Sin Brings Unhappiness, Righteousness Brings Happiness

An excerpt from Randy Alcorn’s Happiness, chapter 36

Since lasting happiness can't be found apart from God, sin will never be a source of happiness.

“What is the matter with the world?” Martyn Lloyd-Jones asked. “Why . . . war and all this unhappiness and turmoil and discord amongst men? . . . There is only one answer to these questions—sin. Nothing else; it is just sin.”[1]

It’s common to blame the world’s suffering and unhappiness on lack of education, opportunity, or resources. If only we knew more or had more, we’d surely be better. No. Our most basic problem is just . . . sin.

Stephen Charnock wrote, “Though the fall be the cause of all our misery, yet [recognizing] it is the first step to all our happiness.”[2]

Sin must be dealt with directly through awareness, confession, and repentance. Only in forgiveness can we have relational oneness with God and, hence, enduring happiness.

Anyone unaware of his or her guilt before a holy God is in the worst possible condition. What if a person with a burst appendix couldn’t feel pain? He might happily stay home and watch a movie rather than go to the hospital. And then he would die.

Sin kills ultimate happiness.

Puritan and Cambridge University professor William Whitaker (1548–1595) spoke of “sinning away that happiness wherein we were created.”[3] This is a striking description of what Adam and Eve did in Paradise and what many of us do—we sin away happiness.

William Bates said, “The most pernicious effect of sin is the separation of the soul from God; and the restoral of us to happiness, is by reunion with him.”[4] These two premises— that God is the source of all happiness and that sin separates us from God—lead to this conclusion: sin separates us from happiness.

Satan is the enemy of God’s happiness and ours. While he can’t rob God of happiness, he specializes in sabotaging ours, catching us on the baited hook of pleasure. The first hit of a drug, the buzz of alcohol, or the thrill of illicit sex seems so good at the time. But then the very thing that brings us a taste of joy robs us of true and abiding joy. Sin is the ultimate killjoy.

To sin is to break relationship with God. Therefore, sin is the biggest enemy of happiness, and forgiveness its greatest friend. Confession reunites us with the God of happiness.

If we believe that sin is never in our best interests, it will clarify many otherwise hard decisions in which we imagine we must choose between helping people do right and helping them be happy.

For instance, a young woman who believed that abortion takes the life of an innocent child nonetheless told me that because she loved her friend, she was going to drive her to the clinic to get an abortion. She said, “That’s what you do when you love someone, even if you disagree.”

I asked, “If your friend wanted to kill her parents and had a shotgun in hand, would you drive her to her parents’ house?”

“Of course not.”

But other than legality, what’s the difference? It’s never in a mother’s best interest to kill her child—it will ultimately take from her far more happiness than it brings. Too often, in the name of love, we assist people in taking wrong actions which, because they are wrong, will rob them of happiness. We may congratulate ourselves for being “loving,” but what good does our love do them if it encourages their self-destruction?

Because it doesn't satisfy, sin demands increasing intensity.

Addiction provides a picture of all sin patterns. At first, the happiness it causes seems to outweigh the misery. But eventually the periods of misery increase while the periods of happiness fade. This is called the law of diminishing returns. Life is promised; death is delivered. Every drug, alcohol, and pornography addict is living proof that the next high is less satisfying than the last.

Heroin addicts first take the drug to be happy. In moments of clarity, they despise heroin for what it’s doing to them and despise themselves for yielding to it. Yet memories of brief pleasure overpower their prevailing misery. Longing to escape, they take another hit, hoping this time will bring lasting happiness. It never does.

If insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results, sin not only leads to insanity—it is insanity.

Regardless of your drug of choice—materialism, cocaine, pornography, power—the nature of any sin is saying, “This time will be different.” Yet it just keeps killing us—in the name of happiness.

Unrighteous lifestyle choices lead to deeper unhappiness. 

Historically, our culture’s fashion, film, and music industries—merchants of “happiness”— have been run largely by men.The immoral values promoted by these industries lure young girls into promiscuity, convincing them it’s cool. A girl has casual sex and later feels rejection, loss of respect, and disdain from the boy she believed loved her. The dream turns into a nightmare. But hoping that next time will be different, she has sex with another boy, and another, and another, until her self-respect is completely gone.

For decades, mothers have been promised they can be happy if they “terminate the pregnancy”—the deceiver’s language for “kill your child.” Yet I’ve talked with countless women who, years later, still weep over their abortions.The adverse physical and psychological consequences of abortion are well documented, including higher levels of depression and suicide.[5] Numerous post-abortion support groups exist to help women heal after getting the abortion they were told would bring them happiness.[6]

Our culture also entices people into viewing pornography. The happiness it promises instead delivers shame, loneliness, and devastation and leads to an endless downward spiral of deeper perversion and darkness.

Similarly, some people have bought into the idea that they’ll find happiness in the homosexual lifestyle. But when they surrender to their desires, they typically end up unhappy.

There’s a tragic irony in the positive term gay, which has replaced historically negative terms, such as sodomite, and neutral terms, such as homosexual. No matter how happy gay may sound, these are the facts about the suicide rate among homosexuals:

The risk of suicide among gay and lesbian youth is fourteen times higher than for heterosexual youth.

Between 30 and 45 percent of transgenders report having attempted suicide.

I didn’t get these statistics from religious conservatives, but from a secular website sympathetic to gay and lesbian issues.[7] A study that analyzed twenty-five earlier studies regarding sexual orientation and mental health showed that “homosexuals and bisexuals are about 50% more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to suffer from depression and abuse drugs.”[8]

For many years, it was widely assumed that this much higher level of unhappiness was due to humiliation over others’ disapproval. Though society has become much more accepting of the homosexual lifestyle, unhappiness persists even among those surrounded by affirmation. Gay marriage may be legal, but that doesn’t change its nature or eliminate the harm to those engaging in it.

Likewise, countless heterosexuals’ lives have been destroyed by believing the false promise of happiness in an affair. I know many people who’ve had affairs and have spent the rest of their lives regretting it.

King Solomon could have had any woman he wanted—“the delight of the sons of man” (Ecclesiastes 2:8). But in his countless mistresses he found only emptiness and unhappiness.

Puritan Thomas Vincent said, “Nothing doth hinder men’s happiness here, nothing can deprive them of happiness in the other world, but this evil of evils, sin.”[9]

We fall for Satan’s lies over and over again. But God tells us the truth about what will make us happy. Our ultimate happiness hinges on whom we choose to believe.

Both sin and righteousness have consequences.

Moses warned the Israelite tribes desiring to settle on the Jordan’s east side not to break their promise to help the tribes defeat their enemies on the west side. He could have said, “God will judge you.” Instead he said, “Your sins will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). It’s like a spiritual form of gravity. When someone steps off a roof, God doesn’t judge him by making him fall. The violation of gravity brings its own consequences. Likewise, when truth and righteousness are violated, God may not dramatically bring judgment; instead, he’ll allow judgment to flow naturally from the sin itself.

Though he may not directly intervene with a reward, God also may infuse good and righteous acts with their own positive effects, including happiness. If our sins will find us out, so will our righteous deeds—which, at the very least, will follow us to Heaven when we die (see Revelation 14:13).

Spurgeon said, “Remember that if you are a child of God you will never be happy in sin! You are spoiled for the world, the flesh and the devil. In the day when you were regenerated there was put into you a vital principle which can never die nor be content to dwell in the dead world.”[10]

Happiness in God also means misery in sin.

Our new, regenerated natures have free access to God's whole person, including his happiness. 

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). Sin requires a radical solution—salvation in Christ, which transforms our nature and dramatically affects our capacity to embrace greater happiness in God. Our justification by faith in Christ satisfies the demands of God’s holiness by exchanging our sins for Christ’s righteousness (see Romans 3:21-26).

God grants believers new natures that free us from sin’s bondage. Now we can draw upon God’s power to overcome evil. Because our hearts are changed when we become new people in Christ, we want a better way. “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Romans 8:9).

Regeneration empowers the formerly blind to see and comprehend the things of God (see 1 Corinthians 2:12-16; 2 Corinthians 4:4, 6; Colossians 3:10). It renews the will, enabling us to make godly choices (see Philippians 2:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:5).

God speaks of the “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Once believers are born again, we cannot continue to sin as a lifestyle because of our new natures (see 1 John 3:9). Sin is still present in our lives (see Romans 6:11-14; 1 John 1:8–2:2), but we have supernatural power to overcome it since we’ve died to sin (see Romans 6:6-9). God’s Holy Spirit indwells us and helps us obey him (see 2 Timothy 1:14).

The result? We’re free to reject sin and its misery, and embrace righteousness, with its true and lasting happiness.

Writing to her son Frank, Hannah Whitall Smith said,

I am so glad you are beginning to know the joys of the Christian life. For my part I don’t see how anyone who is not a Christian can be happy for a single minute. Children of God, who know their sins forgiven and who cast all their cares upon the One who cares for them, certainly have a right to be joyful and lighthearted. As to being so sober and solemn, it is all wrong. The merriest people I know are the most devoted Christians.[11]

We can't be happy without dealing radically with sin.

Jesus said, “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell”(Matthew 5:29, NASB). In moments of strength, we need to make godly decisions in preparation for moments of weakness. For example, we shouldn’t put ourselves in places and with people or objects that move us toward sin (including anything with Internet access, if pornography or social media is a problem).

I received an e-mail from a young man at college who gave up his virginity. His utter despair was palpable. Of course, an unbeliever might think his misery was due to “unnecessary” guilt feelings. But in this case, they were accurate indicators of genuine guilt.

This young man might feel temporarily happier if he denied his guilt, just as someone jumping from a plane, not realizing his parachute is defective, can be temporarily exhilarated as he falls. But the moment he understands his true condition, he’ll be terrified. If there’s another parachute, the man’s realization will serve him well. Likewise, if this young man repents and embraces Christ’s forgiveness, the crushing guilt feelings that brought him to repentance will be God’s grace to him—his backup parachute.

First John 3:21 says, “If our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God.” Without the convicting work of the Holy Spirit (see John 16:8), there’s no hope for any of us to turn to God—and without repentance and forgiveness, there’s no restoration to relationship with our joyful God. Someone who puts his hand in a fire feels excruciating pain, causing him to withdraw it and seek medical attention. He is far better off because he experienced the pain. In contrast, someone with leprosy, who feels nothing because of damaged nerve endings, might seem happier for not experiencing the agony. But he’ll suffer in the long term because his body still experiences destruction, whether or not he can feel it. This world desensitizes us to evil, essentially turning us into moral lepers who become numb to healthy twinges of conscience.

“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).

Spurgeon said, “It does not spoil your happiness . . . to confess your sin. The unhappiness is in not making the confession.”[12]

Happiness is impossible without confession, forgiveness, and a right relationship with the source of happiness. It’s like trying to turn on a light that’s unplugged. You can change the bulb, put on a new lamp shade, and polish the lamp, but you’ll remain in darkness.

Anselm said, “Happiness ought not to be bestowed upon any one whose sins have not been wholly put away.”[13] It would be cruel of God to do so, because our happiness in sin would keep us from the ultimate happiness found only in forgiveness.

Spurgeon said, “It is no wonder that those who are dwelling upon their own corruption should wear such downcast looks; but surely if we call to mind that ‘Christ is made unto us righteousness,’ we shall be of good cheer.”[14]

Martin Luther said, “Sin is pure unhappiness, forgiveness pure happiness.”[15] It’s hard to imagine a more concise and accurate statement about the nature of sin and happiness. If we believe this biblically grounded truth, our lives will be transformed.


Photo by Alejandro Alvarez on Unsplash

[1] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976), 102.

[2] Stephen Charnock, “The Necessity of Regeneration,” The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock, vol. 3.

[3] William Whitaker, in James Nichols and Samuel Annesley, eds., Puritan Sermons, 1659–1689, repr., vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, 1981), 511.

[4] William Bates, Select Practical Works of Rev. John Howe and Dr. William Bates, ed. James Marsh (New York: G. & C. & H. Carvill, 1830), 455.

[5] Randy Alcorn, Why ProLife? (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2012), chapter 11.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Natasha Tracy, “Homosexuality and Suicide: LGBT Suicide: A Serious Issue,”, April 12, 2013,

[8] Nancy Schimelpfening, “Homosexuality Strongly Linked to Depression and Suicide,”, October 30, 2014,

[9] Thomas Vincent, in Puritan Sermons, vol. 2, 619.

[10] Charles H. Spurgeon, “Your Rowers Have Brought You into Great Waters” (Sermon #1933).

[11] Hannah Whitall Smith, The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life: The Unpublished Personal Writings of Hannah Whitall Smith, ed. Melvin E. Dieter (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1997).

[12] Spurgeon, “Sorrow and Sorrow” (Sermon #2691).

[13] Anselm, Cur Deus Homo, Book First, chapter 24.

[14] Charles H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings, January 31 (morning).

[15] Martin Luther, “Sermon for the 19th Sunday after Trinity,” Sermons of Martin Luther.

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries