Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
When our founding fathers drafted the Constitution of the United States of America, they included the above phrase in the document. We are all familiar with it. It arose out of a recognition of a need for these three factors. In many cases, under other governments, these were not permitted to their citizens. It was for this reason that these three were singled out with the intention that the United States government would promote and protect these “rights” for its individual citizens. Although well intentioned, history has shown that no government on earth is able to guarantee these for its people even if that is a clearly stated objective. As a result, people have looked to themselves to attain life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
In the attempt to find “life,” each succeeding generation seems to be more preoccupied with self. Phrases such as self help seminars, self enrichment, and self actualization abound. Our news stands even promote a publication called Self magazine. We often hear the phrase “You owe it to yourself.” Self even has its champions such as Frank Sinatra who sings “I did it my way.” I once met a man who told me that his aunt only wanted just one thing throughout her life and that was to have her own way. Looking to self as the source, mankind attempts to find and fulfill its description of life. In the attempt to find life apart from the Source of Life, life as it was intended to be slips through their grasp. Mark 8:35 says it this way. “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it.”
Liberty is likewise sought after, often defined as the freedom to do and think as we please. Those who seek this characterization of freedom are unaware that they are not free, but are slaves to whatever has mastered them. John 8:34 states “Jesus replied, ‘I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.’” The source of liberty is seen in John 8:31-32. “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” He, and He alone sets us free, and at liberty to be all that we were designed to be. A train, for example, is only free to be a train when it remains on the tracks. A fish is at liberty to be a fish only if it remains in the water. Similarly, we are only perfectly free when we are under the complete authority of our Lord.
Mankind’s desire to pursue happiness has proved to be a gold mine for every industry under the sun including entertainment, travel, and retail stores of all kinds. Happiness is also sought after by achieving positions of power, prestige, and popularity, but an examination of the lives of those attaining these goals has proved that the opposite results are often present. Few people realize that happiness is not a goal in itself that can be achieved. It is the by product of other goals, such as those stated in the Beatitudes. Happy are the poor in spirit…happy are they that mourn…happy are the meek… happy are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.
Jesus Christ states that He is the One who gives life. John 10:10 states “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” Other translations render this as a full, abundant, rich, meaningful life. He further states that the life He gives us is His own life. In Colossians 3:3-4, we read “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” This life, contrasted with the life of self is characterized in the following passage (Mark 8:35) by the word “it.” “For whoever wants to save his life (self) will lose it (the full, abundant, rich, meaningful life we share with Christ), but whoever loses his life (self) for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Full, abundant, rich meaningful life with Christ)
There are three enemies which oppose our liberty, and Christ is the only One who has triumphed over them, and the only One through whom we can truly have liberty. These three are the world, the flesh, and the devil. In each of these, the triumph was occasioned by the Cross of Christ. Paul refers to the triumph of the Cross over the world in Galatians 6:14. “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world was crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” The liberty expressing freedom from the power of the flesh is referred to in Romans 6:6. “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” His victory over the devil is likewise proclaimed in Colossians 3:15. “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. It is through our identification and union with Christ on His Cross, that we are freed from the power of sin, the power of the world, and the power of the devil. Therein, and therein only, is liberty to be found.
The Lord, who loves each of us with an infinite love, desires our happiness far more than we do ourselves. He alone knows the path that will bring us happiness, and in John 13, he has provided the example for us to follow. Our Lord proceeded to wash His disciples feet, then told them that He had set them an example of how they should care for others. He then adds in verse 17, “If you know these things, happy are you if you do them.” The happiness, then, for which we seek is found only in following our Lord.
Mankind’s efforts to obtain life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness by self interest, lack of restraint of self, and self pleasure have failed to the uttermost. It is only through our Lord that these are attained. The path to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are all the result of discipleship to Christ. Luke 9:23 states “Then he said to them all: ‘If any one would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’” It is in the denial of self (Mark 8:35) “For whoever loses his life for me and the gospel will save it”) that we find life. It is in taking up our cross in identification with his cross that we have liberty from the world (Galatians 6:14), the flesh (Romans 6:6) and the evil one (Colossians 3:15) It is in following Him that we truly find the happiness for which we were created.
In Christ, Richard Spann