Should Christians be Happy?

A few years ago, a suffering Christian asked me a sincere question: “Are we not to be happy as Christians?” This concern was raised after a reading of James 4:9. This is a good question and worthy of a search through the scriptures.

First, let’s consider the message of James 4:9, which says, “Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” This scripture, which instructs sorrow instead of joy, should not be the theme of Christians, but rather the result of the guilt of sinners. The context of James 4:9 is dealing with those who have been unfaithful to God; James calls such “adulterers and adulteresses” (4:4). Then, James encourages them to submit to God (4:7), and draw near to God, calling them to repentance, saying, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (4:8). It is on this occasion that James tells them to turn their joy to gloom and their laughter into mourning. So then, this verse is not contradictory to the idea that Christians should be happy, for it applies not to those near to the heart of God, but to those who have strayed. Those who have drifted away should feel the grief and burden of their unrighteous position, they should not afford themselves any joy while remaining in that state. Their sorrow for their decision to have left God is a critical aspect of their repentance. Similarly, Paul spoke of this kind of grief to the Corinthians, saying, “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10). So again, sorrow toward our sins is a necessary step for our turning back to God (repentance). The Lord also stated this fact, “Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4). So then, godly sorrow is necessary and must accompany repentance. But this does not answer the question of whether Christians (i.e. those who have repented of their sins and are near to God) must be happy all the time.

There is no simple yes or no answer to Christians and happiness, especially in physical terms. There are illnesses, pains, persecutions, and loss of loved ones that often hinder happiness in our physical existence. Jesus, our supreme example, could not always be described as happy. Consider his emotions over the faithlessness of the people on many occasions, or as he was greatly grieved in the garden of Gethsemane. And therein lies the problem with happiness; it is dependent upon external circumstances, much of which are often beyond our control. This is where the subject of contentment comes into play. Contentment is the conscious decision to be satisfied with whatever the circumstance. Contentment doesn’t just happen and there is nothing that we could obtain physically that would bring us contentment. It’s really a wonderful thought, to think that contentment requires no more from us than to renew our thinking. Satisfaction is never beyond our reach, it’s much closer than we often think. It is the power of the mind; It is a change of opinion toward self, stuff, and God. It was this mindset that enabled Paul and Silas to sing hymns while locked away in jail (Acts 16:25). Paul was often found having this opinion of his life, no matter what the circumstances. He even told the Philippians, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” (Philippians 4:11-12). The key word that Paul used was “learned”, he learned to be content. The word refers to acquiring a custom or habit. So, happiness, which relies on external circumstances, can be altered by relying on internal habits of contentment.

Another thought to consider as to a Christian’s happiness is that this world is not our home. For a Christian to be fixed on this world’s belongings to bring them happiness is not natural. We all have a spirit within, and the spirit cannot live off bread, nor can it become satisfied with the physical. Our spirits need spiritual food; our spirits need a relationship with the Spirit of God. Real joy comes in Christ. In Christ, happiness becomes blessedness. “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.” (Revelation 22:14). Blessedness now becomes the disposition of those who have acquired the ability to alter their opinion of their physical state and focus their energy on their spiritual life with Christ in the new Jerusalem.

Paul’s famous words to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (4:4) confirms the truth of this matter. Real joy is found in the Lord. Without the Lord, we attempt to live our lives by seeking joy in a world that will return to us corruption, pain, and death. But with the Lord, there is eternal life; there is hope in life and hope in death. Those who are in Christ make no attempt to be satisfied by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4). Life may take many swings at us, but this should not affect our joy in the Lord. We will be found in sorrow due to pain, illness, and loss of loved ones, but this does not take away the spiritual joy that we have because we are in Christ. So then, the happiness of the Christian may not always appear to be sustained, certainly not by physical circumstances, but through the storms and sorrows of physical life there remains the joy of a life content within our Lord. In this manner should a Christian always be found in joy and blessedness.