This false religion is generally welcomed into the home many times in a day and influences the whole family. This isn’t the cults that only knock on the door nor the major religions studied at school. It helps most people understand and define themselves, providing value and meaning to life and the world. All of life can be influenced by it. It seems to guarantee happiness and fulfilment–without Christ. It’s the false religion of consumerism and it is preached by many of the media messages we are presented with each day. Brands do not sell products but self-image: “You are what you consume”. From newspapers and magazines to TV and the internet–it is inescapable. The cult of choice can easily dominate our lives.
Secular observers have often recognised the way that excessive and obsessive consumption or consumerism has become the new national religion. “Consumerism has shouldered aside other ways of understanding the world—real political visions, organised religion, a pulsating sense of national identity” writes Andrew Marr in A History of Modern Britain. It’s no accident that advertisers exploit spiritual themes such as the brevity of life; even the most mundane products can be marketed as having spiritual value.
Consumerism has pushed further into our whole way of viewing the world. Choice and freedom are the absolutes. Whether it is relationships, identities, genders, philosophies or anything–just choose and try it out. See what suits you, there are other options to experiment with. But in an age of Starbuck’s services, church shopping and limited commitment, where many prefer relevance over reverence–we needn’t think that evangelical Christians are in any way immune from it. In fact the whole approach to church growth movement has, ironically, often mandated a consumerist approach. Is consumerism the Achan in the camp?
The Bible plainly tells us that consumerism is a false religion. Covetousness and greed are idolatry (Colossians 3:5; Ephesians 5:5). It captures our heart (Matthew 6: 19-21). Consumerism is insatiable and will demand all of our service and devotion; it will not share anything with God (Matthew 6:24). It’s a deceitful false gospel (Matthew 13:22). It makes us discontented while promising a contentment that will never be attained. This is the reverse of what the Bible teaches (Hebrews 13:5). Consumerism reverses the biblical perspective by focussing our attention on the temporary rather than the eternal, the present rather than the future, the earthly rather than the heavenly (2 Corinthians 4:18).
It’s not of course that owning or buying things are wrong in themselves, it’s the impact that this has on us and the time and energy we devote to it. We are constantly, implicitly told each day that Christ was wrong about the value of life not consisting in what we consume (Luke 12:15). Which message do we really believe? How do we live godly in a world of relentless consumerism? In this updated extract James Fergusson has some wise counsel drawn from what the Apostle Paul says in Colossians 3:5 and Ephesians 5:3 and 5.
1. What is Consumerism?
Covetousness is an immoderate desire (Hebrews 13:5) to acquire (Micah 2:2) or to preserve worldly goods (Proverbs 11:24, 26).
2. How is it a False Religion?
Whatever thing someone gives the outward or inward worship and service due to God alone is that person’s god. They are guilty of idolatry and giving divine worship to a false god even though they may not think they are doing this. The covetous person is called an idolater (Ephesians 5:5) and consequently riches are their god. This is because they devote to these things their prime affections of love and confidence to an extent that is due to God alone (1 Timothy 6:16; Proverbs 18:11).
The covetous person believes that possessions are a universal good which will completely satisfy (Luke 12:19). But this is only true of God Himself (2 Corinthians 9:8). A covetous person’s desire and attitude towards possessions keep him from making use of them (Ecclesiastes 6:2). Covetous people serve possessions with their heart in the same way as some god is usually served (Matthew 6:24).
Covetousness consists in an immoderate desire to acquire or keep worldly riches. It is not just a sin that provides oil to make all other sins burn, it has a kind of idolatry in it. This is because it draws away our love, trust, fear and joy, from God and from serving Him. Instead we are taken up with and expend ourselves on wealth and riches.
3. How Bad is it?
In both Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5 covetousness is singled out together with sexual immorality as being especially loathsome and contradictory to a Christian profession. They are corrupt lusts and affections which are said to be on the earth (Colossians 3:5), because they draw the soul down towards earth. He mentions those which are sensual as tending to fulfil our unlawful pleasures.
There is a great affinity and similarity between the lusts of filthiness and covetousness. When someone yields to the former it requires the lecherous person to thirst after and by indirect means purchase worldly goods, to maintain in a special way this lust of uncleanness.
4. How Do We Root it Out of Our Hearts?
(a) Put it to Death
Putting sin to death means that a sinner who is conscious of the evil of sin (Acts 2:37-38) honestly resolves (Job 34:31) and endeavours (2 Corinthians 7:11) to subdue sin thoroughly–root and branch–or put it to death. It is not putting to death only one sin but all known sins (Hosea 14:2).
This is done by carefully avoiding the things that give occasion to sin (Job 31:1). It means using every means which may help to subdue it: prayer (2 Corinthians 12:8); hearing the Word (1 Peter 2:1-2) and in some cases, fasting (Mark 9:29). But the primary means is exercising faith in Christ for strength (Philippians 4:13). This is such a necessary activity that the life of glory to be manifested at Christ’s second coming cannot be attained without it. He connects their appearing with Christ in glory (Colossians 3:4) with this by using the word “therefore” (v5) to show that putting sin to death is essential. Putting sin to death is not completed instantly. The best of Christians must make it their daily task to put sin to death.
(b) Avoid Things That Stir it Up
We are set against sin in reality when we pursue it to the den and labour to pull it up by the very roots. We do this by withdrawing from the things which add fuel to it. Paul wants them to go beyond addressing the outward acts to the inward root of evil desire. They must also set themselves covetousness which feeds and nourishes lust.
(c) Don’t Tolerate it
Paul says that sexual immorality and covetousness must not even be named among believers (Ephesians 5:3). This means that they should not name them with delight and without disgust. It is of course lawful to name them in order to reprove them, as the apostle does here. He urges this as necessary in those who were saints–separated from the world and dedicated to God. It was therefore most unfitting for them to defile themselves with such filthy lusts.
It is not enough for saints to abstain from practising gross sin outwardly. Their outward abstinence must flow from detesting them inwardly. Outward abstinence may well make someone outwardly respectable but not a sincere Christian.
(d) Value Your True Identity
The only life that is fitting for saints is to keep themselves pure in heart, tongue and hand from the pollution of fleshly lusts and the immoderate love of worldly goods. When professing saints yield to these things they walk unworthy of their high and heavenly calling; they stain their profession; and declare themselves unworthy of the name of saints (Ephesians 5:3). Paul shows that the behaviour that befits saints is not practising those evils and inward detesting them; this is made evident not speaking of them.
(e) Look Heavenward
Paul exhorts that, being risen with Christ, they would earnestly seek, know and (from knowledge), delight in things which are above (Colossians 3:1-2). Things above are heaven, happiness, and all spiritual graces. They are not to seek and delight in things earthly, such as riches, honours and pleasures. This is because Christ is their Head, their Husband and He is above at the right hand of God. He is completely glorified and entrusted with full power to distribute all things for His people’s good (Ephesians 1:20, 22).
The saving graces of God’s Spirit are things above as well as heaven and glory. These graces come from above (James 3:17) and elevate the heart of those who have them above earthly things. They raise the heart to seek communion with God now so that they may live above with God forever (Philippians 3:20-21).
Heaven and the saving graces which lead us to it are to be sought diligently. The original word means a diligent search by those who have a vehement desire to have what they seek for (see 1 Peter 5:8; Mark 12:12). If we seek heaven and heavenly things with this kind of diligence, it will be because we know something of the worth which is in them and know how to value them. We are to set our minds, affections and will on things above We are to know them, and knowing them to desire them and therefore seek them.
Earthly things and heavenly things are in two opposite sides of the scales: the more the heart is given to the one, the less it is to the other. We are to set our hearts on things above, not on things on the earth.
(f) Use the Things of This World Carefully
We may use the world and the things in it and seek after them in a moderate way (1 Timothy 5:8). But we must not pursue these things in opposition but rather in subordination to heavenly things. They must not be sought as our ultimate goal and purpose (Psalm 49:11). They must not be sought by unlawful means (Ephesians 4:28) or by neglecting God’s worship (Matthew 6:33). We must also submit to God when He brings about disappointments in relation to them (Job 1:21).
Since believers are dead to sin (Colossians 3:3) they are not to place their happiness in earthly things or to be sinfully eager in seeking after them. This is a strong argument for not enslaving our affections to earthly things. If this was the case it is proof that sin is still reigning and being kept alive rather than put to death.