rebelling against low expectations

You Only Die Once


We’ve all heard it; we’ve all cringed. “You only live once.”

In addition to being unoriginal, overused, and ambiguous in intent, it’s an insulting reminder of a self-evident truth. Yes, time and time again it has been proven that our birth is a surefire ticket to death, but do we really need to be reminded of it all the time?

Jack Black has notoriously pointed out that YOLO is just “carpe diem for stupid people.” He’s right. It’s not a new sentiment. It’s not even a clever observation; anyone with half a brain knows life’s only guarantee is death.

However, the ambiguity of the statement is problematic.

Does YOLO mean we should think through our decisions carefully, choosing only the best and most well thought out options? After all, if I only live once, what is worse than living a life filled with regret? Or does it mean we should live spontaneously, maybe even recklessly, because we might not get another chance?

It would seem the echoes of those living out the motto would favor the latter option.

The Glamorization of Regret

The Red Hot Chili Peppers had a line in their 1995 song, “Deep Kick,” that cried, “it’s better to regret something you did, than something you didn’t do.” The lyrics leading up to the line depict a bunch of mischievous and even criminal acts committed by a couple of teenagers. The theme isn’t much different from Drake’s 2011 hit “The Motto” which popularized the YOLO slogan.

One can admire the philosophy that we should live life to the fullest as we only get one shot at it, but are we really to buy into the idea that reckless living should be celebrated because we only live once?

It would appear that many popular musicians would want us to believe that.

They glamorize a life in which one takes advantage of all of life’s “opportunities” regardless of who will pick up the tab or who will suffer the consequences.

On the one hand, there is truth to the thought that regretting an action is better than regretting a lack of action. To use an example that almost everyone can relate to, the teenager who asks a girl to a dance only to be rejected may have his share of humiliation and looking back upon the event may regret “putting himself out there.”

Nonetheless, in hindsight he may have great peace about the event rather than being a single thirty year old who always wonders, “What if she said yes? I could be married to her now…”

However, the other hand inflates this truth to a non-negotiable way of life.

One can imagine a day in the life of a teenager who wakes up and says “yes” to every opportunity that comes his way only to end up overdosing, flunking out of school, getting venereal disease or driving his car into a telephone pole.

Exaggerated? Probably, but these are the logical consequences of the YOLO philosophy if we indulge ourselves at every opportunity.

There’s a better alternative.

You Only Live Twice and the Second Time It’s Forever

At the heart of the gospel message is the death and resurrection of Jesus.

He promises eternal life to those who trust in Him. If you’re a Christian, in the most simple of terms, you don’t live once: you live twice and the second time, it’s forever.

To quote the 1831 hymn by Thomas Hastings, “you die in Christ to live again.” Unfortunately (fortunately?), YOLTATSTIF is a mouthful and the last thing Christendom needs is another WWJD fad bracelet with the YOLTATSTIF slogan on it.

However, the truth remains.

We are not doomed to a fate of eighty years of regrettable decisions that we can look back and laugh at and scream, “YOLO!” Instead we have a future hope for an eternal legacy.

The alternative that God offers us in Jesus is one in which we are made strong through our weakness. Will we have regrets? Most certainly. Should we live boldly? Absolutely.

Both of these things are evidenced in the life of the apostle Paul.

Surely he had great regret about the time he spent violently persecuting the church before his conversion. He didn’t look back at it and say, “YOLO” and sweep it under the rug. He evidenced regret about those actions. He lived in repentance for them.

But he also lived boldly, “making the best use of the time because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16). He “seized the day,” not for himself but for the gospel, for Jesus’ sake and the sake of others.

The Guarantee of Regret

Given that sin is the universal calamity of humanity, you are going to have regrets in this life. The culture screams for you to laugh at them. It says, “bad decisions make good stories, so you might as well indulge and the consequences will be either pleasure or hilarity.”

But Jesus offers us an alternative.

You want to embrace the truth that life is short? Live selflessly, sacrificially, and intentionally; that’s the redeemed version of YOLO.

If you believe Jesus has purchased heaven for you, do everything you can to live that reality out on earth. Fight the gates of hell that you see closing in on those around you. Pour yourself out in love for your friends and neighbors. They might reject you, you might regret it, but at the end of the day you’ve made the best use of the time and invested in eternity.

You never know when those that you love will be taken from you, so what will you do to make the best of those relationships God has given you?

After all, you only die once.

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Photo courtesy of Tyrone Daryl and Flickr Creative Commons.


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About the author

Sean Nolan

is a pastor to families and youth in the Baltimore area. He is a staff writer for Gospel-Centered Discipleship and has contributed to a number of publications in both print and web form. He is the author of the upcoming children's picture book "Farewell Planet Earth" (2017). He is retired from playing in punk bands and has since made it a life goal to expose everyone he knows to Humble Beast rappers. He's married with two kids and loves burritos.


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By Sean Nolan
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