ReVision

Hedonism

Christianity is not all fun and games.

Fleshly Winds (4)

“So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, 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.”’”  Luke 12.18, 19

Sacrifice, work, suffering
How do we present the Gospel to the people God puts in our lives? Do we tell them, “God has a wonderful plan for your life”? Or, “You can know true happiness and lasting peace”? Or “You can go to heaven when you die”?

Much of our Gospel presentation – the call to believe in and receive Jesus – is designed to appeal to some variety of pleasure. Either personal peace, the promise of heaven, true happiness, or relief from guilt, tends to be the end toward which we invite people, when we tell them what Jesus has accomplished for us.

Now it is certainly true that coming to faith in Jesus Christ brings a kind of pleasure that cannot be known apart from Him (Ps. 16.11). Believers revel in that pleasure. We sing of the joy that comes from knowing the Lord, celebrate the peace and wellbeing we enjoy in Him, and share together in the thrill of His coming again to take us unto Himself forever. People need to understand that the Gospel is about true and lasting pleasure that comes from being forgiven, reborn, and indwelt by the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

But if this is all we tell people about the Gospel, then we are misleading them. Jesus did not deny the joy that comes from knowing Him. But He also called His followers to lay down their lives, sacrifice self for others, work at doing good as often as possible, and be prepared to suffer opposition and persecution in this present age. The Gospel is not about mere self-indulgence, even if that self-indulgence is entirely spiritual in nature. We must die to self-interest that we may live to Jesus and follow Him, bearing our own cross and enduring all the hardship that entails.

So demanding was the Gospel that Jesus proclaimed, that those who were seeking only material benefits from Him turned away once they understood that He wasn’t about filling their stomachs on demand (Jn. 6. 60-66). If He wasn’t going to allow them to live at ease and be merry in their souls, then they weren’t going to waste their time following Him.

Even today, some who profess faith in Jesus Christ won’t sit still for you to tell them that they must work out their salvation, die to themselves, take up their cross, and follow Jesus in the way of sacrifice and suffering. Sadly, we have allowed the widespread hedonistic tendencies of our day to lodge in the sails of our soul.

Hedonism defined
Hedonism is an ancient philosophy that can be summarized, as the Oxford English Dictionary explains, as “the pursuit of pleasure;sensual self-indulgence.” It is “the ethical theory that pleasure (in the sense of the satisfaction of desires) is the highest good and proper aim of human life.” For the hedonist, life is a perpetual Skinner bar, which we tap as needed to realize some sensual pleasure.

The hedonist does not want his life to be troubled by arduous or difficult things. He wants to take his ease at all times, to eat, drink, and be merry, and to indulge whatever sensual pleasures are available to him.

There’s a little hedonist in all of us, and the influencers of this world understand that well. Educators encourage us to prepare for well-paying jobs. Advertisers appeal to whatever will give us more fun, more excitement, or more esteem. Politicians seek our votes by pandering to mere self-interest and warning against their opponents, who only want to rob us of our fun.

Pleasure is not a bad thing, so hedonism is at least on to something. But the pleasure for which we are made is holy pleasure, spiritual pleasure, pleasure unlike anything we can know in our flesh alone, and pleasure that comes from an intimate and transformative relationship with the living God. Hedonism appeals to the pleasure instinct in all of us, but hijacks it from its proper end to merely temporal and fleshly enjoyments.

Problems with hedonism
Hedonism obviously can create many problems. It exacerbates both narcissism and solipsism, and turns our moments in life to mere passing experiences of fun. Our tendency to indulge in sensual experience can lead us to pack our present with pleasures at the expense of a secure and responsible future. Think: credit card debt.

Hedonism can lead to addictions, whether of alcohol, drugs, food, sex, or pornography. Like lab rats who have figured out how to get that morsel of food by repeatedly tapping the little bar, people who indulge a misguided desire for pleasure find they are increasingly thinking only about when they can get the next fix.

The Church is not exempt from the problems of hedonistic thinking. When we emphasize having fun, feeling good, and being entertained rather than seeking the Lord and His Kingdom, giving ourselves to others in good works of love, and bearing bold witness in an increasingly hostile age, we are diverting the Wind of God – Who naturally wants to take us in such directions – to make room for the wind of self-indulgence, which always diverts us from our proper course. If everything in our Christian experience has to be easy, happy, pleasant, or convenient, then we’re sailing to the ill wind of hedonism more than by the Word and Spirit of God.

True pleasure comes from knowing the Lord and delighting in Him, hating evil and devoting ourselves to good works. And true pleasure is more than sensual pleasure. It the full and lasting sense of wellbeing, peace, and joy that comes when the sails of the soul are filled with the Wind of God. This is a pleasure that persists even in the midst of suffering, as we see in our Lord Jesus Christ, Who, as He hanged on the cross bearing the sins of the world, was able to know the joy that was set down before Him in the coming of His Kingdom and glory (Heb. 12.1-3; Ps. 22.21-31).

Guard your soul against hedonistic winds. Set the Lord Jesus always before you. Draw near to Him at all times, and follow in the ways of sacrifice, work, and suffering that He has promised. Thus, walking at His right hand, you will know fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16.8, 11).

For reflection
1. The pleasures we may know in this life are not necessarily sinful, but they can be. Explain.

2. What does it mean to seek the pleasure that comes from knowing the Lord?

3. How can you recognize when the ill wind of hedonism is blowing against the sails of your soul?

Next steps – Transformation: Ask the Lord to let you know more of the true, holy, spiritual pleasure of knowing Him.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
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