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, the more like Him we become in our sanctification, the happier we will be. When did you last hear that message?
Forcing a choice between happiness and holiness is utterly foreign to Scripture. If it were true that God wants us to be only holy, wouldn’t we expect Philippians 4:4 to say, “Be holy in the Lord always” instead of “Rejoice in the Lord always”?
“Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; He does all that he pleases.” Psalms 115:2-3
God is decidedly and unapologetically anti-sin, but he is in no sense anti-happiness. Indeed, holiness is exactly what secures our happiness. Charles Spurgeon said,
“Holiness is the royal road to happiness. The death of sin is the life of joy.”
It’s common to hear objections to the word happy based on its etymology, or history. One commentator says that “Happy comes from the word ‘hap,’ meaning ‘chance.’ It is therefore incorrect to translate [the Greek word makarios] as ‘happy’”
When people say they want to be happy, they are typically making no statement whatsoever about chance. D.A. Carson argues in Exegetical Fallacies, “The meaning of a word cannot be reliably determined by etymology” (32). King James Version translators wouldn’t have used happy and other forms of the root word happiness thirty-six times or translated makarios as some form of happy seventeen times if they thought its word history disqualified happy as a credible biblical word.
Unfortunately, because Bible teachers such as Oswald Chambers saw people trying to find happiness in sin, they came to think that pursuing happiness is sinful. Chambers said, “Joy is not happiness,” and continued, “There is no mention in the Bible of happiness for a Christian, but there is plenty said about joy” (God’s Workmanship, and He Shall Glorify Me, 346).
That simply is not true. In the King James Version, which Chambers used, Jesus tells his disciples, “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them” (John 13:17). Speaking of faithful Christians, James said, “We count them happy which endure” (James 5:11). Peter said to fellow believers, “If ye suffer for righteousness sake, happy are ye” (1 Peter 3:14 ) and “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye” (1 Peter 4:14).
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness. (Isaiah 52:7)
It’s hard for me to conceive of a greater insult to Jesus than to effectively deny what Hebrews reveals about his happy nature: “God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your companions” (Hebrews 1:9 NASB).
It also seems insulting to say that the best Father in the universe doesn’t want his children to be happy. In reality, the Bible is a vast reservoir containing, not dozens, but hundreds of passages conveying happiness. I’ve found more than 2,700 Scripture passages where words such as joy, happiness, gladness, merriment, pleasure, celebration, cheer, laughter, delight, jubilation, feasting, exultation, and celebration are used. Throw in the words blessed and blessing, which often connotes happiness, and the number increases.
Our message to the world should not be “Don’t seek happiness,” but “You’ll find in Jesus the happiness you have always been seeking.”
Adapted from the article “Common Christian Myths About Happiness” by Randy Alcorn March 11th, 2021 in Patheos.