If there’s any genre of music that’s always talking about and chasing after the good life, it’s hip-hop. I love hip-hop. I have loved hip-hop for my entire life. There’s just something about the drums, and the rhymes, and the energy that’s always drawn me in. When I was a teenager, when I wasn’t in class or asleep – or asleep in class – I was listening to my favorite rappers. I used to hang on their every word, and they had a lot to say. I know most rappers are not trying to be teachers, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t learning. I listened closely to their ideas about the good life – and I liked what I heard.
I had favorite songs like “Money Ain’t a Thing,” and I was listening to albums with titles like “Get Rich or Die Trying.” So it really isn’t surprising that my idea of the good life was having a wallet so stuffed that it wouldn’t even close. It wasn’t all about money, though. I learned about hedonism, casual sex, materialism, irresponsibility, laziness, drugs, and getting respect – all as pieces to the puzzle that is the good life.
And the main problem with the picture I got of this good life was that it centered around me. It was all about me. How can I get money? How can I get respect? How can I get status? How can I run the world? What I was listening to and eating was a bunch of lies. And when young people turn on the radio, though there is a lot hip-hop that sounds good, so much of it is filled with lies about what the good life really is.
Don’t get me wrong though. Hip-hop music was not the problem. Those sinful lies were. The reason I zoomed in on hip-hop is because it’s my culture and reality. I could’ve hated hip-hop, but I still would have been fed those exact same lies from somebody else. And my self-centered, glory-hungry heart ate them up.
But when I met Jesus everything changed. I was confronted with a new picture of the world and a new picture of life. And so I was on a new quest to figure out how to live life to the full. I didn’t want to live life in light of lies anymore. I wanted the truth.
If we continue to believe lies about how we should live, the consequences are major. We won’t just be living some other option; we won’t be living the way we were created to. We’ll waste our lives chasing after stuff that doesn’t matter. We’ll miss the big picture. We won’t experience true joy and satisfaction. We won’t live like we were created to live. We won’t live the good life.
Of course Scripture never uses the term “the good life.” But when we say “the good life” we usually mean the best kind of life we can live. So I want to get at what the best kind of life is biblically. I want us to live the way we were created to live. So I want to look at three things the good life is.
I. The Good Life is Living By Faith In a Good God
In the book that’s how I define the good life. Living by faith in a good God. And let me tell you why.
WE ALL LIVE BY FAITH
Whether we realize it or not, all of us are people of faith. Every human being. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Agnostics, Atheists – all of us live by faith, we live in light of what we believe in any given moment. Those of you who are athletes practice really hard. Why? Because you believe it will make you better at your sport (unless you were me growing up playing basketball and still being really bad). Or how about this. Some of you put the address in Google Maps to get here today. Why? Because you believed that your phone would give you the right directions. If you believed your phone would trick you, which I think mine does sometimes, you wouldn’t have used it. I could go on and on. But we all live by faith.
I talk about this in the book. I’m really bad with directions. My wife is consistently amazed at how dumb I am with directions. One time I went and pulled into a driveway to turn around, but then I went back out the same way. Really bad. It would be very dumb to trust me to lead you. Similarly, all of us are fallen. Our hearts lead us in the wrong direction. The devil feeds us lies, the world distributes them, and our hearts eat them up. So instead of allowing our hearts to guide us, we need to live by faith in the truth.
And the best one to tell us about how to best live this life is God Himself. We don’t just wait for him to drop clues from Heaven; we look at what He’s already said. Our problem is we believe the lies of the enemy over the truth of God.
God created Adam and Eve. He gave them instructions for how to live. He said they could eat from every tree, except for the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ʻYou shall not eat of any tree in the gardenʼ?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ʻYou shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.ʼ” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:1-6 ESV)
Adam and Eve believed the lies of the serpent over the truth of God. This is our main problem as well. We believe the world when they tell us that they have something better to offer than God. We believe our flesh when it tells us to look at that website. We believe the devil when he says we’re at the center of the universe. We believe those lies instead of God’s truth. And that’s what keeps us from the good life.
The good life begins when we turn from our sins, we decided to leave all of our disobedience behind, and we put our faith in Jesus. That’s when true life begins. But our faith doesn’t end there. We have to fight everyday to continue to trust God and believe Him over the lies of the enemy.
FAITH IS AN EVERYDAY FIGHT
I know I’m not the only sinner here tonight. And often we think when we sin, it’s just because we had this moment of weakness. But that’s not the whole story. Every sin problem is a faith problem. We sin because of unbelief. We believe the enemy’s lies and obey them instead of God’s truth.
So when we disobey authority, it’s because we believe the lies that authority is there to harm us not help us. And it’s because we don’t believe God when he says He put authority in place for our good. And when we have sex before marriage, it’s because we believe the lie, that that’s the best way to enjoy ourselves. And it’s because we don’t believe God when He says that sex is for married couples, and that’s the context where it’s rightly enjoyed.
In Romans 1, Paul says he’s working to bring about the “obedience of faith” – the obedience that flows from faith in Jesus. So how do we fight for that faith? How do we feed our faith?
WE NEED GOD’S WORD
Romans 10 says, “Faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.”
Our spiritual life begins with faith in the Word and it continues with the same. But every day we’re being bombarded with lies from the world, the flesh, and the devil right? How do you fight lies? With truth! So here’s an example of how to use God’s Word. Every day we hear messages about sex, bombarded with impure images, and our sinful hearts desire that and believe those lies. So we fight those lies with truth. What does God’s Word say about sexual immorality?
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God. (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 ESV)
We are like a car. We run out of gas everyday. To continue walking in faith, we need fuel. That fuel is God’s Word. If we don’t have that fuel we won’t continue to trust him. Not to say if we don’t read the Word one day we’ll be atheists when we wake up. But when I’m not in the Word, I feel it. I feel the unbelief crowding out faith in various areas of my life.
And we don’t fight for faith in the Word alone. We need God’s people.
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:13 ESV)
For those of us in this room tonight who are believers, what are your relationships like with other Christians? Do you just attend church or do you spend good time with others? We need to actually walk with other Christians. We need to be in close relationships. We need each other for accountability. When I was dating my wife, a huge thing was people in my life holding me accountable to our boundaries.
If you’ve put your faith in Christ, you don’t have to give in. You have been freed. And when you walk in that freedom, you will be able to enjoy life as it was meant to be enjoyed. You will be able to live the way we were created to live.
So we fight for faith, but what does obedient, faithful life look like? What does it look like when we live by faith in a good God?
II. The Good Life Is Built Around Jesus
There were things I read early on as a Christian that demolished my old picture of the good life. Here’s an example.
TO DIE IS GAIN
All of us have heard people talk about death from time to time. We’ve heard people say, “Nothing in life is sure but death and taxes.” One popular rapper said, “I’m trying to beat life ‘cause I can’t cheat death.” People understand that death cannot be avoided. But as a young Christian, I read a verse about death in the Bible that was like nothing I had ever heard before. The Apostle Paul spoke about death in a strange way. Paul didn’t just say death was certain, he took it a step further. He said, “to die is gain.” What!?
Death is when your brain, your heart, and your lungs stop doing their job. Death means the conclusion of life and separation from family members. Death means your life’s work is over. Unlike our other trials, death is, for the person who dies, literally “the end of the world” – the end of this one anyway. So how could death possibly be gain? I can’t make money when I die? I can’t increase my status when I die. It just didn’t fit with my old views of the good life.
Well in order for me to understand what Paul meant by these four words – “to die is gain” – I had to understand the four that came right before them. In Philippians 1 Paul explains why he seems to be OK with either staying alive or dying at the hands of his persecutors. He writes in verse 21, “To live is Christ.” With those words, the apostle told me what life is really all about – not money, not my job, not even family – but Jesus. How could my self-centered, status-obsessed worldview survive next to that truth?
I’ve noticed that the most successful players in any sport, the champions, all have something in common. They have an obsession with winning. And their obsession, this deep desire to win, trumps all of their other desires in the game. So they’re not mainly concerned with endorsements, or making the highlight reels, or padding their stats. Surely they think about that stuff, but at the end of the day, that’s not what they play for. They play to win. So if they have an opportunity that would benefit them, but not the team, they pass. They just want to win.
Well that’s with sports games. Let’s think about life. In life, that thing Paul is obsessed with. That desire that trumps all other desires. That passion that supersedes all of his other passions is Christ. It’s not that he hates life, or family, or comforts; it’s just that honoring Jesus is supreme. It’s the main thing. And that’s clear from what he writes in the passage.
Paul says in Philippians 1, that he could live or die; and he’d be fine because Jesus would be honored. And verse 21 tells us why. He understands something. To live is Christ. Life is Christ. We were created by Jesus and for Jesus. Jesus is the merciful Savior who stood in our place and offers us new life. Jesus is our mediator before the Father. Jesus must be the motivation for all of our decisions. Jesus should be the driving force behind our every move. It’s ALL about Jesus. There is no good life apart from Jesus, because without Jesus life has no meaning. To live is Christ.
Your life is not about you, but about Jesus. So this changes the way that we see everything.
What about our dreams and goals? You should have big dreams and big goals, but they should be centered on Jesus. We were created to live in a way that shows Him to be who He is. Paul says in Philippians 1 that if he lives on in the flesh it means fruitful labor for Him.
LABORING FOR JESUS
It reminds me of a funny story. One time, I was in Dallas and I went to one of my favorite fried chicken spots, William’s Chicken. The service is always horrible, but the chicken is so good. Drive through service was bad, but then I get to the front. He’s off in the back talking and I get his attention. And he says, “Oh, my bad I forgot about you bro.” What do you mean you forgot? You are at work! That’s what you do at work. How did you forget to work? He got distracted.
Similarly though, we are so easily distracted. We forget what we’ve been put here to do. And we’re not passionate about laboring for Him, so all the shiny things the world has to offer pull us away.
Laboring for Christ doesn’t mean we all need to be preachers. We need lawyers, rappers, secretaries, waiters, and store managers that love Jesus. So it doesn’t mean we should all go change what we do or aspire to do, though maybe it will. What it really means is, we should be familiar with what God has called us to do as believers, and figure out how to work that out in our unique situations. It’ll look different in different lives, but we can do it to His glory.
I know some preachers use passages wrong, to convince us that there are no trials. In their view the good life available to us in Christ is a life free from any trials now. I can do all things – what does this really mean? That even though I suck at basketball, through Christ I can be an NBA all-star? No, Paul was saying whether I’m rich or poor, I’m content. Because I have Christ.
God is not like some of our earthly mothers and fathers who won’t accept us if we’re not at the top of the corporate ladder. God doesn’t demand status, he demands faithfulness.
I’m challenged when I read Paul’s words, especially considering Paul’s situation. Paul is in the middle of an awful circumstance. But the lens he sees it through changes everything. To live is Christ is the lens he sees his trial through.
Sometimes we throw a fit like a child in the midst of trials, because we think every circumstance is about us. We think and we complain to our friends, about how unfair it is, and how hard it is. We throw grown up temper tantrums because we think our circumstances are ultimately about us being comfortable. But they’re not. They’re about Jesus. We would wrestle through trials differently, if instead of focusing on how uncomfortable we are we would focus on how to honor Jesus in the midst of it. That’s the good life.
Does building your life around Jesus mean that it has to be boring or without joy? Of course not. I know the lies may seem more attractive sometimes, but the truth is it’s a dead end. It’s shooting too low. Following Jesus doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy things, it just means we enjoy them right. Instead of leading to heartbreak they lead to more joy.
Everything is better when enjoyed in the context it was meant to. Friendship is more enjoyable when built around Him. Two forgiven people forgive each other, which makes friendship sweeter. You can be freed up to enjoy money, when you don’t worship it.
The joy doesn’t last. Those who build their life around futile things set themselves up for destruction. But those who build their life around Christ can never be destroyed. It’s a gift from God and it can’t be taken away.
So we have some details about this good life, but where does it come from? How do we get it?
III. The Good Life Is A Gift From a Loving God
God wants you to live the good life. He created you to live the good life. Our sin is what kept us from it. The lie we’ve been told is that God wants to keep us from the good life. Like He wants us to be depressed and miss out on all joy. But that’s ridiculous.
He loves us so much that even though we sinned and were separated from Him, He sent Jesus in order for us to have it. We were cut off from God, the source of all good.
There were many differences between the picture of the good life I learned from Paul, and the picture I learned from the culture. But one of the biggest differences is how we get there. The world sells us a “good life” that we have to earn. And even for some of those who work the hardest to achieve it, it remains out of reach. But the biblical picture of “the good life” is different. It’s a free gift that’s available to all.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)
In John 11, Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” That is good news.
Trusting Jesus means we are restored to God, which is amazing news because we were made to enjoy God. We get to enjoy Him now in His Word. We love watching sports, and great performers because we enjoy greatness. There is no greater greatness than the God who created them. His greatness makes theirs look pitiful.
TO DIE IS GAIN
This is why Paul could say “to die is gain,” because whether he died or lived, Jesus would be honored. Life means he gets to serve Jesus and death means he gets to be with Jesus – and there’s nowhere he’d rather be (Philippians 1:23). We can learn from Paul here. The truth is, it’s better to be dirt poor in the presence of Jesus than to be filthy rich in the presence of men.
Do you long to be with Jesus? We will never be able to say to die is gain, until we really love Jesus. Do you love Him more than this life? Psalm 73. The only way to get there is by gazing at Him in His Word and turning from the things that cloud your vision. Some of us wonder why we don’t love Jesus more, but we cling to things that keep us from closeness with Him. Turn and run to Him. This too is a fight of faith.
We can live the way we were created to live.
If I hadn’t seen a brand new picture of the good life I would have wasted my life chasing after stuff that doesn’t matter. But by grace God showed me those four words: to live is Christ. And he gave me grace to live by faith in a good God.
What is good? Who defines good? God does. Good is honoring Jesus and being with Him. As long as I believed the lies the culture told me, I wasn’t living the good life. But when I began to live by faith in a good God, my good life began. I began to see the good life as a life renewed by Jesus, driven by Jesus, and lived to the glory of Jesus. The man who lives for himself gains nothing lasting in this life, and he will only experience devastating loss in the next. But the man who lives for Christ gets a taste of the good life now, and his death only brings Him what He desires most.