Our adversary, the devil, would have us believe that humanity must make a choice between these two things: honoring God or being happy.
And because this line of thinking is so prevalent, the question that naturally gets asked is: "do you want to be holy or do you want to be happy?"
This question is common, as people of all bents spend time grappling with the answer, because happiness and peace with God seem to be embedded in our very nature. Is one of these desires right and the other wrong? Is one good and the other bad? Is one the offspring of our new nature and the other the spawn of our old? The war rages on in our minds and people are caught in the middle of a war that was never intended to be.
Think about movies, TV shows, and advertisements that are prevalent today. Read lyrics to songs like “Livin’ in Sin” by Dan Auerbach:
I'll bite, into something that feels right
What we see clearly is a culture that unmistakably pins happiness against holiness, as if they are rivals of one another. And because of this, it should be no surprise to Christians that in the eyes of a secular culture it’s impossible to be both happy and holy. So, the assertion gets made that people must make a choice between happiness and holiness, and the choice that is so often sold as the most obvious—the choice that most frequently gets the final word—is happiness.
"If it feels right then it is right. Follow your heart. Do whatever makes you happy. Don’t settle for anything less than what you desire the most."
These are the kinds of cheers we hear from secular culture. The hedonistic battle cries of people whose hope is placed firmly on the flimsy versions of happiness they are able to manufacture in the midst of a broken and fallen world. But this is not the world God intended for humanity nor is it the world he desires for humanity.
Sadly, the Church is guilty of propagating a very similar misnomer; though likely in less intentional ways. Instead of elevating happiness over holiness (though some churches certainly do) the Church has instead, over the centuries, exalted holiness over happiness. The narrative has been perpetuated that somehow God cares more about a Christian’s holiness than he does their joy. The church’s cheers aren’t usually as blatantly dismissive or indifferent of God's Word, but subtle as they are the errant theology can be just as harmful to the Christian and the world at large.
When churches elevate the pursuit of godliness over the pursuit of joy, consequently they are making a truth claim that simply isn’t biblical. And though the intentions of these claims may be noble, we know that what is intended and what is achieved are two very different realities.
The Bible makes it abundantly clear that God is actively at work, in the lives of Christians, as the chief architect and cheerleader of our holiness (sanctification) and our joy; and both of these things are intended to be found in his presence not apart from him.
 You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Therefore, Christians are not left to make a choice between happiness and holiness, but rather are invited to choose both and to choose them both in their purest, deepest, and richest forms; in the person and the work of Jesus Christ.
A man who sets his heart and mind firmly and fully on Christ, will not only be marked by his growth in holiness but will also be blessed with a deeper experience of joy. This is what God offers to the Christian and this is what God desires us to experience in our renewed mind and our restored relationship with him.
But knowing truth is only half the battle. Genuine faith in God's Word means that a truth known should lead to a truth lived. Faith leads to action and action is a crucial step to a Christian's ability to experience the joy of godliness.
What good does it do a man to know truth, if that truth doesn't somehow alter how he chooses to live? James says, “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:22).
We must not only learn rich truths from God’s Word, but we must also put these truths into practice in our everyday lives. Much of scripture leads us to the understanding that Christians should be the most joyful people on earth. Does this mean that Christians won’t have difficulties, or trials, or earth-shattering tragedies that interrupt their lives and cause them to experience immeasurable amounts of pain? No way! Jesus told his disciples, "in this world you WILL have troubles." However, he also encouraged them with this truth, "take heart, for I have overcome the world."
The apostle Paul (who knew affliction) gives us these words to be champions for our joy:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. | 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Now, let's be clear, Paul is in no way suggesting that our afflictions will always “feel” trifling or insignificant. He knows affliction far too well (and far too personally) to make that claim. Paul was writing as a man who had very intense and very real and very personal experiences with affliction (see 2 Cor. 11:16-33). Paul's appeal is based on an appraisal of the momentary afflictions he faced (as a Christian) vs. the eternal glory provided to him by the Father, purchased for him by the Son, and protected for him by the Holy Spirit. Paul said, the joy of my salvation and my future glory far surpasses the momentary and temporal pain I am feeling--to such an extent--that I can honestly say with assurance and confidence that it's beyond all comparison.
Friends, this is the joy God invites Christians into, through the person and work of Jesus Christ, and this is the joy God desires for Christians to know and experience. A joy filled with hopeful expectation and a joy that will make all other joys pale in comparison to God’s best.
This reality leaves Christians with decisions to make in the here and now. Will we settle for momentary gratification or eternal joy? God is inviting us into the fullest joy imaginable--a joy that far outlasts the transient (brief) pleasures the world can offer. God offers Christians, in himself, joy that lasts for eternity. The world can only entice us with cheap and futile imitations, but they will always take far more from us then they can ever give to us.