Christian Hedonism is a wonderful way to explain life, and it has opened my eyes to an entire universe of wonder that I was blind to for the first several years following my conversion. There is not one aspect of my life that CH doesn't influence, from the way I preach and counsel to the way I love my wife to the way I cook a steak on the grill. However, CH can be a very cruel taskmaster for those who don't apply it rightly. The reason for this is because CH refuses to be content with surface behaviors. It gets right to the heart of what drives us. CH has spread like wildfire through the church. I think this a great thing and pray it spreads faster. But in churches like mine, where it is a way of life, this kind of scenario can come up:
CH says, "Don't just obey God - be happy in him." To which we reply, "How can I be happy if I don't feel happy? That can't be what God requires." To which the Bible replies, "Rejoice in the Lord always." And then, as if to mock our crummy feelings, it rubs it in with, "Again, I say, 'Rejoice.'" To which we respond, "I'm really trying to be happy in God here! It's just not working!" And Sunday morning the preacher says, "Here's why you sin - because you're not happy in God." And we leave thinking, "Okay, I'm going to be happy in God today." And then we commit that darling sin, and are reminded of the preacher's words, "You're not happy in God." And now we're not just feeling guilty for committing our darling sin again, we're feeling guilty for not being happy in God. So we go to our CH friend who's read part of a John Piper book, and says, "You know, I think your problem, the reason you're so miserable all the time is because you're not happy in God." AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I realize that God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him, and that the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever. I realize that sin is what I do when I'm not satisfied in God. So I set out to enjoy God. I resolve to rejoice in God so well that the desire for sin will simply fall off like an old scab. Then I wake up. It doesn't work like that. We can't make CH a new work by which to prove ourselves righteous before God. That is a misapplication of CH of the grossest kind.
I find a little couple verses in Romans 5 to be the key that frees me from the potential bondage of CH. "For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation" (Rom. 5:10-11). Christian Hedonism was never meant to replace the gospel for how man relates to God. CH is meant to accentuate the gospel, to bring it to the forefront of our ongoing consciousness. This text makes this so clear. This text is pure gospel. We were enemies of God. God reconciled us to himself through the death of Jesus. We had nothing to do with it. As a result of this reconciliation, we will live with God forever. But there's more. Not only do we have the knowledge of our salvation, but we also rejoice in God.
The gospel has purchased our enjoyment of God. Let me repeat that because it's the most important part of this post. The gospel has purchased our enjoyment of God. Jesus came to give us eternal joy in God. Let me assure you of something. The God who made sex and steak and Mountain Dew and roller coasters and that sensation you get when you free fall from a perfectly good aircraft and everything that you enjoy has to be better than the things he has created. All the pleasures of creation point to the One who made them. In his presence is fullness of joy, and at his right hand are pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:11).
This is what Jesus bought for us at the cross. Notice that we rejoice in God through Christ. CH is not garden-variety joy in God. It is very specific. CH is fueled by the gospel. Nothing else. And when we try to buckle down and be happy in God, it backfires on us with a vengeance, and we feel more guilty than ever. The only way to ensure CH is a blessing and not a taskmaster is to keep the gospel at the center of your thought-life. The more gospel-centered you are, the more you will naturally be a Christian Hedonist - even if you hate the term. Being happy in God won't take away the guilt of sin. But the gospel will. Get well-acquainted with the gospel so that you know how to rejoice in the Lord rightly.