Half-Truths Series: God Will Make Us Happy and Give Us a Good Life

Teenagers and adults are regularly being catechized by our culture—and very often we falsely synthesize the broader culture’s convictions with our faith in Christ. In this series, Rooted writers examine “half truths” our teenagers may be tempted to embrace. Each article represents a common axiom that needs to be informed by the gospel. We hope these articles and the questions provided will help you start a gospel-centered conversation at youth group or around your dinner table.  

He was bright and creative—incredibly creative. Although he was accepted to the art school of his dreams, his parents didn’t want him to go. It would be almost impossible to afford, and the school’s spiritual climate seemed threatening. Honoring his parents, he went to the local state school and studied graphic design instead, perhaps missing his opportunity to become a professional artist.

We might be persuaded that these parents were being unreasonable, refusing to develop their son’s artistic gift and ensure his fulfillment. Our culture and our sinful flesh insist that God must want us to live a good and happy life by realizing the fullest potential of our abilities and dreams. If we’re not careful, we can too easily prescribe this cultural more onto the teaching of the Bible.

God’s Word is indeed eager to tell us how to live a full and happy life. King David declared of God: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). We want our students to know this joy and to flourish. The problem is, often we try to define the good and happy life on our own terms.

Our students imagine the Good Life is marked by minimal suffering and maximum ease. The picture in their minds (and maybe ours) is something like the infamous Fyre Festival as it was advertised: an adventure filled with luxury, comfort, and entertainment surrounded by healthy and attractive people. Unfortunately, real life often feels more like the real Fyre Festival: a disappointing string of broken promises as terrified people slowly turn on each other.

To be fair, some students may have a more sophisticated view of the Good Life. Maybe, like Aristotle, they have decided that virtue is necessary for the good life. “He is happy,” says Aristotle “who lives in accordance with complete virtue and is sufficiently equipped with external goods, not for some chance period but throughout a complete life.”[1]So students may try to “be good people” in pursuit of fulfillment.

Aristotle’s version of the Good Life seems better than the Fyre Festival’s self-indulgent one—still, it’s only for those fortunate enough to be “sufficiently equipped with external goods.” Where does this leave the lady in my church who has spent decades suffering from chronic migraines, the child born with severe birth abnormalities and his parents, or the student who has messed up so badly he has torched any chance he had of getting into college?

The Bible presents its vision of the Good Life to us through the Gospel. The Gospel says the Good Life is found, against all our expectations, in the grave—through the death of Christ. Thus, the Good Life is available to all: to the storm-tossed and afflicted, to the weak and helpless, and to those who have failed.

Good Life in the Grave

Christ’s death is where our life begins. We were dead in our trespasses but have been made alive with Christ (Eph 2:5). We are reconciled to God, the one who is Good and who is Life. We are often told to get rid of “negative self-talk.” Although self-loathing is not part of a healthy Christian life, self-examination is. Instead of being adored and complimented, the Gospel reveals that we are sinners. But from spiritual death, we are made alive in the power of Christ’s resurrection.

The Good Life not only begins in the grave, it is lived there daily. We (rightly) say that Jesus suffered in our place, but often we (wrongly) assume that we will never suffer or need to deny ourselves. We replace a biblical understanding of the Good Life with our own shallow vision, living on our own terms. On the contrary, Jesus said “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Suffering, death, and hardship are a daily routine for his disciples.

Finally, the Good Life is made complete as it passes through the grave in physical death. Aristotle hoped for a complete life; others may hope for a comfortable life. But Christians hope in eternal life. God promises that a day is coming when he will wipe away every tear from the eyes of his people, when death shall be no more, when there will be no mourning, nor crying, nor pain. These former things will have passed away (Rev. 21:4). The result will be the truly Good Life of fellowship with God in a renewed creation, completely purified from sin.

Pointing Students to True Goodness

Our culture hates limits. Parents will sometimes spend incredible amounts of money to make sure a student can recover from her latest sports injury, take a big leap in his chosen pursuit of music or the theater, or follow another passion. In doing so, parents may actually be hindering students from learning about the truly Good Life, the life found in sharing in Christ’s suffering. As youth workers, we have opportunities to speak true life into these situations, urging parents and students to re-envision where life is found.

The Good Life means that our students will have their old selves crucified with Christ so that they can be freed from sin and brought near to Christ. No luxury or comfort can compare. The Good Life of the grave welcomes trial, self-denial, and sacrifice, gaining Christ with each loss. Honoring God by obeying one’s parents may limit a young person’s opportunities, but it won’t cut them off from the Good Life.

Yes, God wants us to be happy and to have a good life, but we must not settle for our culture’s narrow vision of the Good Life. Instead, we receive true life through Jesus’death in our place. We receive it as we place our hope in that Day on the other side of the grave, when the former things will have passed away and all things will be made new. This is the hope we share with students as they face disappointments, struggles, setbacks and failures. As we help them reframe these various trials in light of the Gospel, we pray they will find their lives in Christ (Matthew 16:25).

Questions to Get Teenagers Talking:

  • What first comes to mind when you think of The Good Life? Do suffering and self-denial play any role?
  • Do our own actions usually keep us from the Good Life or do circumstances out of our control keep it away?
  • How does the Gospel keep the Good Life within the reach of every person, no matter how hard his or her life is?
  • How can it be that Jesus’s call to take up our cross daily is Good News?
  • Why is hope an important part of the Good Life?

[1]Aristotle, Nicomachaean Ethics, trans. W.D. Ross (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), Book I.10.

Dan Montgomery is Jane’s husband, Micah & Molly’s daddy, and the Youth Pastor at First Evangelical Free Church in Sioux Falls, SD. Before moving to Sioux Falls, he helped lead a College/20s ministry for eight years. He has an MA in Historical Theology from Wheaton College. A native of the Chicago suburbs, he misses living close to a place with good deep dish pizza. He also loves running (for fun!), playing the piano, and hanging out with his family.

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