The supposition that the Christian faith and the American Dream are incompatible finds little support within America’s Christian community. In fact, enormous numbers of churches teach that the American Dream comports nicely with Christianity, with some even insisting that achieving the former is a product of practicing the latter – God’s blessing to those who follow Him. Other churches simply stay silent, refusing to shine Scripture on the subject. Consequently, Christians often chase the American Dream with as much energy and enthusiasm as their secular peers.
That pursuit, however, requires that Christians ignore Jesus’ comprehensive call on their lives and reject much of what He taught during His ministry, because His teachings consistently contravene almost everything the American Dream represents. His offer to “Come, follow Me” implicitly calls us to renounce our fidelity to the American Dream. We cannot simultaneously make Jesus our Lord and maintain our allegiance to the American Dream. Jesus’ words are instructive on the matter: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and riches” (Matthew 6:24, NKJV).
But the American Dream does more than demand our devotion and divert our attention away from Jesus, it sells us a lifestyle and worldview that are diametrically opposed to the one Jesus taught and practiced. Here are a few examples.
1] The American Dream celebrates self. Jesus calls us to deny self: “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mark 8:34b, NKJV). More than that, He calls us to die to self: “Unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels – a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity” (John 12:24-25, NLT).
2) Materialism and wealth accumulation define the American Dream whereas Jesus challenges us to store up treasure in heaven and not desire worldly possessions. “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15, NKJV). See also Matthew 6:19-20, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. Instead, lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
3) The American Dream defines success in terms of career advancement, educational pedigree, and social standing. In contrast, Jesus tells us: “this is eternal life, that they may know … the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent” (John17:3, NKJV). The apostle Paul adds, “This is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3, NKJV).
4) The American Dream emphasizes external beauty but God looks at the heart. “The Lord said to Samuel, ‘Don’t be impressed by his appearance or physical stature, for I have rejected him. God does not view things the way men do. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7, NET).
5) The American Dream prioritizes worldly concerns and worships the good life, filled with excess, luxury, and pleasure. Jesus warns that “the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches , and the desire for other things” suffocate faith (see Mark 4:19). And the apostle John tells us, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17, NKJV).
6) The American Dream focuses on relationships with those in your social circle and building your professional network. Jesus calls us to care for and have compassion on the outcast, marginalized, destitute, and imprisoned. See Matthew 25:31-46.
7) The American Dream insists we climb the corporate ladder, climb up in social status, and burnish our reputation. Jesus calls us to follow His example when He came down from heaven and “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and … humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7-8, NKJV).
8) The American Dream fuels pride and attributes all accomplishments to one’s own efforts. But Jesus informs us, “He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:L5, N KJV).
9) In the American Dream ‘Image is Everything.’ Look no further than corporate marketing departments that sell hundreds of billions of dollars annually by appealing to our carnal craving to be cool, sensual, exotic, popular, attractive, influential, trendy, and edgy. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, “had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him” and consequently “He was despised and rejected by mankind” (Isaiah 53:2b-3a, NIV).
10) The American Dream is insatiable, always demanding more, bigger, and better. But God calls us to a life of contentment, pursuing Him instead of the world.
Some may argue that I inaccurately describe the American Dream, unfairly soiling the wholesome image it represents for millions of Americans. That might have been a fair complaint a couple generations ago, but not today. Today the American Dream has devolved into a crass concoction of greed, pride, and selfish ambition. And it has shaped and shifted society so much that our culture now mirrors the apostle Paul’s description of the Last Days: “For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:2-4, NKJV).
Those who pursue the American Dream grow to love the world deeply, diminishing whatever love they have for the Lord. They are the modern manifestation of the rich landowner described by Jesus in a parable. “The ground of a rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater ones, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose things will those be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21, NKJV).
Finally, many firmly believe it is possible to live the American Dream and love the Lord. But the contents of our homes, closets, and garages refute that theory and indict us in the process. Jesus succinctly explains why: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew6:21, NKJV).