“Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.”
– Psalm 63:3, NIV
“You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.”
– 1 Thessalonians 5:5-8, NIV
Our world is constantly looking for the next big thing; the next big trend, the next big product, the next big movie, the next big food sensation, the next big hero or rock star. In its quest for excitement and pleasure, the world raises its level for fulfillment to an unsustainable level. To add insult to injury, when the world is at its highest highs or greatest delights, these moments are not born out of God-honoring decisions—where the will of God is followed or where He is thanked as Creator and Provider. This leaves the pleasure-seeking masses feeling deeply hollow, deprived of lasting satisfaction and under the conviction of the Holy Spirit for their idolatry. For most of these pleasure-seekers, their only response is to immediately begin plotting a course for their next pleasure acquisition.
The believer, however, lives under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit and experiences something totally different. When a true Christian (not one in name only) surrenders their appetites and pleasures to the Lord, God becomes their highest love, pursuit and pleasure. Clearly this is the drive of Psalm 63:3, “His loving kindness is better than life.” This shift to worship instead of idolatry releases the Lord’s pleasure over our lives and brings freedom from the guilt-ridden cycles of chasing endless self-gratification. Consequently, where the world pursues satisfaction and falls way short, the true Believer finds incredible satisfaction without the bondage of addiction or the voice of a guilty conscience.
Therefore, a Christian who is walking in obedience should be the most content, satisfied and thankful person in the world. They have the goodness of the Lord, a saving intimacy with the Father, and—when they do enjoy the pleasures that the Lord has created—they don’t elevate the creation above God and can righteously partake of these pleasures without guilt.
Charles Finney (who was an effective, yet controversial, evangelist in the mid 1800s) always said, in effect: “Mankind doesn’t necessarily receive a change in his constitution as much as he receives a radical change in his heart. Any new power he receives is the power of the Holy Spirit to motivate and properly order his life according to the will of God. However the Christian’s constitution is the same as when he was unconverted; he simply surrenders those powers and actions that were previously used for selfish ends to the Lord for His will and purposes.”
Consequently, if a man was an alcoholic before he became a follower of Christ, then afterwards he would consecrate that power of his old appetite under the control of the Holy Spirit and drink only in a way that is pleasing to God (or not at all). Again, a person who was a womanizer and who lived a sexually loose life would now consecrate his sexuality to God and become celibate or married and covenanted to his wife. Furthermore, a millionaire who lived only for his money and portfolio would repent of his idolatry and use his resources for the glory of God instead of his selfish pre-conversion materialistic obsession. Therefore, a Christian does not receive a new constitution that automatically sets him free from carnal desires but he simply receives a new heart that changes him into a pleaser of God.
Once more, the world’s pleasures—outside of Christ’s plan—always come with collateral damage and consequences because they are not consecrated to the Lord. Outside of obedience to Christ, sexual sins may be extremely pleasurable. However, they are guilt-tainted and the true satisfaction that comes from pleasing the Lord is missing. For example, many live-in couples may have awesome sexual lives but, behind the façade of pleasure, they are unsure that their partner will remain committed to them. This leads to a lot of mutual mistrust and manipulation in these relationships.
True, many Christian marriages suffer the same fate. But they do have the potential to be satisfying and healthy because they are founded on pure relational foundations in Christ and have the blessing of the Lord. “The blessing of the LORD, it makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it” (Proverbs 10:22, NKJV). A Christian couple has the potential to enjoy their sexuality without guilt, without condemnation and with the full confidence that God is working in both of them to be a couple who loves according to 1st Corinthians 13. Let me repeat it again: a true believer should be the most fulfilled and happy person on earth. Their life is founded on the eternal purposes of God and they have more lasting rewards than the best pleasure the world has to offer.
The Psalmist says: “Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil, to take part in wicked deeds with men who are evildoers; let me not eat of their delicacies” (Psalm 141:4, NIV). This sums up the passion of a Spirit-filled believer. The world sets its sights on the “secret delicacies” of hidden pleasure; better sex, better highs and more extreme pleasure. But the Christian allows the power of the Gospel to cut off ungodly lusts as they humbly acknowledge that, without the Holy Spirit to motivate and govern their appetites, they would undoubtedly fall into this alluring black hole.
The primary excuse—for those in the world who laugh at a surrendered relationship with the Lord—is “they don’t want to be a Christian because they will have to give up all their fun.” They love to party. They love to sleep around. They love to get high. They love cool cars and lots of money. Following Jesus would be boring to them. They would have to give all these things up…and they don’t want to.
Now there is an element of this statement that is definitely true. Jesus will require a full surrender of our sins at the Cross. Jesus does call us into holiness and obedience. But there is a part of this statement that is completely wrong. Following Jesus doesn’t mean that we live without any pleasure. It simply means we consecrate, or surrender, our pleasure to the will of God.
What the world doesn’t understand, since it is without a life-giving relationship with God through Jesus, is that a follower of Christ ends up experiencing as much pleasure as those making ungodly pursuits, except a follower’s pleasures are more satisfying. The life of a follower of Christ may be full of pain, testing and persecution, but it is also full of God-pleasing pleasure, richness and contentment.