The Eye and the Money

 “By an almost irresistible law of consumer culture, [our people] have bought bigger (and more) houses, newer (and more) cars, fancier (and more) clothes, and all manner of trinkets and gadgets and containers and devices and equipment to make life more fun.”

–John Piper[1]

Culture and Identity

Culture envelops us. The towering industries of business, entertainment, food, and sports all invite us to join in the dance. But it’s more than a dance. We are invited into an identity. Culture is not made in a vacuum. Who we are, this sense of identity, defines what we do. And ultimately it is this issue of identity that dictates how we relate to the culture. Who are we? We may be in the world, but are we of the world?

Over and over again, the apostolic letters appeal to our identity as the basis of conduct (1 Pet. 1:17, 1 Thess. 5:7-9, Eph. 5:3-10, Phil. 3:18-4:1, Col. 3:1-12). Naturally, this is how we live. And the war is ultimately here. The war over how we spend our money is here.

Identity and Story

We all have a worldview, an understanding of reality based on the origin and destiny of all things, from which we derive our identity. Worldview is essentially the great drama, the “metanarrative” by which we define and live our lives. It is by bringing humanity into a proper story that we bring humanity into proper conduct. John the Baptist preached, “Repent, for (because) the kingdom of God is near”. He preached from the prophetic story and it demanded a response of repentance. Our history (origin) and future (destiny) really do inform our identity and order our practice.

American or Christian?

“The glory of the gospel is that when the Church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it.”

–Martin Lloyd-Jones (Introduction to the Beatitudes)

If I look and focus my gaze on the cultural norms of entertainment, consumer spending, food, sports, and all the people who revel in these things, I will gradually find my sense of identity among them and will ever so gently whisper, “I belong here”, “I want that”, “I need that”, or “I deserve that”. It’s easy to be swept away. It’s just the way of life, the “American way”. And few long to be misfits.

A name is descriptive of identity. We who bear the name “Christian” (1 Pet. 4:16) identify ourselves with Christ by faith. As Christians, we must adamantly resist the law of consumer culture, as Piper calls it, by holding to a different law of culture, namely, the judgment seat of Christ. We are sent into the world, but we are not of the world (Jn. 17:14-18). We deny “worldly desires”, and live soberly by a different standard of righteousness, “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Christ Jesus” (Titus 2:12-13). For true believers, it is the Day of the Lord that defines today. Because of this day, “we make it our ambition… to be pleasing to Him” (2 Cor. 5:9-10). It is our destiny as those who will stand before God and receive an everlasting inheritance from Him that informs our identity and dictates our cultural code including how we spend money.

A New Gaze

The only substantial answer I see for counteracting the American identity, the American story, the American dream, and the American way is to be wholly caught up in the Messianic identity[2], the Messianic story, the Messianic dream, and the Messianic way.

Without fighting a real fight of faith in regards to my identity (1 Tim. 6:11-12), I will seek the things the nations of the world eagerly seek after (Lk. 12:30), and in the desire for riches, I will “fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction” (1 Tim. 6:9).

It’s as simple as where we put our gaze. Jesus called it having a “clear eye” (Mt. 6:19-24). Paul spoke of setting your mind on things above (Col. 3:2), “looking for the blessed hope” (Tit. 2:13). It’s being those who “look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen” (2 Cor. 4:18), who “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). Peter reiterates three times how we should be “looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God”, “looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” and again, “you look for these things” (2 Pet. 3:12-14). It is a steady gaze on the Day of the Lord and our destiny in the resurrection and restoration of all things that defines us and is the primary compass for how we spend money.

So, what are we looking at?

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” -Jim Elliot

 


[1] John Piper, “Brothers, We Are Not Professionals”, Ch. 23, “Brothers, Tell Them Copper Will Do” (pg. 169-170)

[2] By “Messianic identity” I mean our identity in relation to Messiah/Christ. I do not mean that we identify ourselves as the Messiah.

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