The following clip of Victoria Osteen, wife and co-pastor to Joel Osteen, has been making the rounds on my Facebook feed. In the clip Mrs. Osteen encourages the 40,000 some odd congregants of Lakewood church to “do good for your own self”. But, she adds, to do good not just for God’s sake, but “do good because God wants you to be happy.” The clip finishes with a shot of Bill Cosby saying, “that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life!” from the Cosby Show.
It struck me that some people who watch, listen, or read Joel & Victoria Osteen, and find their messages encouraging, might be confused by this. Perhaps you’ve heard others say critical things about the Osteens. Why are people saying this is a stupid statement? Who would want to knock down the Osteens when they inspire so many? Doesn’t God want us to be happy? Why are people so against of these Christian ministers?
I’ll tell you why this video has people so upset. This was a rare occasion where the Osteens have stated what they believe and teach in plain language. Victoria came right out and basically said, “It’s all about you.” It is true that God desires our joy, but that joy is only to be found in God. It’s an issue of who is at the center. The very purpose of our fulfillment in God is ultimately to bring God glory. It’s for His sake. In the Osteenic view the roles are reversed. God exists to make you happy. Your joy, your fulfillment is not in the giver but in the gifts He blesses you with. You are the central focus, not God. This is no minor quibble! To remove God’s glory as the center point and insert anything else, including yourself, is idolatry. In essence the Osteens teach self-worship.
The fact is, Joel Osteen has spent his ministry actively and consistently avoiding topics such as sin, judgement, Jesus Christ, and even the gospel. You say, “Ya, well you can’t cover everything!” Friend, these are the most basic tenants of Christianity. You leave these out, and no matter how many crosses or spinning globes you have in your church, it ain’t Christianity anymore. Check out this interview he did on Larry King a few years ago. These aren’t things a Christian, or a pastor no less, should be uncertain about. Osteen’s focus is not Christ it is YOU—YOUR happiness, YOUR success, and YOUR personal fulfillment. Lest there be any confusion, let me say it emphatically, the Osteens fall into the biblical category of false teachers.
Objection: “But they seem so nice! And they help so many people!”
Answer: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.” – Matthew 7:15
You look at his smile and say oh he’s harmless. But our Lord points to those pearly whites and says, all the better to eat you with, my dear. If wolves dressed like wolves they couldn’t trick the sheep. If false teachers all looked like false teachers no one would follow them. Beware.
Objection: “He really inspires people, and his messages make me feel good about myself. What’s wrong with that?”
Answer: 2 Timothy 4:3 – “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.”
False teachers scratch where our self-centeredness itches. It feels good because he tells us what our sinful, selfish hearts want to hear. It feels good because it’s all about me. But it’s wrong because it’s not all about Christ.
Friend, I don’t write these things to upset you. I write that you might not be deceived. Don’t take my word for it. Please, just turn off that TV and open your Bible. Read about Jesus. Compare His message to what the Osteens teach. It’s radically different. Do not be hoodwinked by hucksters that only tell you what you want to hear.
Can I tell you of a joy that is much greater than what the Osteens can offer you? But before I do, first you must face some hard truths. Are you ready?
You don’t have within you the potential to achieve your dreams, you won’t be able to save yourself through the power of positive thinking, you aren’t even a good person. Ouch.
A lot of people have in their minds that on judgement day God will have a few of the more burly angels haul out a big scale. Then we will place our good deeds on one side and our bad ones on the other, and if our good deeds outweigh the bad we will get into heaven. We all imagine that if we aren’t as bad as Hitler we’ll be good to go. Now I don’t know the atomic weight of a deed, but I know this: That good deeds side of the scale is going to be much lighter than you think (Isaiah 64:6). It helps me instead to imagine God’s evaluation of us as a college exam. God has demanded 100% perfect obedience out of you, you need to get 100 out of 100 right (Leviticus 20:26, 1 Peter 1:16), but after you turn in your Scantron sheet you realize you’ve forgotten your #2 pencil and misspelled your own name. You aren’t going to pass! It’s not even going to be close. You can’t go back and fix it and there’s no extra credit.
The Bible says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). and that “the wages of sin is death,” (Romans 6:23). that means what you’ve earned for your sin, your wages, what you’ll be paid for break God’s law, is death. Eternal damnation. This is more serious than a couple of oopsies, this isn’t something you can make up for later by determining to be a better person. Your “hidden potential” is impotent to help with this problem. We’ve broken God’s righteous law. Our lives have been an affront to a holy God who deserves and demands perfect obedience. It’s not that sin just makes you unhappy, and being a better person would make you more fulfilled and successful; its that you are in massive trouble with the Creator of the universe. Am I saying what you think I’m saying? Yes! Left to themselves, all people are destined for hell. You are destined for hell. Are you listening yet?
“I thought you said something about joy… ?” Hang on. I’m getting there.
So that’s the diagnosis. What’s the prescription? It’s not more cowbell and it’s certainly not repeating “I am” statements in the mirror over and over.
God’s only begotten Son was sent to this earth 2,000 years ago in the flesh of mankind and lived a perfectly righteous and obedient life. He never sinned once. He fulfilled God’s law perfectly. He lived the life that we were supposed to live. He got a 100%. And then he was crucified, and in that death God laid on Him all the wrath of death and hell that sinners like you and I have earned as the wages for our sinfulness. He was our substitute. He was buried, and 3 days later He rose again, defeating the power of sin & death. And He has ascended back to the right hand of God the Father. Here’s the good news, if you will turn from your sin, tell him you want to leave it behind, and put your trust in Jesus Christ as your only hope of righteousness, He will forgive you for your sin and impute to you His perfect righteousness. That means God takes Jesus’ 100% test and signs your name at the top of it. In His sight you will be justified—declared righteous! And He will begin the process of transforming you to be more like Christ, and He grants to you eternal life with Him!
Why would you refuse this offer? Why would you continue chasing the poisoned candy folks like the Osteens offer? Do you love some sin in your life? Do you find it hard to let it go? Friend, your sin is killing you. Turn to Christ. Give your life to the One who offers life. Repent and believe the gospel. Have your life transformed to a life that brings Him glory, and you’ll find that only there is true joy to be found. You are free to drop the self-affirmations because you’ve been affirmed by the only one whose judgement really matters.
Maybe you’re saying, “I know all this stuff! I’m a Christian. I have put my trust in Jesus Christ.” Praise God for that! But why on earth are you watching Joel Osteen? A man who lives to steal the glory that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ so richly deserves and give it to you. How dare he. How dare you! Turn off that garbage and get on your knees. Direct your praise, direct your attention to Him. Do good, sure, but in His power, to please Him not just to please yourself. And the wonder of it all is that you will find joy in this as a byproduct. But let your motivation be His happiness, His glory, His pleasure. Not yours.
It’s not all about you. It’s not about me. It’s all about Him. And thank God that it is, for what a privilege it is to find our joy in Him alone.