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Enjoying Life Isn’t a Sin

In fact, it’s a profound way to imitate Christ.

Michelle Van Loon July 19, 2023

When my kids were young, we watched Sesame Street almost every day. One memorable segment from the show featured a little song called “One of These Things (Is Not Like the Others).” As the jingle played, viewers would see four items on screen. We’d have to figure out which item differed from the other three.

Illustration by Adam Cruft

Sometimes the Bible reminds me of that little song. For instance, which of these verses doesn’t seem to match the others?

  1. Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23).

  2. “He has told you, mortal one, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:8).

  3. “The one who loves his life loses it, and the one who hates his life in this world will keep it to eternal life” (John 12:25).

  4. So I commended pleasure, for there is nothing good for a person under the sun except to eat, drink, and be joyful, and this will stand by him in his labor throughout the days of his life which God has given him under the sun” (Eccl. 8:15).

Though the last verse might seem to contradict the other three, I am learning it actually harmonizes with them. While the author of Ecclesiastes frames the book with the sober reality that this life is as temporary as a puff of smoke, he also suggests frequently that enjoying the goodness of life as a gift from God doesn’t contract that reality (Eccl. 2:24; Eccl. 3:13; Eccl. 5:18, Eccl. 9:7-13). Instead, joy enhances our relationship with God the same way harmony enhances a melody.

I have an intense personality and gravitated to the rigors of a disciplined faith. In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus told His followers the road to life was a narrow one. I understood this to mean that I needed to march this road with the seriousness of a well-trained soldier. There was no space in my thinking for savoring the beauty and goodness found along the way. While I dutifully thanked God for the gifts of things like a happy gathering with family and friends or a delicious meal, I categorized those things as secondary to my main task of serving God.

A serious study of the book of Ecclesiastes and a closer look at the way Jesus conducted Himself throughout the Gospels finally upended my thinking. What if enjoying the goodness God had gifted in my life could glorify the Father in the same way as serving others, sharing the gospel, or spending time in corporate worship? It was a provocative idea. After all, how could I enjoy my life if I was only carrying my cross?

And yet Jesus was able to enjoy the goodness of His life by spending time in community with His friends and followers and also by sharing meals with many kinds of people, celebrating weddings, and stealing away to commune with His Father. Not every moment was an opportunity for a sermon. The Gospels highlight the essence of His life and message but can’t capture what Jesus expressed in the everyday moments. He was fully divine and fully human, and those attributes meant He was fully present as He took a bite of roasted fish on a Wednesday afternoon, savoring the taste with a deep gladness that was as much an expression of praise as a beautiful hymn.

To be like Jesus meant being fully present to the everyday moments of my own life. As I practiced this, using my five senses to touch the petals of a flower, inhale the scent of the saltwater at the beach, notice the warm smiles of friends, listen to the sound of their laughter, or savor a bite of roasted fish, I discovered that gratitude to God didn’t feel like an add-on. Giving thanks had once been a dutiful task on my spiritual soldier to-do list, but the more I learned to enjoy what God had placed in my life, the more freely and naturally I was able to glorify Him as the giver of all good gifts (James 1:17).

In other words, asking, “Which verse is different from the other three?” misses the point. The real question is, How are we to glorify God with our life? And it turns out the answer is “all of the above.”

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