What Is Christian Hedonism?
My shortest summary of Christian Hedonism is this: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. We all make a god out of what we take the most pleasure in. Christian Hedonists want to make God their God by seeking after the greatest pleasure — pleasure in him.
By Christian Hedonism, we do not mean that our happiness is the highest good. We mean that pursuing the highest good always results in our greatest happiness in the end. We should pursue this happiness, and pursue it with all our might. The desire to be happy is a proper motive for every good deed, and if you abandon the pursuit of your own joy, you cannot love man or please God.
Difference Between Worldly and Christian Hedonism
Some people are inclined to believe that Christians are supposed to seek God’s will as opposed to pursuing their own pleasure. But what makes biblical morality different than worldly hedonism is not that biblical morality is disinterested and duty-driven, but that it is interested in vastly greater and purer things. Christian Hedonism is biblical morality because it recognizes that obeying God is the only route to final and lasting happiness. Consider examples of this from the Bible:
Luke 6:35 says, “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great.” It is clear when Jesus says “expect nothing in return” that we should not be motivated by worldly aggrandizement, but we are given strength to suffer loss by the promise of a future reward.
Again, in Luke 14:12–14: “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor . . . and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” That is, don’t do good deeds for worldly advantage; rather, do them for spiritual, heavenly benefits.
Should Duty Be Our Main Motivation?
But some will say, “No, no. These texts only describe what reward will result if you act disinterestedly. They do not teach us to actually seek the reward.”
Two answers to this objection:
1) It would be foolish to say, “If you take this pill, I’ll give you a dollar,” if you expect the desire for the dollar to ruin the pill. But Jesus was not foolish. He would not offer blessing to those who obey him and then hold it against us if these blessings motivated our obedience.
2) Even more importantly, there are texts that not only commend that we do good in the hope of future blessing, but command it.
Luke 12:33 says, “Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail.” The connection here between alms and having eternal treasure in heaven is not a chance result — it is the explicit purpose: “Make it your aim to have treasure in heaven, and the way to do this is to sell your possessions and give alms.”
And again, Luke 16:9 says, “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into eternal habitations.” Luke does not say that the result of using possessions properly is to receive eternal habitations. He says, “Make it your aim to secure an eternal habitation by the way you use your possessions.”
Therefore, a resounding no to the belief that morality should be inspired more by duty than delight.
Don’t Be Too Easily Satisfied
Hebrews 11:6 teaches, “Without faith it is impossible to please [God]. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” You cannot please God if you do not come to him looking for reward. Therefore, faith that pleases God is the hedonistic pursuit of God.
As Christian Hedonists, we know that everyone longs for happiness. And we never tell them to deny or repress that desire. It is never a problem to want to be satisfied. The problem is being satisfied too easily. We believe that everyone who longs for satisfaction no longer should seek it from money or power or lust, but should come glut their soul-hunger on the grace of God. We bend all our effort, by the Holy Spirit, to persuade people
- that they can be happier in giving than receiving (Acts 20:35);
- that they should count everything as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus their Lord (Philippians 3:8);
- that the aim of all of Jesus’s commandments is that their joy be full (John 15:11);
- that if they delight themselves in the Lord he will give them the desire of their heart (Psalm 37:4);
- that there is great gain in godliness with contentment (1 Timothy 6:6);
We do not try to motivate anyone with appeals to mere duty. We tell them that in God’s presence is full and lasting joy (Psalm 16:11) and our duty is to come to him, seeking this pleasure.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Providence.