A Passion for Holiness
“God cares more about your holiness than your happiness.” For years I preached this to myself or doled out some iteration of it as advice to others. After all, serious disciples take the call to holiness seriously. And, of course, we should. It was God who said, “You must be holy, as I am holy” (Lev. 11:44). It was God who set apart the Israelites—and later the church—as his holy people. Our salvation was won by the only One to ever walk the earth in perfect holiness. Through our union with Christ, we are made holy. Saints are still sinners, progressively transformed into his likeness.
A passion for holiness isn’t the problem. It’s something every true disciple values. But sometimes we make the mistake of pitting holiness against happiness—as if to find one you must lose the other. More than simply flawed, this idea actually damages our view of God and dismisses the goodness of His law. The blessed truth is, God is even more passionate about our happiness than we are! And as our sovereign Creator, he knows exactly how we can attain it.
From the very beginning, Scripture bears evidence of God’s generous desire to make his people happy—to experience the fullness and satisfaction and contentment that overflows through him. Rather than creating a world that would merely enable us to survive, he created a world to enjoy.
Adam and Eve lived in an beautiful garden filled with sumptuous fruit. Along with being co-laborers called to fulfill they creation mandate, they were designed to enjoy the intimacy of marriage and the pleasure of sex. Generations later, the Israelites were sent from slavery into a land flowing with milk and honey—the rich and sweet taste just a foretaste pointing to heaven. God wove festivals and feasts into the Israelite calendar so that they would corporately and joyfully celebrate the merciful works he’d done on their behalf.
God also created our senses as conduits of enjoyment. He gave us eyes to see majestic landscapes and colorful sunsets, and ears to hear the heart-stirring sound of music. We get to smell crackling fires, morning dew, and sizzling bacon. We savor the sweetness of chocolate and the saltiness of cheese. The pleasures of sex—God’s idea. The tenderness of infant snuggles—God’s idea. Laughter between friends—God’s idea. Indeed, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).
All the good gifts found in creation point back to the good Father who gave them all. He is the very source of the happiness we crave.
Our problem is not in our desire for happiness. God ingrained that desire within us precisely because he wants to satisfy it. Our problem is seeking happiness outside of him. This futile pursuit primarily happens for two reasons: our distorted view of God causes us to distrust him, and our idolatry causes us to misuse his good gifts.
What led Adam and Eve astray wasn’t their desire for happiness, it was their unbelief that it was found in obedience. They ate the forbidden fruit because they thought God was keeping something good from them. Rather than viewing him as their generous creator, they viewed him as restrictive ruler. If he was really good, he’d let them have whatever they desired. If he was really good, he wouldn’t say no. Humanity has believed the lie ever since.
Likewise, God didn’t judge king David for seeking happiness, but for sacrificing it at the altar of lust. All throughout Scripture we see examples of how idolatry abuses the gifts God’s given us. Rather than enjoying God’s good gift of food, we trade it for gluttony. Rather than enjoying his good gift of rest, we trade it for laziness. Loving gifts more than their Giver, we distort, damage, and destroy what’s meant to bless.
God’s law is not meant to restrict us from joy, but to rescue us for it.
However well-intended, when Christians today view happiness and holiness in opposition to each other, we are sowing the same unbelief. That God is holding out on us—that he can’t be trusted. Just like Adam and Eve when they ate the fruit, we think God is keeping something good from us. Just like David used and abused a woman to steal the gift of sex, we use and abuse and distort other good gifts for selfish gratification.
And though sin may satisfy for a season, it never lasts. Adam and Eve’s singing taste buds ended in their exile from paradise. David’s forbidden pleasure ended in the heartache of a lost child. Whether consequences are swift or slow, they are certain: sin always leads to the death of happiness.
If sin leads to sorrow, how do we find happiness? True and lasting happiness is only found in obedience to God. It’s trusting that he knows best and that his law is good. Obedience is meant bring joy to our hearts and lives. Psalm 119 says the law of the Lord revives the soul and rejoices the heart (Ps. 119:7–8). It is more desirable than gold and sweeter than honey (Ps. 119:10). “Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward” (Ps. 19:11).
God’s law is not meant to restrict us from joy, but to rescue us for it. The psalmist understood this, which is why he delighted in God’s commands and loved them exceedingly (Ps. 119: 35, 167).
Do you want to be happy? Love God, delight in his law, and enjoy his good gifts. Trust that even in the hard times—when sorrow abounds and the promise of sin whispers its lies—happiness is found in Christ. Yes, saying no to sin is difficult. Crucifying the flesh is a painful process. Sometimes our obedience even invites scorn and mistreatment from others. But we were never promised an easy path to happiness, just a sure one. The road is long, narrow, and hard, but if we’re walking with Jesus, it will be filled with happiness too.
The world is broken and aching for redemption. You will weep. You will mourn. But that’s not the whole story. Jesus’s resurrection from the dead was his decisive victory over the curse of sin—his triumph over the thief of happiness. Even now, he is making all things new, working to redeem all that sin has broken. And when he returns, he will complete this work. He will wipe every tear from our eyes, and usher us into a new heavens and new earth where there is no more sin or sorrow, but everlasting happiness with him.
Amy DiMarcangelo is the author of A Hunger for More: Finding Satisfaction in God When the Good Life Doesn’t Fill You.
The testimony of Scripture is clear: if we want to walk in the way of holiness, the love of God is indispensable to our progress.
Repentance begins with a recognition of the multitude of ways in which our thinking and attitude and belief system are contrary to what is revealed in Scripture.
God wants Christians to share his holiness and to present themselves as slaves of righteousness, which will result in holiness.
The same grace that saves sinners from the penalty of their sin also instructs them in holiness.