The Good Life
Most of us are not looking to live a good life, but the good life. The "good life" usually includes at least a small mount of wealth that makes our days easier and more enjoyable, a steady job, a peaceful home, and a specific, if subjective, level of comfort. For most in my city the good life includes a big house, a nice car, a green lawn, healthy kids, and a good retirement plan. The good life is the American dream. It is also a component of the philosophy called "looking out for number one."
The good life sounds, well, pretty good. But for the Christian it can stand at odds with the Christian life.
And [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?
(Luke 9:23-25 ESV)
The Christian Life
Jesus calls us to "carry our cross daily" and in doing so he teaches us how to think of and live the life we live. Perhaps ironically it is only in a kind of death that we find the true enjoyment of all God's gifts.
Carrying our cross daily means that through our identity with Jesus we are led to die for the gospel and to our sin.
To carry our cross is to willingly suffer, even to death, as a Christian for the faith. For some this looks like intense persecution, while for others it is the general affliction that comes as the consequence of the gospel. From insults to incarceration and mocking to martyrdom all believers will carry their cross and bear the worldly shame of being identified with Jesus. This looks nothing like "the good life." The word finds no virtue in suffering, and signing up for it is seen as folly.
To carry our cross is also to willingly die to our sins. "So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:11 ESV)" Paul tells us there is a real sense in which we are already dead to sin through our union with Jesus, and as a consequence sin is no longer our master. But he also calls us to consider this truth to be our reality; to live like it is true. We must live as people who have died. And this means we must continually die to the sin that exists in and around us, denying corrupt desires and instead finding greater satisfaction in the knowledge of God. This is not the good life. Killing sin and denying our own desires, when sinful or just misplaced, might not lead us to the promised land of 3 car garages and vacation homes. In fact, for many it will lead us elsewhere. But in this dying we find life! "For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live." (Rom. 8:5)
This is not the good life, it is far batter. This is a Godward life. A Christian life. And the Christian life does not revolve around status or stuff, but around a Savior. It calls for a sacrifice, a dying, not to gain the world, but to glory in the God who made it all and gives to all generously.
The Gifts and the Giver
Let me be clear. Wealth and comfort are not evils, but gifts from God. The danger comes when we live for the gifts rather than the Giver. When we are unwilling to suffer the loss of such things for the sake of following Jesus or killing sin.
Yes, we sign up for suffering as followers of Jesus, and this is antithetical to the world's concept of "looking out for number one." But, this is not a kind of spiritual masochism. We agree with the world that there is no virtue in suffering itself. We find life in that for which we suffer. Our suffering and dying is the fruit of the life of God in the soul of man, and what encourages us to prize Christ above all worldly goods, while enjoying the gifts he does bestow as grace upon grace.