Satan’s eighth lure into sin: show people the happiness and benefits enjoyed by those who engage in the same sin, and the unhappiness of those who resist. In other words, we must walk as sinners do to enjoy their benefits and avoid unhappiness.
By representing to the soul the outward mercies that vain men enjoy, and the outward miseries that they are freed from, while they have walked in the ways of sin.
The pursuit of happiness is enshrined in American, and by the extent of her influence to Western, civilization. The Declaration of Independence lists it as one of three unalienable rights with which the Creator endows human beings.
Today we think of happiness as primarily emotional, a pleasant state of being generally connected to our circumstances and state in life. But there’s a good chance it meant something more in the late 18th century.
Think of how older English Bible translations tend to render the “blessed” of Jesus’ beatitudes as “happy.” These Bibles often translate the “blessed” of Psalm 1 (Hebrew “chesed”) as “happy” also. We know from their contexts these passages must speak of something deeper than mere happiness.
And they do. Blessedness is independent of one’s circumstances or emotions. It may derive from personal decisions, but it does not always include comfort or complete well-being. Think of how the Lord told us we are blessed when we are persecuted or receive harsh words because of our faith in Him. We won’t be prone to happiness in such situations.
Blessedness is the goal. Happiness may be its fruit.
According to Thomas Brooks as he writes of Satan’s eighth device to lure Christians into sin, our enemy wants to convince us happiness is the goal and blessedness is negotiable. Sin is may make us happy. But it can never leave us blessed. The happiness of sin is temporal. But the blessedness of holiness and obedience is eternal.
Brooks’ remedies intend to help us put our focus back on the long game, toward the steady “obedience in the same direction” that marks Christian life. We must choose persecution, suffering, and yes even unhappiness if that will lead to blessedness in the eyes of Christ.
Remedy 1: God’s hand doesn’t reveal man’s heart
Of its many crimes against humanity and affronts to God, one mark of the “prosperity gospel” agrees with Brooks’ writings here: its tendency to equate health and wealth with God’s favor. Modern day prosperity prophets claim that this equation is a “new thing” God is doing. Yet it contradicts everything the scriptures say He has been doing all along.
Money is “a root of all kinds of evil,” not “the root of all evil” as we often misquote the text. Money is an inanimate and amoral tool. It cannot possess or exhibit character. Money is like a lens that magnifies the quality of its possessor.
God may glorify Himself by prospering either the godly or the wicked person. He may do so by impoverishing either as well. He may bring health or sickness, friends or loneliness, success or failure. All are instruments of His grace, and all of judgment. It depends on His purposes.
One of the most misused of all Bible verses is Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Whether you write this verse under your eyes before a football game or print it on a coffee mug, its meaning doesn’t change. Paul speaks of the contentedness in Christ he has found regardless of his circumstances.
If you find yourself content in your sin, this cannot be a sign of God’s blessing. If you prosper while in disobedience, it’s not evidence of His approval. Rather than remain there, this is the time to repent, before God’s hand turns against you. That is when you will know true unhappiness.
Remedy 2: Don’t respond to good with evil
“No good deed goes unpunished,” goes the cynical old saying. Its truth rings loudly for anyone who has shown kindness, only to receive unkindness in return.
Television shows and movies often use this premise to set up an eventual comeuppance for the “bad guy.” We watch and wait for evil to return on the villain’s head. We cheer when he or she receives a just punishment and our hero wins vengeance.
We know in our hearts it is wrong to spurn the hand of favor or blessing when it is human. How much more wrong it is when the hand is God’s.
Remedy 3: See the love in God’s correction
This is a longer Bible passage than we usually quote. But it is so well applicable here.
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:5-11, ESV).
Thomas Brooks’ quotation of Paul itself quotes Proverbs 3:11-12 in the early part of this passage He makes his case for God’s loving discipline through referencing the wisdom of the Old Testament. Rather than believing Satan’s lie that unhappiness is a sign of displeasure, consider that it may be proof of God’s correcting hand.
Let’s look at the specific points Paul makes about the Lord’s discipline:
- It shows we are his sons, in the same way the Holy Spirit testifies with our spirits we are his (Romans 8).
- “All have participated.” We can’t argue God singles us out when he corrects us. His love is equal in all its demonstrations.
- God disciplines us for our good, not just as “seems right to him” in an earthly, subjective sense. We’re not at the whims of a capricious father. He is perfectly consistent.
- It yields righteousness and peace. The correction that follows sin thwarts further stumbling, thus helping us avoid the greater misery of sin’s consequences.
Now, can you truly say the temporary discomfort of chastisement is worse than what you might inflict upon yourself in rebellion?
Remedy 4: Look past the outer fullness to the inner emptiness
Would you rather be the most beautiful person in the world but carry a terrible disease, or be plain but healthy?
Did you have to think about your answer for a moment? Would you take the risk of a cure for your disease if you could hold on to beauty? Or, would you blend into the ocean of ordinary to attain well-being?
In God’s economy, the outwardly fulfilled sinner carries a terminal disease. Her beauty is fleeting, her charm deceptive. She cannot maintain her façade. All the outward mercies available in this life could never outweigh a lack of eternal mercy from God.
Remedy 5: Feel the weight of earthly treasures
Gold, one of earth’s most precious substances, is heavy. But it is also highly malleable. To make gold jewelry that won’t dent or deform, jewelers must alloy it with other metals to increase its strength. These foreign substances increase gold’s weight even more.
If we could see the worries and anxiety our possessions would bring before we purchase them, would it affect our decisions? Imagine if every item in a store had an “anxiety price tag” along with its monetary cost. Would we weigh such a measurement the same way we consider an expense’s impact on our budget?
There are many resources available in our culture’s current trend toward minimalism. Plenty of adherents will readily speak of the freedom they experience as they sell and give away their possessions to disconnect from materialism. These testimonies merely echo the wisdom of God’s word.
When we see the prosperity of an unrepentant person, we would do well to consider it may rather be a judgment than a blessing. Are your things standing in the way of your reconciling yourself with God?
Realize God’s ends for the prosperous
Thomas Brooks’ final three remedies are about looking ahead, to the consequences of choosing unhappiness now over sin’s pleasure.
We can summarize them this way.
Remedy 6: God may be exalting the prosperous now so He may humble them in the end. Remember what James wrote: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6, ESV); and: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (v. 10). Recall also what our Lord taught: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11, ESV).
Remedy 7: God’s outward mercies may mask his spiritual judgments. A person may seems to have it together on the outside, but we cannot know their internal torments. They may have spurned God’s every effort to win them back. He uses adversity and affliction to break our hard hearts. Absent such instruments, some people simply smile on their way to ruin.
Remedy 8: In the end every unrepentant person who now enjoys a carefree life will answer to God for unbelief. Comfort and ease now is no trade-off for eternal guilt for thanklessness. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 1 of mankind’s descent into gross sin. They knew God but refused to honor or thank him. Such a haughtiness of spirit is as much an affront to God as any outward display of sin.
It is so easy to equate prosperity and outward happiness with inward contentedness. In our churches we have become so adept at hiding our unhappiness with smiling faces and warm greetings. But we cannot find freedom inside a façade of contentedness. Let us remember to embrace the reality of affliction as a sign of God’s mercies, as his attention to our ongoing transformation toward Christlikeness.