Recently in our city a group of humanists and skeptics posted a billboard ad along a major freeway proclaiming, “Millions of Americans are living happily without religion.” Among other things, it begs the question, what difference does it make to be a Christian? Will those who become Christians live more happily? Are the benefits “worth it”?
Reconciled to God
The positive benefits of biblical Christianity are vast, both present and future. In the present, by faith and repentance in Jesus Christ, the person who has become a Christian is reconciled to the one true God, Creator of the heavens and the earth. He/she is now at peace with the God whom they were previously estranged from; whose eternal wrath they had faced because of a rebel life of sin and self. For the Christian, the penalty of impending, deserved punishment has been satisfied by Christ. In Christ there is complete atonement for their sin; applied to the believer this removes their guilt, and the believer is declared “just” and “righteous” by God. Not only is the Christian forgiven by God, “right” with him, they also have new life. This new life is characterized by fellowship with the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
New Life with God
God the Spirit creates this new life, taking up residence in the person, illuminating their heart and mind to know God and his will through the Bible. The Spirit gives the gift of faith and desire for holiness, “uniting” the Christian with Christ, and enabling spiritual growth. The Son delights to teach, fellowship with, mediate and intercede for, and defend and protect the believer. In Christ, the Christian is a child of God the Father, coming to love and know the Father who has given him/her to the Son. New life as a Christian is characterized by happiness and delight in knowing God, hearing his voice in his Word, seeing his glory, wisdom, and power in creation, speaking to him in prayer, communing with him in his sacraments, and obeying His commands. It is characterized by delighting in the incredible diversity of God’s gifts as God’s gifts. What benefit of biblical Christianity could be better than this restored life with God? The new life of the Christian is also a growing return to the God-created paradigm for human existence. There is an increasing holiness, beauty, and truth in the Christian–in harmony with God and other Christians. God created us to glorify and enjoy him. United by faith to Jesus Christ, the Christian is able to both positively grow in what is good, lovely, and true, and at the same time to war against his/her own remaining sin, gaining advancing victories over it. The Christian glorifies and enjoys God.
Present Hope, Future Benefits
Along with these benefits, there is the benefit of solid present and future hope, with even greater benefits coming. When the Word tells us that “all things work together for our good” (Rom. 8:28), “all things” includes every kind of suffering, the hard things, along with the easy and pleasant. God works these things together for good to those who love Him. For the Christian, impending death, while a sober, sad and humbling reality, now also stands as an entrance to life in heavenly glory, and innumerable further benefits of biblical Christianity. Death is the door to a glorious life in God’s immediate, tangible presence: life full of worship and activity, while awaiting Christ’s return, the resurrection, final judgment, and inauguration of the new heavens and the new earth. This new heavens and earth will be for God and His perfected people alone. In it there will be no sin, no misery, no suffering, no sorrow. Instead, pure happiness and holiness in an eternal life of vitality and delight.
The unrepentant, who persist in this present life in loving sin rather than God, whether men or fallen angels, will be banished to an inescapable eternity in hell, experiencing the presence of God in his holy wrath and judgment, never again to rebel against God or trouble Christians. God inescapably and unstoppably wins. While billboards may claim “millions of Americans are living happily without religion”, those who do are at best whistling along in God’s world, minds clouded by virtual realities of their own making, missing the best of this life, and daily increasing guilt and judgment deserved. The reality is “millions of Americans are dying fearfully without [true] religion.” As death flashes by they come to a full stop, all virtual realities forever gone, to stand before the holy brilliance of God in judgment.
God is faithful. He will honor those who honor him, vindicating his people. Those who honor him can rest with clear conscience before him in the present, and with great anticipation for the future. Repentance and faith in Christ, becoming a Christian, is not merely an option, or the best option with the best benefits: it is a divine imperative. God, who created us, commands all people everywhere to repent, for their good; he graciously calls everyone who hears his Word to come and freely receive forgiveness and new life in Jesus Christ, his eternal Son.
Costs Turned to Benefits
While the future benefits for those who are Christians are tremendous, they do however, tie in to the present cost of being a Christian. In our fallen world, where by nature people are in love with sin (just as we have been), and hate God (just as we have, in a multitude of ways), Christian commitment to God and what is holy and good may, and often does, bring opposition and persecution for the Christian (“Blessed are you when people… persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven…” Matthew 5:11-12). There will be real sorrows, especially in our growing awareness of and grief over our remaining sin, others’ sin, and its miserable effects. Even while the present benefits of being a Christian are vast and the only way of real wisdom and life, there will be times when from our present vantage as Christians, the costs, for a time, will be high. Yet, even these real, painful costs, pale and shrink in comparison to the vastness of all that we receive in the Father’s great love to us. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) If anyone understands the present costs it is God the Son: “he himself suffered” (Hebrews 2:18). God’s grace sustains the Christian through present costs, and in His wise time brings us to see that they are “light momentary afflictions” compared to “the eternal weight of glory” which is coming (2 Corinthians 4:17).
There are real costs to being a Christian, but the present and future benefits of being with God, rather than against him, vastly outweigh them; in fact even the costs themselves will turn out to be a benefit for the Christian. “Happy is the man who fears the LORD, taking great delight in His commands.” (Psalm 112:1)
In the next post of this series we’ll look at some more of the benefits of biblical Christianity for individuals, families, and society.