Desiring God - Lesson 1

Introduction to Christian Hedonism

Introduction to Christian hedonism.

John Piper
Desiring God
Lesson 1
Watching Now
Introduction to Christian Hedonism

Desiring God (part 1)

1. Mission Statment

2. Introduction and Background

3. A Summary of Christian Hedonism in Five Statements


We are thankful for John Piper's willingness to share these lectures with us. Copyright 2014 by Desiring God Ministries. Used with Permission. For more information, please visit www.DesiringGod.org.


Desiring God
Dr. John Piper
Introduction to Christian Hedonism
Lesson Transcript


Maybe we should pray together. That might help. Father in heaven. You are so good to us. When. Unexpected things come into our lives. You somehow work them out for good. We're looking for that. Good. We're expecting it. So I pray for your help. Now in this seminar that I would be anointed to speak truth and to speak it in a way that would be faith building and hope, enlarging and vision giving and life enhancing and Christ exalting and God centered and joy producing. So come in rest upon all who are in this room. I pray for a listening ear and a sensitive heart. Magnify your son and father as we work together on these things. In Jesus name, Amen. Well, I love this seminar and there are few things I like talking about more than than Christian hedonism, which is what this is about. It's a liberating and devastating topic to be told that you not only May, but should pursue your joy in everything which lands on you. Me anyway, with amazing liberation. Really. This is too good to be true. I thought I was supposed to deny that. And you're telling me that? No, you don't deny it. You glut it. And then on the other hand, which will see to be told that you must delight in God above all things when you in fact don't. Is devastating. Scary. I've seen it for now 30 years. I've seen it do both. I've seen it absolutely decimate people. And I've seen it set so many free and and both probably are necessary somewhere along the way because we're not wired to delight in God. We're wired to delight in television and food and sex and fame and friends and family and. And then somebody comes along and says, you not only may pursue your joy in God, you must and you must have more joy in him than you have in anything or you're in.


Idolatry is devastating depending on where your heart is. So I love to talk about it, and I hope I can say it in a way that you don't feel like burdens are added to your life but lifted from your life. I got a letter last December, I think it was, and I brought it along because. It's so encouraged me that God is still using the truths of desiring God the book in amazing ways in people's lives. And this woman who's in her thirties wrote this three page letter to me to thank me and only going to mention a paragraph or two. She lost her children in a because of her drunken condition. Her husband committed suicide eight years ago and she was devastated, having lost him and having lost her children, being an alcoholic and a heroin addict and a sex addict and at one point gained £100. And so you catch the scenario of of misery and about a third of the way into the letter. After describing one confrontation with death that she avoided. She says this. I rolled over on my back in my cheap apartment, choking and sobbing. And there on my bookshelf was a book. I do not remember how it got there or why it seemed to be illuminated in the gloominess of that night. It was desiring God. I took the book from the shelf and began reading when tears slowed enough to let me. By the fourth chapter, God changed my heart completely and forever. Grasping that book tightly in my hands. I reached the end of myself. My overwhelming desire from that night forward was for God to see His kingdom come into this world and a passion to see others glorify Him by enjoying him forever.


The pursuit of God through His Word became the joy of my life. I had no joy outside of him and knowledge of him. I did nothing from that time that I did not do in the shadow of the cross and then the rest till some of the subsequent struggles. But I am encouraged by that because it's an old book. I wrote it in between 19. Well, I wrote the sermons in 1983, and then the book was published first in 1986. And almost everything I have to say here is rooted in the book Desiring God. So for whatever reason, the book has a staying power. It's still probably my long term bestselling book just because I think it is so liberating and so devastating. And usually the liberation follows the devastation. And I am deeply, deeply thankful that it has worked out that way. Let me read to you just a paragraph from the syllabus. I assume you all have this, but here's the aim of the class. This particular seminar is designed to summarize, reinforce and further explained the life in ministry and implicit in ministry applications of Christian hedonism and the underlying vision of God as put forth in desiring God. The meditations of a Christian Hedonist. If God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him, which would be the summary of the book, then how should we live and how should we minister? How should we motivate ourselves and others when it comes to prayer, love, marriage, money, missions, reading scripture, etc.. The seminar will include lectures and time for questions and answers. So I hope hope that proves to be the case. And then anybody can take this class, be a track one person and and the guys who are in the track to.


They'll read there what they're required to do and then the outline of the classes on the back. I hope that we move through one through five relatively quickly and spend almost all of our time on six and seven in the outline here. Let me put on the overhead. The mission statement of our church. Because I don't do these seminars just willy nilly. Anything I write, anything I preach, I, I see through and put through the lens the grid of this mission statement. We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things, for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. Now, that mission statement came into existence in 1995. Christian hedonism came into existence way earlier. So I didn't choose to be a Christian hedonist because I live by this. I formulated this for myself and for the church with a lot of people tweaking it in a committee of 23 people that worked for a year and a half to decide who is Bethlehem, what are we about? And this grows out of the convictions of Christian hedonism and aims at it. And you can see it. We aim to spread a passion. Now, spread means we're not into this for ourselves alone, because we've learned that people who live for themselves alone are happy people. It is more blessed to what than to receive. Well, then, if you want to be blessed, be better, be a spreader. You or live for others. You have to be outside of yourself. The people who stand in front of a mirror all day long try to like what they see are going to be sad people. But if you give your life away, forget self-consciousness, pour yourself out for others. Your heart will expand with capacities of joy you never dreamed.


So spreading is Christian hedonist. Plus, what we aim to spread is a passion, not just knowledge. We want people to feel something about Jesus, be convinced about something, and to be joyful about Him. A passion for the supremacy of God. This is really, really big because God is really big. And we'll see why that's so crucial that the supremacy of God puts him at the center and our passions in Him and for him are what make Christian hedonism what it is in all things. I hope Bethlehem doesn't limit our understanding of God's supremacy to just churchy stuff. It has to do with politics. As you'll hear this weekend with regard to pro-life stuff. It has to do with family, it has to do with work. It has to do with science. It has to do with everything. God is supreme everywhere, completely for the joy of all peoples. So we're pursuing the joy of all peoples because that's what the Bible says we're supposed to do. Let the nations be what I'm glad that's that's a command that designates what missionaries are for in the Psalms, and it's all through Jesus Christ. So just to let you know that the mission statement of our church, I pray, even though I know a lot of you are not from Bethlehem, will be advanced through seminars like this. Now introduction and background the struggle with motivation. So I want to give you a little biography here. Autobiography, The Roots that I can remember. I'm sure there are the Roots way back in my childhood, but the roots that I can remember about the emergence of what I'm calling Christian Hedonism were in college in the struggle of this soul to figure out how to be motivated for good things like going to Chicago.


I went to Wheaton College, small tree shaded suburb, 25 miles west of Chicago, and we would do ministry by going into Chicago and doing street work or other kinds of interesting efforts. And why should you do that? What kinds of things should be going on in your heart when you do that? Should it be guilt? Should it be duty? Should it be love? What is love? Is it okay? Be happy about it If you come home happier than when you win. Are you selfish? That's the way my mind was. What about the glory of God? Is that. Is that supposed to be the goal? What drives you when you're 20 years old and you're trying to figure out what makes your heart tick and what's appropriate, what's right and wise? So I was struggling with those things and reading, and that happened right on through seminary and into graduate school. And here's the sort of thing that I had to deal with. Luke 14, 13 to 14 goes like this when you give a reception. Jesus says, invite the poor to like Thanksgiving dinner. The crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed since they do not have the means to repay you. Four. You'll be repaid. At the resurrection of the righteous. Now what? What makes motivation work according to that? How does motivation work if you're supposed to have the poor overtime for Thanksgiving? And of course, if you go out and find people that are not your friends and you hardly know them and you bring them in, maybe don't speak your language, it just makes the afternoon awkward. Right now, I just want to relax and watch a football game with my buddies and and my family and it just a little bit awkward to have new people, especially if they're different.


And so you don't do. And Jesus knew that. And so he did. What did he do here? He said, do it and do it, especially for those who can't give you any kick back. Therefore, he's he's shooting down carnal, selfish, worldly motivation. And then he adds this for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. Now, I would read these things. I read them all through college. I read them all through seminary. I would read these things and I would be torn up inside because of Because a scholars who talk like this. Hmm. There's T.W. Manson. He's dead now. So I get mad at him in public. Not that that would hinder me. The promise of reward for this kind of life. And he's commenting on this text, the promise of reward for this kind of life is there as a fact. You do not live this way for the sake of reward. If you do, you are not living this way. But in the old selfish way. I just threw up my hat. I read stuff like. As what? Why did he say it? I mean, what Jesus do and toying with us with this for. If that's true, if what you just said is true, why did he say that? He said, have the poor and the crippled and the lame and the blind come over for dinner for you will be repaid at the resurrection. And then Manson comes along, says, Not forget they said that. Don't let that have any motivational power in your life. Oh, no, no, no, no, no. Jesus is not a bad teacher. He's a good teacher. He says things for reasons. And he said this one to get us to do that. So when you're thinking about having somebody over for dinner and they're going to make the afternoon difficult, think I'll be repaid at the resurrection of the just.


Glorious repayment. It doesn't say what it is. I'm sure it's not golf. I'm sure it's not a Cadillac. I'm sure it's Christ. More of Christ, more joy in Christ, more capacities to enjoy God, more holiness, more purity. Blessed are the pure and hard for they shall see God. Want to see more of God and want to enjoy more of God. This will be my reward. This is not a bad motive. So those are the struggles. Now, alongside with my struggle with the Bible and those who were interpreting it wrongly with their big deeds behind their name, scaring little 25 year olds like me, like I can't think because smart, big, strong, powerful people say dumb things about the Bible like this. That's a dumb thing to say. I and Rand is an atheist and I was into a big Ayn Rand kick for about three years from 19 was in the late seventies. I read everything she wrote, read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead and the New Intellectual and I forget, but a whole bunch of books. And I was blown away by her power to write. She's dead wrong. And got some things so close to. Right. In fact, here's a little, little, little autobiographical tidbit. I was so moved by Ayn Rand's atheism and her hedonism of a different kind that I wrote her a long letter she died in. Oh, shoot. I forget. One of you would remember. Probably, but late eighties, maybe. I'm not sure. I wrote her a long letter. I wrote a paper of appreciation and critique, and I'm sure she never got any letter from an evangelical slash fundamentalist like me who wrote her appreciation. But she's an atheist. Why would you write a letter of appreciation to an atheist who's writing books in order to get people to stop believing in God, which is such an awful thing to do? And I don't know if she ever got it.


However, one day vein that I am, I was at Luther Seminary Bookstore in I forget what it was, and I was thinking, how would I know if she ever got this? I wonder if there's a big fat, detailed biography somewhere of her. And I found one big fat biography by her sidekick. And guess what? I looked up in the index piper and it was there. In a footnote. I got a footnote and the footnotes said her influence was so extensive that she even influenced fundamentalists, I think, in my name. I thought the only way they could have done that is that letter. When publishing anything about her. And I just hope she got it because I want her to be saved. That's why I wrote it. I wanted to lure her in that that I don't think she got Christianity right now. Here's what she wrote. I'll read it to you. And action. This is her conception of Christianity. Okay. An action is moral said Can't you know who manual can't philosopher that represented Christianity in her mind. And action is moral said can't. Only if one has no desire to perform it. But performs it out of a sense of duty and derives no benefit from it of any sort. Sounds like it sounds like you might. Neither material nor spiritual a benefit. Any reward destroys the moral value of an action. Thus, if one has no desire to be evil, one cannot be good. And if one has, one can. That's very sharp. That is devastating to this. She's right. If if that's the Christian view of duty. If that's the Christian view of motivation, I'm out of here. That's why she gripped me. She was providing a secular, atheistic critique of what was troubling me about so many Christian ethicists who were arguing that you can't be motivated by any benefits to come to you at all.


Not heaven, not knowledge of God, not increased enjoyment of the divine, not anything, just raw willpower. Well, that's stupid. That is not what Christianity is. And but I had no clear alternative. I couldn't articulate in a way that sounded acceptable to me an alternative to what she was criticizing here, that if you if you really want to do something, clearly you're getting kicks from it. And therefore, the moral value is zero. And if you don't want to do something and you do it anyway because you don't want to. That's real virtue. I thought heaven has suddenly become hell, Right? Because in heaven, what will we love doing? Good. What will be our joy in heaven? Everything. That's right. Otherwise, we're all frustrated in heaven forever. And that's the peak of virtue. Let's all go to hell and call it heaven. You can see just what incredible effect this was having as I was pulling out my hair in my twenties and thirties, trying to figure out, okay, if that's right and he's wrong, then Jesus must be right. And how can I articulate this? How can I say this? I've got to reread my whole Bible because I breathe in the air of Immanuel Kant. And frankly, I think the air of a manual could still is destroying thousands of worship services for a lot of people. Because they have the notion that the higher the act in terms of significance, the less of self-gratification there should be in it. And therefore the way to worship is stoically and dutifully. And that takes the heart out, of course, and ruins. Pascal came into play a lot. A lot of others did too. C.S. Lewis did. Jonathan Edwards did. You'll see those as we go along.


But at this point, here's here's the alternative to what T.W. Manson said. All men seek happiness, period. Christian, non-Christian, atheist. All men seek happiness. This is without exception, whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end the cause of some going to war and others avoiding it is the same desire in both attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man. Even those who hang themselves. I think that's true. Therefore sanctification, becoming holy, becoming Christ like being born again does not consist in Stop wanting to be happy. It consists in a whole new set of what makes you happy. That's what it means to be born again. All these things were making you happy, driving you, making your will go this way. You're born again and new worlds open up to you. Christ. And the cross is at the center of that new treasure. And all your affections begin to change as they begin. This doesn't happen overnight. Some people it does. Others long, painful process. But being born again doesn't mean stop your quest for happiness. It means pursue it in a whole new way. Because now there's a new you in there. It's got different taste, but different spiritual tastebuds. The day before you're born again. You put your tongue in the cross. Boring, foolish. As Paul said day after you're born again. You put your tongue in the cross. Honey, God can't get enough of Jesus. What's happened? Not the quest for happiness. Just a whole new world of what makes you glad. So that's the struggle that I was in. And Christian hedonism is the outcome of all these struggles. And here's the summary of it.


If you. A five statement Summary of what? What do I mean by Christian hedonism? These would be some of the pieces, the main ones. Number one, the longing to be happy is a universal human experience and is good, not sinful. I think your desire to be happy is equivalent to your getting hungry for food. It's a given with you humanity. If you don't have it, you're dead. Literally, you will die. You'll curl up into bed sweating the worst forms of depression you have. You don't have any. You just. You just disappear in bed because your soul is dying. It's a horrible thing. I don't think it's sinful to want to be happy. I think we'll just see more in a minute, too. We should never try to deny this is controversial, but listen it out. We should never try to deny or resist our longing to be happy. Oop. Dangerous as though it were a bad impulse. Instead, we should seek to intensify this longing and nourish it with whatever will provide the deepest. And most enduring satisfaction in those two words Change everything. Get them. I'm getting them from the Bible. I'll tell you the verse in a minute. So here's what I'm saying there. The solution to your sin problem. Right. Everybody in this room has got a sin problem. Even if you're born again, you still like to sin in certain ways. That's a sin is it's appealing. Nobody sins out of duty. Raise your hand if you see an out of duty. I think I want to see today. But out of duty, I'll sin. Nobody does that. We only sin because it pleases. It feels good. Or it promises some money. If we lie on our tax forms or whatever, we sin because we want to see in the solution to that problem is not the killing of want in your life.


I will now cease to be a water. I will now cease to be a designer. That's not the solution. But that's not what I felt growing up. I mean, how many times did a missionary speaker come through our church arestill so bad saying this because our missionaries are like this at all. And they said, Look at us, young people. So if you young people here, stop doing your own will, do God's will. I'm sitting here saying, Sure, third alternate. Like my will becoming cuts will. So that I might in fact find deep satisfaction in laying my life down for Jesus. Like most of the missionaries who've been written about talk. I'll give you some quotes later from David Livingston and others who said amazing things about. The being satisfied in God in the midst of the most terrible kinds of circumstances. So I don't think the solution to our shooting problem is in getting rid of our want to it's in bloodying our want to. On what gives the deepest and most enduring satisfaction. Number three, the deepest and most enduring satisfaction is found only in God. In the verse where I get those two words is some 1611. You show me the path of life. In your presence is what of joy? Fullness of joy. And at your right hand. Our pleasures for ever more. So we got fullness. And we got forever. That's all I mean. Bye bye. Deepest and most enduring in your presence is fullness of joy, not 99%. No, thank you. Somebody comes along and says, I can give you for 88 years. 80% proof happiness in this world. Whisper followed by eternal suffering. Or somebody comes along and says, I can give you a life of tremendous struggle, tremendous pain, much suffering with deep joy that is growing, if followed by an eternal.


Complete for joy. So I'm not except in my most. Insane moments enticed by the lives of the devil about where his joy is to be found. Even more so when it comes to me. He says, Come on, I can give you I can give you so much joy. You can't, Richard. You can't even come close to some 16, 11. Four. You give me four. Come on, give me four. Where are you going? To give me four. Except in some 16. 11 money. More people jump off the car. Not a bridge in San Diego than off the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. You find? What is that got to do with anything? The car, not a bridge, is ritzy. People only go over there to go to homes that cost $3 million in Brooklyn. Poor people cross that bridge. It's you. Ordinary people. Poor people who kill themselves. Rich people kill themselves. So you're telling me money. Money is going to do this. Statistically, you don't have a leg to stand on. Six. How many diseases shall I get? No on and on the lies that are given to us. I said, No, thank you. No, thank you. Thank you. To be born again is to discover Christ as an all satisfying treasure and never to be able to leave him again. You may battle at any given point. You may battle with a particular thing you shouldn't do. But the big picture is I'm not leaving him. And if I stumble and fall on this thing, I'm kicking it in the teeth that night, repenting, getting right with Jesus and fighting this fight again. Because I have discovered where the treasure is. That's number three. The happiness we find in God reaches its consummation when it expands to meet the needs of others in the manifold ways of love.


Now we're going to spend a good bit of time on this tomorrow, but here, just a little snapshot of what I'm saying. One of the. 1977, I published an article in his magazine, and I remember the publication, his magazine. It was called I gave it the title Holy Hedonism. And and to my utter dismay, they put a big Marilyn Monroe set of lips on the page. I guess I looked at I looked at the artwork, and I said, they missed it. They just totally missed it. That was not the point. Not helpful. The article represented my effort to ask, okay, you've just spent several years of your life in college and seminary and now in my early graduate school and Bethel teaching days, nailing down the biblical foundations of vertical hedonism, namely Psalm 1611. In your presence is fullness of joy. At your right hand are pleasures forever. And now the question becomes What now am I across like a Buddha sitting under a tree, enjoying God and let the world go to hell? What good is that in a world like this? That. That was my next struggles. What is. What is this deep, sweet, powerful enjoyment doing here like this? And if it doesn't do anything here, clearly it's got to be unbiblical because the Bible is all about love, right? Love fulfills the whole law. So if you're not a loving person, keep breaking every rule in a book. So my next challenge was the challenge stated here. And that's that's the result of many years. I mean, can you believe that something so simple is the result of many hard headed years? What I'm saying there is when God comes to you and shows you himself and change your heart so he and his Word and his glory are your delight.


You become like a high pressure zone walking through the world. This is a weather analogy. I'm not a weather man, but I think just works. They become like a high pressure zone. You move through the world. Other people without God are low pressure zones. There's emptiness out there. And you got this high pressure zone because God is deeply satisfying you. When a high pressure zone bumps up against a no pressure zone that's created by. No. I probably got it all wrong. Wind, Wind blows. It moves from Pitolo, right? It fills the air. It fills the void. And in doing, it gets bigger. If this doesn't work meteorologically it does spiritually. So forget the analogy. Okay. I'm a high pressure zone. I'm bursting with what God is showing me about himself. And I'm loving him and I'm enjoying him and I'm bumping into people around my family and around the neighborhood and around church and in the world. And they don't know him. They don't love him. They're trying to be satisfied with low, crummy stuff, their low pressure zone. It's not working in their lives. And a wind is created that goes out into them, too. And what's that wind called biblically may not. It's called love. It's called love. I'm sure it's got other names. You're probably right. But it's called love. Now, here's here's the deal. Love is not just the effect of my joy. I'm going to argue big time. It is because the Bible does lots of places that love is the overflow of joy in God. But I'm arguing here that it's the expansion and consummation of joy in God. And therefore, this love is moving out, questing for great four, four, four being bigger. Which means I'm still a hedonist.


If you asked me if I come to visit, you know, hospital or wherever, you might have a need. And you say, Why did you come? A bad answer is I didn't want to come, but I have a duty to. That's a bad answer. What effect does that have on you? You don't feel more loved than if I say as a pastor to you. Somebody who. Who knows you cares about you. You don't feel more loved by that than my saying. I find that when I am pouring my enjoyment of God into you at this moment of your need, my joy in God gets bigger. And therefore, I'm here to maximize my joy in your joy. Do you think at that moment that person would say, you are so selfish? I can't believe how selfish you are, Pastor, because you just are seeking your joy. It doesn't compute that way because when you are seeking your joy in the joy of another as yours is expanding to go into them and and make yours bigger, they feel loved. They don't feel like your wanting to be there makes you less loving. It just doesn't work like that. We've got lots of work to do on that. This is your summary. We'll come back to it. And then finally, these are the these are the are the ways you make this sound edgy and controversial. Okay. Conclusion can put a therefore. To the extent we try to abandon the pursuit of our own pleasure. And I mean that in a high holy sense pleasure in God. To the extent that we try to abandon the pursuit of our own pleasure, we fail to honor God and love people. Or to put it positively, the pursuit of pleasure is a necessary part of all worship and virtue.


Are those are controversial statements this word necessary? Really controversial? Don't try to abandon the pursuit of your joy. Really controversial. I mean, it raises all kinds of questions like we're self-denial. Jesus said it would come after, let and deny himself and take up his cross. And here you are. Tell us. Never deny your pursuit of pleasure. Yep, that's what I'm saying. And I know that's in the Bible, and we'll come back to it. Because I don't think it's a contradiction. Okay. That's the summary of Christian hedonism. It's it's what has flavored this church for 28 years of my presence and probably before that without being called that. And so if you if you if you like being around here and you can point to certain things, it just may be that this is part of the reason you might be enjoying certain flavors of Bethlehem. We're not a perfect church, that is for sure, but it's a sweet place to be for me anyway. I love being here because to have 25 pastors who are on this page together, oh, there are a thousand pastors die and go to heaven to have that much unity as we have here. Unity around such profound things is amazing. And we could talk sometime about how we got there. But God's been really good, really kind to us. Nothing I'm saying tonight that I know of would be disagreed with by any of our pastoral staff or elders, which in a church this size is simply amazing. It's what keeps us moving because we're not fighting each other about these profoundly important motivational and theological things.