You Only Live Once?

A common phrase used among people my age is: YOLO or You Only Live Once. This is a term that encourages people to live life to the fullest and without limitations. It’s particularly popular among teens and young adults. YOLO captures the thinking and philosophy of the American young person. It focuses on oneself and offers an answer to Aristotle's ancient question: How ought a man live his life?

What is life all about?

Is this life all there is or is there more? I think it’s important for us to look at how the gospel defines life compared to how the world would define it. The world says: there is no certainty of afterlife. However, there is the certainty we are all going to die, and so we’d better enjoy life while we still can. This worldview sees life as merely natural. There is little or no spirituality involved and almost certainly nothing about eternity. The believer looks at life and its end differently. James, in his epistle, says: “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:14). James reminds us of just how small and insignificant we are. That our lives are an eye blink in the depths of eternity. Whereas the world sees the time we have here on earth as the highlight of our existence and should be focused on our own happiness. This worldview goes beyond pleasure seeking. W e have the right to make our choices and we have the right to fullfil ourselves. What we chose is best. Our culture is on a search for ultimate satisfaction. And this ongoing pursuit of pleasures is proof that we still haven't found what we are looking for. Augustine said it best: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in [God].” To the believer, life isn’t only something to be enjoyed here on the earth but is eternal. Jesus said it himself: "He came to give us life that we may have it abundantly" (John 10:10). Life is a gift for today and forever.

A Whole New Way of Living This Life

Jesus provides a completely different life here on earth than our culture expects. Jesus calls us to live completely selfless lives, lives that are committed to living a life of love. The two great commandments are loving God and loving people:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. - Matthew 22:37-39.

Jesus goes on to teach that living out these commandments is the ultimate fulfillment in life. By obeying these two commands we will be completely satisfied. It won’t always be easy, but it’s the ultimate way to enjoy this life. Jesus also gives us a hope for eternal life. "I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.” (John 11:25). Jesus is clearly stating that there is life after death, and by belief in him we will be resurrected from the dead. In the Christian worldview, we are called to enjoy this life through the loving of the Lord our God and his people. While this life is good, it's not the ultimate and it never can be. We are promised something much greater, and that’s eternal life with our savior.

The Search For Meaning

We live in a culture where anyone who possesses a phone has access to more information at their fingertips than anyone else in previous generations combined. The information we come across in one day is more than someone in the 5th century would ever see in their lifetime. We also have networking like Facebook where 'friends' can be everyone we meet. There is no excuse to not stay connected with co-workers, 4th grade park district community soccer teammates, your mailman, or that girl you talked to that one time at the movie theater. With thousands of movie channels from sports, to sitcoms, to reality television and home improvement we have an inconceivable medley of forms of entertainment at the quarter inch movement of the thumb. We are no longer limited like we were in the days of our parents. The world is at our fingertips. The world is our oyster, we have access to anything we want within minutes. In a simple Wikipedia article we can learn how to fly planes, what a black hole is and what a celebrity’s second favorite food is. All of this feeds the notion that we deserve pleasure and we are in control of it. There is a world to be enjoyed. Live it up. You only live once. We have more entertainment than ever, and yet we are bored out of our minds. We flip through channels and watch nothing.

This is the passion that drives our culture. We are no longer limited, therefore every human ought to find their passions and their dreams and fulfill them! Surely this will satisfy us found the answer, we’ve found meaning. The fact is, many of my friends walk around empty, depressed, with no hope and bored. Depression rates are going up, relationships are becoming weaker in families and marriages. This, “live for me, get a taste of everything and only live for pleasure” is not working. If YOLO shows us one thing it’s that hedonism and self-indulgence do not satisfy the human heart, we are more complicated than that, we are deeper than that.  There is something about the human heart that yearns for eternity, meaning, and truth. Everything else leaves us bored.

I recently read through the wonderful book of Ecclesiastes. I was deeply moved by this book not only because of what is said but particularly in who says it. The author of Ecclesiastes is King Solomon, the son of King David. Solomon does a complete one eighty with Israel from being this weak group of people to this grand nation for the Lord. Solomon was at the high point of Israel, he was the king of the greatest most prosperous nation of that time! Solomon was rich in wisdom, the wisest person on the planet. People traveled from all over the world to hear his words. He also had over 700 wives and 300 concubines. With his wives, he engaged in parties and rituals and festivals. This man was the epitome of YOLO. Surely this guy knows how to enjoy life and surely he is satisfied? In the second verse of Ecclesiastes he says: “Meaningless! Meaningless?’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless”. Here’s a man who has lived the YOLO life and in the end he basically says, “what a joke”. As Solomon says we “strive after the wind,” just caught up in our pleasures, constantly craving gratification, but none of it lasts. This gratification is temporary so we seek so many other sources for fulfillment, and when we find nothing that there’s nothing there we cry out “meaninglessness!” G.K Chesterton said: “Meaninglessness comes not from being weary of pain, but from being weary of pleasure.” One of the great losses a person feels comes when they have exhausted all life has to offer and are as hollow as they were in the beginning. This is a heartbreaking view our culture holds, but it makes this world ripe to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Meaningful Relationship

Dear friends the meaning of life is not a task, not an idea, not a trophy, it’s a person. Again, the gospel makes way for a relationship with a real person, Jesus Christ (John 17:3). It's this incredible relationship with the God who wont stop loving you to the extent that he has done whatever it takes to buy you back. He died on a cross to make you his again and recreates you into the perfect image you were meant to bear. Victor Hugo once said, “the greatest yearning in our hearts is to be convinced we are loved.” You need only to take a glance at the cross, and immediately you know that nobody has loved you like that. He invites you to know him, to grow in strength, wisdom, and love and to walk alongside him in the grand mission of redeeming the world.  God has bigger plans for you than you ever imagined. In Christ we are given a life with profound purpose, inexhaustible joy, unfailing love, and a never-ending relationship with a perfect God. We were made for nothing less. The disciple of Jesus Christ does not waist his time, he knows what will stand forever and what is the stuff of future garage sales, dumpsters, and attic space. If you’re going to only live once, it might as well be forever.


Nick Dano is a chaplain candidate in the United States Army Reserve. He is currently resides in Dallas, Texas and attends Dallas Theological Seminary where he is pursuing his ThM with an emphasis in pastoral ministries.