I’m a life-aholic. I’m hooked on it! I can’t get enough of it, and I’ll do almost anything to make sure that I get my fix. A small battle with cancer a few years ago deepened my obsession, but I’ve always been addicted. I’m not talking about just breathing; I’m talking about living … living everyday … taking the good with the bad knowing that it all adds up to something terrific.
My love for life has often proven problematic for me. Being in the church and enjoying life doesn't always go together. Self-denial is usually seen as a greater virtue than enjoyment. Like the diet advice: if it tastes good you can’t have it, churches have preached the doctrine of denial for centuries. If something is fun and feels good, then it is probably an activity you shouldn’t be involved in.
Of course, this is an oversimplification. Many in church will immediately protest that they are allowed to enjoy their lives. However, whether they realize it or not, they are only speaking of “sanctioned” enjoyment. Anything outside of the “approved” list of “allowable” enjoyment is suspect at best and a pathway to hell at worst!
The church has taken everything and asked this question: will this particular event, activity, feeling, or desire lead me into other things that are suspect or clearly evil? If they answer yes, then that puts it off limits for every good church person. This kind of thinking led to the sarcastic joke: The reason Baptists don’t believe in adultery is they are afraid a dance will break out.
Much of life is off limits for church people because they are constantly asking themselves that question. Inevitably this leads them to a self-righteousness based on avoidance. Ask them about spirituality and they will give you a laundry list of things they don’t do. They operate from a line of reasoning that goes something like this: “I am right with God because I don’t do …. Therefore you are not right with God because you do …. Which means, I am better than you are.” They may never say this aloud, but you’ll know it after just a few miserable minutes of being around them!
Living in fear of participating in something that might lead me into evil is a gross waste of time. Truthfully, everything – good, bad, or indifferent – has the capacity to lead me somewhere that may not be good for me. If I live my life according to this question, I’ll never live at all! I’ll hide away in some sanctuary and surround myself with others who have stopped experiencing life. We will proclaim our superiority and condemn everyone on the outside. We’ll be safe, secure, self-righteous, smug, and very serious.
The doctrine of self-denial is largely based on a lousy interpretation of Jesus’ words when he said, “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me" (Luke 9:23). Jesus wasn’t saying to deny yourself of all personal pleasure. He was saying don’t live your life for yourself. And, as anyone knows who seeks to enjoy life, the only way that’s possible is to live your life outside yourself. Any kind of self-focus takes delight out of life … especially the self-focus of self-righteousness! It is only when we get out of ourselves that life begins to have meaning … and enjoyment! That’s what Jesus meant.
Righteousness by avoidance seems very spiritual, but it is actually anti-Christian. Would anyone ever describe Jesus in terms of what he didn’t do? The word avoidance would never be applied to him. In fact, if anyone ever loved life, it was him. The first recorded event of Jesus’ adult life was his attendance at a party where he turned water into the best wine the participants ever tasted! He drank so much he was accused of being a drunkard. He partied so often he was accused of being a sinner. He hung around individuals that proper people avoid at all costs. His love for life was included in a promise he gave to his followers:
My purpose is to give life in all its fullness. (John 10:10, NLT)
The Bible describes God this way …
God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6:17, NLT)
Life wasn’t meant to be lived by avoidance. Instead of experiencing life with faith and enthusiasm, we alienate others and force them into categories of judgment. When we do we end up missing out on our humanity and on much of God’s goodness.
Forget what the official church says … go out and live a little.