Last evening, I spoke over at Lanier Theological Library on the topic “What Made Jonathan Edwards a Christian Hedonist?” The day before, we had a panel discussion titled “Christian Hedonism, Self-Denial, and the Enjoyment of Creation.” So, I am brimming with Christian Hedonism, and thought to myself, not only would I like to keep on talking about Christian Hedonism this morning, but it is one of the most important things in the world I could say to you. And it is at the heart of the message of the Bible.
Christian Hedonism Isn’t Cute
And I am aware that between then and now 7,000 people have died in America every day — hundreds of them in excruciating pain, and most of them probably without any hope of heaven. And that Hurricane Harvey may cost your region $190 billion, and massive hardship on the lives of thousands. The Sonoma County wildfires in California caused damages of $2.8 billion, ruined 14,000 homes, and killed over 40 people. I know that President Trump and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un go back and forth with provocative warnings, and put us on the brink of nuclear war.
And I am aware that Charlottesville has pulled a thread on the fabric of racial harmony that, if God doesn’t stop us, could unravel what we have worked toward so hard for decades. And I know that in a room with this many people, the sorrows are incalculable: cancer, divorce, a runaway teenager, a lost job, perhaps your first Sunday back after the most painful season of your life.
This is our world, our life. I don’t do cute. And I get angry at churches that do.
Our Good, His Glory
And I am going to talk about Christian Hedonism because if, by the power of the Holy Spirit, it took root in your life, it would change everything for the better — for your good and God’s glory.
So, let’s take those two reasons one at a time.
- I knew from the Bible and from my father that God intended me to live for his glory. My dad would say, “Whatever you do, son, ‘whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God’ (1 Corinthians 10:31).”
- I knew that John Piper wanted to be happy. I could no more not want to be happy than I could not hunger if I skipped two days of eating.
The first truth was part of what it means for God to be God. The second truth was part of what it means for me to be human. And I could not fit the two together.
There seemed to hang in the air the assumption that, if I did something good in order to be happy, the God-centered morality of it was compromised. All I could remember were the preachers who said, when they summoned me to live for God’s glory, things like, “Put your will on the altar and do God’s will.” In other words, there’s always tension between my desire to be happy and God’s desire to be glorified. One of them has to go.
And then, when I was 22 years old, over the course of several months, my professor in seminary, Daniel Fuller, together with C.S. Lewis and Jonathan Edwards, conspired to make me a Christian Hedonist and rescue me from a terrible misunderstanding of how God is glorified. They pointed me to the Bible in a way I had not noticed.
Even Death Is Gain
It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored [or magnified] in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Notice in verse 20 that Paul’s all-consuming passion in life is that Christ would be magnified. That’s what my father had taught me. I saw that in the Bible. I knew that’s why I should live. I wanted to live that way. I wantedChrist to be seen and known as a magnificent Savior and a magnificent King and a magnificent Friend through my bodily life, whether I lived or whether I died.
But I had never followed Paul’s logic in verses 21–23. Follow it with me. As soon as he says in verse 20 that Christ can be magnified in my life or my death, he adds verse 21 and gives the basis for how that can happen. And notice how “to live” in verse 21 corresponds to “by life” in verse 20, and how “to die” in verse 21 corresponds to “by death” in verse 20. So, he’s explaining in verse 21 how it is that Christ will be magnificent in Paul’s body both in dying and in living.
So, how does that work? If you see this, and if it penetrates to the center of your soul, you’ll never be the same again. How does it work that Paul’s dying will make Christ look magnificent?
Paul’s answer is, “My death will make Christ look magnificent because ‘for me to die is gain.’ I want you to see this for yourself, and not take my word for it. Leave out, for the time being, the issue of how your life makes Christ look magnificent. Collapse verses 20 and 21 to just explain how death works: “Christ will be magnified in my body by death, . . . for to me to die is gain.”
Now when you die, your spouse is gone, sex is gone, the children are gone, the dream retirement is gone, hobbies are gone, and until the resurrection, the body, with all its pleasures, is gone. So, what does Paul mean that all this loss can be called gain? He gives the answer in verses 22–23,
If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
When Paul compares all the pleasures that are confined to this physical world with the pleasure of being with Christ face-to-face, he calls death, which takes all those pleasures and gives him Christ, gain. Just like he says in Philippians 3:8, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
Duty-Bound to Delight
And you can see immediately how it solved the ache of the tension in my heart. All too slowly, I came to realize that God’s passion to be glorified and my passion to be satisfied were not alternatives. Paul said, Christ is magnified not instead of my being satisfied in him, but by means of my being satisfied in him.
My satisfaction in Christ above all this world, at the point of suffering and death, is what makes him look magnificent. Therefore, my pursuit of satisfaction — my pursuit of happiness — is not just permitted. It is mandatory, because glorifying God is mandatory. And you cannot glorify God in your heart if your heart does not find God more satisfying than everything else.
This Changes Everything
1. Christian Hedonism changes death.
2. Christian Hedonism changes how we think about conversion.
So, evangelism becomes not only persuasion about truth, but pointing people to a Treasure that is more valuable than everything they have. And conversion is the miracle that the Holy Spirit works in your life so that you taste and see that Christ is more to be desired than anything in this world. That’s what the new birth is. Getting new spiritual taste buds.
3. Christian Hedonism changes the way we think about the good fight of faith.
John said, “To all who did receive him [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Believing Jesus is receiving him. As what? Savior? Yes. Lord? Yes. But also as the infinitely valuable Treasure that he is. Faith is seeing and savoring Christ as your supreme Treasure. And so, the lifelong “good fight of the faith” (1 Timothy 6:12) is a fight for joy — a fight to see and savor Jesus as more valuable than anything in the world.
4. Christian Hedonism changes how we see and how we fight evil in our lives.
Evil is the suicidal preference for the empty wells of the world over the living waters — the mountain spring — of God’s fellowship. We fight evil by the pursuit of the fullest satisfaction in the river of God’s delights.
5. Christian Hedonism changes the way we think about self-denial.
Oh, it is really there in the teachings of Jesus, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). So many people stop there. But the real Christian Hedonist meaning of self-denial comes out in the next verse: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35). Now the meaning becomes,
- Deny yourself the wealth of the world so that you can have the wealth of being with Christ.
- Deny yourself the fame of the world to have the joy of God’s approval.
- Deny yourself the security and safety of the world to have the solid, secure fellowship of Jesus.
- Deny yourself the short, unsatisfying pleasures of the world so that you can have fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore at God’s right hand.
Which means, there is no such thing as ultimate self-denial, because to live is Christ and to die is gain.
6. Christian Hedonism changes the way we think about handling our money and the act of giving.
- Acts 20:35: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
- 2 Corinthians 9:7: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
The motive to be a generous person is that it expresses and expands our joy in God. And the pursuit of that joy is the pursuit of giving not getting.
7. Christian Hedonism changes the way we worship corporately.
8. Christian Hedonism changes the way we experience disability and weakness.
9. Christian Hedonism changes the meaning of love.
Abundant joy in severe affliction and extreme poverty overflowed in loving generosity. Still poor. Still afflicted. But so full of joy that it overflowed in love. Therefore, Christian Hedonism defines love as the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others. If you really want to do others the greatest good, overflow onto them and draw them into your eternal joy in God.
10. Christian Hedonism changes the meaning of ministry.
Back in Philippians 1, when Paul finally realized he was not going to die yet, but remain and minister, he said, “I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith” (Philippians 1:25). Ministry always aims at the deepest, highest, and longest joy of those we serve. And that means joy in God because Psalm 16:11 says,
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
That is why I have come to Houston and to this church. Not that I would lord it over your faith, but I would be a worker with you for your joy. Not your joy in me or this sermon. Not your joy in your great church. Not your joy in your family, or your job, or your friends. But your joy God.
This is why Christ died for you, according to 1 Peter 3:18: “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” And why would he want you there? Because in his presence there is fullness of joy; at his right hand are pleasures forevermore.
In other words, there, and there alone, will you be fully and eternally satisfied, and God fully and eternally glorified.
Source: John Piper | Desiring God