You only live once! Or when I was a hip young student, YOLO! This ideology is an encouragement to seize the day, to go for it, live your best life now, take life by the horns! Once this moment is over it will only exist in memories and pictures, so take the plunge and live.
The impact this kind of thinking has on our sexuality is obvious. If you want to sleep around, then do it. If you want to have sex with someone of the same gender as yourself, then go for it. You only live once; so live! In the world of YOLO the Christian sexual ethic seems pretty limited and out of date.
This language is common in our current cultural moment. In October 2021 a Japanese princess decided to marry a commoner. In order for this to go ahead she had to forsake her royal status. While covering the event the Independent Newspaper wrote: “You Only Live Once”. Japanese Princess Mako and new “commoner” husband defend their marriage in address: “Our marriage was a necessary choice to live while cherishing our hearts.”1
But this idea is nothing new even if the phrase “you only live once” is. The 2000 hit song by Bon Jovi “It’s my life” has now been listened to a billion times on YouTube. Bon Jovi sang:
It's my life
And it's now or never
I ain't gonna live forever
I just want to live while I'm alive
(It's my life)2
Supporters of this ideology claim it gives purpose to life. In February 2021 a self-help book was released called “You only live once: find purpose, reclaim your power, and make life count.”
But is it true? Do we only live once?
Life is for living
I hope in a moment to demonstrate why this line of thinking is not only wrong, but also cruel. But first, there is something helpful here. There is no “reset button” on life. Reincarnation is not a thing. You don’t get to try and try, again and again, until you’ve finally lived a good life and can enter Nirvana.
This moment in which we exist matters. God has not made us simply to “exist”, but to “live”. We are beings who serve a greater purpose. This purpose is written into our very DNA. Colossians 1:16 tells us that we have been made “by Christ and for Christ.” We don’t want to be passive about this truth but grab it by the horns.
In Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus tells a parable of a rich man who gives bags of gold to three servants and then goes on a journey. Two of the servants use the gold and “put it to work”, while the third hides his in the ground. When the master comes back he commends the two servants who have used the gold they were given, and invites them in to come and share in his happiness. While the third servant, the one who has done nothing with the gold, is thrown out because he is a “wicked and lazy servant.” Now, I think this parable is teaching us many things, but one of them is that life is for living. God has given us individually different skills, talents and abilities, and he wants us to use them for his kingdom and his work.
Street savvy atheism
However, even though I think there is something helpful in this line of thought I fundamentally think it is flawed. “You only live once” has a wrong understanding about the world. It assumes that this material world, the here and now, is all there is. There is no heaven, no hell and no spiritual dimension. Thus, you’ve got to do what you want, when you want, with whoever you want, because this is the only chance you’ve got.
YOLO feels like the street savvy version of classical atheism. In his book “The Atheist’s Guide to Reality” the philosopher Alex Rosenberg addresses a series of questions from an atheist perspective:
What is the purpose of the universe? There is none.
What is the meaning of life? Ditto.
Why am I here? Just dumb luck.3
So, what should we do if there is no meaning to life? Well, a group of atheists in the UK ran a bus campaign a few years ago telling us the answer to that; “There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Or, in other words; YOLO!
Street savvy atheism seems pretty fun on the surface, but is it actually satisfying? I have three reasons why I think not.
Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless4
Firstly, “you only live once” thinking makes life pretty meaningless. Pre his spiritual awakening Russell Brand, who was known for enjoying life to the full, stated in an interview: “Now I’m famous, what does that mean, “Ashes in my mouth?”5 For Russell, fame looked beautiful from the outside, but once he had grasped it, he realised it meant nothing to him. If life is just about enjoying it, and Russell Brand enjoyed it as much as he could, why did it not satisfy?
If you believe that this is all there is, then you have to also believe that soon you will be forgotten. This means that all your achievements at the end of the day amount to nothing and you are thus living a meaningless life. The artist Francis Bacon says: “Man now that he is an accident, that he’s a completely futile being.”6
And it is interesting to note that even the great atheist thinker Bertrand Russell, who argued passionately against the existence of God, still stated: “The centre of me is always and eternally a terrible pain – a curious wild pain – a searching for something beyond what the world contains.”7
Compare this ideology to the Christian belief system, and you see how truly shallow street savvy atheism is. We are not an accident. We are not a random collection of cells that are here by chance only to disappear again. Each and every human being has been knit together by the God of the universe (Psalm 139:13). God is our cause, but he is also our purpose (Colossians 1:16). We are here for a reason; and thus we have the potential to live lives full of meaning. When we love our neighbors as ourselves, and love the Lord God with all that we are, we are fulfilling our very purpose (Matthew 22:36-40). We are here for a reason, and when we acknowledge the Lord God then our hearts no longer have to ache trying to work out what that reason is.
Eternity is written on their hearts
Secondly, obviously “you only live once” has no space for life after death, but is this the reality of the world we live in? Do we simply exist for a moment and then we are gone? Is this our experience of life?
Have you ever stood at the graveside of a friend, and thought not simply that it is sad that they’re gone, but that it is wrong? They should still be here. Why is it that no matter where you go in the world or which religious belief you study, the idea of the afterlife is common to nearly all of them. Humans from our earliest ancestors to the four corners of the earth have felt that this moment is not all there is, that there is something more.
Scripture says that this is how we have all been made to be. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says “God has set eternity in the human heart.” God has designed us so that we would be beings that long for more. And we see this very poignantly in the words of Damien Hurst, the famous modern artist:
Why do I feel so important when I’m not? Nothing is important and everything is important. I do not know why I am here but I am glad that I am – I’d rather be here than not. I am going to die and I want to live forever. I can’t escape that fact, and I can’t let go of that desire.8
Is this desire for eternity a desire that can ever be met? We are hungry, and so we eat. We are thirsty, and so we drink. The Oxford academic C.S. Lewis says: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”9
And this is what God’s word tells us. We are made for another world! Romans 8 says that this world is groaning. It is in the pains of childbirth. All creation is waiting for a new world to be made. For this world, not to be destroyed, but transformed. Away from decay and death and suffering and into flourishing and life and joy. This means this life is not all there is. There is something more. We were made for something more.
Justice is not an illusion
My third and final critique of the “You Only Live Once” thinking, is that it is unjust. If you believe that this world is all there is, then those people who have done terrible crimes and were never held to account on earth for them have got away with it. The nation was shocked when we heard about the crimes of Jimmy Savile. But there are so many more men and women who have committed equally if not worse crimes who we have never heard of. Many of them have also got away with it, if you believe this world is all there is.
But thankfully this world is not all there is! God is a good God. Goodness is a part of his character. Thus, he is just and must punish wickedness or he would not be consistent with himself. If a judge kept on taking bribes instead of dealing out justice, we would not consider them to be good. Because God is good, he acts justly. He will bring every deed into judgement. Many people never face justice in this life, but in the next they will!
God tells us that a final day of judgement is coming when everything that was done in the shadows will be held to account. Jesus Christ will return and with his return that judgement day will begin. The humble will rejoice at Jesus’ coming because they acknowledge him as their Saviour and Lord. While the proud will be filled with fear because now all their deeds will be counted, and they will have to answer for their crimes.
What does this have to do with sexuality?
In a word, everything. If this life is all there is and there is no God, then nothing we do matters; so enjoy yourself in whatever way you want until you breathe no more. But, if there is a God and there is another world then in the words of Gladiator; "What you do in life echoes in eternity.”10 As there is a God, and another world after this one, then what we do in this life, and particularly what we do with our sexuality, matters.
Firstly, we are not here by accident, and we don’t accidently have a sexuality. God has intentionally made us sexual beings. Yes, this is so we can reproduce, but it also for so much more than that. The American Pastor John Piper states; “The ultimate reason (not the only one) why we are sexual is to make God more deeply knowable.”11 Scripture uses sexual language and imagery to firstly demonstrate God’s great love for us, and secondly as a way of advertising the infinite bliss that awaits his people in heaven.12 Thus, we want to steward our sexuality in such a way that best helps us (and others) know God more deeply.
Secondly, we were made for something more and so we don’t have to satisfy every sexual desire that we have. It is a modern myth that every sexual desire must be acted upon. Sometimes a situation means a couple is not having sex (the wife has just given birth), sometimes a horrible accident has occurred which means sex is off the table (the husband is now paralysed), or maybe an individual has been widowed and is unable to fall in love again. There are many reasons why people are not having sex other than singleness (which is my reason). At some points in life I can honestly say I’ve been very content even though I’m not having sex, while other points I’ve found it a real struggle. Knowing that this world is not all there is, is a genuine encouragement! A better world is coming that will make the struggles of this world feel like a light and momentary trouble in comparison.13
Thirdly, God will hold us to account for the lives we live. He is a good God who has kindly told us how to live in his word the Bible. He has told us very clearly that sex is for marriage between one man and one woman. He has told us very clearly that the sexually immoral will not enter the Kingdom of God (Rev 21:8). God is too good not to judge the world, so we must be ready for that judgement day. We must repent of sexual immorality and believe that Jesus Christ is our Saviour and Lord. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection all our sins will then be forgiven and we can become the children of God. Then by the power of the Holy Spirit that is within us we must live like the children of God with pure and holy lives. So that one day, when Christ returns, we can be a part of his pure and holy people and enter into the next world not as God’s enemies but as his friends.
You only live once! Wrong, you actually live twice. Once in this world, and then again in the next. The big question is, are you ready for it?
- Sravasti Dasgupta, ‘“You only live once”: Japanese princess Mako and new “commoner” husband defend their marriage in address’, Independent, https://www.independent.co.uk/asia/japan/japan-princess-mako-wedding-media-b1945440.html. Accessed 24 May 2021.
- ‘Bon Jovi – It’s My Life (Official Music Video)’, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vx2u5uUu3DE. Accessed 24 May 2021.
- Alex Rosenberg, The Athiest’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions (New York: Norton, 2011), p.2.
- See Ecclesiastes 1: 2.
- ‘Russell Brand on Newsnight [Full Interview]’, YouTube, https://youtu.be/0qdNBrzAQjo (from 12:34). Accessed 16 August 2022.
- Quoted in, Michael Ots, What Kind of Hope?: How Jesus Changes Everything (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2012), p.15.
- Quoted in, Ots, What Kind of Hope?, p.16.
- Ots, What Kind of Hope?, pp.45–46.
- C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Special centenary ed. (London: Fount, 1997), p.113.
- Gladiator, dir. by Ridley Scott (Universal Pictures, 2000).
- John Piper, ‘Sex and the supremacy of Christ: Part one’, in John Piper and Justin Taylor (eds), Sex and the Supremacy of Christ (Crossway, 2005), p.26.
- What is Sexuality For?
What Does God Really Say About Sexuality? (Explore Questions #1)
Ed Shaw, Purposeful Sexuality
- See 2 Corinthians 4:17.