13Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14But [Jesus] said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” – Luke 12:13-21
There is a gospel that is proclaimed loudly everyday from the rooftops of this country, a gospel that is antithetical to the Gospel of Christianity. For years this competing gospel has been spoken as one in the same with the message of Christianity, particularly by many conservative Christians. Yet Jesus’s parable above makes it abundantly clear this is not the same message. The American Dream (or what could rightly be called the Gospel of Human Autonomy) is now touted as a fundamental human right from most within this country, conservative and liberal alike, and even from many of those within the evangelical movement. In fact, legislation has been instituted by many of our legislators to help those who have not yet fulfilled this dream (gospel) attain it by granting them government support and tax-payer funded benefits to get them on their way to this ultimate end. At the heart of our culture, we believe we are fundamentally entitled to this dream, as if it is the ultimate goal of human existence. But nothing can be farther from the truth.
Before I go any further, let’s run through this parable. First of all, as with most parables, this is very simple, not much to it. The man is rich, has an abundance of stuff, so much in fact that he must build bigger barns to store it all. He’s flowing with the goods, the very thing the American Dream proposes for us as the point of existence: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, particularly in materialism. The man then essentially says to himself, “Soul, now live it up!” Or in the words of Isaiah in Isaiah 22:13, “Let [me] eat and drink, for tomorrow [I] die.” Live in the now. Just as many who tout the American Dream as the end all of human existence, this rich man tells himself to live for the present, for consumption, for materialism, that ultimate joy and happiness comes in these things. Then God speaks to the man and proclaims, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” The man dies and takes none of those things he stored up with him. Jesus then concludes the point of the parable by saying, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Notice what Jesus says at the end there again. “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.“ It is surely not wrong to attain possessions, lest you think that’s where I’m going with this. It is not wrong to enjoy the greatness of wine, food, houses, etc, for they are gifts of God. Jesus said in another place that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, not that money itself was evil. Big distinction there. What is the man’s sin then? It is one of idolatry, the subversion of the glory of God, the very thing spoken of in Romans 1:23 as the problem of all people for all time: the exchanging of “the glory of the immortal God” for anything else. The man in the parable centered his existence upon created stuff instead of the Creator, centered it upon filling his stomach instead of filling His soul with the glory and satisfaction of God’s power and presence. He disregarded God in all of the things he consumed and enjoyed and instead made them his god. And then all of sudden, in the enjoyment of his merriment, his life is snatched away from him and he stands naked and bare, his heart and soul exposed before an infinitely holy God who demands an account of all he has done, the One who judges the inner thoughts of the heart where no one else can peer. And he stands as one without a substitute.
If the American Dream is about living in the “glory” of what you attain and “enjoying it ‘forever'” (rather, in the here and now), and what then results for those who believe in this alternate gospel is what happens to the man in the parable above, then there are many people here who are in for a rude awakening. This frightens me for them and saddens my heart greatly. It’s not that owning a fine house, car, plenty of good food, wine, good schools for your kids, great long vacations are all bad in themselves, it’s that those who have bought into the lie of the American Dream ignore God in all that they pursue. The pursuit of those things is their god, instead of God being their God. He’s simply maybe a means to an end, to get them out of a pinch or suffering or to grant them the very idols they incessantly crave. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:21)
Now this certainly does not mean that I don’t desire political freedom and fundamental human rights and decent treatment of all persons within this country by the government and its citizens. Rather, I’m talking about the ideology of what the American Dream promises. It promises the things the Gospel promises yet it cannot deliver those very things ultimately. Whereas the American Dream proclaims that ultimate fulfillment and joy is sought by satisfying all of your wants and desires, the Gospel on the other hand proclaims that ultimate fulfillment and joy comes through giving yourself away. Power comes through giving up and losing; strength through submission to His will instead of asserting ours; glory comes through suffering and shame before a world that obstinately hates Christ. And the reason it comes through these is that it’s God and His work in Christ who you are relying on for all of those things. You’ve given up on attempting to please God by your own strength and instead relying on His to save you and raise you up. This idea is laden throughout the Scriptures but is 1) anti-thetical to the American Dream, but also 2) anti-thetical to the default response of the human soul. We are wired to achieve, pursue, do, do, do, in order to attain a ultimate goal. For the man in the parable, the goal was being satisfied in the here and now, and upon his death, he had already received his joy in full and will now suffer the wrath of God for eternity.
We naturally believe salvation is attained in the same manner as you attain a wage in a job. “I’ve been pretty good, Lord, now pay up.” Yet the fruits and joy of the Gospel is attained in the opposite manner. We give up in order to attain the working and toiling of Another, namely, Christ. We acknowledge our impoverishment before a Holy God and in return receive reconciliation and forgiveness by the blood of Christ. We rely solely on the work of God in Christ in His life, death, resurrection, ascension and continual, perfect intercession, to deliver us from His wrath, bring us into His Kingdom, and satisfy us at the core of our being with His glory, strength and power, in the here and now and for eternity. This is indeed the opposite of what the American Dream promises. One promises joy for a short season and delivers wrath at the hands of an angry God who we have foolishly ignored. The other promises eternal joy and happiness in the Person and work of Christ forever, in forgetting about yourself in being caught up in His excellence. As John Piper says, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” He is certainly worthy of all honor and praise and we will find the greatest life, liberty and happiness in God Himself and no where else.
Let Your Passion Be Single (MP3) – John Piper