Happiness Or Holiness?

MIF 14:3 (May-June 1982)

Happiness Or Holiness?


For a generation or so it seems that Christians have placed an inordinate emphasis on happiness as the primary goal of life. It’s true that God doesn’t intend for His people to be like the cat which got into the vinegar and became a “sour puss.” After all, didn’t Nehemiah tell us, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10)? And wasn’t it the Apostle Paul himself who wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice” (Phil. 4:4)? Yes, but remember these men of God were not on a happiness kick nor was it their goal to avoid hardship and suffering. On the contrary, they wrote of joy and rejoicing out of a context of manifold trials, yet these very trials became steppingstones to knowing and experiencing divine joy.

There is a vast difference between worldly happiness and heavenly joy. The former is outward and dependent on favorable happenings; the latter is from within and is produced by the Holy Spirit (see Gal. 5:22-23). If we would know true happiness or joy, then holiness of character and conduct must be our goal.

It was Peter who wrote, “but as He who hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of life. Because it is written, Be ye holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:15-16). By position Christians are forever holy (1 Cor. 1:2; Heb. 10:10), but it is our practice that Peter has in mind. Literally he says (and it is a command), “Become ye holy.” Practical holiness is a process in the life of the believer, and it is realized and demonstrated through obedience to God’s Word. As a result of loving and obeying His revealed will, divine joy will follow. In other words, fulfillment of our duty, no matter what the cost, is the secret of experiencing genuine happiness. In an applicable context, Christ said to His disciples, “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them” (John 13:17).

A nameless author was right on target when he wrote:

“I hope someone soon declares a moratorium on books about sex, love, husbands, wives, perfect happiness, total fulfillment and the like. The consequence of this material is that millions of Christians are chasing unrealizable will-o’-the-wisps and paying insufficient attention to Bible study, sound doctrine and personal witnessing. One who pursues happiness as such can never be happy. One who buys a book on the subject is defeated in advance. The reason is that happiness can only come through duty fulfilled, responsibilities met, promises kept. We ought not to ask, ‘How can I be happy?’ but rather, ‘What is my duty?’”

—W. Ross Rainey