Most of us will have heard of the outlook and belief of Hedonism. In case you have not, let’s just leave aside its history and origins and say it means as the Cambridge Dictionary says, “living and behaving in ways that mean you get as much pleasure out of life as possible, according to the belief that the most important thing in life is to enjoy yourself.”
I am by nature quite a cheerful person. I can think and sink deeply, but I enjoy life and enjoy life in God. Most of my best thinking in private takes me up the way into freedom and hope and gives me the seeds of something life-giving to share with others I speak to or meet. I am not morose: I look upon people and treat people with the mercy, kind and steadfast love and grace of God that I have received in Christ. I am optimistic. I can be militaristic and simplistic. At times, grumpiness and irritability are clothes that I seem to want to slip into more than I want to if you know what I mean, though it is often a bit of a put on act! However, basically, I smile a lot and it is genuine. It reflects what is going on inside me and how I am looking at what is happening around me.
I also love the Church: well to be honest I love some of it and tolerate some of it. I like being with God’s people: well to be honest I like being with some of them and …well you can complete the sentence. I need to keep working on that one. Nonetheless, there is a thought that is going through my mind often. It just seems to be there and it won’t go away but runs like an underground current of concern. I could sum it up in the form of a question: is legalistic religion being replaced by hedonistic religion?
It has become a bit of a catchphrase that as Christians we do not believe in religion we believe in relationship with God. I will let that go for a moment. (It is not quite biblical, but to take it on can wait for another time, if that time ever comes at all and if I feel there is any point in trying to stop a runaway train with a full head of steam). However getting rid of legalistic religion does not mean I get rid of God’s commands. There is life in the commandments of God, they are good and are for our good. As those who have trusted Christ we know we cannot find salvation through our keeping of the commandments, but that does not mean we are to jettison them. Yet, I find increasingly that even among my brothers and sisters in Christ there is a tendency to dismiss any reference to what God says in His Word about how human beings in general and His covenant people in particular are to live and conduct themselves, as being legalistic. Pleasurable spiritual experience seems to be the more foundational pursuit now for many, rather than God’s word and ways. That pursuit is often underpinned by a theology of discipleship and mission based on hyper-grace, or cheap-grace; the unholy reaching out to the the unholy and staying unholy together rather than spurring one another on to live out what it means to be saved.
I would go further. Legalism is being replaced by Hedonism. It is as though Christ is excitedly regarded as a means to live out a deeper belief without the need for self examination or accountability: He is in my life to bring me pleasure and enjoyment and that is about it. Remember the definition of hedonism at the start of this particular blog? “Living and behaving in ways that mean you get as much pleasure out of life as possible, according to the belief that the most important thing in life is to enjoy yourself.”
Probably all of us have been infected by this outlook in some way. “Search me O God and know my heart,” is a good prayer to bring to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Here are some words from Psalm 19 that I hope will help us all to think about the refreshing there is to be found in thinking upon and living out what God says:
7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the Lord is clean,
enduring for ever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them is thy servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can discern his errors?
Clear thou me from hidden faults.
13 Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in thy sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”
If you want a “Refresher” or two, take a commandment or two and taste them in the presence of Jesus, the One and Only Saviour, who wants to help us “glorify God and enjoy Him forever!”