I’m heading up to Minneapolis tonight for a short vacation. I’ll be visiting my sisters fiance, going to church at Bethlehem Baptist on Saturday night, and seeing the Twins-Diamondbacks on Sunday. Should be a great weekend. But before I head out though, I wanted to share a few thoughts on Christian Hedonism.
On May 22, I wrote a short post called Three Reasons I’m a Christian Hedonist. There has been quite the exchange on the comments section. I promised Conrad (the person I’ve been having the conversation with) that I would write yet another post on how the Bible affirms this truth. You can see two articles I wrote last year here and here, so I won’t recreate the wheel. However I will run through a few key verses to understanding this Scriptural theme.
Before I begin, as John Piper has written, I will say that no one has to adopt the name Christian Hedonist. In fact, as Piper wrote, forgive the name. However, we cannot ignore the truth! Be satisfied in Christ alone! Let no other thing give you joy, pleasure, happiness, or satisfaction above Christ. Call it what you will, but remember the truth.
God wants us to be happy everyday.
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
– Psalm 90:14
In the Psalms, the phrase “be glad” occurs 19 times. Each time it refers to some typeof saving that God does. The only exception is 118:24, which says, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” One could easily argue that since God is the one who made the day, our ultimate gladness is in him. “Glad” in Hebrew means “to rejoice, be happy.” God wants us to be happy every day in him, not in the things of this world or our filthy, fleshly desires. We are to be glad with who he is. This verse also says, “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love.” Is the Psalmist being satisfied with God’s love and not God? No. What is the ultimate satisfaction? First John 4:8 tells us “God is love.” We are being satisfied in God. We are rejoicing and being happy (“to be glad”) in God. Pleasure itself is not the god we are pursuing (as opponents to Christian Hedonism have proposed). It’s pleasure in a person. Pleasure, according to Merriam-Webster is defined as “desire; a state of gratification; a source of joy.” (Definition 3b is frivolous amusement,” but we certainly wouldn’t call God that would we!) God is the source of our joy. He shows us that he is the source though his love, forgiveness, redemption, gifts, etc. Remember, we are to love the Giver not the gift.
If a father gave his son a toy truck for Christmas and the son said, “Thanks Dad,” and proceeded to ignore his father all day, never spend time with him, and flat-out treasure the truck more than the father, is the father glorified at all? Is the son really honoring his father? Of course not! God has given us many things to enjoy, but we are to enjoy him above all other things. Conrad, for example, suggested that we are to love God’s word, among other things, which I agree with. Psalm 119:159a says, “Consider how I love your precepts!” What does John 1:1 say about the word though? It’s Jesus! If we love the word, we love the person who inspired it and spoke it! It leads us to Christ, the greatest thing we can love and be satisfied in.
We obey Jesus so that we might experience his joy.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
– John 15:9-11
Here we see Jesus telling us to abide in his love. This is the same love the Father has laid upon his Son! What grace and mercy that God has granted us so we might experience the same love the Trinity experiences! Incredible! Then, Jesus goes on to tell us how we can abide in his love. We must follow him (“keep my commandments”). What is the greatest commandment? Love the LORD God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Dt. 6:5; Mt. 22:37; Mk. 12:30; Lk. 10:27). When we read John (and the Bible as a whole), this only happens when God does a supernatural work of regeneration in a person’s heart. Why do these things happen? Why are we to abide in Christ’s love? Why are we to keep his commandments? Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” The point is joy! Pure, unadulterated, divine, eternal joy in the one true God. The point of Christianity is joy. No one ever became a Christian out of duty. We do not obey God’s commands because we are duty-bound slaves, we obey because we are free (cf. Gal. 5:1). We obey because it gives us joy.
Imagine this: A husband comes home from work with a dozen roses for his wife. He meets her in the kitchen, pulls out the roses from behind his back and presents them to his wife. His wife shrieks out of surprise and excitement. “Thank you!” she cries. “Why did you do this?” Dismally, the husband responds, “Well, they were on sale and I’m your husband, so it’s my duty to get flowers for you from time-to-time.” Is the wife glorified at all? Is she treasured and loved? Now, imagine the same scenario. This time, the reason the husband gives goes like this: “Nothing else in this world gives me more pleasure, delight, and joy than you. It makes me happy to love you. I called the baby-sitter, I reserved a table at your favorite restaurant. Let’s get dressed and we’ll be out of here in a half-hour.”
Which one do you think the wife would rather hear? Is this not comparable to how we should come to God? Duty or delight? The answer seems clear.
Paul said that everything else didn’t even compare to knowing Christ.
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.
– Philippians 3:7-8
Could any passage show more conclusively what Paul’s aim in life was? Compare this verse with John 17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” What is eternal life? Knowing Jesus. What does it mean to live the Christian life? Knowing Jesus. In this passage, Paul says that whatever gain he had before Christ is now counted as loss. But he doesn’t stop there. He moves to the present tense and says, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Everything includes everything. Paul says that compared to Christ, everything is literally like a dung heap. He wants to gain Christ. He wants joy. Jesus promised him joy in John 15. With Christ, there is full joy and pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:11). And lest we forget, it’s not the pleasures we pursue, but the Giver who gives them.
We can abandon everything to get Christ, because he’s the greatest treasure.
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all he has and buys that field.
– Matthew 13:44
During Jesus’ teaching in this section of Matthew, he gives various parables about the kingdom. What is the kingdom centered on? Better question: Who is the kingdom centered on? The answer is Jesus. This parable shows the surpassing worth of obtaining the kingdom. Without Jesus, there is no kingdom. He is King. He is in control. He is the one we should honor. The man in the parable finds that treasure and he gets rid of everything (something Paul did in his heart and life and something the young rich man could not do). Why did the man do this? For joy. The verse says, “Then in his joy.” The NASB translates it, “From joy.” It literally means, “Because of his joy.” He didn’t do it for duty’s sake or because it was “right.” He did it for joy.
Truly Christianity is for joy. C.S. Lewis said, “It is a Christian duty for everyone to be as happy as he can…Joy is the serious business of Heaven.” For Lewis, our duty is joy. Psalm 42:11 says, “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” That doesn’t seem like a duty-bound religion to me.
God brings his people to himself that he may be glorified in them and that their joy may be made full. God gets the glory; we get the joy. You don’t have to call yourself a Christian Hedonist to enter heaven, but you must know the biblical command to pursue joy in Christ. If you are treasuring, enjoying, or delighting in something more than Christ, are you really a Christian? If sex, food, cars, money, alcohol, video games, sports, friends, a spouse, grades, fame, success, or a million other things are treasured above Jesus, then what is really your savior? Before Jesus went to the cross he prayed to his Father, “But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” Is your joy being fulfilled in Christ?
Pursue joy, pleasure, delight, happiness, gladness, and satisfaction in Christ. Go ahead. The Bible says it’s okay.