Pure Pleasure: Why Do Christians Feel So Bad about Feeling Good?

by Gary Thomas

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I think I may have a new favorite book. I have actually only just started it, but this is good stuff.

Some in the church feel suspicious, at best, of pleasure. We consider pleasure a synonym for sin. If it feels good, we think, it must be the devil’s handmaiden. So we set up our lives on duty, responsibility, and obligation—good things all—with little true pleasure to season our days. Over time, these lives that are devoid of holy and good pleasure become extremely “thirsty,” and we begin gravitating toward a release that is not holy or good or honoring to God—pleasures that war against our souls instead of building us up.

 

“Instead of persistently criticizing yourself for constantly giving in to such temptations, why not take a step back and figure out how to cultivate a life that will free you from the tyranny of your often-demanding thirst? Can you accept that there might be a holy purpose behind the intentional cultivation of appropriate pleasures?

 

Rather than showcase a life of satisfaction, for years the church has tried to scare us out of our sin.

 

We can build lives of true, lasting pleasure and so fortify ourselves against evil because evil has lost much of its allure—or we can try, with an iron will, to “scare” ourselves away from evil while still, deep in our hearts, truly longing for it. Which life do you want to live?

 

In other words, we need to preach the glory of a truly soul-satisfying life instead of sounding obsessed about the dangers of a life lived foolishly.

 

In other words, we need to preach the glory of a truly soul-satisfying life instead of sounding obsessed about the dangers of a life lived foolishly. We can send our kids off to college with horrid tales of drunken students falling to their deaths from third-floor balconies..

 

I want my children to fill their lives with good things, which in turn will help them to disdain the bad. I want to capture their hearts with “vivid pictures of purity and spiritual triumph” instead of trying to scare them away from soul-destroying habits.

 


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When we unashamedly preach true, holy, and God-honoring pleasure, then the sordidness of sin, the foolishness of spiritual rebellion, and the agony of addictions become shockingly apparent.

 

Chalmers would argue that an “old affection”—a sinful desire—is “almost never” overcome by the sheer force of “mental determination.” That is, sin almost always eventually gets a young man or woman who is merely “determined” not to fall.

 

Let’s advertise the good life by becoming living examples of truly satisfied souls. Spiritual triumph begins and ends with finding our satisfaction in God above all things. We serve a generous God, however, who eagerly wants to bless us with many other pleasures, gifts from his hand, that delight us—and in delighting us, bring pleasure back to him. Rather than seeing these gifts as competitors that steal our hearts from God, perhaps we can gratefully receive them and allow God to use them to ruin us to the ways of the world. Prayer and fellowship are among life’s richest pleasures...

 

gratefully receive them and allow God to use them to ruin us to the ways of the world. Prayer and fellowship are among life’s richest pleasures, but let’s not stop there. Let us learn to fill our souls with beauty, art, noble achievement, fine meals, rich relationships, and soul-cleansing laughter. When we acknowledge these pleasures, we acknowledge God as a genius creator of brilliant inventions. Let us be wary of a faith that denies these blessings as “worldly” and unfit, as though Satan rather than God had designed them. Let us refuse to fall into the enemy’s trap of denying ourselves God’s good pleasures so that we end up deeply vulnerable to illicit pleasure.


Let us refuse to fall into the enemy’s trap of denying ourselves God’s good pleasures so that we end up deeply vulnerable to illicit pleasure.

 

healthy and one destructive—I am likely to choose the wrong one. Embracing pleasure must always begin with a heart being renewed by God’s Holy Spirit. Once this powerful act of redemption has begun...

 

In practical, modern terms, she pleads with us, “Let God win you over with his joy, pleasure, and friendship, and you’ll be that much less vulnerable to being fooled by the counterfeit pleasure of sin.” In terms of spiritual warfare, she points out that our enemy, “the Fiend,” loses more by our rising than he ever gains by our falling.

 


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Jesus came promising the good life. And yet why do Christians focus primarily on rejecting the bad life?

 

...our motivation must come from what Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 5:9: “So we make it our goal to please him [the Lord].” If my pleasures don’t give pleasure to God, then eventually I will have to choose either to change my pleasures or to change my god. A soul can’t serve two masters. That’s why I want Christians to connect pleasure with God rather than see the two as enemies.

 

...we open wide our hearts to God. What I’m about to say may seem revolutionary to some and even heretical to others, but here it is: as Christians, it is our invitation as well as our obligation to cultivate and live lives of true pleasure as a pathway to obedience and even worship.

 

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