised and is sending his curses raining down upon them in his wrath. Have they compromised their principles due to hardship? No! They are enjoying a period of prosperity!

Israel is a luxuriant vine
that yields its fruit.
The more his fruit increased,
the more altars he built;
as his country improved,
he improved his pillars. — 10:1

As they prospered, the Israelites didn’t give credit to or thank their God, but they built more altars to the Baals. The more conditions improved, the farther from God they turned. Instead of investing their blessings in praise to God and building one another up in faith, they invested in wickedness and false worship.

Friends, where are you investing your prosperity? I’m not only talking about worldly comforts: freedom from want and sickness, though they also apply. Christians today live in a time of prosperity with a wealth of resources at our fingertips: Bibles in multiple translations and platforms, from a book in one’s hand to virtual copies in our pockets. Abundant advice for godly living from books, articles, blogs, podcasts, videos, and sermons in our local churches and online. Besides all these, God has given the Church as the family into which God places us to be encouraging and encouraged. If you are in a period of worldly comfort, with freedom from want and sickness, how are you investing your wealth?

Our nature when ‘life is good’ is to take it easy; to let our guard down; to forget that we must be killing sin or it will be killing us. We become casual in our spiritual lives and concerned about our earthly comforts. Our priorities shift. Jesus was crystal clear about where the believer’s priorities ought always to be:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. . . . For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” — Luke 12:22-23, 30-31

Be Encouraged

One thing that Hosea and Paul make abundantly clear is that without the inner work of the Holy Spirit, seeking the Father’s kingdom is impossible. The indwelling Holy Spirit is, indeed, our greatest resource. Only as Spirit-filled believers are we able to put to death the deeds of the body and pursue the godliness to which we are called, for it is God who works in us to give us the desire and ability to work for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). Knowing this truth encourages us to pursue Christ’s kingdom.

Hosea and Paul also agree that this is why we need one another. God gave the church:

… to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. . . . — Ephesians 4:12-15

When I am tempted, either by affliction or prosperity, to wander from my beloved Savior, I need to be reminded of the truth. When I lose sight of the battle raging around me, I need my fellow soldiers to remind me to be killing sin. When I am tossed to and fro and carried about by false gospels, by worldly temptations, by short-cut spirituality, I need you to speak the truth to me in love, so that together, we may grow up into Christ!

As today’s passage exhorts us, let us continually remind one another in prosperity and in want, using every means of grace which the Lord has given, to:

Sow for yourselves righteousness;
reap steadfast love;
break up your fallow ground,
for it is the time to seek the Lord,
that he may come and rain righteousness upon you. —  Hosea 10:12

Pray With Me

Father keep my eyes open to the battle, never forgetting that sin is my deadly enemy. Keep my ears open to the encouragement of my fellow soldiers, also keeping me alert when one of them falls, that I may help them to rise again to the fight. And keep me ever and always sensitive to the leading of your Spirit, without whom I am powerless. In the mighty name of Christ my Captain and Victorious King, Amen.

[1] John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation, edited by Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 47.

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