Recognizing that we do not deserve happiness is the first step to finding true joy.
What?! exclaims the world. How dare you say I don’t deserve happiness!
Maybe even we Christians have a hard time swallowing this pill sometimes. It goes against everything in our flesh to admit how utterly undeserving we are of anything good. Is our sin really that bad?
Yes, it is–because our offenses are rebellion against a great, perfect, holy God, the only truly Worthy One. And He has made it clear in His Word what we all deserve for our sin-–wrath and eternal punishment (Romans 1:18; Ephesians 2:3). Through our first father and representative Adam, we fell and became sinners by nature in him (Romans 5:19). Only now through the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, can we be cleansed, forgiven, reconciled to God, made new, and granted eternal life (1 Cor. 15:45; 2 Cor. 5:18; 1 John 1:9).
It is Jesus, not us, whose merit earns us salvation. It is only because of His goodness that we ever experience anything good. Particularly, our ultimate Good, God Himself.
Surely we already accept this as believers. But we must apply this truth to our lives–by being on guard never to adopt the attitude that God “owes” us happiness. Rather, we must humble ourselves to remember that we are but dust and clay in our Potter’s hands. We are bought and redeemed at a great price, but it’s not a price we ourselves paid. Christ did. God owes us nothing, and though He freely promises joy for the believer, in order to receive that joy we must humbly submit to His sovereignty over our lives:
God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5).
For the LORD taketh pleasure in his people: he will beautify the meek with salvation (Psalm 149:4).
Blessed [happy] are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).
A simple word search of the Scriptures reveals God’s attitude to the proud and the humble:
God judges, brings low, scorns, opposes, casts down, and destroys the proud.
But God hears, forgives, saves, leads, teaches, gladdens, lifts up, adorns, exalts, and gives favor to the humble.
Consider this parable from the Lord Jesus Christ:
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).
Like the tax collector in this story, the meek person comes to the Lord freely confessing that he is a sinner. Hiding our true natures and pretending to be better than we are merely incurs more guilt on ourselves. God sees our hearts and knows all our deeds. His Spirit convicts us to bow before Him and lay out all the dirt inside so that He can cleanse us. Our hearts will fill with gratitude when we acknowledge that any good thing we receive from the Lord is completely undeserved. And God will honor our humility (if it is sincere and genuine) and will exalt us.
However, if we come to God like the Pharisee who glorifies himself, blinded to his own wretchedness, then God will humble us–either by mercifully saving us and opening our eyes to our sin, or on the day of judgment when he casts down the wicked to eternal punishment.
We are so easily tempted to take pride in ourselves, our abilities, and our supposed “godliness.” We may even become presumptive and expect God to give us all the temporal things we desire, rather than being content with what He has planned for our lives. We forget that He promises to hold back nothing that’s truly best for us. We want what we want, the way we want it.
Yet out of love for us and zeal for His own glory, God resists the haughtiness in our hearts and will allow us to go through trials and hardships until we are brought to our knees before Him.
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain… (Isaiah 40:4)
Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word…. It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes (Psalm 119:67, 71).
As human beings we naturally seek pleasure. Pleasure in and of itself isn’t wrong; there are many good, holy pleasures. But sin causes man to seek unholy pleasures, and the worldly way of getting what one desires is through force, greed, and selfish ambition. That is why the mantra of godless psychiatry is “Feel good about yourself; do what you want; don’t let anyone stop you.” But ironically, the more they take this selfish route, the more miserable they become. Not only that, but unless they repent, they are preparing themselves to be cast down into everlasting torment. For “the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands” (Psalm 9:16). The mountains and hills of human pride will be made low.
But true Christians, saved by grace, will find that God is the only Giver of real joy. At His right hand are pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:11). Even if we go astray for a while to worldly pleasures and idols–broken cisterns that hold no water–we will return once again to our Fountain, because we say, like Peter, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). His Word is our comfort. His presence is our joy. His love is better than life.
When we see ourselves becoming prideful and resisting suffering, then, we must recall God’s Word. Namely, the promise–oh what a promise!–that tells us when we lay ourselves down under Christ’s loving hand, giving Him all our burdens, we can trust Him to one day lift us up:
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you (1 Peter 5:6-7).
One of the gifts of the exaltation He grants us is joy. If we are full of pride and sin, we cannot expect to be happy. Our sin, in and of itself, only brings death (Romans 6:23; 8:6; Jas. 1:15), not to mention God’s chastisement. But if we are living our lives in faith, and consequently, obedience, we will have joy–not a temporal, emotional high, but a deep, resonating gladness in Christ.
This is good news for all, and especially those of us who struggle with depression and anxiety. Meekness will lead us to find light in the darkest moments, and joy in the deepest griefs. We will see our humble Savior, laying aside the happiness of heaven to come to a miserable earth and suffer for us. We will see our sins removed and our souls delivered from hell and death by Him. We will see all that we have been graciously given in Christ, and this will carry us through the loss of temporal blessings. And we will see, by faith, our future exaltation with Him in glory.
Seeing and believing all this, we can face any hardship in this life, doing the work of the Lord and trusting that “those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy” (Psalm 126:5).
All Scripture verses taken from the King James Version.