On a side note, I served at Lakewood for about 2 years and by God’s grace, He saved me and consequently, I left the church.
So I’m writing from the perspective of an unregenerate sinner who faithfully served and sat under the teaching of Joel Osteen. Many of the promises of God that Joel preaches every week are detached from the Gospel. This is a dangerous error and it's subtlety is deceptive since Joel is good at taking profound gospel promises and reducing it down to a catchy cliche for anyone to claim...including the lost sinner.
- Joel told me to, “Discover the champion in you.”
- The Bible says there is no "champion" in me...all that is within me is evil and impure (Jeremiah 17:9; Mark 7:14-22).
- Joel said that God had a good plan for me and that plan was to live a life of pleasure and happiness.
- While God's purposes are for the good of His people, the Bible says that His plan is ultimately so that His own pleasure and will are fulfilled. (Philippians 2:13).
- Joel told me that all I need to do to be saved is stand up and say a 60-second prayer.
- The Bible says in order to see and enter the kingdom, I must be born again (John 3:3-5).
- Joel said I had a right to victory and prosperity in all areas of my life.
- The Bible says because of my sinful heart, I am worthy of death and hell...all the rights belong to God and not me (Isaiah 64:6; Mark 1:7; Luke 15:19; Luke 17:10, Romans 3:9-12, 6:23).
- Joel said that if I set my mind on the right things and started speaking positive words over my life, I will start to produce a change in my life.
- The Bible says I cannot change myself because I was a slave to sin and under the power of Satan (Romans 6:16, 8:8; Corinthians 4:4). I needed a new heart…not a new lifestyle. (Ezekiel 11:19).
- Joel told me that Jesus paid the price on the cross to free me from mistakes, bad habits, poverty, and a life of defeat.
- The Bible says Jesus paid the price to set me free from the power of sin and Satan (Romans 6:22, 8:2; Acts 26:18)!
- Joel (and Israel Houghton) sang “I am a friend of God” and told me that God calls me friend.
- The Bible says that I was an enemy of God because of my evil and wicked works (Ephesians 2:12, Colossians 1:21). Only through Christ am I reconciled.
- Joel told me that God wanted to prosper me in all areas of my finances.
- The Bible says that because I transgressed His law, I accumulated an infinite debt to God (Colossians 2:14).
- Joel says that God intended for me to live my best life now.
- The Bible says God intends for me to live my best life later…in heaven (Ephesians 1:3; Hebrews 11:16.
Lakewood members (I was one of them) claim that Joel is being loving and kind because he builds people up rather than tearing them down. But by refusing to tell me that I was a sinner in desperate need of a Savior, he caused me more harm than good. By highly exalting a view of man, he was lowering my view of Christ. I figured I had what it takes so why did I need a Savior? Sure, I responded to the altar call and said my prayer but I never saw the wickedness of my sin and, therefore, I never saw the need to submit myself to the cross of Christ. I professed to live for Him but in actuality, I was living for myself and living in sin.
You see, Joel’s entire premise that we all have a champion inside of us and it’s up to us to reach our full potential completely undermines the need of Christ. The more I sat and listened to Joel claim that I’m a “victor and not a victim”, the less I felt the need to pray, read my Bible, and cling to Christ to strengthen me. Why would I? All I needed to do was change my thoughts, speech, and habits and I was on the path to victory. But before Joel should have ever told me to “discover the champion in me” he should have told me to discover the wretch in me! And by doing so, I would have understood why Christ had to die.
Other's claim that he's called to preach a message of God's love but in reality, Joel is not preaching the love of God. It is a perversion of love that tells me that if I walk around with a smile on my face and do good to everyone, God will bless me. That's not good news! The Good News it that despite my sin and the wrong I've done, God demonstrated His love by sending Christ to die for me (Romans 5:8). And now, it is in Christ that we receive all the spiritual blessings in heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3).
So, what do you do if you have a friend or family at Lakewood and you are questioning their salvation? Use the law of God to show them that they are not champions but failures according to the standards of God's righteousness. This is how God opened my eyes to the sinfulness of my sin (Romans 3:20, 7:13). My pride was puffed up because I thought I was good enough to go to heaven but the commandments destroyed any self-righteousness that was sown into my heart by Joel's positive gospel.
Only then can one truly understand the love of Christ and be ready to show them from Scripture that this is love-now that we have obeyed and loved God but that he has loved us by sending His Son to die for sinners (1 John 4:10). While their hearts may seem hardened to anything that opposes what Joel teaches, pray and trust that it is God who will open their eyes to their true condition and open their hearts to embrace Christ. For many years I was deceived and I heard many objections to Lakewood's teaching but, by Gods grace, it was when Ray Comfort sent me a copy of The Way of The Master did I really understand the way of salvation through Christ. Ray emphasized the law and it's terrors which generated a conflict within my heart. Joel was in one ear whispering I was more than a champion and God's law was in the other ear shouting that I was a wretched sinner. This is the dilemma that all members at Lakewood face. If they believe what the commandments of God say about the nature of human beings, then all of what Joel teaches is a lie...even more horrifying is the thought that they may not be saved.
But it was in that brokenness that God found me and saved me. When God opened my eyes to see what a great sinner I was, I then saw what a great and merciful God He is (Luke 7:47; Romans 5:20). Life was no longer about me and all the great things I was or did but about God and the great love He demonstrated towards sinners on the cross.
So no matter what church you attend or if you don't attend church at all, please examine yourself in the light of God's commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). The law exposes us for who we really are, sinners and not champions...and it's sinners, not champions, that need a Savior (Mark 2:17).