In these evil days, we can fall into despair, feeling desperate for pleasant distraction and joy-filled living. Because of that, it’s easy to find ourselves soaking in whatever uplifting message we can. Christian speakers who talk of joy with such enthusiasm and conviction, who speak assuredly of their daily joy in Jesus, can be very motivating. It can cause us to ponder our own level of joy in the Lord and maybe even come to the conclusion that we are in sin, failing to show the level of joy for Him that a Christian should have.
We know the Bible speaks of joy. It is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22, 1 Thessalonians 1:6). We know we should have joy in the Lord (Psalm 32:11, 1 Peter 1:7-9), joy in our salvation (Psalm 95:1, Isaiah 25:9, Habakkuk 3:18) and to have joy in tribulation, trial, and suffering in the name of Christ (James 1:3, Romans 5:3). Christians should exude joy, a joy that can’t be defined by the world or its products. As a Christian, we should have joy because there is so much to be joyous about!
Sadly though, Satan loves to encourage a biblical and beautiful truth to be put in a light it was never meant to be in, to give it weight it’s not supposed to have. What God wants to be a part of a whole is twisted to become the whole focus.
I didn’t understand the particulars of it at the time, as I wasn’t even aware of this “joy worship”, but it was taking place right under my nose within a certain group I had been a part of for a few years. Perhaps I didn’t see it because there were much bigger fish to fry. Charismatic teachings started infecting this beloved group and discussions among us became more and more somber and serious as false teachings trickled in and I was forced to address them. In my attempts to help them question these teachings, surprisingly I only caused them to question my joy in Jesus. At one point someone literally yelled in my face “you have no joy!”
I sat there stunned, wondering what they thought I was supposed to look like when false teachings were being discussed and rebuked. Was I supposed to look like a kid at Christmas? Was I supposed to be outwardly rejoicing right now? I found it absurd to bring up my “joy problem”, and even my salvation in the Lord as they addressed my “legalism” when discussing these matters.
It wasn’t until recently that I pieced it all together. I had done some reading and listening to podcasts of “Christian” hedonism, something John Piper coined and has taught for years. It struck me that this could have been the reason “joy” was such a focus to these people, being many in this group were faithful followers of Piper’s teachings and often quoted him.
Hedonism can be summed up in one word, pleasure. A hedonist lives to fulfill self; seeks after self-love and satisfaction. It’s all about feelings.
John MacArthur explains, “The word “lust” here, hēdone, from which we get hedonism, have to do with desire for pleasure, the yearnings of self-love that demand fulfillment, the yearning for pleasure that cannot be assuaged until it is fulfilled.” (Taken from: https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/59-23/the-danger-in-being-a-friend-of-the-world-part-2 )
Piper had taken this term and slapped “Christian” in front of it, creating the idea that God has given us the innate desire to pursue happiness and that satisfaction is the central focus we are to have as a Christian. I must say, putting “Christian” in front of something sinful is where the issue starts, but I digress.
This is some of what Piper says about “Christian hedonism”:
“And the shortest description of Christian Hedonism is God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” (Taken from:https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-is-christian-hedonism )
In Piper’s book Desiring God, page 55, we read “Could it be that today the most straightforward biblical command for conversion is not “Believe in the Lord,” but, “Delight yourself in the Lord”? And might not many slumbering hearts be stabbed broad awake by the words “Unless a man be born again into a Christian Hedonist he cannot see the kingdom of God”? (Also found here: https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/conversion-to-christ ).
He says, “Christian Hedonism says more; namely, that we should pursuehappiness, 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 — that’s what makes Christian Hedonism controversial.” (Taken from: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/christian-hedonism )
I don’t want to get into details of Piper’s ministry or what my personal beliefs are on him as a person or preacher. I am not trying to communicate that I believe he is a false teacher here, not yet anyway. I know the Lord has used Piper to teach wonderful, biblical truths. We can praise God for the good done in his ministry! However, we still must not overlook the troubling teachings from those we respect and have spiritually benefited from. There are some things to be concerned about when we look closely at just Piper’s comments on Christian hedonism.
Again, he says “Unless a man be born again into a Christian Hedonist he cannot see the kingdom of God”. I don’t recall seeing that in Scripture, however, I do remember reading, “Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3.
This, in my opinion, is playing fast and loose with Scripture. We don’t have the right to swap out words or plop in new ones and call it the Gospel. We can’t drop “Christian Hedonist” right there in the middle of John 3:3. That’s a dangerous habit to have. We are to accurately handle the Word of God (2 Timothy 2:15).
For him to say “we should pursue happiness, and pursue it with all our might” is ignoring or downplaying verses that say otherwise:
“Depart from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it.” Psalm 34:14
“The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, But He loves one who pursues righteousness.” Proverbs 15:9
“But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.” 1 Timothy 6:11.
Is even true joy the most important emotion to experience, especially at salvation? Is that to always take precedence over fear/reverence, sorrow, godly grief, etc.?
“Sorrow is better than laughter, For when a face is sad a heart may be happy.” Ecclesiastes 7:3
“For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance
without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” 2 Corinthians 7:10
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4
What are some of the implications of this hedonist viewpoint when put into practice?
I came upon Jon Harris’ video on John Piper and hedonism. He was actually greatly influenced by Piper and had lightly fallen into Christian hedonism himself at one time. He described how this became such a burden in his personal life, having to make sure to feel this “joy” in the Lord, in every single aspect of life. “Joy was always eluding him” it seemed, “hard to maintain”. Disappointment and impossibility ensued. He heard the same sentiments from others he knew who also fell into it.
He further explains that, instead of the joy of the Spirit being just one of the fruits, it ends up being the “end all be all”. Harris explains that “the hierarchy is rearranged in Christian hedonism.”
(See his YouTube link here to hear more: https://youtu.be/0nuZQSzjrr0 , as well as this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=neq8Wlu36XQ)
This mishandling and misinterpreting of the fruit of joy can cause it to be put in a spotlight it was never supposed to be in and it can produce a manufactured and shallow “joy” that brings you nowhere.
We don’t want false, manufactured, and shallow joy to be our “joy in the Lord”. That sort of joy is deadly.
“Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away.” Luke 8:13
Yes, we need to be more joyful and should want more joy. Yet, we want biblical joy. We don’t want self-centered emotionalism wrapped in “the joy of the Lord” veneer.
This hedonistic “joy” becomes the focus and reason for all that is done in the “name of Christ”. To these people the worst possible thing to be, and the most telling reason you are a stale Pharisee in their eyes is when you don’t wear and proclaim this joyful exuberance they’ve found; when you’d rather seek truth in and desire to obey Scripture instead of contemplating your daily joy-o-meter and announce it, and when sorrow over your own sin and the sin of others suck all of their “joy” out of the room. I believe this is why I was met with just rebuke about my joylessness – I was threatening their feeling and confidence of “joy” by sharing the reproving truth of God’s Word.
The fact is, true joy comes in knowing God, through His Word and the working of the Holy Spirit and not only knowing His Word but loving it and obeying it. True joy comes when you know the Lord through His Word and work of the Holy Spirit and when you see God’s loving kindness in the most difficult times or when you aren’t necessarily dancing in the streets but with tears in your eyes, you recount the ways God mercifully got you through and isn’t even obligated to.
To these “joy worshippers”, or “Christian hedonists”, not having this experiential joy is one of the greatest sins. Some come to the conclusion they must seek out and experience a joy in everything in order to be able to rest in their salvation. What a burden that has to be. If we can’t rest in our salvation because we aren’t up-keeping the level of joy we believe we have to have, then there can’t be any real joy in our salvation. This becomes another way legalism sneaks into churches and keeps people bound to something the Lord never required.
Remember, when the Lord emphasizes something, we are to emphasize it and when He doesn’t, we shouldn’t. We are to define things as He defines it, not add or take away from those definitions. The Lord never makes “pursuing our own joy” the crux of our Christian life.
We could all use more joy in our lives. Pray to the Lord to increase your joy in Him, HIS joy. May we grow in the knowledge and love of Christ and rejoice in Him!
“and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:8-9
Above is an article written by Gina Cook, Gina and Tami write Through the Narrow here at Tulips & Honey Hub. They’ll be posting articles every other Tuesday. Both are published authors, you can find Tami’s book here, and Gina’s book here. We’re blessed to have them apart of our team, and pray their writing will be as edifying to you as it is to us. – Lauren Hereford