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Why You Don’t Have to Choose Between Happiness and Holiness

As a young pastor, I preached, as others still do, “God calls us to holiness, not happiness.” There’s a half-truth in this. I saw Christians pursue what they thought would make them happy, falling headlong into sexual immorality, alcoholism, materialism and obsession with success.

I was attempting to oppose our human tendency to put preferences and convenience before obedience to Christ. It all sounded so spiritual, and I could quote countless authors and preachers who agreed with me.

I’m now convinced we were all dead wrong.

There were several flaws in my thinking, including inconsistency with my own experience. I’d found profound happiness in Christ; wasn’t that from God? Furthermore, calling people to reject happiness in favor of holiness was ineffective. It might work for a while, but not in the long run.

Tony Reinke gets it right: “Sin is joy poisoned. Holiness is joy postponed and pursued.”

Some Christians see happiness as the opposite of holiness. But Scripture says otherwise.

Consider Leviticus 9:24: “Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering … on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown” (NIV). The radically holy God sent down fire, and they did what? They fell facedown … and “shouted for joy”! This remarkable response flows from the utter holiness of submission combined with the utter happiness of praise.

Second Chronicles 6:41 says, “May your holy people be happy because of your goodness” (NCV). To be holy is to see God as he is and to become like him, covered in Christ’s righteousness. And since God’s nature is to be happy (as we saw in part 2), the more like him we become in our sanctification, the happier we become.

Any understanding of God that’s incompatible with the lofty and infinitely holy view of God in Ezekiel 1:26-28 and Isaiah 6:1-4, along with the powerful view of the glorified Christ in Revelation 1, is utterly false. God is decidedly and unapologetically anti-sin, but in no sense anti-happiness. Indeed, holiness is what secures our happiness.

What makes us better makes us happier.

In Western nations, popular opinion holds that high moral standards are foolish, demeaning and narrow-minded human constructs—impossible to maintain and contrary to happiness. This lie has been remarkably effective. We seem to have to choose between sinning to be happy and abstaining from happiness through righteous self-deprivation.

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Randy Alcorn is the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries (www.epm.org), a nonprofit ministry dedicated to teaching principles of God’s Word and assisting the church in ministering to the unreached, unfed, unborn, uneducated, unreconciled, and unsupported people around the world. Before starting EPM in 1990, Randy served as a pastor for fourteen years. He is a New York Times best-selling author of over fifty books, including Heaven (over one million sold), The Treasure Principle (over two million sold), If God Is Good, Happiness, and the award-winning novel Safely Home. His books sold exceed ten million copies and have been translated into over seventy languages.