We’re honored to be joined by speaker and author Paul Tripp on the Ask Pastor John podcast this week. Paul, you are likeminded with us. You seem to ‘get’ Christian Hedonism about as well as anyone. You understand life as competing glories. You understand the expulsive power of a new affection — you get these dynamics. And it seems like your contribution to the church is helping others apply these realities to everyday life. Would you agree with that?
Yeah, I think that’s true. I think much of what I do in terms of the gospel in everyday life is driven by those glory themes that John influenced in me early in my ministry. Man, I think life on this side of eternity is one big glory war.
And you do so in concrete application.
Yeah, and I think of myself as a theologian, but I do it in the street.
And with style. Okay, let’s get to work. We’re grateful to have you on. Here’s question #1 for you: The world is full of beauty and pleasure, all by God’s intent. It’s wonderful. In your book Sex and Money you make this very perceptive point: “Boundless pleasure is a deception” (61). Explain that. What do you mean when you say that boundless pleasure is a deception?
Pleasure can never be an end in itself. I can never just say I am going to go wherever pleasure leads me, because pleasure requires boundaries. And that is because my heart is always living under the rulership of something. What controls my heart will control my body. And so I must not let pleasure, the pursuit of pleasure, be the thing that rules me.
Now here is where I think the church has gotten it wrong. We have thought the way to solve that dilemma is by being pleasure negative. And pleasure itself is actually God-glorifying. God created an incredibly pleasurable world. It greets us every day. All the sights and sounds and colors and tastes and textures are just magnificent. They are pleasurable. And God created our bodies so that we have all kinds of pleasure gates. Our eyes, our nose, our mouth, our ears, our hands. Those things are not wrong. They sing to the glory of God.
Here is the ticket with pleasure: My pursuit of pleasure, my enjoyment of pleasure, must submit itself to a greater pleasure than physical pleasure. And that is the pleasure of God. I think I say in this chapter that pleasure is only protected by pleasure. It is the greater pleasure of God, my joy in my relationship with God, my joy in pleasing God, my celebration of God’s grace, my desire to live the way this beautiful Creator made me that protects me from a slavery to pleasure that gets me in trouble. So pleasure requires boundaries. But here is where our culture is: if it has boundaries, it is not pleasurable. That is dangerous. “Don’t give me any boundaries because, when you give me boundaries, you crush pleasure.” I think the opposite is true. Boundaryless pleasure crushes pleasure because it becomes a slaving, addicting, dark, destructive, and hurtful.
Pushing the Envelope
So sin is the lie that unbounded pleasures are the path to true joy.
Sure, and you see that first in the garden. You have just an incredibly pleasurable place made beautiful by God who then places Adam and Eve in the middle of it so that they can enjoy its beauty, but there were some boundaries. And that first act of rebellion is a rebellion against the boundaries that God set. Adam and Eve weren’t driven because there was pleasure outside of the boundaries and they longed to experience those pleasures. There were glories inside the boundaries. They didn’t want boundaries.
And we have been pushing against boundaries ever since. That is the biblical word for sin called “trespass.” What is a trespass? A trespass is stepping over a boundary. When I park in the “No Parking Zone,” and I see the sign, that is a trespass, because it is a willing rebellion against a boundary that has been set for me.