Lies Hip Hop Told Me: YOLO
On the 2011 song “The Motto,” Drake, Lil’ Wayne and Tyga introduced the world to a a new motto: YOLO.
YOLO is an acronym for You Only Live Once. The YOLO motto caught on so quickly that, in a Google search, the motto receives higher placement than the 162 year-old county of Yolo in California.
This is troubling, from a Christian perspective, because the YOLO motto is based on a dangerous lie. This should come as no surprise, considering Drake also claims to be the greatest rapper ever. Obviously, Drake is not the most reliable source of information.
What makes the YOLO motto dangerous is not the claim that you only live once. This is true. The danger of YOLO is how it applies this truth.
In the song, the fact you only live once is both motivation and justification for the unrestrained and indiscriminate use of money, women and drugs. Those who have personally adopted the motto use it similarly. No one ever uses YOLO as motivation and justification for doing something in service of another’s pleasure; it is used solely to account for the relentless and undisciplined pursuit of one’s own pleasure.
This application of the fact you only live once is foolish for at least four reasons.
First, YOLO is foolish because it is contrary to common sense. Common sense tells us that the less we have of something, the more careful we should be with what we do with it.
For instance, imagine you and a friend are spending the day shopping together. You have $1 in your pocket and your friend has $1,000 in her pocket. As you go from store to store your friend may be able to spend money here and there without much thought — she has $1,000 to spread out through the day.
You, however, will be much more thoughtful about where your money goes. After all, you have only $1 to last you the entire day.
Common sense tells us the less we have of something the more careful we must be with how we use it. The fact you only live once should not lead you to spend your life without discipline, as Drake claims. Rather, it should lead you to spend your life carefully and thoughtfully — precisely because you only have one.
Second, YOLO is foolish because when you live to gain the world, you end up losing your soul. The man who spends his life chasing the pleasures of this world inevitably misses out on the greatest pleasure of all — being united to the God who made these and every pleasure.
Jesus asks a rhetorical question designed to reveal the ridiculous nature of this exchange: “What good is it for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul?” (Mark 8:36). On the other hand, the man who spends his life chasing God through Jesus Christ experiences many pleasures now and then “eternal pleasures at [God’s] right hand” (Psalm 16:11).
Drake would have us choose to gain a little pleasure now but forsake all pleasure later by seeking pleasure in place of Jesus. Jesus would have us choose to forsake a little pleasure now and gain eternal pleasure later by seeking pleasure in Jesus.
Third, YOLO is foolish because your life does not belong to you. Your life belongs to the God who made it and freely gave it to you. God tells us that after we have lived our one life we are “destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
In other words, the one life you have to live will eventually come to an end, and the God who gave it to you will hold you accountable for how you chose to live it. Knowing that we “must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” and that we will “receive what is due … for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad,” we ought to reject Drake’s counsel to make it our goal to please ourselves and, instead, embrace the Apostle Paul’s counsel to “make it our goal to please [God]” (2 Corinthians 5:9-10).
Fourth, YOLO is foolish because true life is not found through living for self but in dying to self. Drake is right to want to make the most of the one life he has. Each of us should want to do the same.
This is not our problem. Our problem is that our instincts on how to make the most of our life are entirely wrong. Our instincts tell us that we make the most of our one life by living for ourselves.
In truth, living for ourselves will kill us because it will keep us from following Jesus, in whom true life is found. If we want to make the most of our life, we have to go against our natural instincts and die to our self-centeredness.
Jesus explains, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). It is only when we give up our self-centered life for a Jesus-centered life that we finally live.
Despite the many problems with how people apply the YOLO motto, Drake is right to say You Only Live Once. This is true for every person. Yet it is true in different ways for different people.
For those who follow the YOLO motto and place their hope in the pleasures of this world, this life will be brief and it will be followed by two deaths: a physical death wherein the body dies and a spiritual death wherein one is eternally separated from God in conscious torment (Revelation 21:8). For those who reject the YOLO motto and place their hope in Jesus Christ, this one life will last forever even if it appears to be interrupted by physical death.
This is possible only because Jesus rejected the YOLO motto and refused to use his one life to serve himself. Instead, Jesus used his one life to serve God and others.
As we place our faith in Jesus, his perfect life counts as our perfect life, and his death under God’s judgment counts as our death and judgment. Because of this, Jesus can promise, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).