|Over the past few years I’ve often said, “God is more concerned with your holiness than He is with your happiness. I still hold to that statement WHEN it’s in the right context, but I think it’s appropriate to push back on how our culture has defined happiness. It tells us that happiness comes from wealth (materialism), or an open sexual environment, or focusing on yourself, or fame, or power.
Yet the Bible talks about happiness but defines it differently than our culture. When the Bible mentions happiness, it speaks of something that is self-contained, like peace and joy. Biblical happiness is NOT dependent on our circumstances.
Another reason for the push back on the word happiness is the Christian therapeutic definition of the faith. In this psychological view, God is a God of love, because he offers us internal relief from all of our problems. God exists to fill us with a sense of psychological completeness – to fix our feelings of emptiness and dissatisfaction and to give us direction. He’s a cosmic counselor, existing primarily to satisfy our emotional voids. This concept of God consumes our thinking, and much of our prayer life. And when He doesn’t respond accordingly, we become angry or spiritually confused.
The problem is that we’re searching for happiness down the wrong path. It’s true that God has the power to transform our lives, but this simplistic theological view of God’s love has created a knee jerk reaction from Pastors and theologians when people use the word happy. We need to confront and reject the idea that God is nothing more than a genie who meets all of our felt needs, existing only to grant our next request. God doesn’t exist to be used by us. On the contrary, we exist to worship Him. God is totally pure and perfect within Himself and we’re called to follow His commands, not the other way around. So, when people who are about to make a decision say, “I believe God wants me to be happy” they’re only right if that decision aligns with His Word. Because of that theological push back, the word “happy” often gets removed from our spiritual vocabulary. And that’s a mistake, a mistake that I will try to remedy.
So, I will put these two concepts – holiness and happiness – in the proper Biblical context and avoid the unnecessary separation between the two. The question is, can we be both Biblically happy and holy? What I’m asking is, how can we become happily holy? One commentator wrote, “The soul’s true happiness is no incidental byproduct of holiness. True happiness is true holiness.” I would agree. In his book, “The Crown and Glory of Christianity: Or, Holiness, The Only Way To Happiness, Thomas Brooks wrote, “Holiness differs nothing from happiness but in name, Holiness is happiness in the bud, and happiness is holiness at the full. Happiness is nothing but the quintessence of holiness.” That’s beautifully written. Brooks later writes, “An absolute fullness of holiness will make an absolute fullness of happiness. When our holiness is perfect, our happiness shall be perfect; and if this were attainable on earth, there would be but little reason for men to long to be in heaven.”
Matthew Henry had the same thought. He wrote, “Those only are happy, truly happy, that are holy, truly holy.” These men understood this theological truth well. What they are saying is that happiness is part of holiness. A holy person will be a happy person. You can’t separate holiness from happiness in God. In the book of Psalms this point is made very well. The Psalms often speak of those who are blessed — in most cases blessed means those who are truly happy. According to scripture the truly happy are those who are, truly holy.
Psalm 1:1-2 says, “Blessed (or happy) is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.”
The Hebrew word ?Ashrê is used here in Psalm 1:1-2. This is key to our study. ?Ashrê is used throughout the Psalms and Proverbs to describe the happy state of those who live wisely according to God’s design. Walking in obedience to God means you are walking on the path to happiness.
Psalm 119:1-2 says, “Blessed (happy) are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord. Blessed (happy) are those who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart.” Again, “Blessed” here means “Happy”.
Psalm 106:3 says, “Blessed are those who act justly, who always do what is right.” That’s pretty straight forward, you’ll be happy if you always try to do what’s right.
Psalm 40:4 says, “Blessed (happy) is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.”
Psalm 112:1 says, “Praise the Lord. Blessed (or happy) are those who fear the Lord, who find great delight in his commands.” So loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind equals happiness.
But not only are holiness and happiness (or blessedness) joined in the Psalms; they get linked together in the Beatitudes in Matt. 5:2-12 as well. In Matthew 5, Jesus begins a sentence with the same words, “Blessed are…” eight times. Here again what does it mean to be blessed? The Greek word for blessed, “Makarios” like “ashre” simply means happy.
In Matthew, the Beatitudes could read, “Blessed or Happy are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10). Both ?ashrê and makarios make it clear that true happiness comes through obedience to God’s Word. Because of what I’ve stated earlier about our cultural definition of happiness we shrink back from this idea. “Blessed” in our Christian culture has come to mean so much more than our modern definition of happy and that’s a shame.
Why do you think we have a hard time using the word “happy” here in Matthew 5? Maybe it’s because we have a hard time believing Jesus is concerned with our happiness. We think that God doesn’t care if I’m happy on earth, He only cares about heaven…that’s when I’ll be happy, but that’s not what these verses teach. Jesus is talking about what it takes to be happy now – something that has eluded most people in our world today.
Think about it. The things that Jesus promises are things that will make us truly happy. We think Jesus is saying that happiness only comes AFTER we have persevered through some horrible process. And if we do, the destination will be worth it. But I believe He’s saying that we can be happy DURING the process as well.
We were happily holy when we were justified (gave our lives to Christ) because we felt a sense of hope for the present and the future. But as we journey through the process of sanctification Satan deceives us into thinking that happiness is only found on a distant mountain top, and the mountain is too far and too difficult for most of us to climb.
Psalm 23 would beg to differ, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
The truth is that happiness or blessedness is also found in the valleys, in the process. If goodness and love followed you all the days of your life would you be happy? Of course. Isn’t that the definition of happy?
The beautiful reality of justification in Christ (just as if I’d never sinned – His blood covers us) creates the happy, holiness of the Psalmist.
Psalm 32:1-2 tells us, “Blessed (happy) is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed (happy) is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.”
Christians can feel the full weight of what it means to be happily holy as we live out our union in Jesus. In Christ, we find an inseparable physical, emotional and spiritual connection between our obedience and our joy, between our sacrifice and our peace, between our pursuit of true holiness and our experience of true happiness. If our goal is to be like Christ, we need to stop and reflect. 1 Tim. 1:11 talks about, “…the glory of the blessed God…” The “blessed God”. Our God is Holy. He is perfect and separate from all sin. At the same time, He is filled with joy and peace. He is a happy God. He is completely content and self-satisfied in His eternal perfection. His happiness is a part of His glory.
Now remember Col. 3:3, “You died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” As we seek to understand our union with Christ, we will be happy, holy. And what God has joined together, let no Pastor or church member separate.
So, we have come full circle. Like every generation, we face a choice, and it’s not a choice between happiness and holiness, but between two different paths to happiness (one good and one evil). The first choice is to pursue happiness as the world defines it. Its promises of material comfort, emotional ease, and physical satisfaction turn out to be lies that only leave you empty, depressed and bitter.
The second choice is the true happiness that is found only in Christ. It’s finding delight in God and His Word. It’s seeking and treasuring His Glory and Holiness above all else. The sad thing is that so many people avoid holiness to pursue happiness, not knowing that the two are the same thing.