Are We Called to Happiness or Holiness?
Traditional Christian beliefs and values are being replaced today with self-help theology where God simply wants us all to be happy and to live a good life. Even professing Christians actively living in sin will justify their actions by saying, “God wants me to be happy,” or “The heart wants what the heart wants.” Sadly, these people can be found sitting comfortably in churches across American every Sunday without conviction, and all in the hopes of living their best life now…as if this life is all about now, and all about us! The Bible makes it pretty clear that we are called to live holy lives that honor Christ, (1 Peter 1:13-25, Romans 12:2, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Ephesians 4:17-5:7, all of Romans 6, etc. ). So how does this idea of living holy fit in with the idea of living our lives to be happy?
Following Your Heart
Charles Ebert Orr once wrote, “It is just as natural and easy for a Christian to live the Christian life — as it is for a sinner to live a sinful life. The sinner needs make no effort to live a sinful life; he lives it naturally and easily. Life proceeds from the heart.”
So in a way, Charles has given us a different perspective on the whole “heart wants what the heart wants” idea. The biblical perspective on this is that the sinful heart sets out to satisfy self, while followers of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, have a renewed heart that seeks to glorify God. The gospel tells us that Jesus has secured eternity for God’s people through his life, death, and resurrection (Romans 4:25). Once dead in our sin (Ephesians 2:1) we are now alive in Christ (Romans 6:11) and have been given a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26). With this new heart we are called to set our hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. (Colossians 3:2). Put simply, we are called to live Holy lives that honor and glorify God. Looking out for number one as they say, is not Biblical.
Holy and Happy
Living holy isn’t at the expense of happiness, it’s the ultimate source of happiness! The greatest joy you will find in this life is when you submit to Christ and give up your sinful desires so that you can delight yourself in the Lord. When you conform to the will of Christ the desires of your heart change, and the impure desires are shaped in a way that allow you to enjoy God himself. With new hearts we are declared righteous before God (2 Corinthians 5:21), and “transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
God’s desire for every human being is that we become like His Son, Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29), which we can only do when we allow God to rid us of our old, hardened hearts and give us new hearts.
Living a Holy Life
In 1 Peter 1:13–16, the apostle Peter helps Christians understand that living a holy life starts with a new perspective. The hope we have in Christ is for the world to come, not the world that is. Christ made it clear that His kingdom isn’t here. He didn’t come to free us from oppression on earth, He came to free His people from our sins with a promise of future glory. In John 14:23, Jesus says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
God the Father chose His people to be regenerated with new hearts and to be set apart by the Spirit for the purposes of being obedient followers of Christ here on earth, with our minds set on eternity with Christ. As John Calvin said: “The sum of the whole law and of all that God requires of us has this end in view, that His image should shine forth in us, so that we should not be degenerate children.” Peter specifically describes us “as obedient children”.
In this life, we are simply preparing ourselves by looking forward in hope to the life of the world to come. That starts with, “being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ”. You want to live a holy life honoring to God? Be sober minded and set your hope on things to come, not things here and now.