One of my favorite quotes on holiness and happiness comes from Anselm, a great Christian teacher in the 11th century. In his famous book on the incarnation, Why God Became Man, he wrote, “It ought not to be disputed that rational nature was made holy by God, in order to be happy in enjoying Him.”
To put it simply, God wants us to be holy because he wants us to be happy. This “ought not to be disputed.” Why? Because it has been basic Christian teaching throughout the centuries—teaching which is easily deduced from Scripture. Augustine, a pastor-theologian in the fourth century, said that “no one is happy unless he is holy.”
John Wesley made this a central part of his teaching. He directly linked holiness and happiness at least 54 times, and the connection is clear on countless other occasions. He went as far as to say that Christianity is holiness and happiness. His brother Charles linked happiness, holiness, and perfect love in a beautiful hymn:
Then let us go on, Till Jesus appear,
And give us the crown Of righteousness here;
Till justified fully His promise we prove,
All happy, and holy, And perfect in love.
Wesley regretted that “many indeed think of being happy with God in heaven; but being happy in God on earth never entered into their thoughts.” It is unfortunate that some people have preached holiness in a way that makes it feel like a burden—something we have to do now so that we can escape hell and hopefully be happy someday in heaven. But Wesley celebrated that true holiness—perfect love for God and man—liberates us from the misery of sin and frees us for a life of true happiness in God.
We enjoy God most when our conscience is clear and our hearts are completely free from the bondage of sin. When we enjoy God, God gets glory. In fact, John Wesley said that instead of teaching our children that they exist to glorify God, we should tell them to be happy in God! To be happy in God is to glorify him (see Welsey’s sermon “The Unity of the Divine Being”).
Have you ever felt like holiness was a burden? Remember that God wants you to be holy because he wants you to be happy. He made us holy in the beginning so that we could enjoy happy fellowship with him. He is not a cruel taskmaster with a strange compulsion for people to follow his painstaking rules. He gains nothing from our obedience. His commandments are like guardrails to protect us from falling into misery.
Perhaps in the past, you have prayed for God to break the power of sin in your life. Perhaps you have prayed for a clean heart. But consider praying for these things for the sake of your happiness in God. This is what David does in Psalm 51: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Ps. 51:7). Why? “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice” (Ps. 51:8). “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Ps. 51:10). Why? “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Ps. 51:12).
Happy the souls to Jesus joined,
And saved by grace alone;
Walking in all Thy ways, we find
Our heaven on earth begun. (Charles Wesley)