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I recently came across the words, “Christian hedonism” online and I kind of cringed.


The dictionary definition of “hedonism” is “the pursuit of pleasure; sensual self-indulgence.” At its heart, the word means sensual, not spiritual pleasure. So, to my way of thinking, the idea of Christian hedonism is kind of an oxymoron. As Christians, we are to focus our spirits on the unseen things, the spiritual things of this world, like it says in 2 Corinthians 4:18:


“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (NIV)


Now, I absolutely must concede that the pastor who has been using this phrase (apparently since the 1980’s) is a far more respected, astute, and theologically sharp individual than yours truly. I’m just some guy in a plaid flannel shirt pounding out a blog once a week, for goodness sake. And, I absolutely understand that the phrase is about delighting oneself in the LORD. It’s about having so much joy in what God has done for us through Jesus Christ, that our central and core reason for being is to rejoice in that salvation. 


At this point, I’d like to go on record as being 100% in favor of that kind of joy. Yes and HALLELUJAH!


But, even having come to that epiphany,  I was still not totally comfortable associating the word “hedonism” with Christianity, so I decided to have a conversation with my good friend Kenny The Theology Guy. (That is not his actual title. He’s a pastor and a teacher who does a podcast called “Theology for the Rest of Us.” So, while “The Theology Guy” is not his actual title, I think it works.) 


Anyway, Kenny said that the origin of the phrase probably has its roots in a push-back against asceticism. That’s another one of those theology words normal people don’t use every day, so here’s what it means: “severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons.”


You may remember that Martin Luther was said to have beaten himself with a stick in an attempt to “mortify the flesh,” share in the sufferings of Christ, and draw closer to God. While things like fasting and self-denial are certainly godly practices which can and do draw people closer to God, Jesus very clearly said one should not do those things to draw attention to oneself as holier or more devout than others. (Matthew 6:16) In fact, the whole idea is not to let your devotion to God obscure or cover over the joy that should be evident as someone saved by grace.


I think we’ve all met joyless Christians who were about as likely to draw people to Christ through their demeanor as an all-night blood-letting event at the local church complete with live leeches so, as I told Kenny, I’m “all in” on the anti-asceticism bandwagon.


But, even after a rousing and enjoyable conversation with Kenny, I still couldn’t see myself shouting the praises of Christian Hedonism from the rooftops. As I told Kenny, it still seemed a lot like using the words, “Christian serial-killer.”  It just didn’t seem right.


It took me days to figure it out, but it finally dawned on me as Kinship Radio played “Every Act of Love” by Jason Gray:


“Oh – we bring the Kingdom come
Oh – with every act of love
Jesus help us carry You
Alive in us, Your light shines through
With every act of love
We bring the Kingdom come”


Asceticism and Christian hedonism are both about me. They’re both like all those self-help books out there that try and tell you the seven ways Christianity can get you a brand new boat, make your teeth whiter, fill your life with adoring friends, and keep you from frying in hell like a deep-fried pork rind as a side bonus.


But real Christianity is not about me. It’s about Christ. It’s about Jesus. All things were not made in and through and for Dan Jones. The radiance and joy and wonder of eternal life and adoption into the Kingdom as sons and daughters of the One True King does not emanate and originate with me. The guy in the plaid flannel shirt is not the source of all the sunshine and rainbows that grace this planet. 


Those things come from Jesus Christ. Our reason for existence and our incredible, amazing, indescribably joy and being part of His family comes from Him –and it is not the result of anything we have done. The glory is all His, all Him.


Jesus is LORD –and I am not.


Joy doesn’t come from us. It’s not a “believe in yourself” kind of thing no matter how much the purveyors of popular culture preach that particular lie. Joy does come from a kind of asceticism, but it’s not reveling in pain or punishment of one’s flesh. It’s setting aside the flesh, telling it to sit down and shut up and instead doing the very odd thing of loving others first without regard for your own joy and happiness. 


Matthew 6:33

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (NIV)


Matthew 16:24&25

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (NIV)


Mark 12:29-31

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”


All of this entirely backwards from what the world would tell us, but it works. The greatest moments of joy in my life have come from loving others. And yes, like a true hedonist, I cannot get enough of it. That joy is enthralling, exhilarating, addicting. But it’s not something I can produce for my own pleasure. If I do it to feel good about myself, or solely for the purpose of creating my own pleasure, it doesn’t work. It’s motive-dependent and it’s a hard lesson to learn, but you cannot fake yourself into true joy. It doesn’t come in a can or wrapped up in a neat little box with a bow on it.


It’s not something you get, it’s something you give.


Today’s Praise


John 15:11&12

I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.




Photo of statue courtesy of Pixabay. She’s part of a memorial to Martin Luther in Germany and looks truly shocked and horrified that I would use the words “Christian hedonism” in this blog.

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