I just want to encourage everyone of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God – I mean, that’s one way to look at it – we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy….So I want you to know this morning: Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. (Victoria Osteen)
There is a reason that the Osteens’s church is one of the largest in America, with over 40,000 attending weekly. He (and his wife) are preaching more or less what many Americans already believe. It’s what we’ve been discussing the last three posts: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. In this post, we will look at the third statement of the unofficial creed.
What do people believe?
The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
People in our culture believe the ultimate goal of life is happiness. It’s a truth that goes practically unchallenged. In the interviews conducted by Smith and Denton, teenagers specifically used the phrase “feel happy” over two thousand times (compared to almost no mentions of honoring God). We live in a world convinced that “you deserve it” and that you need to treat yourself to any thing that will make you happy.
One of the main ways people pursue their happiness is through personal security—a stable job, healthy relationships, etc. Another key component is being at peace—with others, but perhaps more importantly with yourself. The driving question behind decision making is whether or not you will be happy/at peace with the outcome. People are told they need to work to get rid of any guilt they may feel—forgiving themselves for their failures—in order to secure closure so they can be at peace in their lives.
One of the keys to unlocking happiness is discovering how valuable we truly are. As Joel Osteen said, “To find happiness, quit focusing on what’s wrong with you and start focusing on what’s right with you.” Religion is a helpful tool to insure proper self-esteem. We do not think we are worthy enough, but God comes in to help us feel worthy. If you begin to question your value, God is there to remind you how much you mean to Him. In fact, Jesus’ death shows you your worth to God!
In this understanding, the answer to our problems is inside of us. The key is buried within us, so we simply need to realize our own value. We must get out of the way of our own success.
Thus, we must work to find self-fulfillment. We must strive to reach our potential, while being true to who we are. As former President Obama once said, sin is “being out of alignment with my values.”
Religion is primarily about helping us find happiness and fulfillment in this life. Religion helps you be a well-balanced person—you need your family, your work, and your faith in order to be truly happy.
What does the Bible say?
The focus on feeling good addresses symptoms rather than the cause. Guilt, insecurity, relational problems, etc. are symptoms not the cause of our problem—the cause is sin (Jas 4:1)
Your value does not lie in yourself but in your relation to God. You are not special because of what makes you you, but because you are made in God’s image (Gen 9:6). Thus, your uniqueness is not what gives you worth, but your connection to humanity as God’s creation.
The answer to your problems is not inside you but outside you. You do not have the ability to change yourself (Jer 13:23). You are dead, and your only hope is for God to give you life (Eph 2:4-5).
While God is concerned for your happiness, he ultimately wants your holiness. That’s why Paul did not regret causing grief and pain to the Corinthians, because it led them to turn from their sin (2 Cor 7:8-9). James’s call to mourn over sin sounds strange to our world that assumes personal happiness is the goal but make perfect sense when we understand holiness matters more than happiness.
Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Jas 4:8-9
The reason holiness matters more than happiness is that we need God far more than we need temporal well-being. That’s why Paul was willing to face hunger and need and still be content—his greatest well-being had already been provided through Christ (Phil 4:11-13).
One of the most important truths of Scripture is that we will never find happiness if we pursue it for itself. We will only find our lives if we lose them (Matt 16:25). Spurgeon shared a helpful story to illustrate the folly of those who come to God seeking their own fulfillment:
Once upon a time there was a gardener who grew an enormous carrot. So he took it to his king and said, “My Lord, this is the greatest carrot I’ve ever grown or ever will grow. Therefore I want to present it to you as a token of my love and respect for you.” The king was touched and discerned the man’s heart, so as [the gardener] turned to go the king said, “Wait! You are clearly a good steward of the earth. I own a plot of land right next to yours. I want to give it to you freely as a gift so you can garden it all.” And the gardener was amazed and delighted and went home rejoicing. But there was a nobleman at the king’s court who overheard all this. And he said, “My! If that is what you get for a carrot—what if you gave the king something better?” So the next day the nobleman came before the king and he was leading a handsome black stallion. He bowed low and said, “My lord, I breed horses and this is the greatest horse I have ever bred or ever will. Therefore I want to present it to you as a token of my love and respect for you.” But the king discerned his heart and said thank you, and took the horse and merely dismissed him. The nobleman was perplexed. So the king said, “Let me explain. That gardener was giving me the carrot, but you were giving yourself the horse. (Spurgeon)
While happiness will never be found by those who make it their highest goal, true happiness can be found through Jesus Christ (Matt 5:3-12; Ps 16:11)—a happiness that far exceeds the temporal joys of this world (Ps 4:7).
Yet the happiness that Christ brings does not mean your life will be easy. God does offer comfort and care for the hurting, but not immediate relief (2 Cor 12:8-10). Rather, Jesus and the apostles both warned that it was through enduring trials and hardships that we will come to experience the joy of Christ (Matt 13:20-21; Acts 14:21-22).
How might this show up in our lives?
One way Christians demonstrate they have bought into the flawed thinking of our day is by claiming “God just wants me to be happy” to justify our behavior. We may make that claim to excuse dating an unbeliever, getting an unbiblical divorce, selfishly or unwisely spending money on ourselves, etc., but we have no biblical basis to disobey God’s commands by making a claim He never made.
Another manifestation of this false thinking is the idea that Christians should never be discouraged. We sometimes talk, act, and sing as though Christians should be “happy all the time.” This leads us to think that if we are not happy something must be wrong, instead of considering that God may remove our temporal comforts for a season so that we might learn to love Him more than our own happiness.
A related problem is our expectation that life should generally be easy. Yet holiness is hard—if we are to be holy, we must walk the same path of sorrows and suffering that Jesus did. Those who are parents must especially be on guard against this danger: how do we train our kids to be disciplined for holiness if we always solve every problem for them in order to make life easy?
How might this affect our evangelism?
We must help people to see the reason they feel guilty is that they are guilty. The symptoms (guilt, fear, unhealthy relationships, etc.) are God’s gift to them to help them see their real problem.
We must help people to see that their pursuit of happiness will never be successful. Whatever they think will give them happiness—money, success, family, entertainment, etc.—will still leave them empty, searching for more. Joy is never a goal in itself—it is only a product of knowing God.
We must help people to see their true hope cannot be themselves but must be God. Just telling someone to feel better about themselves will at best provide fleeting hope. But God offers them real hope—not fine-sounding platitudes.
Finally, we must help people to see that while coming to Christ does not make your life easy, it does ultimately make it better. If we tell people that Jesus is the answer to their desire for temporary happiness, they will become disillusioned when suffering comes. We will best testify of the glory of the Gospel, not when we act as though our lives are happy and easy, but when we joyfully accept the challenges of life and sacrifice for the eternal satisfaction that only comes from knowing Christ.
You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Heb 10:34