Self-Sufficiency—the American Dream and the Gospel

As a new year begins and the political season heats up in America, I'm drawn to another topic I revisit from time to time—self-sufficiency and the Gospel. Self-sufficiency, along with self-reliance, is a key character trait of Americanism, or the American Dream (however you might define it). Self-reliance was a defining element for survival as the American nation emerged from a colonial struggle with England, and the European economic powers of that era. As a nation, our culture is still defined by DIY and self-help books and blogs (it is its own industry). You can learn how to do just about anything online and on YouTube. A cursory reading of America's emergence as a nation during the 18th and 19th centuries indicates that "God shed His grace" on us (Americans). If you've never read any history of the American Revolutionary War, you've missed out on some extraordinary stories.*

I like history when it focuses on the people involved rather than dates, events, and geography. The American nation and culture is built upon personal freedoms and rights, and we have a written constitution that defines these. Although we claim a heritage of religious freedom, history reveals a somewhat different story. Today this is even more relevant.

I lived outside my home culture for 15 years and still do a fair amount of travel in other countries. I'm writing this post while in the Philippines for 3 months. I'm thankful for being an American citizen and appreciate all the freedoms and rights granted to me, simply because I was born within the USA. I had no choice in the matter, but I'm still grateful.

I did make a choice over 40 years ago that brought me into a dilemma, another double-bind, if you will. I chose to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. Now some may think I came to that decision because I am an American, but I disagree. I believe I came to that decision because of God's grace, independent of my citizenship. I've seen plenty of people who have made the same decision, but have never visited America.

So—how is this a double-bind or dilemma? Because the idea of self-sufficiency and self-reliance is diametrically opposed to the basic call of discipleship given by Jesus—"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matt 16:24).

This dilemma comes into focus by seeing this verse in more popular wording—Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Those who want to come with me must say no to the things they want, pick up their crosses, and follow me" (Matt 16:24 GWT). Another version puts it, "...turn from your selfish ways" (Matt 16:24 NLT).

America is well-known as a consumer nation. Over the past several years, the American government's suggestion for improving the economy is for people to comsume (go out and spend) even more to keep the economy growing—more than our current world-leading trend.

Do you see the dilemma? I mean, can I be a good American if I deny myself and don't spend and consume more than I'm already doing? Then again—how can I follow Jesus as He commanded, if I'm spending more on myself? There's a lot more that could be said on this, but the short of it is this—it's pretty hard to be both self-reliant and self-denying at the same time.

But, this isn't just an American dilemma, this is a human one. All people are selfish by nature. Every person who responds to God's grace—to follow Jesus as their Lord—is going to struggle with this double-bind. If you're a Christian believer, forget about all those New Year's resolutions (stats show that 85% will be broken within a month!). True discipleship, at its core, is a much greater commitment. It also has a much better benefit (eternal life).

What are you hoping for in 2012? What are you resolving? I'm sticking to the commitment I made over 40 years ago. But, what you choose is up to you.

* [Some easy reading on the Revolutionary War can be found in "The Glorious Cause" and "Rise to Rebellion" by Jeff Shaara.]