Fruit of the Spirit: Joy

Paul’s second characteristic of the true Christian is joy1, in his “fruit of the Spirit” list in Galatians 5.22-23. Wherever there is joy, there must be a cause for it. Joy is the happiness of heart that arises because some help, benefit, rescue, salvation, etc. has come (joy of experienced relief), or is certainly coming (joy of expected relief). Joy is more than a feeling of euphoria.

The Holy Spirit plants and grows joy in the hearts of those who are saved from their sins by the Lord Jesus Christ, in place of the remorse they had been made to feel for their sins before God, their Creator and Judge. You must have become conscious of your awful predicament as a guilty sinner against God, always in his sight, and you must know that you deserve Hell. Then you must come to know you truly have been saved, and then you will have this joy of salvation. (This knowledge comes from the Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection; more on this later). This joy of salvation is in God and entirely because of God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The joy of salvation is that everlasting2, appreciative, thankful, glad, and sometimes solemn awareness of having been saved. I have added solemn, because joy knows the effort that her Deliverer has put in to rescue her. Joy knows what it cost her Saviour to be her Saviour. Joy stands where grief and terror once stood. Joy appreciates the state of freedom from slavery to sin that she now enjoys. Joy knows she owes a debt of gratitude to the Bringer of her happiness. Joy loves her salvation, and loves her Saviour because of all that he has done for her, and all that he now means to her. Joy’s soul is full of thankfulness and praise for the One to whom she owes everything.

The joy of the Christian, the fruit of the Spirit, joins in with the great joy that accompanied the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is similar to what Jesus’s first disciples’ sorrow was turned into, when they saw their risen Messiah and grasped the significance of his resurrection. It is the joy of assurance and peace that comes from believing in the Saviour who saves believers. It is the joy that remains with us in our Christian perseverance, and that can carry us through the toughest times of affliction in this world. It is a fruit of God’s grace in us, an evidence of his upholding both us and our faith throughout all our Christian life. In many Christians this joy burns even brighter when they share their faith with others, and they see God at work though their work for him. This is especially true of pastors. And it is an everlasting fruit of God’s grace in us, for our Emmanuel (meaning: God with us) keeps us safe—saved!—even through the valley of the shadow of death, and we too will be raised up by Christ on the last day, and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

The angel Gabriel announced to Mary, “a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David,” that she would conceive and bear the Son of God by the Holy Spirit, and that she must call his name JESUS (Luke 1.27-35). That name means JAH IS SALVATION. A short while later, her husband-to-be was visited by the the same messenger from God in a dream, who assured him, “fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1.20-21).

All the events surrounding the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ put joy into the hearts, and often onto the lips, of those who knew the importance of his incarnation. When Mary visited her expectant cousin Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit caused the babe in Elizabeth’s womb to leap for joy, and then caused her to prophesy, “Blessed art thou [Mary] among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord” (v.42-45). The Holy Spirit then caused Mary to respond with joyful-hearted, praise-filled prophetic prose to God: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation…” (v.46-50).

Soon after the birth of this Child, the angel of the Lord visited some shepherds keeping watch over their flocks on the hills near Bethlehem. They were “sore afraid” of the visitation but the angel reassured them, “Fear not.” The message he gave them that night was the most joyful ever! “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2.10-11). And with him followed a large company of angels joyfully (as always) singing their praises to God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (vv.13-14).

When Joseph and Mary brought the new baby Jesus to the temple for his dedication to the Lord, a just and devout old man named Simeon gave voice to his joy when he “blessed God” while holding Jesus in his arms—because the Holy Spirit had revealed to him what this child would do: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel” (Luke 2.25-32). And the elderly prophet Anna “gave thanks likewise” to the Lord for this baby who was to be the Redeemer, and she went and told all in Jerusalem that were waiting for him, that he had now come (v.36-48). She took her good tidings of great joy out to the city.

The Lord knew all that was set before him in his entire mission in the world—his incarnation, life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension. The crux of this mission was to be his death on the cross at Calvary—“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1.15). In the events leading up to his crucifixion, Jesus underwent so much pain and humiliation, until the worst of it all, that was in his being forsaken by God when he became the sin-offering for his people and he laid down his life for us (Isa. 53; 2 Cor. 5.21; Heb. 9.24-28, 1 John 3.16). Yet we are taught that he looked forward with joy to enduring all that was set before him, and that he delighted to go through the death of the cross (Psa. 40.6-8; Heb. 12.2).

Stop and think. Why was this death of Christ “the will of God”? What was the joy that was set before Jesus, that he would arrive at by way of his being put to death? It was the sacrifice that put into force the covenant of grace. And for him to walk this way was our Saviour’s own will too (Luke 9.51; 18.31-34; Heb 10.5-10). Indeed, it was his Testament. “For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.3 For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth…It was therefore necessary that the patterns [i.e. the Tabernacle, its furnishings, and the ceremonies] of things in the heavens should be purified with these [animal sacrifices]; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9.13-17, 23-26; see also Luke 22.20; 1 Cor. 11:25; Heb. 7.22).

Our Saviour’s sacrifice of himself has accomplished our redemption, our salvation. The Covenant of Grace, the New Testament, has been put into force by his shed blood. Our salvation was the joy that was set before Jesus; and that joy is still his, while he sits at the right hand of God, interceding for us there (Psa 110.1; Heb. 1.3; 8.1; 12.2; Rom 8.34; Rev. 5.1-7).

Christ’s first disciples should have known what was coming, but they had “understood none of these things” (Luke 18.34). That was why they were so sorrowful at his crucifixion. But they would not remain sorrowful, because what the Lord promised them came true after his resurrection and his revealing himself to them again: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice [at my being put to death]: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy…And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again [after I have risen from the dead], and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you” (John 16.20-22).

After his resurrection, the Lord Jesus came to his disciples again and enabled them to understand what he had taught them all along—that this was the fulfilment of so many Messianic prophecies. “And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24.44-48).

Similarly, there were two disciples who returned to Emmaus with sad disappointment, because thay had trusted that their “prophet mighty in deed and word” “should have redeemed Israel” (Luke 24.13, 19, 21)—but he had just been condemned to death, and so they were going home. Then, along the way, they had a visitation from this same Prophet (Deut. 18.15; John 1.1) after he had risen again. He first revealed himself to them through “Moses, and all the prophets” as the Messiah who would, and has now, suffered these things and entered into his glory, before he permitted them to recognise his Person. It was with increasing joy of Scriptural comprehension and belief that their hearts burned within them, while he talked with them by the way, and opened to them these Scriptures (v.13-32).

This same joy is ours when we find that we believe in this Man of Sorrows. For when the Lord “put him to grief”, he bore our griefs: “he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53.1-12). This is the ultimate healing of all the harm done by the broken covenant of works and by our own sins, and it makes us a “new creature”—and it comes with God’s blessing us with “all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (2 Cor, 5.17; Eph. 1.3). This is the great salvation that we rejoice in, when we affirm our faith in “the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2.20).

As Christians, we hold the truth of Christ’s resurrection dear to our hearts, because “he was raised again for our justification” (Rom 4.25). However, this can be a confusing doctrine, until we grasp the significance of Christ’s resurrection to Christians. For we are taught that it was Christ’s death on the cross that saved us. By his death, God “hath made him [Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5.21). We are “justified by his blood” (Rom. 5.9)—blood that was shed on the cross at Calvary, not later on the third day in a garden tomb nearby. Our Saviour himself cried out, “It is finished” (John 19.30)—there, on the cross. The “death of the testator” Jesus Christ, not his resurrection, put into force the New Testament.

What, then, is the significance of Christ’s resurrection? Christ’s resurrection has proved to the Church on earth that the New Testament has been put into into force in heaven. This is what Christ himself explained, even in his post-resurrection appearances to his disciples: “Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord” (John 20.19-20). This was the moment he turned their sorrow into joy! Promise fulfilled. “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24.27). This exposition of Old Testament doctrine, Messianic prophecies fulfilled, hardened and strengthened their new joy. And what did the Messiah teach them? That he had indeed redeemed them, and atoned for their sins, in the sacrifice of himself, according to the Old Testament Scriptures (Lev. 16; 1 Cor. 15.3-4; Heb. 9.11-12; 1 Pet. 1.18-19).

The fact of Christ’s resurrection is not merely inferred from an empty tomb, but proved by the actual appearances of the risen Christ to his disciples. The “Lamb as it had been slain” has risen again from the dead and has shown his people his nail-pierced hands and feet and his spear-pierced side (Rev. 5.6; Luke 24.39-40; John 1.29; 19.18, 34; 20:19-31)—and the Prophet himself, before his death and after his resurrection, taught his disciples the importance of these things.

The Messiah has fully paid the redemption price to save us from our sins—and he rose from the dead to declare our liberty, our salvation. To put it a different way: our Saviour, by his resurrection, brought his Church her certificate of acquittal from the high court of heaven. The very basis (or, foundation) of our hope and joy as Christians is the resurrection of our Saviour, for it demonstrates that God the Father has accepted his Son’s death as a full ransom for his people.

Both God the Father and God the Son confirm something to us in the Son’s resurrection: God declares him to be the Son of God with power (authority) in raising him from the dead; and the Son’s resurrection demonstrates that death could not hold him. Christ’s resurrection is how we know that his sacrifice has paid in full the price of our redemption—paid in full to God the Righteous Judge, who has accepted this redemption payment by Christ on our behalf; so that he is the propitiation for our sins, and we are therefore reconciled to God (Rom. 3.24-26; 5.6-11; 1 Cor. 1.30; Eph. 1.7; Heb. 9.11-15).

Christ’s apostles saw for themselves—“[Jesus] Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it” (Acts 2.24). And this they testified to their hearers, and they continue to testify to their readers: “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses” (v.32). “And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (4.33).

The apostle Paul likewise understood, and proclaimed, that Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1.4). Paul combined and summarised the apostolic testimony to the Messiah’s resurrection, and emphasised that this fulfils Old Testament Messianic prophecies, and added that our risen Saviour was also seen by hundreds more of his disciples in those days before his ascension: “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas [Peter], then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me [Paul] also, as of one born out of due time” (1 Cor. 15.3-8).

The believer in these truths can be sure of this: “if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Rom. 10.9). Therefore, the joy in the Saviour, specifically in what his resurrection means for every believer in the gospel, takes hold of all our hearts, so that we joyfully4 bless God for these same truths as the apostle Peter did: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls…Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God. (1 Pet. 1.3, 8-9, 18-21).

Jesus—JAH IS SALVATION—returned from death to share his joy with his people, to mediate his own joy to the hearts of his people, as he prayed in his high priestly prayer: “And now [Father,] come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” (John 17.13). He rose from the dead in order to communicate the New Covenant to his Church. By this revelation of his risen self to us (to his apostles who bear witness to us, through the inerrant and preserved New Testament Scriptures), he turns our sorrow into joy!

Jesus shares his joy with us by sharing his resurrection with us. This resurrection was preached by the apostles to the Jews (Acts 4.1-2) and to the Gentiles (Acts 17.18, 29-32). This resurrection is our threefold Christian life.5 We are raised:

  • To new spiritual life at our being born again (John 3.1-8; Rom. 6.3-4; 2 Cor 5.17; Titus 3.5);
  • To new physical life at our bodily resurrection (Rom. 8.23; John 11.24; 1 Cor. 15.12-57; 1 Thess. 4.13-18); and
  • This lasts forever as God upholds us in eternal life (John 3.16; Heb. 5.8-9; 2 Pet. 3.13; Rev. 21.1-5).

This threefold resurrection is really one great salvation—for God does not leave his saving work partially done: “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2.4-7).

Here is a homely horticultural analogy: “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Cor. 15.20). “They that slept” are “they that are Christ’s” (v.23); and, by the end of the world, there will be a great ingathering of all this fruit of Christ’s resurrection—harvest of all these saved souls (John 3.3-5, 16; 1 Pet 1.3; Rev 7.9; 19.6-8). Those who are born again will be raised to life again; their resurrected bodies reunited with their spirits on the last day of this world (1 Cor. 15.51-57; 1 Thess. 4.13-18).

Christ is also pictured as our “forerunner” who has already carried our hope, the anchor of our soul, into heaven for us (Heb. 6.19-20). The Christian’s hope is not as the hope of this world: a hope for something that may or may not happen. Our hope is an expectation founded upon God’s promises that we have in God’s Scriptures—and solely because of our Saviour Jesus Christ, not any works of righteousness that we have done (2 Pet. 1.4; Tit. 3.3-7). So, we can be sure that our Saviour, who has gone ahead of us into heaven and there prepared a place for us, will return for us to take us to be with himself (John 14.1-3). “And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power” (1 Cor 6.14; see also 2 Cor. 4.14). Truly, the Resurrection and the Life who, in rising from the dead, prolongs his own days (Isa. 53.10; see also John 10.17-18) “shall see his seed”—all his saved multitude—“of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied” (Isa. 53.10-11).

You can’t have joy unless you have a reason for it. Christian, you have a reason for joy! The ultimate cause of Christian joy is God the Father’s and God the Son’s, unstoppable, neverending keeping of the covenant of grace. Our Lord has said, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (John 11.25-26). He or she who believes this is a Christian. And this joy, we know, is itself an evidence of our salvation, an integral part of the “fruit of the Spirit”, which he is cultivating in us. It is a mark of saving grace.

This joy carries us through the whole of our Christian life, and it remains with us no matter what happens. With this joy (and thankfulness, love, faith, and hope) we bless God—no matter what happens. Notice how in the first chapter of his epistle, Peter begins by blessing God for sending our Saviour and for raising him from the dead, and for giving us the “lively hope” that we have because of what Christ’s rising from the dead means for us. Then he shows how this anchor holds through all the “trial of our faith”, because we are “kept by the power of God (1 Pet. 1.3-8). Thus our hope of salvation, our faith, is God-sustained all though our life—even “though it be tried with fire”—so that it “might be [meaning: will be] found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls” (vv.7-9). Furthermore, we are to “count it all joy” when we face temptations and trials of our faith, because these inevitably strengthen us in our patient waiting for God (Jam. 1.2-4).

If we suffer any kind of persecution for Christ and the gospel’s sake, we must learn to evaluate any such afflictions as “light” when compared with what Christ’s resurrection means for us. As the apostle Paul comforted and encouraged the Corinthian church in her trials: “We are troubled on every side…persecuted…Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you…For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4.1-18).

There is a superadded joy that belongs to those Christians who share their faith, and whom God privileges to see the fruit of their labours—especially pastors. The Christian minister can take as his example the apostle Paul and the joy that he had as an instrument in God’s hand in making converts, and seeing them grow through his ministry (1 Cor. 3.5-7). He also rejoiced in ministry of others of like faith, faithfulness in doctrine, and labours. It is not that Paul’s motive for preaching and pastoring was to get more and more of this joy for himself—but this was certainly a by-product that he experienced; one that he often spoke of in his epistles. And he even referred to it in his exhorting all the churches under his care (2 Cor. 11.28), to motivate them toward greater Christian love, obedience, and maturity. “And I wrote this same unto you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow from them of whom I ought to rejoice; having confidence in you all, that my joy is the joy of you all” (2 Cor. 2.3). “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy” (1 Thess 2.19-20). “For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God” (1 Thess. 3.9; see also Phil. 2.2; 4.1). The apostle John likewise wrote of the joy he had as a pastor: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 1.4). The apostle of love’s greatest earthly joy was in watching Christ-likeness grow in his converts, his spiritual children.

We also know of the heart-ache that Paul had, as a Christian, when the gospel of the Messiah was rejected by his fellow-Israelites, whom he loved. He had not merely the absence of this superadded joy but its supersubtracted opposite! “I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rom. 9.2-3). We feel the lamentation in Paul’s words: “Brethren [fellow Christians], my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved” (10.1). But he drew comfort and hope for his kinspeople from the yet-to-be fulfilled prophecy where God has promised, “…that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer [Messiah], and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins” (11.25-26).

Now consider Philemon. Paul gives thanks to God for the “love and faith” which this man had toward Christ and all the Christian believers (“all saints”) in his fellowship. Whenever Paul prayed for Philemon, he petitioned God, “That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus” (Phm. 1.4-6). Probably Philemon was a pastor, for Paul regards him as a “fellowlabourer” (1.1) who hosts a church congregation in his house (1.2). Paul’s motive (and argument to God) in this prayer for Philemon’s success in communicating his faith to others in his locality, was as follows: that Paul and Timothy (1.1) “have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother” (1.7). The apostle prays to God that Philemon, this man of love and faith, would have the joy of seeing good fruits of his labours outside the Christian community—a joy superadded to the joy he evidently had in his service to all the saints.

All Christians can be, and ought to be, blessed by God with this superadded joy of soul-winning.

  • We are all called to be the salt of the earth and the light on the hill (Matt. 5.13-17).
  • We should all be shining before the watching world, and all be “holding forth the word of life” in our various capacities (Phil. 2.15-16).
  • We should all be taking the opportunities that God provides, giving gracious answers to seekers and humble apologetic defenses against gainsayers (Col. 4.5-6; 1 Pet. 3.15). And,
  • We should all be known as people who praise God and give him glory by the way we live (1 Pet. 2.9-12).

Christian parents should be and do all these things, and more, for their own children—they should certainly share their faith with them (e.g. 2 Tim. 1.5; Eph. 6.4)6. And since children are commanded by God to “honour thy father and thy mother” (Exod. 20.12; Eph. 6.1-3), then it is encumbent upon fathers and mothers to be worthy of such honour (Rom. 6.6-7; Eph 2.10).

Dear Christian, how is it with your joy? Has it become depleted within you? Is it a tiny flicker of what it should be? Some Christians have experienced little the joy of salvation for so long, that they are worried that that they never really had it. There are two reasons for this. One reason is afflictions, and the other is personal sin.

Some afflictions come from being on the recieving-end of persecution. All kinds of persecution can impact upon a Christian’s joy, whether it be the mild but unrelenting mocking and shunning, loss or prevention of employment or business, physical violence, imprisonment, torture, or actual martyrdom (e.g. 1 Cor. 4.9-12; Heb. 11.33-12.4; 1 Pet. 2.19-25). Paul was not being stupid when he considered the intense persecutons that he personally suffered, and the Christians with him suffered, as “light afflictions” (2 Cor. 4.8-11, 17). They were light when compared with the “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” that waits for the Lord’s people in the immediate presence of their Triune God in heaven (vv.17-18). Other concerns that impact upon a Christian’s joy are seeing fellow-Christians suffer (1 Cor. 12.26; 2 Cor 11.28), or seeing Christ himself rejected by loved ones (Rom. 9.2-3; Luke 12.51-53).

Then there are the aches, pains, diseases, infirmities, and losses which we all suffer in this world, and which some suffer greatly more than others. The greatest of these, of course, is death itself. Christians believe and sing with the Psalmist, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Psa. 23.4). To speak candidly: death is not the king of terrors for the Christian, but we find it to be a narrow path along which we do not walk alone—for God our Shepherd and Saviour is with us. Through death we depart “to be with Christ, which is far better” than anything in this world (Php. 1.23). In this world, when we actually stop to pray and think about what we have in Christ, and from our knees we look up and forward, we only begin to discern what we have with Christ in heaven—much more: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Php. 1.21).

Unless we are in that last generation that will “not…sleep” (Christians should think about the passing of death as like falling asleep: 1 Cor. 15.51; 1 Thess. 4.13-18), we will find that our own “walk through death’s dark vale” (Scottish metrical version of Psa. 23.4) will bring us into the presence of Christ in “paradise” (Luke 23.43; Rev. 2.7), in that intermediate state between our physical death and physical resurrection. And later, when this world is brought to an end (2 Pet. 3.10-13; Rev. 21.1-5), God “will raise up us” (1 Cor. 6.14; 2 Cor. 4.14)—and we will find for ourselves what is true for the Christian: “So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Cor. 15.54-55). “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty…I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Rev. 1.8, 18). “…And so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4.17-18).

While all afflictions impact upon the joy of the Christian, they do not rob us of our joy. The Lord Jesus Christ is ours and we are his—and all the comforts that this covenant relationship brings shall keep this joy going in our hearts—even while circumstances and afflictions prevent us from expressing it outwardly. This is the personal experience of a Christian: “though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4.15). “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope…And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose…What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom 8.22-24, 28, 31-32). “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (Jam. 1.2-4).

The other reason for lack of joy in a Christian is personal sin. For this, the apostle James gives the remedy: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your [worldly] laughter be turned to mourning, and your [worldly] joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up” (James 4.7-10). This lifting up will include the restoration of your joy in the Saviour. Why so? “If we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1.9). Now, it is only from such repentance that God will lift you up and restore in you this real, Spirit-cultivated joy. It is only from the position of chastened humility, that you are encouraged to pray with king David: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.…Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.” (Psa. 51.7, 12).

  1. The New Testament Greek word translated “joy” is χαρά, chara (Strong’s Concordance, Greek #26). ↩︎

  2. What is the chief and highest end of man? Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever”—Westminster Larger Catechism, queston and answer 1. ↩︎

  3. The New Testament Greek word διαθήκη, diathēkē, can be translated as “covenant” or “testament” (Strong’s Concordance, Greek #1242). In the context of Hebrews 9 it is more appropriate to transpate it as “testament” with Christ as its testator, than as “covenant” with Christ as the covenanter, seeing that it was his death that put the New Testament (New Covenant) into force (Heb. 9.17). ↩︎

  4. It is an offence against God to bless him (or, praise him) with without actually rejoicing in him, i.e. to offer God mere lip-service. True worship of God comes only from a believing heart. ↩︎

  5. See The Redemption of Our Body. ↩︎

  6. See also Exod. 10.9; Josh. 4.4-7; Psa. 103.17-18; 128 (all); Acts. 2.39; Gal. 3.7-9, 26-29; 4.26-28, 31. Heb. 11.23). ↩︎

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