A Scottish philosopher named David Hume had a theory called hedonism. The belief that all pleasure is intrinsically valuable. Whilst Hume’s theory registers all pleasures as valuable, ‘Christian Hedonism’ places the greatest value on the pleasure that is derived from God alone and beckons Christians to be not so easily pleased by lower pleasures. John Piper coined the phrase ‘Christian hedonism’, which is the idea that the goal of Christianity is to maximise pleasure in God for the purpose of God’s glory. One of Piper’s most famous quotes within the context of Christin hedonism is ‘God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in him’. This article is a biblical introduction towards that Ideology.
The Path To True Joy
‘We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink, sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased’ -C S LEWIS
Hume’s theory claims that anything goes. If it brings you pleasure, it is good. But we know this is contrary to what the bible teaches. Peter admonishes the church to ‘…beware of fleshly pleasures which wage war against the soul’ (1 peter2:11). It’s important to distinguish between low destructive pleasure and high life-giving ones, which the bible helps us to do.
‘You make known to me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy and at your right-hand pleasures forever” (Psalm 16:11). The psalmist asserts that joy in its fullness (depth) and enduring pleasures (length) are in the presence of God. He connects this to knowing the path of life. We can conclude that the true path of life is experiencing the depths of joy and the lengths of pleasures that are in God. But how does it affect God’s glory?
God’s Glory In Our Pleasure And Satisfaction
God had two qualms with his people as fleshed out in the book of Jeremiah: “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jeremiah 2:11). As human beings we can relate to the pleasure and satisfaction water gives when we thirst. We also know that it keeps us alive. God’s presence is to our soul what water is to our body. Essentially, God is saying they forsook, the one who pleasures and satisfies with life for things that cannot. God saw the ‘forsaking’ and ‘hewing’ as two sins and we understand that to sin is to fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well in John’s gospel illustrates this further.
In John 4 we are introduced to a Samaritan woman who was fetching water at Jacob’s well. Jesus told her that if she drinks from that well she will thirst again (the equivalence of a broken cistern that holds no water). He also said in the 14th verse that his water will cause her to thirst no more and be a spring that wells up to eternal life.
The encounter with Christ caused her to see Him For who he is. In the 28th verse we are told that she left her waterpot, the instrument she would use to fetch the water. She had no need for the broken cistern because she encountered the flowing river of life. She went on to share Jesus because Christ fills to the point of overflow: “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38). She glorified him by testifying about Him. Christ pleasures us and empowers us to praise and make him known.
Like the woman at the well we too have ‘worldly waters’. Things that fall short at their promise to satisfy and in turn cause us to fall short in glorifying God. Seeking the depths of joy and lengths of pleasure in the presence of God is the true path of life for the believer and our empowerment to glorify Him.
Jesus told the woman that he thirsts, but we know he didn’t really require water. His thirst was greater. When his disciples returned and urged him to eat, he said “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34). The will of God is that Christ will be our pleasure and satisfaction. Christ had his food and drink when he met the need of the woman at the well. It’s the same when he meets our need.
Building An Appetite For God
Jesus and the Holy Spirit are often likened to food and water in the bible. We as human being can relate to having an appetite for food and water as previously established. Hence why we are encouraged to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Psalm 34:8). The key here is that our experience of God shapes our perception of Him. Like we experience a well-cooked meal, and we enjoy its goodness, we can experience God and enjoy His goodness as well. One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to reveal Christ and make Him real to us so that we can experience Him. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16:13). This makes fellowship with the Holy Spirit crucial; it is Him our experience and enjoyment of God hinges on.
How Do We Fellowship With The Spirit?
We actively fellowship with the Spirit through prayer, worship and the book he authored, The Bible. We know the writers were moved by Him when they wrote it. We also know that He is the breath of God that inspired it (2 timothy 3:17-17). This understanding is vital because it stops Bible reading and prayer from being a mundane activity we do because we know we should as believers. It helps us to understand the power our spiritual discipline carries. No longer should we only see them as spiritual disciplines but also privileges. It’s either a burden or a privilege depending on your perspective. With this understanding, we see that we give ourselves to prayer and study of the word because it allows us to fellowship with the Holy Spirt who empowers us to experience and enjoy God’s goodness. We also experience and enjoy Jesus through fellowshipping with saints as He said, ‘where two or more are gathered in my name, there I am with them’ (Matthew 18:20)
The Holy Spirit is the presence of God with us on the earth, and His fruit is joy (Galatians 5:22), therefore joy is a hallmark of our fellowship with Him. A tree bears fruit after its own kind. Apple trees produce apples, The Holy Spirit produces joy. Therefore, true fellowship with Him should produce joy. The Holy Spirit is the deepest joy and lasting pleasure we receive from Christ to the point of overflow.
The Pleasure In Giving Yourself For Others
Sharing Jesus as well as our resources also has an hedonistic motivation. Paul, in admonishing the church to work hard to help those in need or ‘the weak’ echoed Jesus’ words in saying ‘it is more blessed to give that to receive’ (Acts 20:35). The root word of ‘blessed’ in this verse connotes happiness. Think on a time you bought a gift that meant a lot to a loved one and how good giving made you feel. Christian hedonism teaches that the believer derives great joy by giving himself for the needs of others, which is the essence of love which is what our entire faith is centred upon. Love for God and our neighbour.
Praise Is The Consummation Of Joy
We previously saw how the woman at the well, praised and glorified Jesus after her encounter with him. This is because ‘authentic joy in God will overflow with praise’ -John Piper.
We praise the restaurants, pieces of art and literature we enjoy and share it with people because of the genuineness of our enjoyment of it. In the same way our willingness to share Jesus can be an indication of the genuineness of our joy in him.
In conclusion, We must seek to experience and enjoy God, which we do by fellowship with the Holy Spirit and giving ourselves for the needs of people. We fellowship with the Holy Spirit through the bible, prayer, worship and believers. This fellowship should produce in us deep joy and lasting pleasure. This in turn should lead us to praise, share and glorify God. This is the pursuit of the Christian Hedonist.