I assume you want to live a happy life. I also assume that when you are taking your last breaths, you would like to have a deep sense of joy, peace, and comfort in your heart. Who wants to live their life in a constant state of fear and insecurity? Who wants to feel overwhelmed by panic and dread as they lie dying in their bed? You want your life to be filled with true and sustainable happiness and your last days with contentment, calm, and consolation. But in order for you to have this true happiness, you need to know how you can have it. Happiness in life and death is not automatic nor is it experienced by everyone.
Failing to carefully think about how to live and die happily is a universal struggle in the hustle of life. Life is busy. Time flies. We have commitments and obligations. People are depending on us. There are many distractions. The possibility that you might be wasting your life and the inevitability of death are unpleasant to think about and easy to ignore. All true. But you need to give careful thought to whether you know exactly how to live and die happily.
True comfort for the soul is belonging to Jesus Christ in life and death, is Jesus paying for all your sins with his precious blood, is being free of the enslaving oppression of the Devil, is God the Father preserving you by His grace and working all things, including tragedy and suffering, for the good of your salvation, is the assurance of eternal life which the Holy Spirit works in your heart along with the desire to live for God. All of this is deep comfort. But to have and enjoy this comfort you must know certain truths. What must you know in order to live and die in the happiness of this true and lasting gospel comfort? Not everyone has this happiness and comfort, so you cannot simply assume you have them. You must be sure you have them. How can you be sure and therefore happy in your certainty?
Heidelberg Catechism 2 asks the following: “What do you need to know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort?” The comfort referred to there is the comfort articulated in Heidelberg Catechism 1, the gospel comfort of belonging to Christ. If you are to live and die in the joy of the comfort of the gospel, there are three essential things you must know and be certain about. You cannot be ignorant about any of the three nor unsure about them. Ignorance and insecurity undermines true happiness in the comfort of the gospel. The catechism gives us these three simple truths to know in order to live and die happily in the comfort of Jesus: “First, how great my sins and misery are; second, how I am delivered from all my sins and misery; third, how I am to be thankful to God for such deliverance.”
The first thing you must know is the greatness of your sins and misery. God says in Romans 3:9, “None is righteous, no, not one.” You are not inherently righteous. You are not inherently good. Jesus said only God is good. You must know this for certain. This means the first step of true and lasting happiness in the comfort of the gospel is knowing you are in fact unrighteous and in desperate need of Christ’s righteousness. Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 2:12 says, “all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.” Do you know that you are a law-breaker, an unrighteous sinner who deserves God’s judgment? If so, you’re on your way to true and lasting happiness.
The second thing you must know is how you are delivered from all your sins and misery. Do you know the gospel? Jesus is the Deliverer, so you must know him as Savior and Lord. You must know his righteousness, his goodness, his perfection, his works. You must know his law-keeping, his crucifixion, his resurrection, and his intercession. You must know that God has granted you the forgiveness of your sins, everlasting righteousness, and eternal life, out of mere grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits, and not for the sake of anything good you have done. Do you know that you are delivered from your sins and misery only because Christ chose to deliver you and succeeded? If so, you’re on your way to true and lasting happiness.
The third thing you must know is how you are to be thankful to God for delivering you. You will not find happiness in life or death unless you are living for the glory of God. Jesus said, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:16). The mark of truly happy people is devotion to living out the commands of God for the glory of God. It is when you present yourself to God as a living sacrifice to live a righteous life by the Spirit to the praise of His glorious grace that you find true happiness.
These three things are the keys to being truly happy on your way to the grocery store, the doctor’s appointment, the funeral, and to the gateway of death. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to these three essential truths, and a deep and intimate knowledge of them truly is comfort for the soul.