Jesus & the American Dream

Jesus and the American DreamMany American believers find themselves struggling with integrating their faith and their culture at times. This is especially true when it comes to the idea of success, ambition and goals in their lives. Culture influences everyone including Christians. Every American is indoctrinated in the concept of the “American Dream,” as well as in capitalism early in life. Can these philosophies co-exist with biblical Christianity? After all, Jesus taught humility, servanthood and principles such as, “The last shall be first.” America is a materialistic society with the negatives that come with that philosophy. Many wonder, “Am I compromising my faith by having ambition, goals and a desire to better my life?”

Define the terms
A good starting point in answering this question is to first define our terms. “The American Dream” was a phrase first used in 1931 by historian James Adams in his book, The Epic of America. He writes concerning his subject, “That American dream of a better, richer, and happier life for all our citizens of every rank which is the greatest contribution we have as yet made to the thought and welfare of the world.” The American Dream is about equality of opportunity that allows an American to aspire to high achievement and material success. Capitalism is an economic system where all or most of the means of production and distribution are privately owned and operated in a competitive environment through the investment of capital to produce profits. Christianity is a system of faith based upon the person of Jesus Christ. It holds that he was God in the flesh, born of a virgin, lived a sinless life and died a substitutionary death on the cross to pay for the sins of all mankind. These are three different things, a national ethos, an economic system, and a religious faith. For Christians, our faith is to trump all else. So the other two items need to be examined in the light of Christianity and see if they in any way violate the truth of scripture.

God given desires
When desires are universal among all people it is logical to assume the Creator God has built them into us. All God-given desires have a purpose and also a God-designed way to be fulfilled. When it comes to ambition, goals and the desire to fulfill our life potential, the problem is not these desires themselves. The problem is whose desires will be fulfilled. Psalm 37.4-5 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in him, and he will do it.” God gives desires to us and he says that as we trust and follow him he will bring those desires to reality. In Jeremiah 29.11 God tells us he has plans and dreams for our future. God builds these types of desires into us so they can be channeled to carry out God’s desires for us in relation to furthering his kingdom on Earth.

Material success is not necessarily wrong or inconsistent with Christianity. There were several wealthy believers in the Bible. The problem is not money but rather the love of money. The Bible tells us that greed is the root of all evil (1Timothy 6.6-11). When the love of money becomes stronger than a person’s love for God, they are on a dangerous and destructive path. The problem often comes when a person struggles with whose will they choose surrender to, God’s or their own. Even Jesus struggled with submitting to God’s will in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the end Christ surrendered to God’s will not his own (Matthew 26.39).

God’s promises of success
God cannot be opposed to success or achieving maximum life potential because he has given too many promises guaranteeing these. When Joshua was taking over for Moses, he was fearful (those were pretty big shoes to fill). God promised that he would be with Joshua as he was with Moses and make him successful (Joshua 1.5-9). In Psalm 1 God gives a formula for success to anyone who is interested in following it. God says to not listen to ungodly advice or run with the wicked crowd. Rather mediate on and follow the commands and principles of his word and God will prosper all who do.

God tells us to strive to do our best in all things. This means a person should constantly be seeking to improve. For all we do is to be done as unto God and not man (Ephesians 6.5-6). God deserves our very best, for he gave his best for us. We are to seek to glorify him in all we do (1Corinthinians 10.31). However, it is critical to remember that true success is that which makes an impact on eternity, and this often comes disguised as failure in this temporary world we call home.

Dr. John Hawkins, along with his son John Jr., runs Gateway Counseling Center in Boynton Beach, Fl. He can be reached by visiting gatewaycounseling.com.

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