Sometimes, good preaching makes bad theology. We say it because it sounds so good and we can get a house full of people to say AMEN, but, when we really take it apart, it doesn’t make good theology. Here is an example:
God is more interested in your holiness than your happiness.
I have heard that in a number of sermons and books and bible study groups and everyone always nods and says amen. My question: is it really true? Is God more interested in our holiness than our happiness? Is God interested in our happiness at all? Does our happiness matter at all to God? Or is he only interested in our holiness? How does God feel about our happiness? Does he care whether we are happy?
Here are a few examples where this sentiment is touted:
- I am a fan of Tozer, but I disagree with him here: “There [in the New Testament] the emphasis is not upon happiness but upon holiness.” —Renewed Day by Day: Volume 1. And again, “He calls them to holiness; we call them to . . . happiness.” — Gems from Tozer.
- I am a fan of Gary Thomas, but I disagree with him here. He says the purpose of marriage “may not be happiness as much as holiness.” Sacred Marriage page 22.
- “When we come to God at first, we love him out of spiritual interest, for ease and comfort, and the benefit we gain by … they love holiness above happiness or spiritual interest.” Thomas Manton, Exposition of Jude, page 84
- “People are more interested in happiness than in holiness.” Hugh Morgan, Holy God, Holy People, page 17
- “God isn’t as interested in our happiness as much as he’s interested in our holiness.” Chuck Borsellino, Pinocchio Parenting, page 163
- “God is much more interested in our holiness than our happiness!” Cindy Lasiter, Diamonds in the Rough page 168
Here are a few blogs where this idea was expressed:
- “God is more interested in your holiness than your happiness. He’s more interested in your faithfulness than your finances. More interested in your purity than your power. More interested in your good than your desire.” http://prettylittlewilderness.wordpress.com/2010/04/17/growing-pains/
- “God is more interested in your holiness than your happiness.” http://www.johnbunn.net/2007/09/sundays-scuds-september-9-2007.html
- “It’s not true, sometimes God blesses, but God is more interested in your holiness than your happiness.” http://cccsermons.blogspot.com/2008/10/sanctified.html
I heard it in a Bible Study group not too long ago. We had one lady in the group that did not speak too often, but when she did, she could get really fired up. One day, she got really, really fired up. “Well, I think there is doing what is right and there is doing what feels good. Somewhere along the line we need to gain the maturity to do what is right.” A group full of people nodded and said, “Amen.” It just sounds so spiritual. Question: is it true?
It is an important question because, well, I hate to admit this, but I am very interested in my happiness. I have always felt that way. I remember in Junior High being consciously aware that I wanted to be happy. I even worked out a rudimentary plan for finding happiness:
- Bring into my life all the things that made me happy.
- Minimize the things in my life that distracted from my happiness. (To my way of thinking, my sister!)
Whether or not they are consciously aware of it, I think most people want to be happy. They may not be as forthright about the desire I was, but I think most people really want to be happy.
For a long time I thought this desire was either irrelevant to God, or something far worse: the deep, dark, sinister part of me that needed to be repented of and turned from. Preaching like the line above fed into that. I ask again: is it true?
If it is not true, it is certainly important. Preaching that is not true is always important. It is always an important thing that we preach and teach the truth. If we are preaching and teaching something that is not true, there are no doubt consequences. We must never take the attitude that it is not true but it doesn’t matter much.
I think it matters a lot. I think this kind of thinking lies at the heart of what is wrong with much preaching and teaching, and, consequently, what is wrong with most churches. A lofty claim, I know. I ask again: is it true? Is God more interested in our holiness than our happiness?
Wesley didn’t think so. He didn’t fill huge outdoor fields with of people and start one of the great movements of God with that message. Here is Wesley from the sermon, The Way to the Kingdom: “But true religion, or a heart right toward God and man, implies happiness as well as holiness.” One more: “The loving knowledge of God, producing uniform, uninterrupted holiness and happiness, shall cover the earth; shall fill every soul of man.” — A Treasury of Great Preaching.
Whitefield didn’t preach that message. Let me say it seems to be a modern invention. Here is Whitefield’s take on the matter: “This consideration made a pious author say, that holiness, happiness, and heaven, were only three different words for one and the self-same thing.” And one more: “Let me therefore, to conclude, exhort you, my brethren, to have always before you the unspeakable happiness of enjoying God. And think withal, that every degree of holiness you neglect, every act of piety you omit, is a jewel taken out of your crown, a degree of blessedness lost in the vision of God. O! do but always think and act thus, and you will no longer be laboring to compound matters between God and the world; but, on the contrary, be daily endeavoring to give up yourselves more and more unto him; you will be always watching, always praying, always aspiring after farther degrees of purity and love, and consequently always preparing yourselves for a fuller sight and enjoyment of that God, in whose presence there is fullness of joy, and at whose right-hand there are pleasures for ever more. — A Treasury of Great Preaching.
Adam Clark put it this way: “Every wicked man is a miserable man. God has wedded sin and misery as strongly as he has holiness and happiness. God hath joined them together; none can put them asunder.” — A Commentary and Critical Notes. And one more: “Our Lord prohibits that only which, from its nature, is opposed to man’s happiness.” — A Commentary and Critical Notes.
Finney spoke of holiness as a means of happiness, not as a choice to be made that is outside of and distinct from happiness. I don’t think he would have asked us to choose holiness over happiness so much as he would say holiness as a means to happiness.
John Piper certainly doesn’t see it as a choice between holiness and happiness. One of his key message is called, “Let your passion be single.” It is one passion that seeks holiness and happiness.
The great commentator Ironside said it this way. Holiness and happiness go together.” — H. A. Ironside Commentary – Colossians. And, “Holiness and happiness are intimately linked” — H. A. Ironside Commentary – Philippians. One more: “Holiness and happiness are inseparable.” H. A. Ironside Commentary – Nehemiah.
Spurgeon didn’t think so. He did fill the Metropolitan Tabernacle with that message. “The greatest happiness of a Christian is to be holy. It is no slavery to him. Put him where you will, he will not sin, Expose him to any temptation, if it were not for that evil heart still remaining, you would never find him sinning. Holiness is his pleasure; sin is his slavery.” “Thus there will three effects of nearness to Jesus, all beginning with the letter h-humility, happiness, and holiness.” “So you see our happiness in many ways promotes our holiness.” “Holiness produces happiness.” Spurgeon’s Collected Sermons (Met. Tabern. Pul.) – – Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit.
From these examples you see that the notion that holiness and happiness are or can be separate is a modern one. It is also a false one, as well as a damaging one.
This is the real problem with the “God is more interested in your holiness than your happiness.” It makes good preaching but bad theology. The theology suggest we have a choice:
|Door #1||Door #2|
If we choose door #1 God is happy but we are miserable.
If we choose door #2 we are happy but God is grieved.
Let’s make this very practical.
I have talked to a number of people over the years who were in various stages of having an affair. They were thinking about it, flirting with the idea, in the big middle of it, trying to pull out, or married to the new person. I have talked to people at every stage of the process.
If you talk to someone who is the in the big middle of an affair they will always see it this way. As they see it, they have two choices:
|Door #1||Door #2|
I could cut off the relationship which I know is the right thing to do and the thing I ought to do, but, I just don’t know if I can do it. They are just so yummy and I am so in love with them and they make me so happy. . . [here it comes] God wants me to be happy, doesn’t he?
I know I shouldn’t and all that, but I could have life with him! We could be together all the time. He makes me feel so alive and special and I have never felt this way before and it is just incredible and I know I shouldn’t but I just want to be happy. God wants me to be happy, doesn’t he?
Indeed he does. That is why he gave us the rule: one man, one woman together for life. We are getting ahead of ourselves here, but there has been a lot of research on this. And people who pursue the relationship started in the affair are no happier than they were before. In most cases they are less happy. In the long run, happiness and holiness go together.
It may be a little hard for you to relate to, but let me use the example of Ted Haggard. Ted was the pastor of a huge mega church in Colorado Springs as well as the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, an organization of 45,000 churches in 40 different denominations. Ted had a problem. He was attracted to men. And, without going through the whole story, he lived out his fantasy. Until the whole thing came crashing down. In a statement he had read to his congregation on the Sunday he resigned, Ted lamented:
I am so sorry. I am sorry for the disappointment, the betrayal, and the hurt. I am sorry for
the horrible example I have set for you. I have an overwhelming, all-consuming sadness in my heart for the pain that you and I and my family have experienced over the past few days. I am so sorry for the circumstances that have caused shame and embarrassment to all of you.
And God looks down from the balcony of heaven and says, “Ted, my beloved child, I wanted to spare you that pain.” Sin was not the pleasure that gave Ted life, it only promised to be that. It was the thing that cost him much of his life. It cost him unspeakable happiness and caused him unspeakable pain. The pain was not only his but his families, his churches, the greater Christian community’s. Sin always does that in the end.
It is an important point because we are irrevocably hard wired to do what we believe to be in our best interest. Eventually we will do what we believe will be good for us. I will do, in the long run, what I believe will be good for me.
If I think I should eat grilled chicken and broccoli but I think greasy burgers and greasy fries are the cats meow, in the long run I will eat greasy burgers. I must come to love grilled chicken and broccoli or I don’t eat grilled chicken and broccoli.
If I think living within my means and not living on credit cards and creating a life that allows me to be generous is a good thing that I should do, and not a life-giving thing that I want to do because I believe it is in my best interest, in the long run, you will see it on my credit card bills.
Stated a different way, self-control is over rated. Over-rated. Not to say we don’t need some from time to time. But, it is like the spare tire on the car. You need a spare tire because eventually you will have a flat. But, if you try to drive you whole life on the spare of self-control you will be in trouble.
Some teaching suggests the opposite: like you get brownie points for not doing what you want to do and you shouldn’t do and you don’t do it and you get extra credit for that. Like if you don’t want to have your quiet time and you read your Bible anyway, well, aren’t you special. Or maybe you don’t want to give but you do it anyway, you are among the really spiritual people.
The bible doesn’t see it that way. The Bible says, “I rejoiced with those who said unto me let us go to the house of the Lord.” The Bible says God loves a cheerful giver.
The wise old hymn writers didn’t see it that way either. They spoke of “sweet hour or prayer, sweet hour of prayer.” And, here is the thing. It either becomes a sweet hour of prayer, or I will bet you didn’t pray this morning. You either come to love the Christian life, of you will never come to live the Christian life. You either come to love prayer, or you don’t pray much. You love to give, or you don’t give much. You love reading the Bible, or you don’t read the Bible much. You either love to serve or you don’t serve much. You must come to love the Christian life, or you will never come to live the Christian life.
Happiness is and holiness necessarily come together. God is not more interested in one than the other because they cannot be separated. You cannot be holy and grumpy. Do you know what you call someone who tries to be holy and grumpy? A deacon!
In this book, I would like to show you in category after category after category that this is true. I want to show you that people who pray more really are happier. People who are sexually pure are happier. People who serve are happier. Here are the categories we will explore;
1. The reward of sexual purity
2. The reward of generosity
3. The reward of forgiving others
4. The reward of service
5. The reward of total commitment
6. The reward prayer
7. The reward of gratitude
8. The reward of the Word
9. The reward of worship
10. The reward of evangelism
11. The reward of missions
This documentation comes from three sources. First, the Bible. We will look at relevant biblical passages that speak to each of these categories. Then, we will look at some social science that corroborates biblical teaching. About fifteen years ago psychology made a turn. Before about 1995, psychology was largely concerned with psychological illness: how to cure depression and schizophrenia and the like. Recently, there has been an enormous amount of psychological research seeking to understand what makes people happy. The short answer: do what the Bible says. The third source is a survey I did of some of my friends—1000+ of them. In this survey we can demonstrate the that the ones who read the Bible more, prayed, witnessed, served, etc, were substantially happier than the ones that didn’t.
But, the real goal of this book is not to study about happiness, the real goal is that when you get finished reading, you will be a lot happier than you are now.
Let’s get started.