This week God has providentially bombarded me regarding a common Christian phrase I’ve seen—God is more concerned about your holiness than your happiness. Specifically, this phrase has sparked a variety of questions I attempt to respond to here. Ultimately, I conclude that this phrase is likely to be misleading; in other words, it is likely to cause a belief in Christians that is inconsistent with scripture.
'God is more concerned about your holiness than your happiness'—the phrase appears to be God-centered and biblical on its surface; however, when the sentence speaks of holiness, what does it mean? And when he speaks of happiness, what is the meaning behind that? What is it that motivates God to do what He does? Is God really concerned for my holiness at the expense of my happiness? Is this what God teaches in His word? These are just some of the questions I understand sensible and appropriate to consider in front of a sentence like this.
Establishing the ground for this study.
Before addressing the questions, we need to define the terms. From now on, when I refer to happiness, I do not mean short seasons of worldly pleasure with money, sex, power, etc. satisfying for a while but ultimately leaving a gap greater than the one found. At the end, that is not happiness. Happiness is not a moment, as Kodak wants to sell it. Happiness must be seen as a state that, although not perfect on this side of heaven, provides satisfaction, joy, fulfillment, etc. based on objective truths, extending from this present life into eternity.
I recognize that many who use this phrase refer to a type of happiness, the one for which God does not care much, as life on this earth in the pleasures of the world and sin. The desire behind this article is not to criticize those with this concept, because that is an accurate dictionary definition. But for the purposes of this article, that definition does not even deserve to be awarded the term "happiness." So, the analysis presented here is taking the real meaning of each term, holiness is holiness as the Bible teaches it, and happiness is happiness as God reveals it in His word.
Getting back to the main topic, the phrase "God is more concerned about my holiness than my happiness" appears to say that God chooses between making us happy or holy. Likewise, the phrase suggests that a person must choose between holiness and happiness. It follows also that there are possibilities to be holy and yet not happy, that you could grow in holiness and at the same time say to yourself, I’m not happy. Basically, 'I'm happy, but I am not holy' or 'I am holy, but I'm not happy'.
'God is more concerned about your holiness than your happiness', suggests that holiness and happiness are mutually exclusive things. It is as if God was faced with the dilemma of making us holy and happy, and He chooses us to be holy at the expense of our happiness.
It is at this point that the questions begin to shout for an answer, is this really so? Is this what God teaches?
God teaches in his word, that we shall be Holy.
“For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”
"Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, you shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.”
1 Peter 1:15-16:
But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy."
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
Certainly God is concerned about our holiness. He has come to us and works in us with the purpose of sanctification. His appeal is to “be holy”. Christ died to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify us, making us a people zealous of good works.
God is concerned about our holiness to the point of giving his only begotten son, and this is an objective and undeniable truth of the scriptures.
God calls his people to rejoice and joy.
It's amazing the vast amount of biblical verses in which God speaks to his people by calling them to rejoice. From the Old to the New Testament, we find God doing this. The Pentateuch, the story of the liberation of the people of Israel and its entry into the Promised Land, the giving of the law, the psalms and the prophets, all evidence in various ways and occasions God’s call for his people to rejoice and have joy. Behind many of the ceremonies, rituals, laws and the procedures of God, there is a kind of divine expectation that those who are partakers of such things be part of it with joy, pleasure and contentment. By way of example:
“You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns.”
“And you shall rejoice in all the good that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you.”
“But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you.”
“I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.”
“Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!”
“Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright.”
“For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.”
“Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!”
“This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people."
2 Corinthians 1:24:
Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”
Some might think it is wrong to think about happiness only in terms of joy or rejoicing. Clearly, though, rejoicing and joyfulness are aspects of true happiness; that is, biblical happiness.
God’s profile of a true believer is primarily “Blessed”.
Matthew 5:3-12, the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, is a description of objective realities, present in high or low proportions in those who truly are citizens of the kingdom of God. The Sermon on the Mount is not a walking path along which people should walk to be saved; it is the way through which you walk when you are saved.
What draws the attention of this section is the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ calls those who are partakers of these realities "Blessed", which could be translated as: happy or pleased. That is the description that God gives to those who have participated in his saving grace, who are beneficiaries of the work of redemption accomplished by Christ on the Cross, those are "Happy."
Rather than separate holiness from happiness, as this sentence seems to indicate, the scriptures point to God uniting these things in one inseparable package. God makes us holy and we are considered as blessed. God redeems us, removing any obstacle that prevents us to glorify Him, love Him, know Him and find our eternal satisfaction in Him, and He calls that happiness. So the scriptural point is not that God is in a dilemma between making us holy or happy, but when He does one the other is also included.
God has redeemed us, and the focal point of this redemption is to bring us to Him. He has given us a new heart. Instead of looking for and delighting in mundane and spurious things, we now find satisfaction in Him. The concept of sanctification (holiness), therefore, brings us real and eternal happiness.
Heaven, the eternal blending of holiness and happiness.
Nothing makes this point clearer than taking the truth of heaven and seeing it. The final redemption of this world, where everything will be renewed, is when the imperfections of our practical holiness will disappear. Further, it also represents the entrance to the more glorious and eternal state of happiness.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."
When is the time when God will allow us to experience the perfect happiness? When we are glorified, entering his presence, where there will be no more crying or pain, and God will be the eternal delight of our soul. When is the time God will give us perfect purity and holiness? Just the same.
When God brings out the ultimate redemption of all things, He will not have a struggle to decide between whether make us happy or make us holy, one thing includes the other.
A brief note to those of humanistic trend.
I understand that much of what motivates believers to posit an either/or between holiness and happiness is the human tendency to place man at the center. The Bible teaches that man is not central, man is not the protagonist.
Let me remind you that the meaning extracted from the Bible for true happiness has nothing to do with something special that you think you have or you are. God is interested in your happiness, your eternal happiness, He sent Christ to the cross to make it possible, pay a high price for it. But this happiness is not rooted in us being exalted as trophies but in Him being glorified and showing his glory. It is correct to say that God is concerned about my holiness and happiness, because when God does that, it does not exalt my worth. Instead, it saves me from my heart full of self-centeredness, selfishness and proud. And, it grants me an appreciation and enjoyment in watching his worth, his glory, and his majesty. Genuine happiness is in Him and in Him being glorified, not me being the focus. At all times throughout these pages, this article has appealed to this vision of happiness.
It is well to say that God is more concerned about my holiness than in my life being destroyed by sin and worldliness, even if such sinfulness and worldliness may be pleasant for a time. But happiness is not something God ignores; the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. In other words, glorifying God means 'enjoying him' forever.
Nothing is excluded; it is a single package. How different would be the lives of many Christians if they saw their happiness in the same place as our holiness and obedience; that they see their joy at the same location of the glory of God, that they see their satisfaction in God.