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Living for Christ, or, Living for the Pleasure Christ Gives?
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When does Hedonism itself become a god?

Copyright © 2004 - All rights retained by author
Written by: C. W. Booth

As Christians, what do we live for? The Bible provides the answer in straightforward terms.

For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. (2 Corinthians 5:14,15)

Putting off the living for ourselves is the definition of "the love of Christ controls us". Living for Christ is actually being controlled by the love of Christ and the love for Christ.

No longer are we to be living for ourselves but living for Him, the Christ who died and rose again to our benefit; for the removal of our sin. This is love, not that we loved Him but that He first loved us and died for us. This is gratitude that has its outworking in love and obedience--living for Christ.

To be "Controlled By" is to be "Preoccupied With"

"Control" (in the Greek) means to "compel or preoccupy". When our actions are deliberately taken to be in alignment with our love for Christ, we can be said to be "controlled by our love for Christ". We chose the actions we take, we calculate the decisions we make, based on whether the outcome will be in obedience to Christ and will please Him. As the Greek implies, our minds are preocuppied with how to please Christ. This is love. This is being controlled by love.

And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it. (2 John 1:6)

"If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (John 14:15)

"He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me;…" (John 14:21a)

If we are compelled to do what we do out of consideration of our love for God, we are controlled by our love for Him. If we do what we do because we are preoccupied with how to love and obey Him, we are controlled by our love for Christ. That which is the dominant influence in directing our actions and decisions is that very thing which also controls us.

Controlled by Love-for-Christ Compared to Controlled by Love-for-Pleasure

Love for Christ, which controls us, can be compared and contrasted with Christian Hedonism. Christian Hedonism is living for the pleasure that Christ bestows. Indeed, "living for pleasure" is the meaning of the word "hedonism". Therefore, the object of a hedonist’s desire is to obtain for himself the pleasure, the reward, over and above taking notice of the reward-giver. After all, hedonism means our minds are preoccupied with the pursuit of pleasure which we chase after with all our strength.

Love, when it is the motive for action, means that the one who is loved will be the main beneficiary of the action (1 Corinthians 13:5). When I live for Christ, controlled by love for Him, my actions are purposely designed to benefit Christ, His glory, and His kingdom. In the case of a hedonist, he is both the one acting and the one receiving benefit, for he is living in pursuit of his own pleasure; his love for himself and for his pleasures have caused him to act on his own behalf.

Certainly Dr. Piper would strongly disagree with this observation, that obtaining pleasure for self is a stronger influence than desire for God’s interests when making decisions. In fact, Dr. Piper has written in the book Desiring God that:

I came to see that it is unbiblical and arrogant to try to worship God for any other reason than the pleasure to be had in him. …

Christian Hedonism does not put us above God when it makes the joy of worship its goal.

Yet even from these quotations it is evident that God is a means to an end. The end? One’s own pleasure. Certainly, it is taking pleasure "in God", but the goal is the pleasure that one can obtain, and that is the controlling influence; not love for God, but love of the pleasure He can bring.

Again Piper writes in Desiring God:

My old Webster's Collegiate Dictionary of 1961 defines "hedonism" as "a living for pleasure." That is precisely what I mean by it. If the chief end of man is to enjoy God forever, human life should be a "living for pleasure." …

It is a general term to cover a wide variety of teachings which have elevated pleasure very highly. …

I would be happy with the following definition as a starting point for my own usage of the word: Hedonism is "a theory according to which a person is motivated to produce one state of affairs in preference to another if and only if he thinks it will be more pleasant, or less unpleasant for himself." (emphasis added)

That even Dr. Piper favors defining Christian Hedonism as a "living for pleasure" by an individual while utilizing his mind and heart to make decisions and take actions all focused on attaining that goal "for himself", not for God, but for himself, indicates the true nature of the affections shown. Self is loved first. Self, and the pleasure that self can get from God, is foremost on the mind and is what directs the actions taken.

Love for pleasure is what preoccupies the mind of the hedonist. If this were not so, one would not need to call himself a hedonist. Therefore, his actions and his decisions are directed by his calculated effort to benefit himself primarily, any other outcome (for anyone else) is secondary. This is the very concept of being controlled by hedonism, a pursuit of pleasure for one’s own benefit.

Love for pleasure, which controls them, may result in gratitude for some, but will result in resentment in others. Resentment that they do not get the pleasure that others seemingly have. This is a hard truth, yet, we know that Christ gives out the gifts and the rewards just as He chooses, for His glory and for His purposes.

Some people in this life will have untold pain while others will experience fame and others fortune. If our goal is to please the reward-giver only to maximize our rewards, the disparity of apparent earthly blessings will invoke anger in hedonists. However, if our goal is to be controlled by love (not controlled by pleasure) and gratitude to the One who has saved us then we are not focused on our own pleasure (for we have our sure hope of salvation already) but on whether we have pleased Him.

With no doubt the hedonist will object, "but when we have pleased Him, He will reward us all the more, so it is good and right to live for the reward." In truth, rewards are a part of God’s eternal plan, and as such are a part of the motivation scheme. Where the error lies is in the control.

Hedonists are controlled by the love of pleasure (the very meaning of that word). Christians, however, are to be controlled by their love of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14).

God as an Object-of-Pleasure

Why cannot Christian Hedonism simply mean, "Christ is my greatest pleasure and therefore my greatest goal?" Christ is not an object of pleasure, He is God. He is the One to be feared, the One to be praised, the One to be loved, the One to be obeyed, the One to be pleased, the One to whom to be grateful. In His presence are pleasures evermore, but the pleasures are not the god, not the goal, not the controlling influence, not the purpose or pursuit of our lives. Nowhere does the Bible tell us to pursue pleasure.

Christians who mistake God with being an object of pleasure, end up making the concept of pleasure itself their god whether they wish to do so or not. The word "hedonism" is not used without meaning to describe the philosophy of Christian Hedonism. Some have plaintively argued that whatever you take primary pleasure in becomes to you a god, therefore, to make the true God the object of your pleasure is good and right for it makes Him your God. This is faulty philosophical rationale for at least three reasons:

1) God is God already and is not made to be God by whether you make of Him an object of pleasure or not

2) making God an object of pleasure can reduce God to a mere object (like a divine Pez candy dispenser doling out pieces of pleasure on command) and can trivialize our fear and respect of Him as the true God

3) hedonism makes a god out of pleasure

Hedonism Makes a "god" Out of Pleasure

Love of pleasure. That is the definition of hedonism. You do not make a god out of the thing that gives you the most pleasure, you have made a god out of pleasure.

When you love pleasure, regardless of the source it is derived from, and that becomes the label by which you refer to yourself because that is what best characterizes your motivation for living, then you have made a god out of pleasure. God does not want us to live for pleasure, He wants us to live for Him alone.

Some Christian Hedonists will object, "I desire that my only pleasure be in Christ, therefore, I am a hedonist of Christ." This is an interesting sentiment, but again, goes beyond Scripture by inventing a system of beliefs and philosophies that are not derived from the Scriptures.

God tells us that the study of His Word is pleasurable. God tells us that the world He made us to live in is in many aspects pleasurable (food, water, wildlife). Fellowship with our neighbors is pleasurable. Ecclesiastes tells us that merely working hard and sleeping at the end of the day is pleasurable. All that God has made is good. The idea that pleasure must only be sought in the person of Christ ignores the reality that all His works may be enjoyed. What is then left to the idea that "my only pleasures will be in Christ"? The hedonist finds he is still controlled by the pursuit of pleasures wherever they abound. And is that not the very idea of hedonism, to be controlled by the pursuit of the pleasurable experience?

What Controls Us -- We Must Decide

Christians, brothers and sisters in Christ, we are to be preoccupied with and controlled by the love of Christ and the love for Christ. To be controlled by the love of pleasure, the love of rewards, or the love of anything except Christ and our gratitude for the forgiveness He has granted us is to embrace an unbalanced lifestyle that leads to envy, resentment, and a focus on "my rights" and "my happiness". We ought not be so swayed.

For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. (2 Corinthians 5:14,15)

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