Joy is the emotion of salvation. We rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory (1 Peter 1:8). If you’re a Christian, the Spirit gives you soaring delight in Christ. His beauty and greatness thrill your soul.
But quite a few believers struggle to experience joy. Why is that?
Some people by nature tend to be sad, and joy is an ongoing challenge. When I read Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s classic, Spiritual Depression, I was surprised that he mentions temperament or personality as “the first and foremost cause.” He may be right.
But there are other reasons. Young moms are often surprised at how tired they are — sleepless and exhausted — and they wrestle to find joy. If you are grieving or suffering, you may not realize that God has specific joys for you in your present circumstance. And don’t forget that our enemy hates us and will steal every ounce of joy he can.
But the most miserable Christians I’ve seen are those who live with a foot in both worlds.
They hedge their bets. They have one eye on heaven and one on earth. They call on the name of Christ, but they still try to find security, satisfaction, pleasure, or fulfillment from this world. They’re riding the fence. And they’re not happy.
Is that you? The only way to have joy is to say a full “Yes” to God. Which means saying “No” to the world.
The Great Yes
It is important for every Christian to be convinced that God is good. And what’s more — God alone is good.
If we are not absolutely convinced that God alone is good, we will not be able to say “No” to other gods that promise joy but deliver sorrow. We don’t dare to imagine that there is even a sliver of good apart from God and his will for our lives. Not a shred.
The Psalms drive this truth home.
I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” (Psalm 16:2)
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. (Psalm 73:25)
I cry to you, O Lord; I say, “You are . . . my portion in the land of the living.” (Psalm 142:5)
In the New Testament, James writes,
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights. (James 1:16–17)
Every ounce of good in this world comes from God. Nothing can possibly be good unless it comes from God. A joyful Christian believes this truth. She banks her life — and her joy — on it.
Calvin put it this way:
it will not suffice simply to hold that there is one whom all ought to honor and adore, unless we are also persuaded that he is the fountain of every good, and that we must seek nothing elsewhere than in him. . . . For until men recognize that they owe everything to God, that they are nourished by his fatherly care, that he is the Author of their every good, that they should seek nothing beyond him — they will never yield him willing service. Nay, unless they establish their complete happiness in him, they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to him. (Institutes, I, 2, 1)
God is good. God alone is good. And all good comes from God.
Best of all, God gives us himself. And he is our joy — the unspeakably glorious delight of our hearts. David says,
In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)
The Great No
Satan tempts us to think we can find something good and satisfying apart from God. But we must declare a strong, resounding “No” to anything that promises good without him. This great “No” is at the heart of Christian joy.
The essence of sin is looking for good outside of God and his will. That is how our mother Eve was deceived.
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. (Genesis 3:6)
We stumble in the same way she did. When I dig beneath the surface of any sin in my life, I find that I am trying to get something good apart from God and his ways. That good thing might be pleasure, security, significance, satisfaction, justice, belonging, comfort, some physical need, etc. But I try to get it without God.
In the end, it is idolatry. I am looking to something other than God to meet my needs and satisfy my desires. These gods promise joy, but they deliver misery.
That is why a half-hearted Christian cannot have ongoing joy in Christ. David says,
The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply. (Psalm 16:4)
For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity. (Psalm 31:10)
We run after other gods to find joy, but we find sorrow.
A young woman knows that she shouldn’t marry a non-Christian, but she thinks she will find love and security in this relationship — even though God is not in it. She wants something good, but she is looking to another god to provide it, and her sorrows will multiply.
A man thinks he will find fulfillment in pornography or hooking up after work. Sexual pleasure is a good thing in God’s way. But this man is looking to another god to give to him, and these brief seconds of pleasure will turn to gravel and ashes in his mouth.
A woman looks for significance through gossip. She feels important when she talks about what other people are doing. She is not finding her worth in Christ. She is running after another god for her sense of value.
An unforgiving man holds a grudge. He thinks that it is his responsibility to make things right. Justice is a good thing, but he is not looking to the “Judge of all the earth” to give it to him. He is running after another god.
So choose today whom you will serve. Look to God and his will for every good gift in your life. Say with the psalmist, “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup” (Psalm 16:5).
Half-hearted Christians are not happy Christians. Hope in God, and don’t run after other gods. That is the path to joy.