Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of David Jones and Russell Woodbridge's recent book, Health, Wealth, and Happiness (Kregal Publications, 2011).

A popular message is influencing many Christians today. It’s often called the prosperity gospel, because it claims to give believers good news: If they just have enough faith, they can get the kind of lives they want from God, including good health and significant wealth.

But the prosperity gospel is actually bad news because it twists biblical teachings so much that people who trust in its message may miss out on the hope that the real Gospel offers. Don’t let the prosperity gospel fool you. It’s only when you place your trust in the real Gospel – the one proclaimed by Jesus in the Bible – that you can have the life that’s best for you.

Here’s how you can avoid the prosperity gospel’s dangerous message and follow Christ’s Gospel instead:

Seek God Himself rather than His blessings. Yes, God loves you and wants to bless you, but He’ll do so in His own ways, according to His will – not yours. Contrary to what the prosperity gospel claims, God hasn’t promised to bless all people with good health and plenty of wealth if they ask Him for it in faith. Instead, God has promised something better: His presence. You can count on the fact that God will be with you, no matter what. But trying to manipulate God into giving you want you want simply won’t work.

When you focus on the blessings you want God to give you more than you focus on God Himself, the blessings you’re hoping for become idols in your life, drawing your attention away from God and toward your own desires. Never place your trust or sense of security in anything or anyone other than God Himself, because only God has the power to ultimately fulfill you.

Recognize the limits of your own power. While the prosperity gospel tells you that you can make success happen by focusing your thoughts on what you want and praying in faith, in reality you don’t have the power to create whatever you want through mental and spiritual effort. The Bible and history are full of examples of great thinkers who had great faith, yet still endured sickness and poverty. God didn’t choose to spare those people from suffering, despite His love for them. If you think you can change your own circumstances simply by declaring in faith that you want different circumstances, you’re exalting yourself to a godlike level that is inaccurate and spiritually dangerous because it causes you to trust in yourself more than in God.

Understand the value of suffering. Since God accomplishes good purposes through suffering, it has value and you shouldn’t try to avoid it at all costs. Even Jesus chose to suffer during His life on Earth, so it’s reasonable to expect that the Christian life’s main goal – becoming more like Jesus – will involve some suffering. In fact, Jesus says that you should expect trouble in this world. But when you trust God as you go through suffering, you can also expect to learn valuable lessons and emerge from it as a better person.

Consider why you want to be saved. The prosperity gospel is simply a self-help philosophy designed to try to save you from undesirable circumstances. But the real Gospel declares that through a relationship with Jesus, you can be saved from sin and experience eternal life. Realize that you can’t truly be saved by depending on your own efforts to succeed in life; you must repent of your sin and trust in Jesus’ power to save you from it. Jesus died for your sins, not so that you can become prosperous, but so that you can die to selfish and destructive sin and live in a right relationship with God.

In light of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for you, you should exalt Him rather than yourself and be willing to make your own sacrifices for the sake of His kingdom.

Pray the right way. Although the prosperity gospel presents prayer as just a tool believers can use to try to get God to do what they want, the Bible reveals that God does not answer selfish prayers that don’t honor Him. Real prayer isn’t asking God to fulfill your will; it’s asking God to fulfill His will in your life.

Understand what faith is and isn’t. Unlike what the prosperity gospel claims, faith isn’t a magic formula that releases everything you want into your life. According to the Bible, faith is confidence in God. So place your faith in God Himself rather than in your own efforts to try to obtain what you want.

Let go of false assumptions about wealth and poverty. The prosperity gospel’s message that your material wealth is tied to your spiritual health is false. People who are spiritually rich can be financially poor for a variety of reasons, including choosing to follow Jesus’ own example of divesting themselves of wealth to help meet poor people’s needs.

Give for the right reasons. Rather than giving something in order to get something (such as donating money to a ministry and hoping to be financially rewarded for it), you should give simply to express your love for Jesus, who has given everything for you. While the goal of giving according to the prosperity gospel is to serve yourself, the biblical goal of giving is to honor God and serve people in need. God wants you to give joyfully and generously, without expecting anything in return except spiritual (not material) blessings.

Adapted from Health, Wealth, and Happiness copyright 2010 by David W. Jones and Russell S. Woodbridge. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Mich., www.kregel.com.

David Jones (PhD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is associate professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of more than a dozen articles and books that cover a wide range of moral issues. His PhD is in the field of financial articles.

Russell Woodbridge (PhD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is an assistant professor of theology and church history currently engage in missions work in Eastern Europe. He is a former vice president for Equity Derivatives trading for Salomon Brothers AG in Frankfurt, Germany.

Whitney Hopler is a full-time freelance writer and editor.  You can visit her website at: http://whitneyhopler.naiwe.com/.