Strive to Be More Satisfied in God
Invitation to Christian Hedonism
During the month of October, we plan to publish twelve articles with an explicit focus on what we call Christian Hedonism. This is the first.
For us at Desiring God, this is like saying, “We are going to celebrate why we exist.” The name of this ministry is “Desiring God” because of the 1987 book by that title. The subtitle of the book is crucial: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. That’s who we are: Christian Hedonists. This website exists as the overflow of biblical meditations by Christian Hedonists.
My aim here is to clarify what we mean by this phrase “Christian Hedonism.”
Now, I know that the phrase “Christian Hedonism” is not in the Bible. Just like the words Trinity, discipleship, evangelism, exposition, counseling, ethics, politics, charismatics, and many others are not in the Bible. The Bible does not include a sixty-seventh book called “Synthesis of the Whole.” Nor does it have a glossary of concepts.
God was pleased to inspire a volume with dozens of beautiful threads of truth woven through all sixty-six books. Not all the threads are given names. He left much glorious work for us to do. “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them” (Psalm 111:2). As we study and trace the beautiful threads, and watch the Master Weaver, we see precious realities, and we give them names so that we can talk about them as they come together in observable patterns. One of those patterns is Christian Hedonism.
Serious Glory, Serious Joy
Our favorite sentence to explain the essence of Christian Hedonism goes like this: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. We believe this truth has its roots in the eternal Trinitarian relationships of the Godhead. We believe it is at the heart of why God created the world. And we believe that its implications for life, now and forever, are all-embracing. This truth touches every aspect of human life — from drinking orange juice to eating pizza (1 Corinthians 10:31), to welcoming strangers (Romans 15:7), to breathing our last breath (Philippians 1:20). It is not peripheral. Not ever. Not for anything.
You can tell we are serious. For us, Christian Hedonism is not a mere moniker or slogan. It is central to God’s work of redemption, and to our living of the Christian life. It is central and all-embracing because the glory of God is central and all-embracing.
Or, to change the spatial metaphor, since the glorification of God is the ultimate end (not just center) of creation, Christian Hedonism is of ultimate importance, because God will not be glorified as he ought to be, if his people are not satisfied in him as they ought to be.
A people of God whose hearts are not supremely satisfied in the greatness and the beauty and the worth of God will be a defective people, and a dishonor to God. Therefore, the final aim of the universe — the glorification of God and the perfecting of his people — depends on God’s triumph over our sinful preferences for what is not God.
“We care a thousand times more what God thinks than what anyone else says.”
That’s what is happening through the cross, the resurrection, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the progress of sanctification, and the final perfecting of all things through Christ. God will have a blood-bought, flawless bride for his Son, not a defective one. And he will be fully glorified, not dishonored. Therefore, essential to the bride’s beauty will be her satisfaction in the Son of God. Without it, she would shame him.
Westminster and Warfield
One way to test whether you are a Christian Hedonist is to ask yourself what the word and means in the answer to the first question of the Westminster Catechism.
Question 1: What is the chief end of man?
Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.
You may think such a question odd: What does “and” mean? But maybe it is not so odd when you pause to notice that these two ends (glorify and enjoy) are called one “end” in the question: “What is the chief end of man?” It does not say, “What are the chief ends of man?” So the singular use of “end” is like a flag waving in front of us which says, “Stop. Think. How are these two things related in such a way that they are one thing?”
Christian Hedonism is not the first to answer that “and” means “in” or “by.” “Man’s chief end is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.” In 1908, in the Princeton Theological Review, Benjamin Warfield wrote that the Westminster Catechism may have taken its second half of the first answer (“and enjoy him forever”) from William Ames Catechism who had, in fact, written “in enjoying him forever” (Warfield’s Works, Vol. 6, Baker, 2003, 396).
Warfield himself virtually interprets the twofold answer of the first question in a Christian Hedonist way:
No man is truly Reformed [I would say biblical] in his thought unless he conceives of man not merely to be the instrument of divine glory, but also as destined to reflect the glory of God in his own consciousness, to exult in God: nay, unless he himself delights in God as the all-glorious One. (397)
To paraphrase: It is insufficient to speak of man as destined to glorify God, without also making explicit that the way man is destined to glorify God is by the internal state of his consciousness; and that internal state of consciousness that glorifies God is his conscious experience of “exulting in God.” Which means delighting in God as the all-glorious One. Which is the same as saying the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever. Or: God is glorified in man by man’s being satisfied in God.
Warfield says it even more clearly in the last sentences of his essay:
“Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” Not to enjoy God, certainly, without glorifying him, for how can he to whom glory inherently belongs be enjoyed without being glorified? But just as certainly not to glorify God without enjoying him — for how can he whose glory is his perfections be glorified if he be not also enjoyed? (400)
Indeed! Take that last rhetorical question: “How can he . . . be glorified if he be not also enjoyed?” Answer: He can’t — at least not as he ought to be. So turn that rhetorical question into a statement: God cannot be glorified as he ought to be, unless he is enjoyed as he ought to be.
John Brown and Thomas Vincent
John Brown of Haddington, a Scottish minister who died in 1787, expanded the Westminster Catechism like this:
Q. Why are the glorifying and enjoying of God joined as one chief end?
A. Because none can obtain or rightly seek the one without the other.
Q. How do we most highly glorify God?
A. By receiving and enjoying him most fully.
Christian Hedonism paraphrases this last question and answer with, God is highly glorified in us when we most fully enjoy him.
Thomas Vincent, a Puritan, English minister who died in 1678, asked the same question:
Q. Why is the glorifying of God and the enjoyment of God joined together as one chief end of man? A. Because God hath inseparably joined them together, so that men cannot truly design and seek the one without the other. They who enjoy God most in his house on earth, do most glorify and enjoy him. And when God shall be most fully enjoyed by the saints in heaven, he will be most highly glorified. (The quotes from Brown and Vincent were compiled by Virginia Huguenot.)
“It is your God-given, Bible-mandated duty, at every moment of your life, to strive to be more satisfied in God.”
So, one of the most essential claims of Christian Hedonism — namely, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him” — is not new. It is rooted in multiple historic catechisms, especially the famous Westminster question, “What is the chief end of man?” with the answer, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”
Christian Hedonism joins a long train of pastors and theologians who have recognized that this double answer has a profound unity in that the glorification of God in the human heart cannot happen fully, where God is not enjoyed fully as the heart’s supreme treasure.
Is It Biblical?
Of course, it doesn’t matter ultimately that human catechisms have affirmed Christian Hedonism. What matters ultimately is, Did God set up the world this way, and has he revealed this truth to us in his infallible word, the Bible?
Desiring God has been laboring for 25 years to show from Scripture that the answer to that question is yes. We care a thousand times more what God thinks than what anyone else says. We would encourage you to do the same. If you don’t think Christian Hedonism is taught in the Bible, we don’t want you to believe it because we teach it. We hope you will stay with us during the month of October and test all things, as we approach Christian Hedonism from different angles.
I will finish this article with one biblical text that teaches that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. And then I will mention the most all-encompassing, practical implication.
Death as Gain
In Philippians 1:20 Paul says that his life’s passion is to glorify Christ. He puts it like this: “It is my eager expectation and hope that . . . Christ will be magnified (glorified, honored) in my body, whether by life or by death.” Then, in the sentences that follow, he explains how he will glorify Christ in dying and in living. In both explanations, he shows that he is thinking as a Christian Hedonist.
With regard to death, he says that the reason Christ will be glorified in his dying is because he will experience dying as gain (verse 21). And the reason he will experience dying as gain is because it will mean to “be with Christ, for that is far better” (verse 23). What I do, as a serious reader of the Bible, is to pause at this point and ask, “Why does experiencing Christ as gain in the hour of death glorify Christ?” What would you answer?
He explains “gain” with the words “far better.” That is, dying and being with Christ is far better than all that this world has to offer (since he is about to die). He will say this very thing later in this letter: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).
“God cannot be glorified as he ought to be, unless he is enjoyed as he ought to be.”
Paul is saying that his estimation and experience of the worth of Christ is so great that he gets more joy from being with Christ than from anything in the world. This is why Christ is glorified in Paul’s experience of dying. You make someone look great and glorious when you are so satisfied in him and his presence, that losing everything in the world, in order to be with him, is felt by you as gain.
So, my paraphrase of Paul’s way of thinking here is that Christ is most magnified in Paul when Paul is so satisfied in Christ that he enjoys Christ more than all the world has to offer, even if it costs him his life. That is Christian Hedonism. And that is exactly what Paul taught and lived.
Life with Joy
What if Paul lives? He answers that question as a Christian Hedonist as well.
Remember he said, “It is my eager expectation and hope that . . . Christ will be magnified (glorified, honored) in my body, whether by life or by death.” In fact, even though he would rather die, if his gain were the only one to consider, he knows he is going to live. God has work for him to do. So how does Paul show us that his remaining alive will glorify Christ?
To remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy of faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. (Philippians 1:24–26)
Follow his thinking: (1) I will remain alive and come to you. (2) The aim and effect of my coming to you will be the joy of your faith. (3) The effect of this joy will be that you “glory in Christ Jesus.” Do you see the goal to which his life and ministry are heading? And how the goal is reached?
The goal is “glorying,” or literally “boasting” (Greek kauchēma), in Christ. The word for “boasting” could be translated “exulting” or “praising” or “showing to be great.” That’s the goal — the glorification of Christ (as in verse 20). And how does Paul intend for them to reach the goal? By helping them experience the “joy of faith.” He could have just said faith. But he said “joy of faith.” Why? Because their boast, their exultation, their glorification of Christ, happens in and through their joy in Christ. This is Christian Hedonism. The chief end of the Philippians is to glorify God (in his Son) by enjoying him forever. Christ is most glorified in the Philippians when they are most satisfied in him.
We are Christian Hedonists because it is what the Bible teaches.
Our Greatest Duty
I said I would close by giving you the most all-encompassing, practical implication of Christian Hedonism. It is this: Since God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him, it is your God-given, Bible-mandated duty, at every moment of your life, to strive to be more satisfied in God as your supreme Treasure than you are in anything else in the universe.
The Bible rings with support for this practical, all-encompassing implication of Christian Hedonism. I will leave you with just one statement from Jesus for you to think about.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:37)
Ask yourself: What kind of love do good parents have for their children? And good children for their parents? Is it not a cherishing love? A treasuring love? An embracing, longing love? Jesus says, he must be more loved, more cherished, more treasured than our dearest earthly delight.
If so, the pursuit of becoming that kind of person is our duty. Indeed, our greatest duty (Matthew 22:36–37).