by Phillip Shumake
Synopsis: Hedonism is a denial of divine morality. Phillip helps us avoid its temptation by pointing out four failures of this deceptive philosophy.
The pursuit of pleasure is one of the oldest themes in literature. We find it in Genesis 3:6, as Satan entices Adam and Eve to eat the delightful but forbidden fruit, and we find it again in the Babylonian work, The Epic of Gilgamesh. In this ancient story from 2100 BC, the character Siduri advises, "Fill your belly. Day and night make merry. Let days be full of joy. Dance and make music day and night… These things alone are the concern of men."
In and out of the Bible, we find humanity tempted toward hedonism. Hedonism is the pursuit of pleasure, especially sensual self-indulgence. As a philosophy, hedonism presents the satisfaction of desire as the highest good and proper aim of human life. This philosophy was formalized during the 4th century BC by Aristippus of Cyrene, and it continues to be one of Satan's schemes to draw us away from God. Consider three recent cases of hedonism being openly and directly encouraged:
In 2014, Anthony Bourdain, the host of the hit show Kitchen Confidential, promoted hedonism as a guiding principle in his life of drug abuse, wealth, travel, and fame (Woods, Men's Journal).
In 2016, the children's movie Trolls included some positive messages of courage, sacrifice, and friendship, but was also applauded for promoting a hedonistic life of music, dancing, and neon glitter. (Hair & Hedonism, Trolls the Movie, by A. Zanin)
The 2017 CNN story, "Hedonism Is Good for Your Health," advanced the term "rational hedonism" as a philosophy of avoiding outright debauchery, but still living a hedonistic life to ease the struggles of stress, depression, an unhealthy diet, and poor sleep. (Kozlowski, CNN).
Today hedonism is being presented as a useful, positive, and healthy approach to life with no concern for Biblical morality. Individuals are encouraged to engage in whatever pursuits maximize their personal pleasure. This is directly opposed to Peter's instructions to, "…live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries" (1 Pet. 4:2-3).
The life of a disciple of Jesus Christ can never have pleasure as its highest aim. The Bible shows us a humble servant with "nowhere to lay His head," not a rich man surrounded by pleasures or luxury (Matt. 8:20). Jesus specifically warns us in Luke 8:14 that the pleasures of this world will choke out the seed of the gospel. By His example, Jesus directs us to place doing the will of His Father above every other concern or desire. When His devotion to the Father led to isolation, rejection, and pain, He never compromised. We must choose citizenship in His kingdom above the things of the world. Like Moses, we must decide to "endure ill-treatment with the people of God" rather than "enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward" (Heb. 11:25-26).
To avoid Satan's deception and engage the lost in conversations that will lead them out of this deceptive philosophy, Christians need to recognize four failures of hedonism:
In Ecclesiastes 2, Solomon boldly declares the emptiness of pursuing worldly pleasure. He details his life of comfort, ease, riches, and pleasure and concludes that it is all empty and vain apart from the Lord (Eccles. 2:11). God's commandments regarding moral behavior help us to enjoy the pleasures He created within healthy boundaries that place Him, not pleasure, at the center of our lives.
Even in moderation, hedonism replaces God's authority to direct our lives, with man's authority to participate in any activity we deem pleasurable. While modern hedonists may seek pleasure in things like education, self-control, and great food, the core problem is still the same. Hedonists deny God's commandments to avoid the lusts of the flesh, and they seek first their pleasure and their delights instead of God's kingdom. The greatest reward of moderate or rational hedonism is a life of temporary pleasure that still ends with one being eternally lost and separated from God.
Saints who would never turn to chemical drugs for a daily dose of pleasure can become consumed by their electronic devices. We must remember the foolishness of the prodigal son so that we do not seek our joy in empty pursuits. Whether trapped by digital images that fuel lust, greed, discontentment, political extremes, or materialism, the result is the same: a virtual hedonism that leads to spiritual slavery. Our joy isn't based on a never-ending stream of beautiful pictures or a high count of positive emoji's. We cannot allow digital content to become an idol.
In 1986, John Piper introduced the phrase, Christian hedonism, to describe a life focused on glorifying and enjoying God. While this is certainly admirable, Christian hedonism is an incomplete approach to living for God. As Christians, we do not follow God simply because we find Him more enjoyable than other options, or simply to give Him pleasure. We follow God because He is our Holy, Divine Father, and King. We are thankful to live in a manner that pleases Him, but we also know that God is concerned with factors beyond His own pleasure! He is concerned with the redemption of our souls even when it caused Him extreme pain on the cross! Christians live with a purpose far greater than even a modified form of hedonism can encompass.
Hedonism is not now, and has never been, the escape or solution that Satan promises. It does not take away feelings of anxiety, regret, or loneliness: it amplifies them. It does not protect us from enemies or critics: it gives them ammunition. This is especially true in the local church. James warns that Christians who become obsessed with their own pleasures only bring empty prayers, local division, and heated conflict to the church (Jas. 4:1-3). We cannot afford to embrace this philosophy individually or collectively.
Hedonism only offers a life built on the sand, when what we truly need is a life built on the Rock of Jesus Christ. In Christ, our greatest hunger is fulfilled: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matt. 5:6). In Christ, our purpose is not pleasing self, but loving others. "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves" (Phil. 2:3). In Christ, our success is not a life of indulgence, but of fruitfulness and gratitude. "…so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Col. 1:10).
As we meet people searching for joy in hedonism, let us offer them the light of the gospel to guide them into life in the Son. May the Lord help us all to see that man's true aim is to "fear God and keep His commandments" (Eccles. 12:13).
Woods, Sean. "Anthony Bourdain on Writing, Hangovers, and Finding a Calling." Men's Journal. June 8, 2018. https://www.mensjournal.com/features/anthony-bourdains-life-advice-20140919/. Anthony Bourdain died on June 8, 2018 at the age of sixty-one. The original print article appeared in Men's Journal, Sept 19, 2014
Kozlowski, Desiree. "Hedonism Is Good for Your Health." CNN: Cable News Network. September 12, 2017. https://www.cnn.com/2017/09/12/health/hedonism-partner/index.html.
Author Bio: Phillip has worked with the Embry Hills church in Atlanta, GA for two years. He and his wife, Tracy, have two children. The church website is embryhills.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.