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Modern-day minimalists boldly claim that minimalism can help you find freedom and lasting happiness, but what does Jesus say about the matter? Should you embrace minimalism as a Christian? Can a minimalist lifestyle actually bring freedom and lasting happiness like the experts’ claim?
Let’s explore the answers together.
What Is Minimalism?
When you hear the word minimalism, you may think “extreme scarcity”. You might picture someone living a sterile, restrictive and boring lifestyle where you live with blank walls, own enough things to fit into a single backpack or live in a tiny house.
While there are people who take minimalism to the extreme, there’s actually a much more practical approach to minimalism.
Modern-day minimalism is about intentionally living with less so that you can focus on what matters most. It’s a lifestyle and mindset that empowers you to simplify your life down to the essentials and purposefully eliminate everything else.
Realizing The Lie
Have you ever stopped and looked around at your piles of stuff and wondered why you still feel unhappy, discontented and unfulfilled?
I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I bought the latest iPhone, a new car, or new shoes in hopes we’d feel satisfied.
Of course, we felt good for a day or two after the purchase, but as soon as Apple releases the next phone, our car racks up a hefty amount of mileage or Nike comes out with a deal too good to pass up, we’re back on the hamster wheel of feeling dissatisfied and wanting more.
People who start on the path to minimalism begin to realize that they’ve bought into the lie that “more stuff creates a better life” and they’re ready to make a change.
Usually, that change includes some kind of decluttering and downsizing process to simplify your living space, reevaluating what’s important to you and then restructuring your consumption habits so that your time, energy and resources are spent on the things you value most.
That’s exactly how our path to minimalism began… but before we dove headfirst into our Christian minimalist journey, I wanted to make sure the philosophy aligned with my Christian faith.
What The Bible Says About Minimalism
Though you won’t find the term minimalism in scripture or a specific commandment to become a minimalist as a follower of Jesus, the Bible has a lot to say about how we should relate to our possessions. For instance…
John The Baptist Prepares The Way
In Luke 3, John the Baptist began preparing people for the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, calling people to baptism in repentance and forgiveness of their sins.
As the elite Jewish leaders came forward to be baptized (though they believed their birthright was an insurance policy to salvation), John called them out, saying:
“…bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” Luke 3:8
And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And [John] answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Luke 3:10-11
John’s essentially saying step #1 to repentance is to deal with your excess and donate your duplicates to the people in need.
This was radical! And this was the first time the gospels addressed our tendency to overconsume and accumulate more than we need and it won’t be the last.
The Parable of The Great Banquet
In Luke 14:16-24, Jesus tells the parable of a man who hosts a great banquet. He sends his servant to tell the guests the event is ready, but in Luke 18:18-20, we read:
“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’“
I’ve read this passage a few times before but until recently, I didn’t notice that the first two guests made excuses because of their possessions.
If you know anything about the teachings of Jesus, his parables aren’t just stories. They’re analogies that point us to the Father and eternal life.
This parable is actually saying that God has made all things ready for us to receive Him through his son Jesus and the parable warns us not to become so engrossed with our possessions that we excuse ourselves from an eternity with Christ.
The Parable Of The Rich Young Ruler
Jesus tells another parable in Mark 10:17-27 about a rich young ruler who asks Jesus what he needs to do in order to go to Heaven.
This rich man has righteously followed all of the ten commandments to date and is wondering what other boxes he needs to check off so that he’ll inherit eternal life.
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this, the man’s face fell. He went away sad because he had great wealth. Mark 10:21-22
The rich young ruler had a choice: give up the stuff (his idol) so that he could follow Jesus or choose to keep his stuff.
Matthew 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
Ultimately the rich young ruler’s love for his wealth was greater than his love for Jesus, so the wealth became his master.
The Path To An Abundant Life
When you read the rich young ruler passage, you may think that Jesus doesn’t want you to have a life of happiness and abundance, but John 10:10 tells us the contrary:
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10
Notice that the word abundant in this passage doesn’t refer to an easy, comfortable, and lavish life. This word abundance here refers to a life of joy, satisfaction, fulfillment, and contentment in Jesus.
Jesus knows that amassing more and more stuff won’t lead to a life of freedom. In fact, in Luke 12:15 Jesus 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.”
Dealing With A Heart Issue
At the end of the day, God isn’t concerned about the number of items you own. (God has used wealthy people for His kingdom too.) He is, however, concerned about how your wealth and possessions own your heart.
Matthew 6:19-21 says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I know I’ve read that passage before and thought, “I’m good. My things don’t own me. I have a healthy relationship with my material possessions”, but then 1 Timothy 6:7-10 quickly reminds me that my desire for more can be a slippery slope.
1 Timothy 6:7-10 says, “for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
Jesus spent a fourth of his ministry (~2,000 Bible verses) teaching on the topic of money and possessions, which means we always have and always will struggle with sin like greed and covetousness regarding our things.
But that still doesn’t answer one important question:
Is Minimalism Compatible With Christianity?
Though Jesus lived simply and taught us how we should relate to our material possessions and money, he never commands us to live a minimalistic lifestyle as the world defines it.
However, I believe that Christians can embrace minimalism and use it as a helpful tool to glorify God in the way that they steward their time, money and resources.
Like everything else in life, minimalism has its challenges. If taken to the extreme it can feel a lot like legalism.
As The Art of Manliness points out: “The great irony of minimalism is that while it purports to free you from a focus on stuff, it still makes stuff the focus of your life! The materialist concentrates on how to accumulate things, while the minimalist concentrates on how to get rid of those things…ultimately they’re both centering their thoughts on stuff.”
If you choose to live with less, seek Jesus first, aligning your life with His teachings rather than relying on minimalist rules to shape your life.
Minimalism ≠ Gospel
The most important thing to remember is that minimalism is a tool, not the gospel.
Yes, it can be an incredibly freeing experience to shed the weight of your things and bless others with your excess but whether you’re acquiring or releasing your things, without a personal relationship with Jesus, you’ll never experience lasting freedom and life satisfaction.
Jesus didn’t come to the Earth to show us the way to minimalism, he came to die on a cross for our sins so that we could be reconciled to God.
If you’re tired of searching for joy and contentment in your stuff, repent and turn to Jesus. He’s the only one who can truly satisfy your soul.