CAN WE BE HAPPY WITHOUT SIN?
WHEN the Church tells us to be happy in the Lord, is that like telling water to catch fire? Is it possible for real, vital humans to be happy while walking the straight and narrow path? Isn't the Lord holy? How can we face Him without putting a damper on our fun? It isn't so much that we fear punishment - that always seems remote. Rather, we hate the thought of compulsory improvement. We know that the Lord hates sin, so can we be happy without sin?
Like it or not, we Christians have to live down a very unfair reputation. Our society has come to think of our religion as one of constant denial, of a negative view of human vitality. It is said that the Puritans lived in the fear that someone, somewhere was having a good time. Young people have plenty of energy. They have come to think of the Church as suppressing the energy they seek to release, but we are not looking in the right place. To get to the truth of the matter, compare the pictures of Christian saints with any other kind. The heroes of Paganism are always suffering. The Buddhist saints have their eyes closed because they're drawn into themselves. Likewise the Stoics, the mystics, the yogis, all are centered in themselves and look down at their own bellies. But look at the Christian saints. They have their eyes wide open, constantly affirming the world that is not worthy of them, appreciating all the beauty of earth even if they are about to leave it as martyrs. Christians can enjoy their vitality because they are absolutely assured that their sins are forgiven. An all-powerful, yet all-merciful Savior forgives them everything. Can happiness rest on anything more certain than forgiveness? Can anyone lay a better foundation? Forget the New Agers and their endless cycle of reincarnation. They have no mission, no hope, nothing to cling to but the endless cycle of sameness. No one can be happy without hope, but can we be happy without sin? Perhaps that is the wrong question. We need to be indirect here, and ask this one: can anyone be happy without faith?
Sin makes us unhappy. Sin is the cause of all sorrow, all anger, all evil desire, all fear and terror. The good news is that Jesus has taken away sin, cleansed us from it with His blood, and made us righteous, which means that we can be sure God will vindicate us on Judgment Day. Neither do we have to wait for that. The Holy Spirit comes to us now to remodel our thoughts and desires. He gives us what Church officials like to call the stewardship attitude. That means He moves us to see ourselves not as the owners, but as the managers of ourselves and our world. We have no right to be either, still, He who cleansed us has appointed us to be His managers. Can we be happy without being the owners? In other words, can we be happy without wanting to be God?
In His Sermon on the Mount Jesus told us You cannot serve God and Mammon. Originally Jesus meant that we could not divide our allegiance between God and this world's goods. Over the years Christian writers have constructed this saying more broadly, helping to illuminate the temptations that come from this quarter. The best development of this theme was by John Milton in Paradise Lost. Milton divided temptations into three main groups, which he then assigned to Satan's three chief lieutenants, Moloch, Belial, and Mammon. They correspond to the three bad places the seed fell in the Parable of the Sower. Moloch tempts to rage and anger, Belial to weakness and escapism, Mammon to acquisition and self-help. Can Mammon make us happy? Hardly. He offers an outward washing of pleasure which fades into nothingness when we have to confront the real issues of life and death. Whenever disaster approaches those who have been most complacent, most self-directed, most affluent become the most desperate. Do you suppose they have any less fortitude than the less fortunate? Not at all. They are troubled by conscience, a guilty conscience. Remember that your conscience is a testimony from God Himself. It makes the lucky cringe. When reality hits hard, when the complacent soul cannot escape the fact that it is not God, judgment becomes a harsh taskmaster.
Our faith is a liberated faith. Jesus has set us free from wanting to be God. The blood of Jesus, the Gospel of forgiveness, and the indwelling Holy Spirit have set us free from that . What's more, they have set us free to affirm the world, to wear what we want, eat and drink what we like, worship when we please, visit what places we will, and associate with those who please us. Along with our natural vitality, the Gospel gives us almost unlimited discretion . We get frightened by that much freedom. We don't want to abuse it, but the temptation to go to the other extreme is strong, to let our freedom be taken away. God sent His Son into this world to take away our sins, and their dreadful consequences. He did not come to take away our happiness. Perhaps He did weep with those who weep, for Jesus was a compassionate Man, but He also played with children, celebrated weddings, enjoyed the quiet familiarity of Lazarus and his sisters. Jesus did not deny His vitality. He spent it to gain forgiveness for us. If Jesus is too remote an example, think of Martin Luther, who was a sinner as we, yet tried to imitate his Lord. He played musical instruments, opened his supper table to his students who assure us that he was generous with his beer. Luther's religion was not gloomy. Neither was the Lord's. They did not deny their vitality. They were happy in their faith.
The devil is a deceiver above all. He wraps sin in attractive packages, but inside it is just as ugly as ever. Sin is the way of losers. The drapery may be enticing, but there is no happiness in sin. The morals you were taught at home and in Church come from God's Word. They are not negative. Far from asking whether we can be happy without sin, we should seriously ask if we could ever be truly happy with it. We have not been. We have only been truly happy when sin is forgiven, as God assures us it is.
Lately there have been a number of "religious" books that attempt to lead Christians to expect good fortune on earth. Look out for that. The apostles rejoiced that they were found worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus. To us that sounds like it requires superhuman resolution, or superhuman commitment. Well, you are not alone. St. Paul says you can imitate him. Make your requests known to God. Tell God you need help to remain in the saving faith, ask for absolution, partake of the Holy Supper of Christ. He knows you need help, and these are His ways of helping. You, my dear regenerate Christian friend, can be sanctified as well. All things are consecrated by the Word of God and prayer. This includes you. AMEN.
~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross