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Choosing Christ Over Hedonism and Nihilism: Finding Hope in the Resurrection

Apart from Christ, we choose hedonism or nihilism. We may waffle between the two in the same week, day, or hour. Satan loves when our flesh chooses one of these two extremes. 

Webster defines hedonism as “the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the sole or chief good in life.” I define hedonism as “pleasure at all costs.” Hedonism comes from the Greek hēdonē translated as “pleasure.” Hedonism became popular in the English language in the nineteenth century and is based in the teaching of the Epicureans and Cyrenaics. 

Philosophers define nihilism as “extreme skepticism maintaining that nothing in the world has a real existence.” I define nihilism as “life is meaningless and we might as well get along with the dying.” By nature nihilism rejects all religious traditions that seek to give life meaning. Friedrich Nietsche is the most famous nihilist. (Yay!) 

The apostle Paul confronts both hedonism and nihilism in the greatest resurrection chapter in all of Scripture (my opinion)—I Corinthians 15. 

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (I Corinthians 15:16-19).

These four verses shatter the lies of hedonism and nihilism with the power of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ! Christ is risen changes everything! 

Hedonism? This life is not my own. I have been crucified with Christ. I no longer live. Christ lives in me. (Galatians 2:20) By faith, the same is true for you. The risen Christ makes you His. Your ultimate pleasure is Christ. Your greatest joy is following Christ as you serve others, just as you’ve been served by Christ. The Holy Spirit has led you to believe it is truly more blessed to give than to receive. The hedonistic Christian should be an oxymoron. 

Nihilism? Your life is infused with meaning…now and in the life to come. Fatalistic skepticism has been replaced with joy-filled hope. You walk in the freedom that the risen Christ has won on the cross for you. By the Holy Spirit’s power you bring the profound meaning of following Christ to those walking in the meaninglessness of pursuing pleasure (hedonism) and never being truly satisfied (nihilism). 

Jesus is our greatest pleasure. Jesus fills our lives with meaning. This is a life truly worth living. 

Let’s apply these truths to church leadership. Hedonistic and nihilistic tendencies are alive and well in many LCMS churches. 

Church hedonism sounds like this: “Pastor, just make us feel good. Take care of us. Please don’t make us uncomfortable by calling us to go ‘on mission’ to make Jesus known, or anything like that.” 

Church nihilism sounds like this: “Pastor, this church is declining. The demographics are against us. Why even start new things to try to reach more people with the Gospel?” 

These caricatures of conversations had (or not had, but believed) make my stomach twist into uncomfortable knots. Imagine how they feel to the Holy Spirit who wants to awaken the dry bones of LCMS congregations. These statements are so counter to the call of the risen Christ. 

LCMS congregations need a vision of resurrection hope. This is no flimsy hope. Hope honestly addresses the current reality. 

  • We have demographic challenges (aging congregations, anyone?) and hope can feel hidden. 

  • We have leadership challenges (more pastors needed, anyone?) and hope can feel hidden. 

Christ is risen! Hope is not hidden. By faith, hope propels mission. The apostles waited on the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit showed up at Pentecost and inspired the apostles to do whatever necessary, say whatever required, to let the world know the risen Jesus. The same Holy Spirit lives in us. I pray we reject hedonistic and nihilistic leadership in the LCMS. 

I pray for hope. Hope is here. Why? Because the Spirit of the risen Jesus rests on us. The ULC is here to go on mission with you to make Him known. 


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