The Pursuit of Happiness
We’ve been following Paul’s letter to the Galatians this summer. Paul begs them not to be distracted from the gospel of God’s grace through faith in Jesus. A group of believers are encouraging circumcision for Gentile converts to Jesus. Paul says they are proclaiming ‘another gospel - which is really no gospel at all.’ I doubt you or I personally struggle with the way in which circumcision is or is not compatible with Christian faith. Sometimes Paul’s discussions can seem technical and disconnected from the questions that we ourselves have.
An ancient question is ‘what is a good life?’ - and ‘how do I live that?’ The human quest for the good life is enshrined in the concept of the ‘pursuit of happiness,’ not a shallow pursuit of pleasure, but the pursuit of a meaningful life, lived well.
Paul’s discovery of Jesus Christ gives him the answer to that question. A good life is one lived in relationship to Christ. He’ll tell the church in Philippi that he counts all his many achievements and high status as a Jewish leader as rubbish compared to the greatness of knowing Jesus Christ. For Paul, the answer is knowing Jesus - a spiritual reality and experience that reshapes his whole life. Nothing makes sense for Paul outside of this relationship to Christ.
When we just think about the concept of faith vs. works (or grace against law) we can easily get off track. A faith that’s just about what we intellectually consent to is not a knowledge of Christ, but simply knowledge about Christ. In fact, it’s not faith at all - faith implies a knowledge of and a trust in its object.
For Paul, three different concepts describe the same reality. Faith in Jesus, being in Jesus, and gift of the Spirit all describe the reality of being in relationship with Christ. This is what matters and everything else flows out of this reality. The good life - the one full of ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness...’ - is organic. It flows from the life of the Spirit in me.
As soon as I take my eyes off Christ and focus on myself and the life I want (or ‘ought’) to live, I disconnect myself from the source. l might discern some good character traits I’d like to develop. I might be right about the kind of life that would be best to live. But I find I have no power in myself to effect the change. I discover that I have given up freedom in Christ for an autonomy that is no freedom at all. If I am not subject to Christ, I am in bondage to sin. I cannot be my own savior.
The discovery that Paul makes is that the good life is received as a gift. The pursuit of happiness is futile until it is found in the face of Jesus Christ.