All too often, many of us have viewed the Christian life as consisting of rules and restrictions that attempt to suppress our desire for happiness and deprive us of the pleasures of life. But nothing could be farther from the truth. God has never denied us anything that is beneficial to our ultimate satisfaction and joy. He has only warned us of those unhealthy pleasures that will lead to our misery, shame, and regret.
Sin is the misguided pursuit of happiness and pleasure in places where only emptiness and disappointment are found. Sin is turning down God’s offer of the pleasure of His presence for the wrong kinds of things that will never fully satisfy the longings of our hearts.
When Paul, in 2 Timothy 3:4, warned about those who would become lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, he was writing to individuals who would pursue pleasure without God. The key words in this verse are “rather than,” and they highlight the stark contrast between the people who seek a sensual, self-indulgent pleasure that is God-less and those who seek their satisfaction in the pleasure of God’s love.
God is the all-satisfying One who made us for Himself.
He invites us to indulge ourselves in all that He has provided in Christ, and He longs to lavish His beauty and goodness on each of us. Remember, God’s greatest glory is demonstrated in our ultimate delight in Him. Therefore, the primary goal of our lives should be the pursuit of pleasure in Him!
When Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and follow Him (see Mark 8:34-37), He’s actually encouraging us to pursue our ultimate happiness and pleasure. While this may be hard for some of us to believe, Jesus never intends for us to view the “denial of self” as an end in itself. He is inviting us to deny ourselves the counterfeit pleasures of this life in order to gain the unending pleasures of being loved by Him.
For us to not follow Jesus is to deny ourselves the greatest joy imaginable!
His call to us is to reject any attempt to satisfy the longings of our hearts through any illegitimate pleasure. Instead, His invitation to us is to follow Him and gain true life, true joy, and true pleasure!
All too often, preachers have challenged believers to deny themselves the unhealthy, phony pleasures of this life while making the mistake of not introducing their listeners to the incomparable worth and beauty of God. Rather than being motivated by the supreme satisfaction that comes from being loved by Him, many Christians have subsequently tried to deny self out of fear or condemnation. But a “denying of self” that is not based on the greater goal of experiencing and enjoying the beauty of the Lord will inevitably lead to legalism and religious pride. It’s only the unfolding discovery of the value of Jesus that truly enables an individual to live free and fulfilled!
In Matthew 13:44, Jesus introduced to His hearers a parable about the kingdom of God. He said, “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Notice the phrase “and for joy over it.” It was the joy of discovering the treasure that motivated the man to sell everything he had.
To better appreciate the scope of this parable, I believe we need to look at this verse from two different angles. First of all, it’s highly likely that the “man” referred to in this parable was none other than Jesus Himself, and the treasure that prompted Him to sell everything He owned was the lives of men and women of all generations.
In turn, when we begin to grasp the Lord’s passion for us and we see ourselves as His joy and treasure, we will be motivated to joyfully and extravagantly give ourselves completely to our Treasure.
The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 3:23 that “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But what did he mean by “falling short” of God’s glory? The clearest answer to this question is found in Romans 1:21-23:
“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God, nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”
The way anyone “falls short” of God’s glory (beauty, goodness) is to exchange it for something that’s inferior and of lesser value. All sin stems from failing to place supreme value on the glory and goodness of God. We exchange a priceless treasure for the trinkets of this world. We believe the lie of temptation which suggests that sin will make us happier than God ever could. But, in reality, sin is not the gaining of pleasure but, rather, the loss of pleasure!
Sin isn’t just turning our backs on the beauty of who God is; sin is really turning our backs on life. Think about it—so much of our frustration, misery, and shame in life have been the result of giving our hearts to counterfeit joys.
So why do we continue to hold on to the very things that continue to bring us so much pain and disillusionment? Maybe we believe the lies of temptation because we have been so blinded to the beauty of God that He often doesn’t appear as attractive to us as sin. As a result, fornication and adultery seem to be a lot more appealing than being intimate with Jesus; getting “stoned” sounds far more exciting than being filled with the Spirit; and living a self-absorbed, self-indulgent life appears to be a lot more fun than loving the poor and needy.
Maybe we cling to old habits because we think we deserve them. We remind ourselves of all the things we’ve had to endure and the many times people have let us down, and we retreat into the arms of our “counterfeit lovers.” Or, we believe God has disappointed us so much that we allow ourselves the right to indulge in the pleasures of sin.
Maybe we hold on to counterfeit joys because we can’t imagine living without them. We convince ourselves that we can’t face our boredom apart from them. We think that the only way we can cope with our loneliness and rejection is to try to deaden the pain with things that will bring us some measure of comfort.
But, when all is said and done, we continue to cling to our counterfeit joys because our inferior pleasures are enjoyable. Regardless of how temporary they may be, they are still joys. We constantly revert to them because they work, at least for the moment. This is why we have to replace our lesser joys with a more “pleasing” joy—a joy that satisfies forever, not just for the moment. We have to discover a pleasure that never ends (see Psalm 16:11). We have to embrace the promise of superior happiness and joy that can only be found in our Father’s unending love!
This blog is taken from S. J.’s new book, WHAT’S GOD REALLY LIKE?, Unique Insights Into His Fascinating Personality, published by Energion Publications.