One of the great lies people often tell themselves is that God wants them to be happy.
This is a lie, not so much because God intrinsically wants men to be unhappy, but because what men most often mean when they say such a thing is that God wants them to please themselves. Personal happiness is not a scriptural reason for sin, and God has always advocated a different path for men other than self-gratification.
Indeed, denial of self, self control and self-sacrifice are all traits that God advocates above any quest for happiness. Consider the following passages.
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25; NKJV)
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:22-24; NKJV)
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2; NKJV)
Again and again, the Bible stresses the need to put to death our own sinful desires, and, with discipline and self-control, accept the will of God, putting His teachings into practice. By doing this, God tells us, we will come to know true joy and peace, and our lives will be better off than it would be if we had “followed our heart.”
God has some rather pointed warnings considering those who decide to take the advice of the world and do it their own way. “There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 14:12, 16:25; NKJV)
The proper question then, when presented with a moral choice, is not, “which one will make me happy,” but rather, “which one does God approve of?” A woman faced with a choice between the husband she has vowed to be faithful to, and some other paramour, is ill advised to leave the husband even though her friends might be telling her, “God just wants you to be happy.” The same goes for men faced with a similar choice. Rather what God wants is for you to learn how to be loving and faithful to the one you are with (cf. Ephesians 5:22-33) He wants you to honor your vows. He wants you to learn to do good to others, even when you might not reap any immediate rewards through so doing, because we know that its the right thing to do and that we are laying up spiritual treasures (cf. Galatians 6:7-10).
Consider how much worse off we would be if, when faced with the cross, and the death there-upon, Jesus had taken the advice proffered and asked himself whether or not the cross would really make Him happy. Jesus didn’t think that way. He considered what His death on the cross would do for others, and thus submitted Himself to the will of God. He endured the cross, despising its shame, and because of that self-control and self-sacrifice, He blessed others, and was Himself thereafter blessed by God, finding joy in that spiritual reward (cf. Hebrews 12:2).
Jesus likewise calls us to a spirit of self-sacrifice, urging us to take up our own cross as we seek to do the will of God. That path which promises no difficulties and easy choices is less joyful than it looks, and at the end there is sorrow and pain. The path God directs us on will sometimes be hard and He makes it clear that there will be suffering. But at the end there will be a reward for having made the right choices. God wants happiness for men, but He wants a true, lasting happiness established in righteousness, self-discipline, and eternal security.
The church of Christ is comprised of individuals learning to do God’s will and we invite you to come study and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.