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Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Happiness Dilemma - Part 4

By Justin Edwards

We conclude chapter 3 of Ray Comfort's God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life: The Myth of the Modern Message as Ray contrasts the modern message's "wonderful plan for your life" and Jesus' offering of an abundant life through the denial of self and submission to the Lord Jesus Christ. Pay close attention to the detail given on the suffering of the Apostle Paul in prison, which illustrates anything but your "best life now", but rather a joy of affliction that can only come by drawing from the strength of Christ, who paid the ultimate price in laying His life down for each of us.

I encourage you to pick up a copy of Ray's book so you can be sure the message you share with the lost is one that can actually save them. Jesus Christ chose us to bear fruit, fruit that will last - and that means the Gospel we spread must be the Gospel according to Jesus, not the gospel according to a compromised visible church.

The Abundant Life 

Still, the question may arise, why not use the fact that Jesus said He had come to bring us an abundant life (John 10:10) to draw unregenerate sinners to the Savior? True, the Christian life is full. Consider the full life of Paul. Read 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 and see if you think he was bored while being stoned (once), shipwrecked  (three times), beaten (three times ), and whipped (five times). His life was full. There were also times when he wasn't happy. In fact, at one point he was in such despair that he wanted to die (see 2 Corinthians 1:8).

The apostle gives the carnal-minded Corinthians a glimpse of the abundant life. He told them that he had been condemned to death. He was beaten and had nowhere to live. He was reviled, persecuted, slandered and treated as the filth of the world. What a terrible, uninviting path Paul walked down. If happiness were the goal, one would think that he would put up a sign saying "Don't enter here." However, he did the opposite. He told the Corinthians to imitate him (see 1 Corinthians 4:9-16). He considered that the sufferings of this life are not worthy to be compared to life in eternity (see Romans 8:18).

Like Jesus, the apostle Paul taught that the Christian life is one of self-denial - that we are to crucify the flesh, daily take up the cross, deny ourselves, and follow Jesus. However, the "wonderful plan" message,with its promise of earthly happiness, appeals solely to the hearer's selfishness. By offering a problem-free life, it encourages continued love of self rather than God, and paints Him as a divine butler.

Where Is God's Love?

If we cannot give sinners the message that God has a wonderful plan for their lives, how do we tell them about God's love? As we have seen, the apostle Paul faced countless trials and tribulations, was mocked and hated, imprisoned for years, and finally martyred. What did he look to for assurance of God's love for Him?

He did not look to his lifestyle, because to the untrained eye, it did not exactly speak of God's caring hand for him. His "abundant" life was certainly full, but it was not full of what we might expect if God loved him.

Picture Paul, lying half-naked on a cold dungeon floor, chained to hardened Roman guards. You look at his bloody back and his bruised, swollen face and you say, "Paul, you've been beaten again. Where are your friends? Demas and the others have forsaken you. Where is your expensive chariot and your successful building program? Where is the evidence of God's blessing, Paul? What's that? What did you say? Did I hear you mumble through swollen lips that God loves you?

Now picture Paul slowly lifting his head. His blackened, bruised eyes look deeply into yours. They sparkle as he says two words: "The cross!" He painfully reaches into his blood-soaked tunic and carefully pulls out a letter he had been writing. His trembling and bloodstained finger points to one sentence. You strain your eyes in the dim light and read,

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20)

Christ's sacrifice was the source of Paul's joy and thus his strength: "God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Galatians 6:14). If you study the New Testament you will see that God's love is almost always given in direct correlation to the cross: "In this is love...,""For God so loved...,""God demonstrated His love...," etc. (See John 3:16; Romans 5:5, 6, 8; Ephesians 2:4,5; 5:2, 25; 1 John 3:16; 4:10; and Revelation 1:5, among others.)

To those who look to the cross as a token of God's love will never doubt His steadfast devotion to them, regardless of their circumstances. But those who come to Christ seeking a wonderful life will think that their happiness is evidence of God's love, and therefore when trials come and their happiness leaves they may think that God has forsaken them - or worse, that He doesn't exist.

For example, consider this excerpt from an article titled "Is There Happiness without Jesus?" by Merle Hertzler. This article reveals the common and bitter fruit of preaching the "happiness" gospel:

Much of the Bible is false. God never visited this world as a man. We are on our own in this world, without direct intervention from God. So it would seem to me. 
How do you react to those statements? Does it make you feel sad to think that someone would write them? Perhaps to you, Christ is the only hope in this world. Your life is centered on him. He is your purpose in life. He is your Lord and your Redeemer. I understand. I have been there. I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior many years ago. I have read the Bible from cover to cover six times - every chapter, every verse, and every line...I have been there and done that...I know the excitement of doing God's work all day Sunday. And I also know the emptiness that would come on Monday. 
I am no longer a Christian. I am no longer marching in the Christian army, for I have found something different...Life without Christianity can be far more fulfilling than anything that I had ever found inside of Christianity. And there are hundreds of others who testify to the same thing. I am not a Christian, and I am happy...
Perhaps you have indeed found genuine happiness in Christianity. I am glad for you. I hope you understand that others have found happiness elsewhere. You may not need what I have to be happy, and I may not need what you have.

What a tragedy that he thought the precious blood of the Savior was shed simply to make him happy in this life, rather than to make him prepared for the next one. It does not appear this man was told about his real need - to repent or he would perish (see Luke 13:3).

If the "happy" life is different from the "abundant" life Jesus offers, who is going to listen if we are blatantly honest about the persecution promised for "all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:12)? Certainly not as many as are attracted by the talk of a wonderful plan. What, then, is the answer to this dilemma? How are we to bring sinners to the Savior? We will address this in the next chapter.

[So to not leave you hanging in case you do not obtain a copy of God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life - I leave you with this easily understood presentation of the biblical Gospel. If you watch to the end, your eyes just might get wet :)]


  1. The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried."
    - G.K. Chesterton

    Happiness is not found in your job your relationships or your possessions, it is found in Christ and choosing to live the way he taught us. This website does a good job of explaining how we make happiness a choice.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Robert. I took a quick look at the capturinghappiness website and I wonder if the blogger is confusing happiness with joy?

    While living the abundant life in Christ will bring insurmountable joy, that does not necessitate that the Christian life will be happy. Suffering for Christ is no laughing matter and it certainly would not make one happy, but we should count it joy to suffer for Him and this joy and hope in Him cannot be shaken.

    If by happiness you mean fulfillment, then that I can agree with - but many things outside of God can bring one happiness, just look to anyone serving themselves with the pleasures of life and the world. But until one experience the love of God and His grace and mercy, they will never know the joy, hope, and peace that is found in Christ Jesus, which sustains us no matter the condition we find ourselves in. After all, happiness is not the fruit of the Spirit, but abundantly we will find peace and joy.


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