How Can I Be Free from Materialism?
The comforts and wealth of our Western world can be a blessing. And they can become a deadly curse too. So how can we be freed from the clutches of Western materialism? It’s a question Pastor John took up in a sermon 27 years ago on Hebrews 10, a chapter with an incredible text in verse 34, which says, “You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” Hebrews 10:34 is a text with key lessons relevant to all of us today who live in the Disneyland of Western affluence.
The Christian church in America suffers from about three hundred and fifty years of dominance and prosperity. What I mean by dominance is that for almost all of this country’s history, from the Puritans on, the Christian ethos has been the dominant one, and to be a Christian is to be a person who’s accepted and viewed as normal — and even one who has some traits that are beneficial to the country. What I mean by prosperity is that being a Christian and fitting into that ethos has, for a long time, resulted in things going well for us. And so, to be a Christian has been a plus. And what I mean by the church suffering from that — suffering from this dominance and suffering from this prosperity — is that this has resulted in a massively ingrained and unbiblical mindset.
“We have gotten things so out of proportion that we can’t really even imagine what the New Testament church was like.”
If you act like a Christian, you will probably work hard, and be thrifty, and probably will succeed in business, and that’s better for you. If you act like a Christian, you’ll probably be kind and generous, and at least then a few people will think well of you, and that’ll be better for you. So we can all say, “Well, what’s wrong with that? You know, what’s wrong with things going better for you? Why do you say it’s a suffering that has come upon the church that we have grown to feel that this is the way it is, this is the way it should be, and we’re at home here? Things go better with Christ.”
The problem is that we have gotten things so out of proportion that we can’t really even imagine what the New Testament church was like, I think. The little simple spinoffs out here at the edge of Christianity, we’ve made them the cherished treasure of the middle, and we’ve elevated them to the point where we say, “Well, if things don’t go better for us, then what’s the use of being a Christian?” And therefore, it becomes almost impossible for us to imagine what happened in this text — what it was like to be a Christian when there was no Christian America, no ethos built up over three hundred years of Puritan Protestant work ethic.
This text, Hebrews 10:32–36, fills me every time I go back to it. And it’s one of my favorites. It just fills me with a longing to be set free from domesticated, comfort-seeking, entertainment-addicted American Christianity. I just want to be so free. And this text, when you read it, it just makes chills run up and down your backs. And now that is authenticity. If I could be like that, I’d be real. And everybody wants to be real; nobody wants to be phony — nobody wants to just have a little glaze of Christianity over an ordinary secular life, pursuing the same goals that everybody pursues who doesn’t believe.
Everything in Nothing
Hebrews 10:34: “You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property.” How? Where did that come from? Here’s the next phrase: “since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence [or your boldness], which has a great reward.”
Now, right there I think I see the key, or a key, to the anemic nature of the American church. My analysis is that one of the reasons is — and I think it’s one of the main ones — we are at home in Disneyland. This is Disneyland. This room is Disneyland. This suit is Disneyland. This electronic device here is Disneyland. The cars you came in are Disneyland. The meals you will eat and buy today, at who knows what per shot, will be Disneyland. We live in Disneyland compared to where everybody else lives — almost everybody. There are a few other Disneylands in Western Europe.
“The reason the American church is weak is because we are at home in this Disneyland.”
And we’re at home; we’re addicted. We don’t even know we live in Disneyland. We use words like need for the most ridiculous accessories — we do. And I’m not about to tell you which ones you must get rid of. We’ve been through this before as a church, when I wrote the chapter on money in Desiring God, and we talked about the house at the lake. It’s that spot in Minnesota where all these houses are. And I didn’t say you couldn’t have one.
But if you’re at home, if you’re at home in this Disneyland, so that if they burned down that house, or they smashed your car, or they took all your heirlooms, or they fired you from your job, there would be this rip. The reason the American church is weak is because we are at home in this Disneyland.
Now, I think it’s always going to be a Disneyland till Jesus comes. But do you know why God has created this Disneyland? For missions and for the poor. Paul said that we have nothing, and yet we possess everything (2 Corinthians 6:10). If you believe that, that will make you free, free, free.