Question: "Is 'you only live once / YOLO' something a Christian should live by?"
Answer: YOLO (an acronym meaning “You Only Live Once”) is a term that refers to a carefree, do-what-you-want attitude toward living. A popular motto since about 2011, YOLO is often used by people wanting to bring attention to an exciting event in their lives or to excuse their irresponsible behavior.
The hashtag YOLO can be found throughout social media, tagging everything from “I’m downing a whole bottle of hot sauce! #YOLO” to “Buying a third new car! #YOLO.” The YOLO philosophy promotes a philosophy of experiencing everything you possibly can before you die, regardless of the consequences, and living as though today is the only day that matters. You only live once—so you might as well take the opportunities when they present themselves.
Some may argue that the Bible promotes an YOLO attitude in Ecclesiastes 8:15, in which King Solomon writes, “So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.” However, the context of this passage has a deeper lesson about having joy and gratitude for what God has given us. All that a man gets by his labor in this world is to be enjoyed by him, and he should be cheerful and content with the gifts he receives. Solomon is not teaching that we should live our lives for indulgence and pleasure.
It is true that “you only live once,” and that fact should cause us to live carefully in the sight of God (Psalm 90:12; Hebrews 9:27). Also, there is nothing inherently wrong with trying new things or even taking calculated risks. But the YOLO philosophy is not about living circumspectly or making wise choices; it’s about taking bad risks, raising the stakes, and, in many cases, shrugging off the consequences. But living as though your life is merely the sum of your experiences is short-sighted. Our actions, for good or evil, have lasting significance. Actions will have consequences (Ecclesiastes 11:9). The biblical principle of sowing and reaping is still in operation. Galatians 6:8 tells us, “Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”
The Bible provides a reminder of how precious our days are (Psalm 90:10) and how we must embrace those days with prudence—not foolishness (#YOLO). Ephesians 5:15 says, “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” Not everything we can do is something we should do (1 Corinthians 10:23), and there are some experiences better left untried (Psalm 1:1). When Potiphar’s wife propositioned Joseph, Joseph could have said, “YOLO,” and jumped into bed with her; wisely, he had more fear of God—and more respect for himself—than to commit that folly (Genesis 39:6–15; see Proverbs 7).
You may only live once, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do so with wisdom. Allow the Holy Spirit to guide you (John 14:26; Romans 8:26), and ask God how to glorify Him with the days He has given you (James 1:5; Ephesians 4:11–16).