November 18, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Romans 12:1-2
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Followers of Christ are called to resist conforming to the patterns of this world. As we work to avoid conforming to our culture, it is helpful to critically think through what those patterns of our culture are, and how they influence us. In American culture, and in more affluent cultures in general, one of the prevailing “patterns of the world” is consumerism. Although having lots of choices of how to spend our money isn’t inherently bad, we should not conform to a pattern of consumerism.
Many years ago, I spent six weeks traveling in an economically-depressed country ruled by a totalitarian regime. When I entered grocery markets that summer in search of food, I found the shelves mostly bare. I didn’t have many choices for what I would eat. My lunches usually consisted of salty crumbly cheese, cucumbers, and—if I and my friends were willing to spend considerable time walking around in search of long lines, and then waiting in one—maybe bread. When I returned to the U.S. at the end of the summer and went grocery shopping, I became aware of how extravagant our supermarkets are. I remember walking down the breakfast aisle counting 120 varieties of breakfast cereal. Today, I might count choices of ice cream instead; if I included gelato and sorbet, I wouldn’t be surprised to find more than 100 varieties in my local grocery store (and I’d probably have a couple of them in my cart at checkout.) We could make similar observations about electronics, appliances, clothing, and cars.
Now there isn’t anything inherently bad about having numerous options for cereal, ice cream, cars, and cell phones. However, being constantly bombarded with so many choices—and with manufacturers and retailers competing for our dollars—is one of many aspects of consumerist culture that can shape how we think. As consumers, we are conditioned to think in terms of having myriad choices, with our personal desires being the ultimate reference point for our decision-making. We are told we have a right to more products, higher quality products, and less expensive products. We are also told that we have a right to be happy and that our consumer choices will bring us happiness. And, although employees in stores don’t always treat us this way, we are told that the customer is always correct. We complain about (and perhaps stop shopping at) stores that don’t treat us this way.
The author of Psalm 106, after opening with beautiful words of praise, turns to a powerful confession of the sins of God’s people. In verses 35-36, the Psalmist gets at one of the central issues of Israel’s disobedience: “But they mingled with the nations and adopted their customs. They worshiped their idols, which became a snare to them.” I think it’s accurate to say that the Christian church today has the same issue as the ancient Israelites: it is a constant temptation to adopt the patterns and values of the world around us. We know this was a challenge for Christians 2000 years ago because Paul, in his letter to the Roman church, had to warn of this very thing: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).
The second part of that command, “Be transformed,” is something Mark Roberts has addressed with great insight in his daily _Life for Leaders _devotions. In my most recent book _Disciple Making in a Culture of Power, Comfort, and Fear _I quoted several passages from Mark’s devotions on Ephesians from 2019. (I highly recommend reviewing these. “Be Renewed in the Spirit of Your Mind,” Mark Roberts’ March 4, 2019 devotion on Ephesians 4:22-24, is an excellent reminder of how our spiritual transformation is both God’s work and yet something we are called to participate in.) What I want to focus on today and tomorrow is the first part of Romans 12:2, which discusses how not to conform to the pattern of this world. The Message translates this part in a compelling way: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.”
Now one of the most important ways to follow the first part of the Romans 2 exhortation (not conforming to the patterns of this world) is, in fact, to follow the second part (and participate in God’s transforming work in our lives.) Two parts of this command are closely related. But even if we are open to and desiring of God’s transforming work, the patterns of the world are so pervasive that it is difficult to see just how we are conforming to our culture. As The Message translation points out, we conform to our culture “without even thinking;” our culture is like the very air that we breathe. It can be helpful, therefore, to take a close look at what the patterns of our culture are, and how they differ from the principles of God’s kingdom and the transformed life that Paul calls us to. Indeed, I believe this is something we should continually be doing as we open ourselves up to God’s transforming work.
Tomorrow, I want to consider how, if we allow ourselves to be shaped by consumerism, we might end up applying that mentality even to worship. And when we do, it is destructive. Today, however, I invite you to meditate on three ways that consumerism pervades our culture and inundates us on a daily basis.
One aspect of our consumer culture is we are constantly bombarded with a message of how deserving we are. This can lead to a sense of entitlement, especially for those of us living in affluent American culture. When we feel entitled—when we believe (even subconsciously) the cultural message that we deserve wealth, possessions, and comfort—we quickly lose our sense of thankfulness to God for what we do have. Our gratitude is easily replaced with grumpiness, and often with jealousy toward others whom we perceive as having more than us. A second aspect of a consumerist mentality is the idea that buying things makes us happy. Instead of looking to God to find sustainable joy, we look to possessions to experience momentary pleasures. Ultimately, then, whether we realize it or not, we begin to worship possessions. We have, in the words of Psalm 106, become ensnared by an idol. Finally, consumerism (as the very word suggests) trains us to be consumptive. Consuming is at the core of being consumers. And our consumption takes a toll on a finite creation. (One antidote to this, as I noted in my last LFL devotion on “Restoration in Rest” in September 2022, is accepting God’s gift of rest, including Sabbath rest. As I noted in that devotion, “Constant work not only exhausts us, but it exhausts the world around us. It is consumptive. When we choose to build in rhythms of rest and delight, we give those around us and the earth itself a break from our demands.”)
In tomorrow’s devotion, I will return to how a consumer mentality is often applied to God, worship, and the church. But today I invite you to consider ways that consumerism impacts us, particularly in the three ways mentioned above.
Consider the following traits associated with consumerism: a preoccupation with shopping (or buying); a connection between our possessions (what we buy and/or what we own) and our identity; a belief that the acquisition of goods will bring personal satisfaction; an assumption that consumers should have numerous choices; and a belief in the authority of the consumer to make their own choices based on personal desire.
What are some ways you see those values reflected around you? Which of those values do you identify with? Are there ways you see consumerism impact your sense of gratitude? In what ways do you look to possessions and consumer experiences to bring you satisfaction or happiness?
Spend a day—or even a week—trying to be aware of your consumer choices, what they are, and why you make them.
Thank you, Lord, for all the ways you provide for me. I give you thanks for my daily bread, and for so much more. You have lavished upon me many good things that I don’t deserve. I thank you especially for the gift of salvation and the goodness of an eternal relationship with you as my heavenly Father.
As I pray that with gratitude, I pray also that you would help free me from the idols of consumerism and the various ways that I have been shaped by the consumerist patterns of this world rather than the ways of your Kingdom. Continue to transform me to the pattern of Jesus Christ and the person you have made me to be. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Be Transformed by the Renewing of Your Minds (Romans 12:1–3).
Subscribe to Life for Leaders
Sign up to receive a Life for Leaders devotional each day in your inbox. It’s free to subscribe and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Matthew Dickerson’s books include works of spiritual theology and Christian apologetics as well as historical fiction, fantasy literature, explorations of the writings of C.S.Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkien, and books about trout fishing, fly fishing, rivers, and ecology. His recent books include: Disciple Making in a Culture of Power, Comfort, and Fear and The Voices of Rivers: Reflections on Places Wild and Almost Wild. He was a 2017 artist-in-residence at Glacier National Park. He lives in Vermont with his wife, dog, and cat, not far from three married sons, and is an active member of Memorial Baptist Church. Matthew is also a professor of computer science at Middlebury College in Vermont.