All posts by Tim Gustafson

Is poverty the result of sin in my life?

It’s true that bad choices can make us poor.[1] But in a world damaged by everyone’s sin, there are all kinds of reasons for poverty. To view it as a sign of specific sin in our lives is neither helpful nor accurate.

If poverty means there is sin in our lives, why would Paul say this about the churches in Macedonia: “They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity.”[2] Later Paul wrote, “You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor.”[3]

If Jesus was poor, would we dare say that his poverty was a sign of sin in his life? Of course not! Yet Jesus claimed to be homeless. “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head,” he said.[4]

Significantly, many passages in the Bible warn against ill-gotten riches. So we might just as easily ask: Is wealth a sign of sin in my life?

The prophet Jeremiah warned, “Like a partridge that hatches eggs she has not laid, so are those who get their wealth by unjust means.”[5] And the book of Proverbs says, “Evil people get rich for the moment, but the reward of the godly will last.”[6]

The apostle Paul wrote, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything.”[7] Yet he too warned against the dangers of wealth. “True godliness with contentment is itself great wealth,” he said.[8] Then he warned, “People who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”[9]

Jesus said, “Don’t store your treasures here on earth.” Instead, he urged, “Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”[10]

It’s dangerous and unfair to generalize, especially when making assumptions about rich or poor people — including ourselves. Material wealth (or the lack of it) is a poor indicator of whether we are following God’s ways. God is building his kingdom with people from across the economic spectrum. What matters most is how we use what he has given us.

[1]. Proverbs 10:4

[2]. 2 Corinthians 8:1-2

[3]. 2 Corinthians 8:9

[4]. Matthew 8:20

[5]. Jeremiah 17:11

[6]. Proverbs 11:18

[7]. Philippians 4:12

[8]. 1Timothy 6:6

[9]. 1 Timothy 6:9-10

[10]. Matthew 6:19-21

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Why do some church people seem so “phony?”

One answer is fear. Every church is comprised of ordinary human beings, but we often refuse to acknowledge our similarities to each other. We feel as though we ought to rise above our problems—especially temptations.

Yet so often we don’t. And so we regularly fake it for fear of what people will think. We fear that others might pull away from us if they knew the worst about us. This, of course, leads to hypocrisy.

While Jesus hates hypocrisy, he loves us. And so he told us: “Don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly … where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.”[1] He also said, “When you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do.”[2] Jesus was warning us about religious people who valued how they looked more than they valued their relationship to God and to each other.

Can we get past the fear that isolates us and turns us into hypocrites? Yes, but it starts with dangerous honesty.

One of the remarkable things about the Bible is its honesty about its “heroes.” Noah got so drunk he passed out. Abraham was willing to let another man take his wife (twice!) until God intervened. Moses’ anger turned into murder. David had an affair with a married woman and then orchestrated her husband’s death in battle. Yet Hebrews 11 points to these individuals as heroes of the faith. They were ordinary people with big flaws and genuine faith.

The apostle Paul wrote openly about his struggles. “‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,’” he wrote, “and I am the worst of them all.”[3] In another letter he admitted, “I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.”[4] This caused him to exclaim, “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”[5]

Our faith should be public, but it shouldn’t look “religious.” We are called to be followers of Jesus, even though we won’t follow Him perfectly. And church, of all places, should be a safe environment where we can admit our imperfections, our struggles, our addictions, and our tendency to fail. In other words, it’s a place where we hypocrites can be honest—even about our hypocrisy.

This question Why do church people seem so fake? is rooted in a stereotype. Surely many church attenders are fake. But most of us realize we are on a spiritual journey that started when we turned to Jesus in faith. Our part is to admit our own hypocrisy, ask God to change us, and let our own example of honesty become part of the solution, not a perpetuation of the problem.

[1] Matthew 6:5

[2] Matthew 6:16

[3] 1 Timothy 1:15

[4] Romans 7:15

[5] Romans 7:24–25

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