Happy Wednesday, and welcome back to the podcast. We talk a lot about this thing we call Christian Hedonism around here. So what is it? What’s the best, simplest, shortest definition of Christian Hedonism? Well, I have it for you today.
Back in 2006, Pastor John was asked to define Christian Hedonism in two minutes. And he delivered his response in one minute, forty seconds. Here’s what he said.
Christian Hedonism is the conviction that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. I won’t take the time to put all the textual foundation under that. I’ve done that in many places. But let me explain the implication. If God is made to look glorious by my being satisfied in him, then pursuing my satisfaction in him becomes essential to obedience and worship. And therefore, Christian Hedonism says, you must pursue your maximum joy. And that’s maximum in two senses: maximum in quality, maximum in quantity. In other words, I want fullness of joy, and I want joy forevermore (Psalm 16:11). And that’s only found in God.
So I have no hesitation saying that the Christian life is the pursuit of maximum joy in God, because my soul is satisfied and God is glorified. And those two things — God’s glory and my joy — are not at odds. And that’s the beauty of Christian Hedonism. God has sent Jesus Christ to die for my sins and to rise again, so that it’s possible for me now to have total and complete satisfaction in God forever. And when I pursue that, I’m showing that God is infinitely valuable, infinitely satisfying, so that he gets the glory and I get the joy.
You Might also like
Roses Grow on Briers: Unsentimental Love in a Sentimental WorldBy David Mathis — 12 months ago
At present, I’m enjoying a slow walk through Middle-earth. We first toured some of this terrain together almost six years ago, as I read aloud The Hobbit to our twin boys. Now, they’re almost twelve. Harry Potter is behind us. The boys are almost teens, more grown-up, with maturing palates ready for richer fare — and the patience that Tolkien requires. At long last, we journey to Mordor.
The Lord of the Rings is striking for its contrasts. Suffocating darkness, then stunning bursts of light. Brooding evil, and resilient good. Yes, this tale has its greys — perhaps the most common color named in the trilogy. Yet beneath its cloaks is a marked world of stark contrasts. From the beginning, this is not a journey Frodo started from some deep urge for adventure. He doesn’t choose to go; he signs no contract. Pursued by Black Riders who have breached the Shire, he is forced to run, with life and death — and the whole world — in the balance.
When all the world is so quickly at stake, diverse races soon divide between Mordor and the West. Even Elves and Dwarves join together in the Fellowship. The horror of the White Wizard’s change in allegiance is that the chasm between Evil, and those who would resist it, is so stark. And in the meantime, one who is Grey is shown to be White.
This is one reason Lord of the Rings is a welcomed influence in many Christian homes. We teach our children first and foremost from Scripture that the real world is one of stark contrasts, with many voices vying to paint it all in shades of grey. Cloaked as it may be for now, ours is a world of darkness and light, of evil and good, of wrong and right. We need eyes for biblical reality — what God himself says about our world through the apostles and prophets and climactically in his Son — and we are happy to be helped along by some great stories, and wise voices, that echo the contrasts of Scripture.
God Put Roses on Briers
One such wise voice is Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758). No, I am not yet reading him aloud to my children, but I dream of the day. At least I hope some of his spine will come to them through their father.
Edwards, says biographer George Marsden, “saw all created reality as bittersweet contrasts, dazzling beauty set against appalling horrors, ephemeral glories pointing to divine perfections” (Jonathan Edwards: A Life, 136). And what is at the center of that contrast-filled reality and beauty?
At the core of Edwards’ outlook is a rigorously unsentimental view of love. . . . Edwards’ universe was similar to that of many of our own moral tales, from Star Wars and Lord of the Rings to countless lesser entertainments. (137)
Star Wars may be a stretch, but the point is well-taken in terms of contrasts between light and dark. Often we need to go back — to Tolkien and Lewis seventy years ago, to Edwards in the early 1700s, and most of all to the Scriptures — to escape the gently disorienting breezes of our own day, feel the great directional gusts of reality, and remember that life and death are at stake. The atmosphere of secularism rests so heavy on us that we are prone to take eternity so lightly. But the real world is one of briers and worms, of snakes and sharks, of death and hell.
“The atmosphere of secularism rests so heavy on us that we are prone to take eternity so lightly.”
In Scripture, God shows us the glory of his light against the backdrop of darkness. Slavery in Egypt accents the glory of his deliverance. His people regularly falling under foreign powers accents his rescues under the judges. The destruction of Jerusalem, and the horrors of exile, accent the glory of return and restoration. The death of his own Son precedes the glorious rush of resurrection life; and our own sin, the stark contrast of grace and the gift of new life. In it all, we learn our need for God, and learn to marvel in his light.
As Edwards wrote in one of his earliest entries in his journal,
Roses grow upon briers, which is to signify that all temporal sweets are mixed with bitter. But what seems more especially to be meant by it, is that true happiness, the crown of glory, is to be come at in no other way than by bearing Christ’s cross by a life of mortification, self-denial and labor, and bearing all things for Christ. (The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 11:52)
Our Trouble with ‘Love’
Another voice unafraid of God’s stark contrasts and God’s unsentimental love — and this one from our own day — is Don Carson.
In the opening chapter of his Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, Carson five times uses the words “sentimental” or “sentimentalized” to characterize the prevailing notions of love in our age — in contrast to the rich, multi-dimensional portrait of God’s love in the Scriptures. Which means that when biblically-shaped Christians speak about the love of God today, we “mean something very different from what is meant in the surrounding culture” (10). What is more, writes Carson:
I do not think that what the Bible says about the love of God can long survive at the forefront of our thinking if it is abstracted from the sovereignty of God, the holiness of God, the wrath of God, the providence of God, or the personhood of God — to mention only a few nonnegotiable elements of basic Christianity. (11)
“When we listen to God’s own words, we do not find a portrait of his love that is simple or tame.”
Some today flinch at divine sovereignty — and divine wrath all the more. And set against these suspicions are shallow and sentimental notions of his love. Of course God will forgive me, it’s assumed, That’s his job. But when we listen to God’s own words, we do not find a portrait of his love that is so simple, one-dimensional, tame, or boring.
How, then, is God’s love “rigorously unsentimental”?
God’s love toward sinners comes on quite different terms than his love for his Son. Carson points first to God’s intra-Trinitarian love with which he loves his worthy Son. But we are mere creatures, and fallen, and undeserving. God loves us not because of our worth, but despite it. Our sin deserves the justice of eternal separation. His love toward sinners shines out for what it is against the backdrop of our rebellion, and the hell we deserve. His love for us demonstrates, at bottom, his value and worth, against the common assumption that it preeminently echoes how valuable we are.
And divine justice and wrath are satisfied in the death of God’s Son. His is bloody, deadly, unsparing love — the kind that makes people squirm and some utter horrible phrases like “cosmic child abuse.” The hubris is staggering. Still, he tells us that he loved the world in this way: “he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). How does God show his love for us? “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). How do we know that he is for us, and no one, Satan included, can be successfully against us? God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32).
Carson also observes God’s providential love — he makes his sun rise on the just and unjust — and his yearning love, holding out open hands to any sinner who will bow and received Jesus as his treasured Lord. But sinners, on their own, do not repent without God’s elective love — his special love for his people, his sheep, his bride. And just as unnerving as election, if not more so for some, is God’s provisional love, which is conditioned on obedience.
Twenty-first-century, Christ-haunted Westerners have their sentimental slogans, that God’s love is unconditional, or that he loves everyone the same. It is true that his elective love is unconditional, but certainly not his provisional love. And he does love everyone, in some respect, with regard to his providential love and yearning love, but certainly not in his elective love. As Carson writes, “What the Bible says about the love of God is more complex and nuanced than what is allowed by mere sloganeering” (24).
News Worth Sharing
In such biblical tensions, we find the deep and complex love of our God — his unsentimental love — a love which is not weaker than the world’s version, but stronger. The edges and hard-to-stomach truths do not dilute divine love; they distill it.
God does not promise his people temporal comforts and ease. Nor did he promise, and give, such to his own Son in the days of his flesh. Divine love, in this age, is not simple, sentimental, or predictable. Owning this now, before the next time this world roughs us up, will help us be ready to suffer well, for the joy set before us.
So, we relish contemporary voices with backbone. And we go back a century for Tolkien and Lewis, or back three centuries for Edwards, and four for the Puritans. And best of all, by far, we build our lives daily in this modern world in the firm words and stark contrasts of the Scriptures, as faithful Christians have for two millennia. Then we watch with compassion as our world tries to satisfy itself with a cheap, thin, sentimental counterfeit.
And we stand ready with such good news to share about the love of our God.
Fighting for Faith in the Entertainment AgeBy John Piper — 8 months ago
Last time, we looked at how non-Christians fight for faith. We Christians also fight for faith. We fight for faith because the world and the flesh and the devil conspire to spiritually deaden us. They come at us with sleeping pills, with tranquilizers of relaxation, with the offer of a life filled by the hypnotic trance of digital amusements. And what Jesus wants us to see is that “faith and hope and love are the antidotes to the soporific effects of the world always trying to get you to go to sleep.” So how do we stay awake? And how do we fight to stay awake in the entertainment age? Here’s Pastor John, preaching in 2005 at an outdoor venue — a conference maybe. I’m not sure about the context, but you’ll hear the wind at times. Here is John Piper.
“Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11). Today is the 80th birthday of Dan Fuller, which doesn’t mean anything to most of you, but means a great deal to me because Dan Fuller was for me in 1968, ’69, ’70 and ’71 God’s instrument for turning my world upside down and opening my eyes to the Scriptures and the glory of God. So, I got on email yesterday, and I wrote him a long letter of appreciation and gratitude. And among the other things that I said, I said, “Dan, salvation is closer to you now than it was the day you believed, and every groan of your 80-year-old body is groaning closer to Jesus. Every heartbeat in your fragile old body is a heartbeat closer to the glory of Jesus Christ.”
I hope he takes heart in his 80-year-old frame. And I hope you take heart from knowing your salvation — which is the completion of your redemption, with a new body and the end of battling with sin — is closer today than it was yesterday. And every groaning of your aching body means, “I’m one groan closer to the glory that is arriving.”
Sleepwalking and Skydiving
Then the third thing he says in verse 11, in the first half of the verse, is this: “The hour has come for you to wake from sleep” (Romans 13:11). And you remember what we said about that? Most of the world that is not treasuring Jesus Christ as its supreme treasure is sleepwalking. Even though their life is very glitzy, it’s just bombarded every day with advertisements to say, “Do this, and you will live,” when in fact, it’s the devil wringing his hand, saying, “Do this, and you will go sound asleep” — sound asleep to what that sun is really saying today.
How many people in Mounds View do not hear the glory of God being declared from the heavens? Why? Because they spent all night watching television. They’ve saturated their lives with an entertainment mentality, and their spiritual eyes have gotten smaller and smaller and smaller until most people without Christ can’t see anything glorious in spiritual reality. And Paul says, “The day has come. This is not a time for sleeping. This is not a time for sleepwalking.”
It’s not a time for being like skydivers — this is like a parable of the world without Christ. The skydivers are leaping out their planes, and they are watching the air go at 120 miles an hour through their fingers, and feeling this is the apex of the thrill of life. But there’s just one problem: they have no parachutes. And the gravity that is pulling them inexorably toward what will happen in about a minute or two is called the wrath of God. Because Jesus said in John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” And they think they’re so alive.
One of our great tasks is to so let the light of the gospel shine that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, eyes will wake up to the fact that day has come. Christ has come. The sun of righteousness has risen over Mounds View and over the Twin Cities. Wake up to the glory of your Savior, and believe him and enjoy him. Don’t be a sleepwalker. Don’t be a sleep-skydiver. It’s time to wake up. It’s time to get dressed. That’s what this text is about today. Get dressed. Take off your pajamas. Stop going to work in your pajamas.
Entering the War
So, we start now at verse 12. And what we’re finding here is that we’re being told what to wear as the light has come and what to do in this clothing. Romans 13:12: “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then cast off the works of darkness.” You see the logic? “Because it is day, so then . . .” These are pajamas. Cast off the works of pajamas. One way to define sin is pajamas. You should be embarrassed to go around sinning. I mean, who would go to work in his pajamas? But people go to work in the works of darkness every day when it’s day. Wake up! It’s day. The King of kings has come.
So, “cast off [take off] the works of darkness and put on” — and then he chooses a word that is surprising. I didn’t expect him to choose this word. It’s a word that signals that the Christian life is not just wakeful; it’s war. You see that word? The day is at hand; so then, take off your pajamas — that is, the works of darkness — “and put on the armor of light.” I mean, I would expect it to say, “Put on a shirt or a cloak” or “Dress well for work” or something. And he says, “Put on the armor of light.”
“The Christian life is not just wakeful; it’s war.”
So, out of the blue comes — I mean, we don’t just go from pajamas to clothes to armor; we go straight from pajamas to armor. What does that say about life? It says life is war. The Christian life is a battle — though God has been so merciful to give us a foretaste of heaven today, and we may wonder, how can we even think in terms of life as being war and a battle and darkness to be overcome?
Armor of Light
So, put off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Now, here’s my question: What is the armor of light, and what does putting it on mean? But let’s make the question a little broader. Verse 12 and verse 14 both used the words “put on.” Notice verse 14: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” So, now you’ve got two “put-ons”: put on the armor of light when you take off your pajamas of sin, and put on the Lord Jesus Christ. So, my question really is, What’s the relationship between putting on the armor of light and putting on the Lord Jesus Christ? What do those two things mean? And I think the answer is given in 1 Thessalonians 5:7–8.
So, if you want to go there with me, you can, or you can just listen. I read this two weeks ago because 1 Thessalonians 5:7–8 is the closest comparison in all of Paul’s writings to what we have here in Romans 13:12–14. When I read it, you’ll hear the relationship. So listen carefully to 1 Thessalonians 5:7–8:
For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on [now there it is: we have armor, so we know we’re in the same sphere of thought] the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.
So, Paul mentions two pieces of armor: breastplate and helmet. We know there are more from Ephesians 6, but that’s all he’s dealing with here. We’ve got a breastplate to cover your heart and your will, and we’ve got a helmet to cover your brain, because those are the only three things the devil’s interested in. He wants your heart; he wants your will; he wants your brain — so get yourself covered good here and here. And he says there are three things that this armor stands for: faith, love, hope. Sound familiar? These three are the great ones — faith, hope, and love.
Staying Awake in a Sleepy World
So, now I come back to Romans 13:12, and see if this will help us. “So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” That is, let us put on faith, and let us put on hope, and let us put on love.
“Faith and hope and love are the antidotes to the soporific effects of the world.”
In this world of sleepwalking, the message is coming at you all day long — every day from television and from advertising and from all other kinds of things — to say, “Go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep with regard to God, with regard to Christ, with regard to the Bible.” And the less you want the Bible, the less you want Jesus, the less you want God, the more effective you know the sleeping pills of the world have been in your life. And what he’s saying here now is that faith and hope and love are the antidotes to the soporific effects of the world always trying to get you to go to sleep. So, combat that sleep-producing effect of the world by putting on faith and putting on hope and putting on love.
The Spiritual Gift of a Closed Door: How Waiting Serves MinistryBy Marshall Segal — 7 months ago
Sometimes God makes us wait for doors to open in ministry because unwanted waiting is some of the best preparation for ministry.
By the fall of 2008, I already knew I wanted to be a pastor. It was my senior year at Wake Forest University. I had wondered whether I might be a high school teacher, so I had tried a couple of education classes. Thinking I might go into ministry, though, I also signed up for one memorable course in the divinity school, on the apostle Paul and his letters. The course was taught by a universalist lesbian. On the last day of class, she handed back our final papers and told me she thought I should consider Christian ministry. It was almost enough to convince me not to.
No, very much despite my experience in the divinity school, I still wanted to be pastor, largely because I had watched teenagers’ eyes light up, again and again, while we read about Jesus in the Gospel of John together. I came to faith through the ministry of Young Life, and then volunteered with the ministry throughout college. I spent much of my free time at East Forsyth High School, watching JV soccer games, playing ping pong, and telling 14- and 15-year-olds what God had done for me. I never felt more alive than when I was watching God use something in his word to set the filaments of their minds on fire.
After that one class, I stayed plenty clear of the divinity school, and decided to major in business with a minor in ancient Greek (probably the only one in my class to do that). When I graduated in 2008, I knew I needed more training to learn how to handle the Bible faithfully, so I went straight to Bethlehem College & Seminary, where I graduated in 2012.
Now ten years later, I’m still not a pastor.
Humility in Ministry
Now, to say I’m not yet a pastor is not to say that God hasn’t opened real doors for ministry. He clearly has. This article itself is but one sweet and unexpected evidence. But I’m not yet leading in the ways I thought I would be by now, which has given me a chance to reflect on why that might be. Why might God give me an ambition to lead, and bring solid confirmation of character and ability, and yet withhold certain opportunities to lead?
Because sometimes unwanted waiting is some of the best preparation for ministry.
“How many men have been given too much authority, too soon, and fallen headlong into the hands of hell?”
When the apostle Paul laid out what kind of man a pastor must be, he wrote, “An overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant . . .” (Titus 1:7). Does arrogance feel spiritually dangerous, even ruinous, to you? Paul said the same to young Timothy: “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6). Is anything more dangerous to a ministry — or to a soul — than unchecked pride? How many men have been given too much authority, too soon, and fallen headlong into the hands of hell?
The priceless gift of unwanted waiting in ministry is humility. A ministry without humility may seem to flourish for a time, but (as we’ve witnessed again and again) it ultimately harms those it claims to serve. Pride slowly erodes a ministry until it suddenly collapses on all involved. How kind of God, then, to save churches, families, and souls, by making some men wait until they can kneel low enough to lead well?
Cheerful in the Shadows
One of the best ways we can steward a season of waiting to shepherd is to learn to be a model sheep. Pastors worth following, after all, are always examples worth imitating.
“Shepherd the flock of God that is among you,” the apostle Peter writes, “exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2–3). So what kind of example are you becoming? Bobby Jamieson offers this counsel to aspiring leaders like me along these lines:
What good deeds do you do that are seen by few or none? When did you last volunteer for a menial task? Which title means more to you, “brother,” which you are, or “pastor,” which you hope to be? Is being a servant your idea of greatness?
One of the best things an aspiring pastor can do is serve outside the spotlight. Give elderly members rides to church. Serve in the nursery. Teach children Sunday school. Volunteer to serve food at, and clean up after, the wedding reception of a couple of church members you barely know.
Everybody wants to be a servant until they get treated like one. Pastors not only are servants; they get treated like servants. Prepare yourself now for both the work and its reception by serving others. The best preparation for the spiritual trials of the spotlight is serving cheerfully in the shadows. (The Path to Being a Pastor, 134)
“One of the best ways we can steward a season of waiting to shepherd is to learn to be a model sheep.”
How are you stewarding the shadows? If we could see how well these days were preparing us for the darker days of ministry ahead, we’d treasure the quiet, hidden work God is doing in and through us while we wait.
Keep the Room Clean
As I traveled with John Piper during the years I was his ministry assistant, I heard him tell some version of one particular story many times. Each time, the scene captivated and humbled me.
A significant reason I chose to come to Bethlehem College & Seminary was to sit under and learn from him. His preaching class was all I hoped for, and more. As you might imagine, he came each day brimming with some fresh insight from his devotions, eager to wrestle with us over something God had said. He had (and has) a relentless appetite for uncovering reality in Scripture and pressing it into human hearts, especially his own. Those hours were intense and refreshing, serious and exciting. I came away wanting to see all he could see in God’s word.
So, having had him as a teacher, and having admired him as a teacher, and having wanted to be a teacher like him, I leaned in all the more when he would tell this particular story.
When I was in seminary, I said to John McClure, the head of the youth department at Lake Avenue Congregational Church, “I’m available, and I’ll do whatever you want me to do.” And he said, “Well, we need a seventh-grade boys Sunday school teacher this year.” I said, “Count me in.”
I poured my life into those boys. There were about nine of them. . . . Four hours every Saturday afternoon I worked on my lesson. And at the end of that year, I said, “Now what do you want me to do, the same thing?” He said, “No, now we need a ninth-grade teacher.” So I said, “Okay,” and I jumped over a class and taught ninth grade.
Midway through that year, the Galilean Sunday School Class of young married couples said, “We would like you to teach our class if they can do without you teaching the youth.” This is the way it’s gone my whole life. My dad said, “Keep the room clean where you are, son, and he’ll open the door when the next one’s ready.”
I would pay to watch those nine 12-year-old boys under the waterfall of a young Piper’s love for Jesus.
The story sticks with and sobers me because of how much someone as gifted as he is poured into just a few kids week after week. Hours of thinking, praying, and preparing for a tiny crowd of preteens (who could probably care less how much time he spent). I can picture what those lessons were like — John, with all he had, trying hard to creatively capture their wandering attention with the beauty and worth of God. Am I that faithful in the quiet, secret ministries God has given me?
The story inspires me, though, because it reminds me that greater fruitfulness and responsibility in ministry often grow out of faithfulness in secret places.
Are You Faithful in Little?
While I traced the threads of humility, leadership, and waiting in Scripture, it dawned on me that, in one sense, our entire lives are one brief season of training for an eternity of ministry. Listen to how Jesus explains the parable of the talents:
It will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. . . .
Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, “Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:14–21)
At the end of the age, he’ll say, “You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.” Not, “You have been faithful over a little, and I have nothing else for you to do,” but, “You have been faithful over a little in this life, and I have so much more for you to do in the next.” Even the largest, most well-known ministries are small and brief next to all Jesus will one day entrust to us — if we’re faithful with the talents we have.
So, while you wait for some door to open, be as faithful as you can be with whatever work, however seemingly small, God has entrusted to you for now.