The Bible speaks again and again of Christian joy and that Christians should be joyful, happy people. We should be the most joyful people in the world. When a person fully understands the gospel and appreciates what God has done for them through Jesus Christ it should create a true sense of spiritual joy. (A joy which is described as full of glory.)
The simplest way of looking at it would be to see it as cause and effect. The underlying cause is the truth of the gospel. ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,’ (1 Tim. 1:15). This is the foundation of all our joy. If we look for joy in anything else it won’t be true Christian joy. The effect of the gospel on a soul is to create joy. It is an accompanying factor of regeneration (being born again).
This is easily understood when we remember the outcome of regeneration. The implanting of a new life creates a new man, with new desires and feelings. This must essentially affect and influence our inner state. Who can remain the same when they realise what has happened to them? When they come to trust in Jesus for salvation, they know that God has wiped the slate clean. There is now no condemnation (Rom. 8:1).
These things have serious and eternal implications for the person. Their whole condition and position has been altered not only for time but eternity. To realise that, but for the intervention of grace, I would be hopeless. To know that death has been defeated and heaven and glory await the redeemed, and that I am a member of that group! If these truths do not affect and stir us, what kind of people are we?
The evidence of pure joy
The New Testament clearly indicates that when the gospel was preached and souls were saved there was always great joy. The establishing of churches was initiated through preaching and by the power of the Holy Spirit. The manifestation of it was an exuberance of joy and rejoicing. When Paul went to Antioch and preached in Acts 13, after he had preached to the Jews, the Gentiles pleaded with him to preach to them (v.42). The following week (v.44) nearly all the city came to hear him preach. The end result was ‘the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.’ (v.52).
The same thing happened in Thessalonica. As in Antioch the gospel was met with opposition but this still didn’t quench their joy in the gospel (see 1Thess. 1:5-6).
Some may argue that this was revival time when things happen which don’t necessarily happen outside of revival. But is that just a cover for the mediocrity of our own spiritual life today? The gospel changed the Thessalonians and filled them with joy and enthusiasm for the living God and their zeal knew no bounds (1 Thess. 1:8-10). Everyone they came into contact with knew of their new found faith! Isn’t this what should happen when anyone is first converted?
God may deal with his Church in different ways at different times. But the fruit of the Spirit is to be manifested in every Christian. One of which is joy! We may not have the volume of converts as in revival or the intensity of emotions that follows, but every child of God should know his joy. Would God rob us of this part of our inheritance in Christ? Part and parcel of our salvation is to enjoy something of the first fruits of the Spirit (Rom. 8:23).
A living faith
If we are to assume that we have true joy at our conversion how do we maintain it?
When a person is converted and truth comes home to the soul with power, joy naturally springs up. But the fruit of the Spirit is such a delicate thing we can so easily damage it. Of all the dangers we encounter along the way, natural religion is one of the greatest. This poses a threat to true and vital Christianity. We all grapple with sin, the world and the devil. But we forget the inherent danger of natural religion. We fail to remember that Christianity is more than just a submission to a set of rules and regulations. It is all to do with a relationship. It begins with an encounter with God which in-stills new life. The New Testament speaks about this new life; a new creation in Christ. We have become God’s new humanity formed in the image of Christ (Rom 8:29).
How easy it was for the Galatian church to fall from a living faith into a deadly nominalism – a lifeless form of religion based upon a set of rules and regulations which manipulate and control a person. How easy it is to slip into this trap rather than keep alive the vibrancy of true Christianity. Paul’s passion was aroused when he realised the danger the Galatians were in when they turned away from God to insipid forms of religious observances in Judaism.
The urgency of Paul’s appeal was for their restoration to a vital, spiritual dependence on God. ‘Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?’ (Gal. 3:3). Our faith is not natural but supernatural! It originates with God and is sustained by God. There is no other faith like it.
Sustaining true joy
Of all the New Testament writers, Peter is probably the best exponent of true joy. His first letter which deals with Christians suffering in an ungodly world starts by extolling their spirituality under trying circumstances. This was manifested in their irrepressible joy. Instead of them being quashed by adversity they rose above it to ‘greatly rejoice’ in the gospel (1 Peter 1:6).
Their secret, if that’s the right word, is found in their faith. Peter uses such high and exalted terms concerning their joy some may have thought he was exaggerating, ‘joy inexpressible and full of glory’ (1 Peter 1:8). In other words, it cannot be defined by words. This is only understandable when we realise that Peter is speaking about heavenly joy! A joy that has its origin in heaven and is funnelled to us through Christ. It is his joy which we receive, ‘These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full,’ (John 15:11). It is this fullness of joy that comforts the believer in adversity.
Peter also indicates how it is to be enjoyed and sustained (1 Peter 1:8). These believers had not seen Jesus yet they loved him. And that love is demonstrated in their belief. If there is one thing that destroys all joy it is unbelief. The measure of their joy was the measure of their faith. Their faith fed their joy.
Isaiah describes this action in operation (Is. 12:2-3). Faith is like the bucket reaching down into a well drawing out its water. As we come time and again to peer into the gospel and draw out these wonderful truths of salvation they filter into our souls and leave a residue of divine joy!
The road to heaven would be a hard road if it wasn’t for the experience of this joy along the way.