I REMEMBER TRYING TO EVANGELIZE A FRIEND. He knew a lot about Christianity. Because he had been raised in the church, he responded something like this. “I’m not interested.”
“Why,” I asked?
“I’d have to give up Sunday morning football and start giving to the church. I’d need to read the Bible, obey God, and serve and forgive my enemies, and I don’t want to do that.”
My friend was being honest. Being a Christian meant giving up things that made him happy—Sunday mornings, money, holding onto bitterness, and time. He had no ability to connect his happiness with Christ and Christianity. I was helpless. There was little that I could do.
Why was I helpless? Because God has wired us to pursue our happiness. Christian or non-Christian, this desire directs all our decisions. We do everything to enhance our happiness. No exceptions.
Don’t get me wrong. We will suffer or deprive ourselves in the short term to gain more long-term happiness. It’s called deferred gratification, but ultimately “gratification” is the goal. We will deprive and push ourselves today because we are convinced that present deprivation will inflate our future happiness. But, even in the pain of self-denial, we are always pursuing our ultimate happiness. The marathoner will push himself mercilessly for the trophy. The young entrepreneur will defer consumption today and re-invest profits to make more money tomorrow. The graduate student will study night and day, living on pennies, in the hope of a better tomorrow.
The Miracle of New Birth
You may not know this, but saving faith has the same characteristic. It convinces us that knowing, serving, and following Jesus Christ is the key to ultimate happiness. God does not convert us with a promise of duty. He converts us with the promise of life, both now and in eternity. He convinces us that holy people are happy people. I’m not saying that holy people are void of problems. Just the opposite. Sometimes holiness expands our problems, but with the problems comes Christ, who makes us “more than conquerors” through our problems (Romans 8:37).
But that is not how Jack saw it. He had no capacity to see it that way. He could not see it that way because he was not born again. To him, the holy life is a boring irrelevant life. This only changes when God opens one’s eyes to the glory of Christ. That is how Paul describes conversion.
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.2 Corinthians 4:6
God floods a sinner’s heart with light. What was hidden from them before, his infinite goodness (the “glory of God in the face of Christ), they now see and are hooked. Life is never the same. Knowing and following Christ is now their happiness. For them, Christ’s Spirit is now a fountain of “love, joy, and peace.’
This is supernatural work. It is miraculous. Eyes and ears are supernaturally opened. Desires change. All is new. This Jack lacked, and it was the one thing I couldn’t give him.
Christ Our Happiness
The Bible regularly describes saints pursuing their happiness in God. King David is a good example.
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?Psalm 42:1-2
How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.Psalm 84:1-3
The apostle, Paul, pursued his happiness in Christ.
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me…My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.Philippians 1:21–23
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.Philippians 3:7–8
This is what Jesus had in mind when he compared the Kingdom of God to a treasure hunt.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.Matthew 13:44
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.Matthew 13:45-46
Jack’s fundamental problem is that he couldn’t see it that way. He needed the miracle of new birth. I’m still praying that God will do this—that the Holy Spirit will convince him that Christ is his happiness, that holy people are happy people.
Is that how you see Christianity? Is it a personal treasure hunt? When that is the case, no one can keep you from Bible study, prayer, and church attendance. Yes, there is an element of duty. Sometimes prayer and Bible study are laborious. But we are indebted to God to expand and deepen whatever joy in God the Holy Spirit has given us, but “duty” is never the main motive. Joy is!
Is this how you evangelize? Do you have an unbelieving spouse, an unbelieving child, or a grandchild? The problem is illumination. Ask God to open the eyes of your unbelieving friends to the truth that Christ is their happiness. If god shows them that, you will not be able to keep them from salvation.