By: Jenni Walker
“Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” Revelation 22:17
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.'” Matthew 16:24
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Easter seemed to fly by this year in my family. Church services have been focused on the work of Jesus through His death and resurrection and preparing for what is statistically the most-attended Sunday nationwide. My husband and I leaned in to the weeks of Lent beforehand and intentionally made the most of moments to discuss the Easter story and new life in Jesus with our young son. We traveled hundreds of miles to South Carolina for the holiday to visit out-of-state relatives. I made a few Target pickup orders before hand for items to include in my son’s Easter basket, which was carefully stored in the trunk on our road trip east. He and his little cousin explored their baskets joyfully, then we all headed to church together in our spring-colored attire.
While visiting there, I felt appreciative of the extra smiles and welcoming hellos from church volunteers. My son and nephew were invited warmly into the children’s class, which was well-stocked with snacks, Easter coloring pages, and lollipops for after service. The pastor delivered a meaningful message full of truth about the real meaning of the holiday and action steps for living out the reality of following Jesus in our daily lives. As we headed to the beach for some vacation time a few days later, I tried to not move past the Easter holiday too quickly but to bear in mind and heart the realities of Jesus’ resurrection as I did regular mom duties that also included extra sunscreen and snacks, held my husband’s hand on the boardwalk, and gazed at the mighty ocean glistening in the sun. I am in awe how Jesus as my Savior and Lord means that every detail of life can be an act of worship and one in which I experience His love and grace freely.
But there is something that is a part of the “Easter message” these days, and even our daily Christian lives, for so many of us that we may not even notice it. It can sneak up on us without us even noticing it. Now, this can be said of many things such as pride, compromise, and so on. But this “something” we are going to tackle today is pervasive in our American culture and is serious because it easily stunts and impedes the true, transformative message of the gospel.
Is it the Easter bunny?
Is it materialism?
It is a consumerism mentality.
Consumerism mentality? you might ask.
Yes. Hear me out…
A CONSUMERISM APPROACH…?
I read a book several years ago entitled The Narcissism Epidemic by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. & W. Keith Campbell, Ph.D. It explores with extensive research, case studies, and commentary how self-focus has seeped into nearly every aspect of our daily American lives. In one particular chapter, they emphasize that consumerism – consuming what I want because it makes me feel good about me – has become an American value because of the emphasis on the individual.
They write, “Advertisements are not mere entertainment – they are part of a system that transmits cultural values to individuals. As Kim and Markus write, ‘The messages in American advertisements convince Americans that being unique is the right way to be…’”The authors go on to comment, “We are a nation fixated on the idea of being the exception to the rule, standing out, and being better than others.”
What is my focus when I drive through Starbucks?
Getting my exact preference of coffee to enjoy on the way to wherever I am headed that day.
What motivates my clothing selections?
While a mix of comfort and chic, I typically consider my personal vibe that day, and choose my clothing, jewelry, and shoes based on that.
How do I choose to spend my time? (Notice the inklings of consumerism even in that statement? I choose…spend…my time. Yikes!)
Do I begin with how I am feeling or who and what I have committed myself to?
Do you see how quickly the self can become the focus of so much of our lives? While none of the decisions above are inherently sinful in and of themselves, I must be aware of my commitment to Jesus Christ first and foremost in all things. The New Testament calls this relationship with Jesus a new covenant: “Therefore, [Jesus] is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance…” (Hebrews 9:15a)
I totally agree with that, you may be thinking to yourself. But what does all this talk about consumerism have to do with Good Friday and Easter, you might ask?
We are getting there in just a moment! First, take a look with me at a 2018 article entitled 20 Marketing Phrases to Attract Customers and Increase ROI [Return on Investment]. It is subtitled, “These catchy lines will get customers excited about your products.” Phrases such as the following are common on billboards, commercials, and even children’s programming and blockbuster movie themes:
“Looks so good on the outside, it’ll make you feel good on the inside.”
“This will be a moment to remember.”
“Get the most out of life.”
“You’re worth it!”
“It’s worth the difference!”
Now, a well-adjusted, aware individual can navigate messaging like this without being completely sucked into the cycle of me-first consumerism. But what struck me was how familiar these phrases seemed in a sobering way – similar to reasons often given in the presentation of the gospel. How many of us have read, heard, posted, or said the following phrases mentioned in this article when explaining why people need Jesus…?
“You will be a new person on the inside!”
“The gospel is simple and awesome. Are you ready to receive His grace?”
“You are of exceptional value to God; He loves you so much that He died for you!”
“This will be a moment to remember; you will never be the same!”
“Celebrate life each day with Jesus.”
“Get the most out of life. God has a purpose and a plan for you!”
“You’re worth it to God. He is crazy about you!”
“Do you need peace? Hope? Freedom? You will have new life in an instant.”
“It’s worth the difference! You will experience a joy like you have never known.”
I want to be careful here because each of the statements above are actually true: You do become a new person in Christ, you will never be the same, and God does have a purpose and plan for you. BUT (and it’s a big one!), it is a HUGE problem if that is the entirety of the explanation for why people should accept Jesus as their Savior. (We will dig into the reasons more next post when we talk about the resurrection, but for now, stick with me.) Who is the primary focus of nearly all of these statements…? YOU!
In our consumerism-saturated, “do what is good for you” culture, someone who does not yet know Jesus as their Savior might hear any one of these phrases and think, “Great! How cool that God loves me! I could use a little more peace and purpose. Thanks, Jesus!” and then go on their way still actually lost in sin and darkness because they were not presented with their true need for HIM.
CONSUMERISM MENTALITY OR COVENANT REALITY…?
Comprehensive and complete truth is critical when we talk about the death of Jesus on the cross. I imagine a line of people walking toward the cross where Jesus was crucified, noticing His labored and excruciatingly painful breathing, seeing His tortured and bloody body hanging by stakes driven through his hands and feet, and finally hearing him cry out, “It is finished!” There can be no neutral responses when we truly come to Him. It requires a response. When faced with Jesus on the cross, we see ourselves in light of who HE is: we see our sin, our depravity, and our separation from God. 1 Peter 3:18 says, “Christ died for sin once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God…”
And here is where the consumerism mentality can throw a wrench into things. This truth about our need for Jesus is not one to merely consume. I can’t just say, “Wow, thank you so much for dying on the cross for me, a sinner! My life has so much meaning, and I’ll never be the same!” and still continue life on my own terms. A choice must be made. In Mark 10:17, a rich young ruler approached Jesus and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” A few verses later, we are told, “Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me’” (verse 21).
Like the rich young ruler, we are called to surrender all to Him and to respond to His love by following Him. Why did the rich young ruler not follow Jesus? Verse 22 says he chose to walk away from Jesus because “he had many possessions.” This does not mean we cannot own property, do some shopping, take a vacation, or keep a savings account. But Jesus was making it extraordinarily clear that when we choose to follow Him, the self can no longer be on the throne of our hearts. I don’t just “consume” some Jesus to get through the day or to feel better about myself. We must respond to Jesus and His abundant love by either making a choice to enter into covenant with Him or continue in our love of sin and self. There is no in-between.
Now, let’s also remember that neither is there is anything I can do to earn God’s love. Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Salvation through Jesus is a gift, yes!! But (again, another BIG but), to present the gospel as something which can just be received as if ordering something in a drive-thru, someone else paying for it, and then continuing on my way feeling a little better about myself is NOT an accurate picture of the gospel. There is nothing I can do to save myself. It is all by grace alone through Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). But something is required of us in this covenant relationship with God: ALL of me.
In an article exploring how churches prepare for the biggest church attendance day of the year, a pastor is quoted as saying of his message preparation, “Renewal, resurrection, new life, we all need that. You can package that in a thousand different ways.” I am not trying to be critical today, but that statement demonstrates that we need to be so very careful as Christians to forego an appeal to the consumerism-mentality of our culture altogether and, rather, clearly present the true and real gospel as we respond to, live out, and tell others about our need for Jesus.
I watched a short video program recently called “The Cross” (found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bba2Dqaw6SI) put out by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Billy Graham shared the gospel throughout the world for years and did not mince words about our need for Jesus, the mighty love of God, and His abounding grace. But neither did he downplay the gravity of the decision. He directly and truthfully states in the program, “The cross is offensive because it confronts people. Even so, it’s a confrontation that all of us must face.”
The cross demands a choice. We are faced with a consumer mentality or a covenant reality in our response to Jesus and the way we tell others about Him. A consumer is a person who chooses goods or services for their own use. A covenanter is one that makes a covenant, a formal agreement or promise between two or more people. Jesus makes it clear that only one of those is an option when truly repenting and following Him as Lord and Savior when He said in Matthew 16:24, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” With this year’s Good Friday and Easter Sunday in the rearview mirror, we can continue to live by grace in all things through the work of Jesus on the cross, which leads us to joyful surrender as we wholeheartedly respond to and live for Him!