“Happiness is . . .”

“Happiness is . . .” the craving of every human heart currently or formerly alive.

“Happiness is . . .” something that everyone seeks and very few find.

“Happiness is . . .” according to the advertisers, everything from “razor blades that give a s-m-o-o-t-h-e-r shave” to toothpaste producing greater “sex appeal” to detergent that “erases those wash-day blues.”

“Happiness is . . .” according to the United States Bill of Rights, the legal right of its pursuit by every citizen of this country.

“Happiness is . . .” according to a cardinal confession of the Christian church, the Heidelberg Catechism:

To know:

First, how great my sins and miseries arc.

Second, how I may be delivered from my sins and miseries.

Third, how I may express my gratitude to God for such deliverance. (Lord’s Day 1, QA 2)

As we survey the gamut of these definitions by the world and by the church, we cannot avoid being impressed by the startling contrasts. The contrasts can be reduced to a simple formula—the world lives for self, God’s people live for Him.

Paul’s Choice – Once there was a magnificent man—a specimen of creation worthy of admiration by all: strong, educated, utterly sincere, tender, intense, passionately zealous. Tragically all these virtues were directed toward the wrong goal—the persecution of the church of Jesus Christ—until Christ Himself struck him down one day and that proud persecutor worshipped the persecuted Savior, crying with smitten soul, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” That moment was the “spiritual birthday” of Saul of Tarsus, who then became our beloved apostle Paul, the most powerful pastor and preacher the world has ever known. This dynamic man was turned by the Spirit of Christ from the service of sin to the service of the Savior so that he wrote in his beautiful love-letter to the church of Philippi: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” “Happiness was . . .” the Lord for Paul.

In this verse Paul set forth in grand simplicity the happiness of life in Christ. Jesus Christ was for Paul: his Source, his Sustainer, his Standard, his Summit, his Sanctifier.

Christ – the Source – “Life began on the Damascus Road” for Paul. It was in that traumatic experience and at that dramatic moment that the arrogant Saul of Tarsus took the crown off his own head and returned it to the rightful Owner “whose we are and whom we serve.” In Galatians 2:20 Paul says: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” That faith led Paul to prison, to suffer perils on land and sea, to endure persecution of body and soul and finally to pay the price of life itself.

Christ – the Sustainer – Not only did Christ begin this new life in Paul, He continued to sustain him on the Christian pilgrimage. Paul comforted the church at Philippi with this same truth when he said, “I am sure that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” To the church at Galatia Paul wrote: “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts crying, ‘Abba Father . . .” And as a humble confession of his own personal helplessness and complete reliance upon Jesus Christ, Paul exclaimed, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” (Phil. 4:13)

Christ – the Standard – But basic to Christ’s being the Sustainer, the Summit and the Sanctifier of Paul’s life, was the requisite that Christ be the Standard of Paul’s life. Christ had said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Paul realized the justice of Christ’s demand but confessed his total inability to fulfill it when he cried: “The good that I would, I do not, and the evil that I would not, that I do. Oh! Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?”

There is pathos and despair in those words but victory in these:

“Thanks be to God, [I am delivered] through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Did not Christ Himself set His people straight in His Sermon on the Mount when He said: “I came not to destroy the law but to fulfill it”?

Paul develops this teaching of Christ more fully when he writes to the Romans. Evidently there was as much confusion in the minds of those people in that day as there is in the minds of many today concerning the place of the law. God’s standard in our lives. Paul writes:

1. “For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law” (Rom. 3:20a).

2. “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Rom. 3:28).

3. “Therefore. since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand. and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God” (Rom. 5:1, 2).

4. “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary we uphold the law” (Rom. 3:31).

5. “For it is not the hearers of the law who arc righteous before God but the doers of the law who will be justified” (Rom. 2:13).

Notice carefully the intricate progression of thought here. Paul asks:

“Are we declared righteous by keeping a set of rules?”


“We are justified by faith in the Savior who kept the law perfectly for us!”

“Does that mean then that we no longer have to obey the law?”


“We must obey the law but not as a means to attain heaven but out of love for our Savior who has Himself obeyed it for us; who having done this now turns lovingly to us His children and says: ‘Do you really love me? Show me. Obey my commandments.’”

This is the voice of the Bridegroom tenderly calling the Bride to fellowship, not a fellowship of coercion. for that is no fellowship at all. It is a fellowship of mutual surrender. The Bridegroom has given His all for His loved one, His very life’s blood; and now He yearns for the yielding response of complete surrender by the Bride. As it is in marriage, so it is between Christ and His church. When we His Bride, respond to Him in love, yielding and surrendering all that we have and all that we are in loving obedience to Him, we have “joy unspeakable!”

That’s what happiness is all about!

Christ – Our Summit – The word “summit” automatically suggests to our mind’s eye a mountaintop. One’s conception of that mountain summit depends on where he i8 standing in relationship to it.

1. If one is in the valley, journeying toward the mountain summit, his feeling is one of “compulsion,” of “striving,” of “pressing on.”

2. If one is standing on top of the summit, his feeling is one of “achievement,” of “victory,” of “confidence.”

For the apostle Paul, the summit of the mountain of life was Christ and Paul stood in both relationships to that mountaintop at various times in his Christian experience.

1. In Romans 8:38 and 39 he is standing ON the mountain summit. With feet anchored on the Summit, Jesus Christ, he looks around at the vast panorama of trials and temptations which try to rob him of his devotion to Christ, and his song is one of victory, of confidence. Listen as he sings it!

“For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord!”

2. In Philippians 3:13 and 14 Paul is in the valley, working his way, by the power of the Spirit, to the summit which is Jesus Christ. His feeling is one of “striving,” of “compulsion.”

“Brethren . . . forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press on toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

These two positions of 1) “Victory” in Christ, and 2) “Pressing on” toward Christ are the concurrent experiences of every Christian. What believer is there among us who has never had “valleys” as well as “mountains?” It is true also in nature, that the depth of the valley accentuates the height of the mountain, and conversely.

What is true in the natural realm is more emphatically true in the spiritual realm. It is the depth of the valleys of sorrow, pain, loss, loneliness, disappointment, temptation, unfulfilled dreams and desires that heighten and strengthen the beauty of the mountaintop of victory over these valleys. What a glorious day it will be when:

“Faith shall he made sight.”
“Every valley shall be filled
And every mountain and hill be made low,
The uneven ground shall be made level
And the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed
And all flesh shall see it together,
For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it!”
(Isa. 40:4, 5)

This will be happiness in perfection!

Christ – the Sanctifier – Not only was Christ the Source of Paul’s new life; not only was He the Sustainer. the Standard and the Summit of it; but all praise to the Lord, He was also the Sanctifier of it. Christ did not give Paul the “new life” and leave it up to him to work out that “new life” by himself. Christ Himself took that piece of clay named Paul, and molded and shaped him into a beautiful vessel, “fit for the Master’s use.” He changed pride to humility, arrogance to meekness, attraction for sin to repulsion of it, rashness to temperance and self-denial, impatience to patience, spite to kindness, weakness to boldness.

The glorious assurance for God’s child is this that Christ Himself promises to perfect the faith of each of His children, not by their own might, nor by their own power, but “by my Spirit says the Lord.” He is not only the “Author” but also the “Finisher” of our faith. This is happiness indeed!

If for Paul to live “was Christ,” his Source, Sustainer, Standard, Summit, and Sanctifier, then certainly to “die was gain,” for that is the perfection in eternity of a work begun on this earth. “Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face” “Now we know in part, but then we shall know fully . . .”

Gain-Profit on Previous Investment – “Gain” is a term borrowed from the field of economics and implies the idea of “profit on previous investment.” This is a very important concept in the business world~ but it is far more important in the spiritual world since it carries with it eternal consequences. If we can testify with Paul:

That Christ is our Source—that He has truly implanted a new life within us;

That Christ is our Sustainer—that in Him “we live and move and have our being,” and that “apart from Him we can do nothing” (John 15:5), and that “we have no good apart from Thee” (Psalm 16:2);

That Christ is our Standard—that to do His will and obey His commandments is our highest joy;

That Christ is our Summit—the goal toward which we press, the “Rock” upon which we plant our feet;

That Christ is our Sanctifier—the One who molds our thoughts, our speech, our lives into vessels of praise;

Then and only then can we say “to die is gain.” If “life” for us is not invested totally in Christ, then death for us is loss. Who of us can stand? Not one. But through the power of the Spirit, we can attain. We have but to “seek and we shall find!”

Self-Examination – We must ask ourselves if we are truly investing our lives in Christ.

– If we are employers, are we giving our employees a fair day’s wage for a full day’s work?

– If we are employees, are we rendering a fair day’s work for a full day’s pay?

– If we are mothers or fathers, are we “nurturing our children in the Lord?” Or are we allowing TV, or the deafening “rock” of the radio, or the imprint of a secular classroom to mold our children’s lives and bend their minds?

– If we are husbands, are we loving our wives “as our own bodies”? Do we provide for them the opportunities for relaxation which we enjoy? Do we lend the helping hand lovingly and cheerfully when the going gets rough?

– If we are wives, do we render to our husbands that which is their “due,” which rightfully belongs to them, out of love? In a day in which the pressures of a competitive business world, the humdrum of a mechanized society, the tensions of a rebellious academic community drain the strength of our men, are we there to take a keen interest in their work and encourage them on their way?

– If we claim to be a “friend” of someone, do we travel the road of sorrow, disappointment, and loss with him as well as the road of fame and success? Or are we a “fairweather friend”? The Bible says: “A friend loveth at all times.”

– If we are housewives, tenders of the home, do we see our families and homes as “gifts” from God for us to tend and nourish according to His will?

– If we are Christian teachers, arc we developing in each child an awareness of his identity and his Kingdom privileges and responsibilities? Are we “builders of faith” or “promoters of doubt” in the classroom?

– If we are artists, are we expressing the realities of God’s truths in our various arts, bringing praise through it to His name?

– If we are students, are we putting out maximum effort to develop our latent powers for the purpose of extending God’s Kingdom?

– If we are citizens of a great land, are we exercising our God-given task to cause righteousness, God’s Word, and His will to rule in this land?

We could go on endlessly. If, by God’s indispensable grace, we are persevering in God’s ways, then to “die is gain.” It is truly “profit on previous investment.”


If for you to live is money, to die is to lose every penny.

If for you to live is pleasure, to die is to go to the place of horror where “the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched.”

If for you to live is fame or popularity, to die is to have a large stone erected over your grave, with your name carved in tall letters only to be gradually erased by the storms of time, the world remembering you no more.

Christian living is not optional for eternal bliss. It is a command. Paul’s “estimate of life” gave him assurance in death. Paul’s “estimate of life” is the only one that brings happiness in this life, and hope for the life to come.

Today’s World – This is precisely why there are so few “happy” people in today’s world. Millions are living unashamedly for self in one form or another. Others are trying to find “happiness” in a “spiritual” way but are looking in the wrong places. They seek “exotic” or “miraculous” experiences as a foundation for their faith. They engage in “freakish and flippant” forms of worship to achieve an emotional experience. They seek to impart or receive “revelation” apart from God’s Word in “garbled tongues” or “spiritism.” In short, they find it difficult to walk the simple, yet very difficult way of loving obedience to the Christ.

The Christian’s Task – May all true believers who by the power of the Holy Spirit, have invested their lives in Jesus Christ, who look forward with eagerness to a glorious entrance into the Kingdom of God, spare nothing of time or talent in these days to show to everyone with lip and life that—


Laurie Vanden Heuvel is the wife of Thomas C. Vanden Heuvel, pastor of the Central Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan.