Something has bothered me for a long time. There have been a number of studies that have suggested that there is not a lot of demonstrable difference between Christian and non-Christians. Christians, for example, are not more likely to give or to be sexually pure or to avoid divorce. They are not a whole lot happier. Religious people in general are happier than non-religious, but not dramatically happier.
But, this has to do with Christians in a very generic sense. It has to do with anyone who says they are Christians. Lots of people list “Christian” as a religious preference who are not actually walking with God. Jesus spoke of the narrow way. He said few would find the narrow way. He had teachings where He spoke of those who would apparently pretend to be Christians, yet, He would say to them, “I never knew you.” There is, apparently, a kind of inner core of real Christians. There are four types of soil and as I study that passage, only the last one is really good soil. Only the last soil represents true Christ-followers.
But surveys—best I could tell—tended to lump all the soil together. They tend to lump together those who say they are Christians with the real McCoy—something Jesus was careful not to do. Could it be there is an inner core that is qualitatively different from the rest of society? Could we find this inner core and demonstrate that those who truly follow Christ are significantly different in a wide variety of ways? One more question: I wonder if this inner core (if we could find it) is any happier. Can we demonstrate that the obedient are any happier than those who are going through the motions?
Research indicates that religious people are happier than non-religious people. One book stated that although the authors were not religious, they recognized that science has learned that religion is good for the brain. More on that later. But, science is a pretty blunt instrument when it comes to measuring religion. Science has made little attempt to make distinctions between the religious. There is no attempt to distinguish between real followers and those who are going through the motions.
So, I did a survey of 1,067 of my friends. Now, this is a somewhat random survey, and it isn’t an even cross-section of society. My friends are mostly pastors and small-group leaders. Forty-eight percent strongly agreed with the statement, “I am totally sold out to Christ. He is absolutely the Lord of my life.” This group of people, therefore, is uniquely suited to helping us make distinctions among committed and more committed Christians. I wanted to find out how this inner core—those committed to obedience—differ from those who are not. One question I had was, “Are the committed happier?” Turns out they are—a lot happier.
Of those who strongly agreed with the statement, “I am totally sold out to Christ. He is absolutely the Lord of my Life,” 28% reported themselves to be extremely happy. For those who agreed (as opposed to strongly agreed) with that statement, the number dropped by two-thirds—11% were extremely happy. The not-sold-out were a grumpy lot; only 1% reported extreme happiness.
By the way, this group did not just say they were sold out. They acted sold out. Four out of five tithe. Three out of five regularly serve God in the area of their gifting. Two-thirds strongly agree with the statement, “I am living a sexually pure life.” Nine out of ten love to worship. Three fourths witness regularly. All the things we normally think of committed Christians doing, this group is more likely to do. And, this group is 28 times more likely to be extremely happy when compared with people who describe themselves as not sold out.
Happiness and commitment to obedience come together. But, so does happiness and everything else Christ asks us to do. God is a rewarder. For example, God asks us to be generous. Turns out, people obedient to God’s command to be generous are happier. In fact, those who describe themselves as very generous are nearly five times as likely to describe themselves as extremely happy. And, this is not merely a subjective evaluation of generosity. If we look at actual giving percentages, the same trend holds true.
Josh Hunt. Obedience.
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