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What the Bible says about Hedonism
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Psalm 11:4-5

It is good to remember that, just because He makes something available to us—even things that might ordinarily be considered "good"—it does not mean it is good for us! God is continually testing us to see whether we understand how intimately He is working with us.

We are to be self-controlled people, our conduct motivated by faith, because we are a distinct people summoned by the great God for His purposes and His purposes only. God is drawing us into oneness with Him, which is why His Word so frequently stresses His one way.

A man was once asked why he risked life and limb to climb a mountain. He replied, "Because it was there." This illustration is supposed to indicate that he rose to the challenges of life and overcame them. What is not often explored is that he did not need to risk life and limb to climb the mountain. He took this risk, this gamble, on himself; God did not require it. His vanity drove him to do it so he could be personally satisfied and tell others he did it.

Exercising faith in God and His Word is not a gamble. Babylon's system is a way of life that promotes gambling, betting that one will be able to beat the odds. It began with Adam and Eve in the Garden and today contaminates virtually every area of life.

Despite our wealth of knowledge concerning nutrition, we gamble with our health in what and how much we choose to eat. How can smokers not know they are gambling with their health when statistics show that each cigarette takes about seven minutes from one's life? Consider the AIDS epidemic. In spite of all the information regarding the dangerous potential of this disease, people willfully continue in their hedonistic lifestyles, gambling that a cure will be found before it strikes them down.

We often gamble in the way we drive our automobiles. People sky dive from airplanes or bungee jump from high bridges spanning deep canyons. Men and women involve themselves in a whole host of life-threatening experiences, risking their survival for the sake of a thrill.

Many have gone heavily into debt wagering that the nation's economy, their employment, and their health will continue to be positive and that they can somehow manage to keep their noses above the financial waters. Yet, the nation's economy, which affects jobs, never stays the same for long. Various factors are in constant flux, making financial speculation risky business.

The solution to each of these gambles is to control ourselves through faith in God and His purpose. We must stop indulging ourselves and begin making whatever sacrifices are necessary to keep to the strait-and-narrow course God has placed before us. It is our responsibility to glorify Him, and we most certainly will not glorify Him by gambling on some other way of life!

But Israel does not want to sacrifice. She wants satisfaction—her way—which so frequently comes at the expense of godly conduct. We cannot allow ourselves to be dragged along in her self-centered depravity, as seen in her boast, "I sit as queen, and am no widow, and will not see sorrow" (Revelation 18:7).

Albert Einstein was once asked for his definition of insanity. He replied, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result." This entire creation works according to laws, and those laws cannot work any other way than they do. They always bring the same results.

The solution is to quit disbelieving God and to begin obeying the laws He counsels us will produce the abundance, satisfaction, and peace we so desire. Israel would not and will not do this. It remains to be seen whether we, after being given the opportunity, will follow Israel's fickle example or that of the heroes of faith.

Israel's sin is driven by an overweening self-concern, which forgets that God is working out a purpose and plan that oversees everything in our lives. He bought and paid for us with Christ's sacrifice, and we vowed to submit to His authority when we gave Him our lives. God's track record is clear, and what He is providing is more than fair. He promises to supply our every need, but in Israel's fearful and fickle discontent, she did not seek Him to understand what He was doing. Instead, she sought for something different from the experiences He was providing to prepare her for His Kingdom.

Psalm 11:4 could be rendered, "His eyes behold the children of men; testing and proving the upright in heart." Israel failed when He tested her. What is He testing in us? As He tested Israel, God is testing our loyalty, our faithfulness to Him, to see if we will keep the covenant across a wide spectrum of situations. These tests never come at a convenient time, do they? Do they not always seem to hit when we are in a bind of some kind, making the choices all the more difficult? They make us decide who comes first in our life—God and faithfulness or our own nature and flesh?

What are we to do when the issue is whether to break the Sabbath by working or keep it by refusing? What should we do when we are in a financial bind and in debt—submit to men or pay God His tithes first? Can God, will God, provide our needs in such a tight financial situation? What will we do when we desire to cover a failure—brag and lie or tell the truth? What should we do when we are sexually enticed—flee or commit sexual immorality?

What will we do in any case when submitting and the glorification of God are at issue? Should we expect God to bless us when we choose to take sovereignty to ourselves? When we take sovereignty to ourselves, we introduce idolatry into the relationship.

Once we are no longer ignorant of the choices before us and choose to take sovereignty to ourselves, sin becomes exceedingly more serious in its consequences—we become our own idol because that is whom we are serving.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beast and Babylon (Part Seven): How Can Israel Be the Great Whore?

Proverbs 21:17

Some of the results of a self-indulgent life are poverty, spiritual emptiness, and death. In I Timothy 5:6 "live in pleasure" is translated from the Greek word spatalao, describing a lifestyle of abandonment to one's desires for comfort and pleasure. It appears again only in James 5:5, as "luxury" or "wanton" (KJV).

Martin G. Collins
Overcoming (Part 8): Self-Indulgence

Isaiah 3:5

Isaiah reveals a society that can be aptly described as "upside down." Those who should be leading are not and those who should not are. A central factor in this is that the immature are leading. A free-wheeling, laissez faire, hedonistic, immoral, and irresponsible culture exists. Verses 5 and 12 confirm that family governance and leadership are greatly affected.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Commandment (1997)

Hosea 10:12-15

By listening to the sensually appealing but iniquitous advice of "authoritative" individuals, our people have fallen prey to the lustful desires of human nature. Humanistic psychologists and psychiatrists urge people in the measured tones of academia that sin is passé and that we should not concern ourselves with remaining faithful or virgin. Ministers back away from the Bible's authority by seeming to respect it no more than a mere writing of men. Sex gurus such as Alex Comfort, author of The Joy of Sex, once said of sex, "There is nothing to be afraid of and never was." For decades Hugh Hefner has propounded his insidious "Playboy Philosophy" in his magazine, setting the tone for contemporary moral standards. We cannot forget the political figures whose sexual escapades, once only whispered about, are now openly discussed. Yet many are re-elected, indicating the public's approval or unconcern.

People are persuaded, even though the statistics indicate an ever-increasing rise in sexually transmitted diseases and a steady divorce rate. Because God's law may not exact an immediate penalty (Ecclesiastes 8:11), the hucksters of hedonism cry, "There is no penalty!" But because God is faithful, the penalty always falls. Moreover, the penalties are mounting, bringing great sorrow and becoming visible for all who care to see. How much easier it is to learn wisdom through obeying God rather than through the harsh experiences of human nature!

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Seventh Commandment (1997)

Amos 6:4-6

What a picture of excess and uselessness! Like Babylon, these people live in indolent luxury, surrounding themselves with the latest creature comforts, overindulging in rich and expensive food and drink. A glass or a cup is not enough for them—they must drink wine from bowls to satisfy their addictions! They sing songs that mean nothing, but in their hearts they think their songs and music equal to David's! Life is a party! And all they have to show for their lives is a lack of judgment.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism

Amos 6:4-6

Amos 6:4-6 mentions feasting, indulging in artificial stimulation, listening to unusual music, and taking excessive and vain measures in personal hygiene. The single idea behind these illustrations is that the excesses of powerful Israelites were possible because of their oppression of the weak and poor.

By contrast, verses 9-10 show ten common Israelites huddled together in one house in fear of the war-induced plagues. People will die so rapidly that the survivors, looking out for themselves, will not take the time to bury the bodies of their own families but burn them in huge funeral pyres. These survivors will eventually recognize that God has dissociated Himself from them, and they will consider it an evil thing even to mention His name! How very bitter! And how very far from God!

The people, whether rich and indulgent or poor and deprived, were self-concerned. Throughout chapter six, Amos balances complacency and disaster, boasting and fear, showing that they result from rejecting God and idolizing self. Inevitably, God will send judgment upon Israel.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)

Colossians 2:8

Colossians 2:8-10 gives another general definition of Gnosticism, as well as how to combat it. Paul is writing about a philosophy like Stoicism, not a specific religion, such as Judaism. This is important to recognize, since in verse 16, Paul mentions the Sabbath and holy days, and it is commonly assumed that Paul condemns their observance. Yet, he does not - he warns against a philosophy that disparaged the feasting and joyous observance of the Sabbath and holy days. This is why Paul tells the Colossians to "let no one judge you" with regard to eating, drinking, or observing the weekly and annual Sabbaths - rather than what is commonly read into Colossians 2:16: "There is no reason to keep the Sabbath or holy days." Christians in Colossae were being pressured by the ascetic society around them, which would have looked down on their feasting.

This is confirmed in the rest of Colossians 2, which deals primarily with asceticism (see especially Colossians 2:21-23). Some branches of Gnosticism adhered to asceticism as a way to free the eternal spirit by living regimented, plain, and insular lives. (Conversely, some Gnostics went to the other extreme - practicing hedonism - believing that what they did with their bodies did not make any difference since only spirit mattered.)

Paul says that this philosophy and its associated doctrines were plausible, but they were not based on solid arguments. He calls them "vain deceit" (KJV) or "empty deceit" (NKJV). They may sound good, depending upon one's inclination, but they endanger church members. The apostle writes that they would be "spoiled" (KJV), which does not necessarily mean being "corrupted," but rather of being "plundered," hence the NKJV's use of "cheated." This empty philosophy would rob or cheat them of their faith, their hope, their understanding of God, their relationship with God, their vision, and the purpose that God is working out. Once introduced, it would begin to steal away all of their true, spiritual riches.

Paul also provides two possible sources of this unsteady philosophy: "the traditions of men" and the "rudiments of the world." Examining the "rudiments of the world" first will help to explain the traditions of men. Other translations call them the "elements of the world," the "basic principles of the world," or "the powers of the world." In using this term, Paul is referring to the demonic powers that make this world, this cosmos,what it is. The source of this philosophy of salvation through special knowledge is Satan and the demons.

This explains why, when we read the histories of various religions and their branches, the same patterns arise time and again. Man does not have it within himself to pass along accurately and dependably ideas that go back to the very beginning. With an incessant drumming, the powers of the world keep prompting men and women in the same vain deceits that directly contradict the truth about God and His purpose for mankind.

Humans certainly play a role in handing down these traditions. Sunday school teachers and theologians perpetuate the Gnostic myths of the immortality of the soul, of eternal consciousness, of progressive revelation, of each person having a spark of goodness within that just needs to be fanned into a flame, and of each soul or spirit existing before in heaven and returning there upon death. Men pass these traditions on to other men, but the powers of the spirit world keep these messengers on their track and blinded to the truth.

The last phrase in Colossians 2:8 - "not according to Christ" - is a simple one, but it encapsulates what this is all about. Not a single branch of Gnosticism had the truth about Jesus Christ. That knowledge can be found only in God's Word.

David C. Grabbe
Whatever Happened to Gnosticism? Part Two: Defining Gnosticism


 




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