By: Jay Link
Paul warns us (II Tim. 3:4) that in the last days Christians will become “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”
The Greek word for “the sole and immediate pursuit of pleasure” is hedonism. You might recognize that term from the Hugh Heffner and Playboy Magazine dynasty and their unabashed pursuit and promotion of hedonism.
I feel confident that no one reading this article would endorse the Playboy type of hedonism, but, as Christians, have we come to embrace a form of neo-hedonism that is just as insidious, but yet widely acceptable in evangelical circles? A neo-hedonist would admit, “I’m not putting all my energy into the pursuit of pleasure, just most of it.”
The Bible identifies this hedonistic pursuit in numerous passages. For example, one of the saddest stories in all the Bible is found in Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 (NASB) where Solomon, the richest man who has ever lived, reflects back on his life and reviews all his materialistic accomplishments that he gathered “for himself” only to conclude that his hedonistic pursuits were “vanity and striving
after wind and there was no profit under the sun.”
The sin of the prodigal son was hedonism. He wanted the material riches that were rightfully his now so he could go and “squander his wealth on wild living.” (Luke 15:13)
Now, contrast this pursuit of hedonism (immediate gratification) with the biblical concept of self-denial (deferred gratification).
Luke 9:23 says “Then (Jesus) said to them all: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.'”
You see, Christianity, by its very nature, is a lifestyle of self-denial, not a lifestyle of self-indulgence. But in America, we seem to have created a hybrid Christianity that not only allows for self-indulgence, it openly promotes it.
Matt. 6:19-20 says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth… but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…” Do you see this stark contrast between these ideas of immediate gratification vs. deferred gratification?
When Jesus confronted the rich young ruler, the final command that Jesus gave him was, “Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” (Matt. 19:20)
Was Jesus asking the rich young ruler to give up his possessions? No, not at all. He only asked him to defer the enjoyment of them until later. But the young ruler was so consumed with hedonism that he was totally unable to postpone, no matter how temporarily, his enjoyment of these material pleasures.
Jesus later, however, privately reveals to His disciples what the rewards would be for such voluntary deferred gratification, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or
mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Matt. 19:29) Ultimately, the best of both worlds.
So are we lovers of pleasure? Have we become neo-hedonists? Do we “love pleasure more than we love God?” Are we driven by immediate gratification? How can we really know?
First, we must be totally honest with ourselves before the Lord. Prov. 21:2 says, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.”
Second, a few very simple, yet quite revealing questions may help us clarify exactly who or what is on top of our ‘love’ list.
* If you had an extra $5,000, what would you do with it?
* Have you ever borrowed money to buy something for yourself? Have you ever borrowed money to give to the Lord?
* During your free time, do spiritual pursuits or recreational pursuits fill those hours?
* When things get tight financially, what financial outlays get cut out or down first?
* If you were to become financially destitute, would you still be just as content and happy as you are today?
Living in the midst of a society that is absolutely hedonistic to the core, it should not surprise us that we have produced our own ‘religiously laundered’ version of hedonism.
Since this neo-hedonism seems to be so pervasive among evangelicals, decisive counter-measures must be immediately employed to protect ourselves from any further spiritual deadening
by this highly contagious, self-serving and most self-destructive, evangelical disease.
Because if we cannot or will not bring it under the control of the Holy Spirit, we may someday, to our surprise and dismay, wake up to discover that our personal relationship to the Lord has been
reduced to merely “holding a form of godliness (and by our own neo-hedonistic pursuits of worldly pleasures we) have (effectively) denied the (real) power therefore.” (II Tim. 3:5).
(The above material appeared in the March 1993 issue of The Christian Advocate.)
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