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What is hedonism?

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines hedonism as the belief ‘that pleasure is the chief good or the proper aim’ and ‘behaviour based on this’. This pleasure-seeking mentality surrounds us, indeed it is part of each one of us. From that first denial of God’s rights in Genesis 3 right up to the present moment, our inclination is to go for what pleases us whether or not it conflicts with what pleases, or is due to, God. So firmly is this self-pleasing entrenched in the normal ebb and flow of our lives that most of the time we don’t realise we are doing it.

The basic concepts of hedonism are simple and bold:

 [1] If it feels good, or makes you feel good, do it!
 [2] If it feels good, or makes you feel good, it is right!
 [3] Pleasure is the ultimate good.
 [4] I am the centre of my world.

The hedonistic mind says: ‘Whatever gives me a buzz, or thrills me, or gives me the warm fuzzies - that is good and that is right. My feelings determine how I assess actions, experiences or circumstances. My feelings determine my choices. I accept only what makes me feel good, happy, comfortable, excited, and so on. I reject what disturbs or troubles me, or is too demanding or difficult, or threatens my personal pleasure. I also reject whatever has ceased to thrill me. I reject what is boring.’

As a society, this self-centred, sensual, pleasure-seeking, thrill-seeking mentality motivates much of our recreational activity, dictates our choice of moral standards, and colours our attitude to law and our attitude to work.

How does this conflict with God’s truth?

Opposed to this hedonistic mentality, the Biblical viewpoint is:

 [1] What God says is right is right.
 [2] What honours God is right.
 [3] The ultimate good is to know and to glorify God.
 [4] Our chief aim should be God’s kingdom and his righteousness.
 [5] God is the centre of my world.

How is hedonism affecting the church?

As hedonism infiltrates the mind of the church we find:

Churches focus on their own good (for example, numerical or financial growth) rather than on God’s glory.

Churches become market-oriented (seeking to please their “customers”) rather than Bible-based and Christ-centred.

Entertainment replaces the solid teaching of the Word.

The moral standard expected by the churches falls in order to please the people and keep them ‘on side’; the giving of offence is avoided even at the cost of Biblical standards.

The Gospel is reduced to a ‘come to Jesus and be happy etc’ message.

The Gospel is replaced by a message that titivates the emotions and the senses.

God and his salvation are reduced.

How is hedonism affecting individual Christians?

Surrounded by a hedonistic society, indeed part of it, and deceived all too often by the self-centred, God-dishonouring mentality of many churches,

Christians become self-centred rather than Christ-centred.

Christians have an inadequate concept of salvation, because of the inadequate message they have heard; the ‘come-to-Jesus-and-be-happy’ message has failure built into it, resulting in disillusioned Christians who wonder whether it is God who has failed them or they who have failed God.

Christians have an inadequate concept of sanctification.

Christians find church services boring unless their emotions and other senses are titivated.

Christians flit from one church to another in search of one that will satisfy their quest for programs that will give them the desired level of pleasure or excitement.
Submission to the authority of Jesus Christ the Lord is sadly lacking - ‘I’ll do as I please, thank-you-very-much!’

What can we do to strengthen ourselves and our families against this insidious, self-centred, self-pleasing mind-set?

[1] Submit to the authority of God as revealed in the Scripture.

[2] Remember that God is the centre of the universe, not ourselves.

[3] Recognise that instant gratification of personal desires is not the order of the day for followers of Jesus Christ.

[4] Remember that the pleasures of this earth are but for a moment but the joy of the Lord persists beyond this world into eternity.

All of the above could be misunderstood and the conclusion drawn that as Christians we’re not supposed to do anything that pleases us or makes us feel good. Such a conclusion is wrong. The Bible is not against pleasure, but against the attitude to pleasure in which my personal pleasure and my feeling good is the central consideration that determines my actions and choices, replacing God and his Word as the governing principle of my life. Hedonism ignores the fact that God is the one who is in charge. It ignores the fact that he has the right to tell me how to live.

Let us each examine our hearts and lives. Let us not be sucked in by the self-pleasing mentality of our world. Let us rather seek the mind of Christ, who, for our sakes, denied himself, denied his own good, and sought the glory of God, his Father.

For your study:

Genesis 3: for the original self-centred, self-pleasing rebellion against God. Ecclesiastes: to learn from Solomon’s experience that pleasure seeking, along with a number of other pursuits, is like ‘chasing the wind’ (GNB), and to discover the godly alternative. Matthew 26:39,42,44; John 17:1-5; Philippians 2:1-8: for the mind of Christ. Isaiah 43:7; Ephesians 1:12; 1 Peter 2:9: for God’s purpose for us. Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:17-24: for the importance of not letting our minds be influenced by the mind of the world.  

© Rosemary Bardsley 2011