Christian, Where is Your Joy?

Four common themes discussed during the Advent/Christmas season are Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. The last two weeks, I’ve posted articles on hope and peace. Today, I want to consider joy.

What is joy? As Christians, what is the source of our joy? What does joy look like in our daily lives? Should a believer’s life be marked by joy? And what if it isn’t?

Merriam-Webster defines joy this way, “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” I think this is a useful definition. Joy is that wonderful feeling we get when our children smile for the first time. It’s that sense of happiness when our family is gathered together for the holidays. Joy is that emotion we feel when we get a raise or a promotion at work. It’s the feeling comes with knowing we are loved. It’s even that sense of anticipation we have when we look at the presents under the Christmas tree.

Of course, ultimately, joy is more than a transient emotion or feeling. Consider this:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV)

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit’s work in the life of believer. That means that it is something more than an emotion we have in the right circumstances. Our joy, as Christians, is rooted in something much deeper. It’s source is in the work of Christ for our salvation.

Consider the angel’s declaration when Jesus was born:

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11 ESV)

What is this “good news of great joy?” The Savior has come! Jesus has been born. Of course, that’s not the whole story. Jesus’ birth was just the beginning. He lived and died for us. And most importantly, He rose again. Through His life, death, and resurrection, He has saved us from our sins! What a glorious thing! We are forgiven. We are made new. He has won the victory and secured our future. Nothing can separate us from His love.

The Savior has come, and He will come again. In the face of this truth, how can we be anything but joyful? No matter our circumstances, no matter the pain, sorrow, grief, fears, dangers, heartaches we face, we are His, and He will never leave us. And one day, He will come and take us home. That is the source of our joy. And it can’t be shaken.

As a side note, I do not mean to suggest that Christians do not struggle with sadness and depression. Christians can and do suffer from depression. But even in the depth of depression, it is possible to turn our eyes to the source of our joy and to remember that depression doesn’t separate us from Him. We can have joy in the knowledge of our salvation even when we don’t feel it.

Joy doesn’t mean that we go through life with happy-clappy attitudes and smiles plastered on our faces. There is a time for rejoicing and a time for sorrow. It’s appropriate to grieve and cry at times. But in those times, we have not lost our joy. We still have that sense of anticipation. Christ is the only joy that lasts.

So what should joy look like in our daily lives? First, our lives should be filled with worship and praise. We have been saved from our sins. They are remembered no more. We are loved, adopted, children of God. We have hope in our resurrection. Our response should be to worship the One who has called us, redeemed us, atoned for us.

Second, we should share our joy with others. Because of how much we love our families, friends, and neighbors, we must share with them the source of our joy. There is no gift more precious in the world than the salvation we have received through Jesus. There is nothing more joyful in this life than seeing others come to Christ. How can we keep silent?

Given the source of our joy, the reality of His resurrection, the security of our salvation, how can we not be joyful? But what about Christians who aren’t? I’m sure we all know Christians who don’t exactly embody joy.

From grumps and cranks to Eeyores and curmudgeons, there are some believers who seem to be happiest when they’re miserable, cantankerous, and grumbling. While I can appreciate that there are those who are naturally pessimistic and grouchy, I don’t think it’s right to revel in those character flaws. The image of the cranky old man yelling at the kids to “get off his lawn” is comedic, but who wants to live that way? It doesn’t seem to fit with the picture of the believer that we see in the fruit of the Spirit.

The world around us is full of reasons to fuss and complain. Our jobs aren’t going well. Our families are crazy. Our health is failing. The government isn’t doing a good job. The politicians we voted for didn’t get elected. The ones we elected broke their promises. The weather is bad: too hot or too cold. The drivers on the roads are idjits. There are so many reasons to be in a bad mood. But when we’re tempted to give in to our emotions, let’s remember the source of our joy.

Let us sing for joy this Christmas! Joy to the world, the Savior has come! And He will come again!

Why Did Jesus Come?

As Christmas is almost upon us this year, I’ve been thinking about why Jesus came to earth. In reading the Scriptures this week, I was struck again by the clarity of this statement:

But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
(Matthew 1:20-21 ESV)

“For He will save His people from their sins.” What beautiful words.

N.T. Wright and others in the progressive/New Perspective crowd believe that believers have gotten too caught up with salvation and sin as it relates to individuals:

the normal Western Christian view: that salvation is about “my relationship with God” in the present and about “going home to God and finding peace” in the future … to make the point once more as forcibly as I can, this belief is simply not what the New Testament teaches.

N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, pg. 196

Instead, Wright believes:

The New Testament, true to its Old Testament roots, regularly insists that the major, central, framing question is that of God’s purpose of rescue and re-creation for the whole world, the entire cosmos. The destiny of individual human beings must be understood within that context-not simply in the sense that we are only part of a much larger picture but also in the sense that part of the whole point of being saved in the present is so that we can play a vital role (Paul speaks of this role in the shocking terms of being “fellow workers with God”) within that larger picture and purpose.

N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, pg. 184

As a result, N.T. Wright explains Matthew 1:21 this way:

Matthew agrees with his Jewish contemporaries that the (Babylonian) exile was the last significant event before Jesus; when the angel says that Jesus will “save his people from their sins,” liberation from exile is in view. Jesus, David’s true descendant, will fulfill the Abrahamic covenant by undoing the exile and all that it means.

N.T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus, pg. 159

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see great comfort in Wright’s interpretation of the passage. We were a people in exile, however, our exile was not merely from the promised land, but a much greater one. We were exiled from the very presence of God. Every believer who is aware of his sin knows how desperate his situation is apart from Christ.

I find that I much prefer Matthew Henry’s discourse on this passage:

In the reason of that name: For he shall save his people from their sins; not the nation of the Jews only (he came to his own, and they received him not), but all who were given him by the Father’s choice, and all who had given themselves to him by their own. He is a king who protects his subjects, and, as the judges of Israel of old, works salvation for them. Note, those whom Christ saves he saves from their sins; from the guilt of sin by the merit of his death, from the dominion of sin by the Spirit of his grace. In saving them from sin, he saves them from wrath and the curse, and all misery here and hereafter. Christ came to save his people, not in their sins, but from their sins; to purchase for them, not a liberty to sin, but a liberty from sins, to redeem them from all iniquity; and so to redeem them from among men to himself, who is separate from sinners.

Matthew Henry, Commentary on Matthew 1

Maybe I’m overemphasizing the work that Jesus did in reconciling God and man. Then again, maybe Wright et al are seriously under emphasizing the gravity of sin and what it cost Him to save us from it.