Consumerism doesn’t offer true fulfillment, but the One Who we follow does
(15) Don’t love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in them. (16) Everything that is in the world — the craving for whatever the body feels, the craving for whatever the eyes see and the arrogant pride in one’s possessions — is not of the Father but is of the world. (17) And the world and its cravings are passing away, but the person who does the will of God remains forever.
So reads the message of 1 John 2:15–17 (CEB), a truly important message for our era and in my opinion one of the most important ideas in Christianity, though it unfortunately gets overlooked by many, Christians included.
We live in a culture that pushes consumerism on us. It’s nearly impossible to escape because we see it all around us. “Buy, buy, buy.” Companies have mastered the art of selling us things we don’t need by tricking us with advertising to think we need them, and/or by enticing our lusts, desires, and appetites through (once again) advertising. Companies are very good at appealing to our desires, an emotional part of us, to persuade us to make an emotional, short-term decision to purchase something. In the process we may even ignore what the intellectual side of us has to say about this purchase.
A Never-Ending Cycle of Seeking Short-Term Enjoyment
And whatever pleasure we can enjoy from these things is short-term indeed. The company appealed to our emotional side when it convinced us to buy. But products and things don’t provide any true, long-term happiness. They may provide some entertainment and short-term distraction, but it won’t last. The joy of it will wear out, probably sooner rather than later. We have to think long-term. Instead of falling for the advertising and buying short-term enjoyment for our life (or distractions from our life as the case may be), what will really make us happy long-term? No matter who answers that question, I’m quite sure they won’t answer with any product!
Besides, just as the above passage from 1 John 2 says, the world, the physical things in it, and our desires and cravings are all passing away — they don’t last. So if we put all our hopes for happiness in those, we’re in trouble. We need to think long-term. What provides true happiness? First and foremost … we’ve all got to be happy right now with whatever physical things we’ve got.
You might think adding such and such product to your life will fill in what’s missing from your life and make you happy. But after doing that a few times you’ve probably learned that you can’t fill the emotional hole inside you (what’s missing from your life) with physical products; that won’t work. You literally have to learn to be happy with whatever you’ve got, because buying products in a quest for happiness is an endless, futile cycle. It never ends and it never works!
Stay Focused on the Right Things
Therefore, use your imagination for a moment and imagine not buying another product ever again. Whatever you’ve got, that’s all you’re going to have. Think about that idea. Maybe you can already imagine yourself being happy like that, maybe not. But ask yourself what would give you happiness in that case?
I’d bet my material wealth that with no material wealth, your happiness would come from sources such as inner contentment and satisfaction, interpersonal relationships, and love. Well we can’t buy those things, and we’ll never be able to either. So nothing you could ever possibly buy would help. But isn’t that good news? It means happiness is free and we can all be happy right now!
Of course I would understand anyone who said they couldn’t be happy due to the lack of those very things that can never be purchased — love, relationships, and inner peace. I also struggle sometimes with focusing on what I do have in my life rather than what I don’t. But refocusing on gratitude for what I do have, combined with the knowledge that my happiness must come from within or it won’t last, helps me to look on the bright side and be happy right here and now. It also helps that I live in an area with beautiful nature, which is all free to enjoy of course.
And of course I have my faith too. By seeking to draw ever closer and closer to Jesus Christ, I’ve been rewarded with more and more peace inside. Jesus is love and if you have Him in your life you won’t be alone. Not one of us will ever be able to escape some form of suffering in this life, that’s just how this life is. But Jesus offers the promise of total fulfillment and rest after this life, if we believe in Him. Total fulfillment. And it costs nothing.
That’s why in addition to the passage from 1 John 2 above, I also keep Colossians 3:2 in mind, which says: “Think about the things above and not things on earth.” Stay focused on what’s important; stay focused on the long-term.
Following the World is not Following Christ
Consumerism and materialism are short-term; reject them, they have nothing to offer. Keep your sight fixed on Christ as you continue to seek him. Then you will know contentment, and the bonus is that there will be rewards in this life too, before your passing! But that’s a story for many more articles.
On the other hand, a life spent following consumerism and literally buying into it will leave you with nothing at the end. All you’ll have is a whole bunch of stuff, stuff that you can’t take with you when you pass. It won’t help you then, and most of it will be meaningless.
Don’t love the world or the things of this world. The world will pass away, but God is forever, and His promise is real. Don’t follow consumerism; it leads nowhere. Don’t be focused on consuming; that’s not where true happiness comes from.
Even if so many in society are stuck in consumerism, there’s no reason why you or I should be once we discover how unfulfilling it is. Romans 12:2 says: “Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is — what is good and pleasing and mature.” That’s almost-kinda-sorta one way to rephrase Colossians 3:2, which I already quoted.
Don’t worry about what the world (society) is doing, and don’t copy their ways. As Christians, we have one way to follow no matter what is going on around us. The ways of the world aren’t ours; yes, we have a cultural background and society that we were raised in, but ultimately our loyalty belongs to Christ above all else, and it’s Christ’s way that we must follow.
To know that way, we need to read The Bible daily of course, and it’s critical to pray. These are ways of ‘renewing our minds,’ as Romans 12:2 says. The more we read God’s Word and the more we pray, the more peace we gain from figuring out what God’s will is for us and our situation by engaging with God and listening for Him to speak to us how He will (for thoughts on how to get started praying, read my article about prayer, and for thoughts on building a Bible-reading habit, read my article about it).
We don’t renew our minds by following the world; that’s just following the crowd. And in some important ways the world is an enemy to us. Many Christian philosophers, such as Saint John of the Cross who wrote the classic Dark Night of the Soul, for example, have explained the concept of why the world is an enemy to us as Christians. In my opinion, it basically goes back to 1 John 2:15 which I started this article with.
The Father is not of this world. Anything that we do love in this world is not of The Father. And anything we love in this world will pass away, unlike The Father. Loving the world makes us more attached to something perishable, temporary, and imperfect. Loving the world keeps us closely attached to this temporary world and further from our eternal Father. If we’re focused on the world then we’re not focused on the things above (Colossians 3:2); we’re not focused on following Christ. As Christians, this is a grave mistake. But it’s one that we can easily fall prey to, because of how our consumerist culture and society is.
So in that sense, the world is an enemy to our salvation because it’s delicious temptations can easily lead us astray, away from Christ. We follow Jesus Christ, not the world. And following Jesus doesn’t necessarily mean following the church either.
Seeking Christ is a personal experience, and we all have a personal experience with Him in our lives when we engage Him. This doesn’t require a church. Maybe it’s time for me to write my thoughts on this in an article. Maybe that will be coming soon.
If you take anything from this article, I hope it’s this: If we have Jesus Christ in our lives, we have everything we need! I know this can be easier said than felt. Even I have trouble with it at times, much to my embarrassment.
We need money to pay bills, for example, and money is not Christ. But I didn’t write this article about basic human needs, I’m talking about happiness and contentment. If we have Christ, that’s enough and all we need to be happy.
Keep your eyes fixed on the Cross, and the things above. Don’t follow the ways of this consumerist world — it has nothing to offer! Consumerism is a never-ending cycle of the short-term that doesn’t give you lasting fulfillment. The pursuit of material wealth is one of the most meaningless there is, in the end. Think long-term and focus on what’s really important. Seek after what will provide you with true peace and contentment. Seek out Christ in your life.