How is someone like John MacArthur able to have such a prosperous ministry in light of the fact that he seemed to believe the faith-alone message in the past but no longer does? Where do God’s chastening, discipline, and temporal judgement come in for a believer who moves from teaching the truth to teaching a false gospel? I guess it is hard for me to understand how God would allow a believer to propagate a false message for so many years and lead so many people astray. (I don’t wish any ill will or judgment on MacArthur. I just don’t understand how it all fits together.) Thanks.
Regular readers of this blog would agree with M.S. that MacArthur has strayed away from the faith-alone message. However, MacArthur still professes to believe in Christ alone for his salvation. So, some would say he is not an example of a believer who has departed from the faith. He has strayed concerning the faith-alone message, but neither has he become a Catholic, Mormon, or atheist.
Rather than trying to discuss the specific case of John MacArthur, I think we would do well to discuss the general question M. S. is asking. That is, Why does God allow believers who stray to have prosperous lives?
First, He does not. God judges believers who stray (Jas 5:19-20).
Second, prosperity is in the eye of the beholder. A multi-millionaire may look prosperous in a secular sense. But true prosperity is being spiritually rich (1 Tim 4:8; 6:17-19).
The fact that someone is prosperous in one or two areas does not mean that he is truly prosperous. Having a successful business is not the same as spiritual prosperity. Having several bestselling books is not the same as spiritual success.
We are only truly prosperous if God is pleased with us (Luke 19:17; 1 Cor 4:1-5; 2 Cor 5:9; Heb 11:5-6; 1 John 2:28). That cannot be seen in one’s bank account, house, cars, job title, and popularity.
Third, the fact that we do not observe someone undergoing divine discipline does not mean that he is not. God’s discipline can operate behind closed doors.
About twenty years ago I spoke at Bob Bryant’s church in Marshall, TX (now called Cypress Valley Bible Church). I spoke about the fact that we reap what we sow. If we sow to the Spirit, then we reap fullness of life now and in the life to come. If we sow to the flesh, then we reap a life that misses out on the abundance of life now and forever that we could have had.
After I spoke, several people came up to talk. The last two were a college-aged man and a woman about age sixty-five. The young man spoke first: “I don’t agree with what you said. I see lots of Christians who aren’t living for God and yet who are experiencing abundant lives.” The seasoned saint replied, “I bet you would have said that about me. I’ve been financially prosperous for a long time. Yet for about twenty years, I was living for myself and not for God. I appeared happy. But I was miserable. No one could see my pain. I lacked joy and fullness of life. Only when I started coming to church here did I gain the mindset I needed to experience true happiness. I wish I’d know these truths long ago.”
Did Richard Nixon suffer as a result of his actions in the White House? Did Bill Clinton? We were not privy to their private lives. But we can be sure that both men reaped what they sowed. There were consequences for their time in the spiritual far country. (Based on what I’ve read, I think Bill Clinton is a believer, and Richard Nixon might be as well.) Popularity, power, and wealth do not prove that one is truly prosperous.
Just as we know John 3:16 is true, we also know that Gal 6:7-9 is true.i We reap what we sow. God is not mocked. Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and all of the wisdom literature of the Bible tells us that the path of righteousness is the only way to experience joy and fullness of life.
i Of course, Gal 6:7-9 is not an evangelistic passage. It concerns the recompense that believers receive at the Bema and in this life for our actions. God’s Word is true on everything it teaches.