Do what you want! Do what makes you happy!—these seem to be modern mantras for many people. Life is short, don’t waste your time doing a bunch of things that make you miserable, and enjoy being happy while you can.
In a way, the Bible agrees. But in the pages of scripture we also find a fence drawn around this idea—a boundary to help guard one’s heart from destructive things that will ruin a life and an eternal soul.
Throughout Ecclesiastes, Solomon wrote about his experiences. He tested various pleasures and withheld nothing from himself that he desired. Yet, with time, it all proved fruitless. Meaningless he called it. Drawing on these experiences and with the wisdom given him by God, Solomon wrote to his son hoping to spare him the same measure of grief.
Near the end, Solomon said, “Young people, it’s wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it. Do everything you want to do; take it all in.” This sounds good to the pull of pleasure we feel in our hearts: enjoy life and do what you want. Yet Solomon added another line: “But remember that you must give an account to God for everything you do” (11:9).
Then Solomon described the aging process and how doing what you want becomes more difficult when you’re old, so honor your Creator in your youth (12:1). There’s the fence: Do what you want, do what makes you happy, but make sure what you do honors God.
There have been those in history who have tried to live out the Christian faith in a cold, emotionless way. And many times in pop culture Christians have been painted as brute, mean, crass, and/or ignorant hypocrites (which does, sadly, accurately describe some who try to wear the name of Christ). Yet this is not the Christian faith the Bible presents.
Instead we find people given new hearts and indwelt by the Holy Spirit to be people of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-26). We find our Savior-King sounding forth the call of command to major in loving God and loving neighbors (Matthew 22:37-39). We also find this same Lord speaking in a single breath about experiencing suffering yet also the fullness of joy (John 17:13-14).
So, yes, we are to enjoy life and to do what makes us happy. But our hearts are being transformed in Jesus so that what makes us happy and what we desire is that which honors him and does good to those around us.
Under the term of Christian hedonism, John Piper described such a life as “being happy in God” and reminded us that “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him.”
Yes, sin has its pleasures, its momentary joys; but these are passing pleasures with sin the reason for death (Hebrews 11:25, Romans 6:23). So here we find the “but”—do what you want! But… Yes, God wants us to be happy and to take pleasure in him and in life. But God has also warned of the destructive consequences, both now and eternally, that are brought by sin (anything that dishonors or disobeys God).
His desire for us is to avoid the great consequences of that which only brings pleasure for a moment; and instead grow eternally happy by doing what we want through that which honors him.
This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.
 See: John Piper, Desiring God.