You Only Live Once?

Get Free from the Tyranny of YOLO

It might surprise some Millennials to hear that one of our generational battle cries is fairly old school.

The popular acronym YOLO (you only live once) has captured the hearts of many an emerging hedonist (and not the Christian kind). It wrests the minds of thousands with the tyranny of the urgent, motivating a kind of desperate restlessness to squeeze the last drop of pleasure out of these quickly fading days. YOLO is imprisoning a generation with a familiar lie exposed by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:32: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

But YOLO is a mask worn by an ancient despot. Who doesn’t remember his previous disguises? He has had other aliases. You may remember him as carpe diem, or more recently, “the bucket list.” He has gone incarnate in figures like Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray or Robin Williams’s portrayal of professor John Keating in Dead Poets Society. He ensnares would-be servants of the true King by holding out fleeting satisfaction and vaporous rewards.

How should Christians respond to these lures? As adopted heirs to the throne over all creation, we can laugh in the face of such puny promises. How silly it must seem to be offered the thimble-sized cup of three score and ten years for worldly delights compared with oceans of full-joy pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).

Learning from the Devil’s Playbook

So that we are not deceived, let us examine together our captor’s strategy. What makes the YOLO mantra such a trap? How does it make us slaves?

When we believe that the only pleasures available to us are those we can wring from the fabric of our short lives, time becomes our greatest enemy. As the ranks of each passing year close in on our fragile village of pleasure seeking, a chaotic frenzy erupts in our hearts and minds. Regret and gloom drive the captives mad:

“I can’t believe I’ll never get to see Italy!”

“What if I never find a husband or have children?”

These are the kinds of melodies that earworm their way into prisoners of the bucket list. They haunt casualties of carpe diem captivity.

On the Third Day

Without a distinctively Christian hope, we are doomed to suffer under this maniacal monarch in one form or another. But as Christians, we believe in a glorious resurrection! Secured by our elder brother, who settled the question once and for all that we don’t only live once, Christians hope to follow our trailblazer into an eternal inheritance.

Just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27–28)

The hope of all those eagerly waiting for Christ’s second coming is to be saved from the great judgment that evaluates what we did with the time we were given.

For those who are saved from this judgment, we will receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:28), and a city that is to come (Hebrews 13:14). But what kind of lives does this hope produce? Quite contrary to bucket-list victims, it produces lives that, like our Savior, go outside the camp (Hebrews 13:13).

Brothers and sisters in Christ, you have been set free from the slavery that panics to hoard all of the honors and riches of this world, thinking that in them you have eternal life and legacy. You cannot keep them anyway (Matthew 6:19). You are free to spend all of your strength and wealth and time to point others to a joy richer and more lasting than anything YOLO can offer.

Give What You Cannot Keep

To riff on Jim Elliot’s famous phrase, he is a fool who keeps what he can give, and loses what he cannot earn.

YOLO offers the false promise of “eternal life” by acquiring stuff now. It says, “If somehow I can acquire enough social media followers, photos at historic monuments, or accolades at the workplace, I can achieve a sort of immortality.” Only the fool thinks he can earn eternal life by holding onto things.

“He is a fool who keeps what he can give, and loses what he cannot earn.”

The deeper problem is that eternal life is never gained by our efforts. Your legacy will not save you on the Judgment Day. Instead, Christians are set loose to give freely because we have been given everything. Eternal life is a gift from the Resurrected One, and so all our dying (giving) in this life is empowered by the Spirit of the Crucified One.

We spend our lives as resurrection-seed, knowing that no bucket list will ever compare to the glorious New Creation waiting for us on the other side of the resurrection from the dead.