True Christianity: Inexpressible Joy in the Invisible Christ
And though you have not seen him, you love him, and though you do not see him now, but believe in him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.
Peter's Description of the Christian Experience
Our focus this morning is on verses 8 and 9. The question I want to start with is this: why does Peter tell the Christians what they are experiencing? He says, "Though you have not seen him, you love him, and though you do not see him now, but believe in him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls."
He tells them what they are experiencing: "You are loving Christ; you are believing in Christ; you are rejoicing in Christ with inexpressible and glorified joy; all of that even though you do not now see him." Why? Why tell them what their own experience is?
I think the reason is that he wants to describe for them what true Christianity really is. And to do it in such a way that, if they ever drift away from it, they will have a fixed standard to show them what's happening, so they can wake up and return to what they've lost.
Illustration: Swimming Upstream
I picture it like this (it's not a perfect picture, but it helped me get a handle on why Peter would tell them about their own experience): true Christianity is like swimming upstream in a river of godlessness—for us, secular American godlessness. We swim with the stroke of love to Christ, and the stroke of faith in Christ, and the stroke of joy in Christ. And while we swim, we do not get swept away with the godless toward the terrible cataracts of judgment down river.
God keeps us, as verse 5 said, through faith. He enables us to keep on swimming against the stream with the strokes of faith, love, and joy, so that we don't get carried away in the current of Christlessness.
Our swimming coach, the apostle Peter, is on the shore watching us and following us. When we are swimming well, he calls out to us, "Look here, you're doing well, I'm putting a flag here even with where you are in the river. Now mark this. This is where you are." That's what he's doing in verses 8 and 9.
The reason is so that if we stop using the swimming strokes of love for Jesus, and faith in Jesus, and joy in Jesus, and begin to just float downstream in the river of godlessness, we will be able to wake up and look to the shore and notice that the flag is upstream. We will have a fixed point of reference to call us back to what real Christianity is.
So that's what I want to do this morning. Peter did it for the Christians then, and I am going to try to do it with his words for you now—to plant a flag on the side of the river of American godlessness and call you to look at it to see where you are in your Christian swimming.
Five Things About Christians
Peter says five things (in verses 8–9) about his Christian readers:
- they love Christ;
- they believe in Christ;
- they rejoice in Christ;
- through all this they are receiving the salvation of their souls; and
- they are experiencing this even though, like us, they have never seen Christ in person.
This is true Christianity: God is saving our souls by working in our hearts a love and confidence and a joy that is against the stream of secularism and godlessness and worldliness in our society.
True Christianity is loving Christ and trusting Christ and enjoying Christ. In other words, Christianity is first and foremost a matter of the heart (love, trust, and joy), not a matter of external performances. And Peter adds in verse 9: in this you are now (progressively) receiving the goal of it all, the salvation of your soul. The final full salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (v. 5) we are now receiving for our souls (in part) as we love Christ, trust Christ, and rejoice in Christ now.
Let's see if we can get inside these three experiences and see how they relate and whether we are in fact experiencing them or not. What do we really mean when we speak of loving Christ and trusting Christ and enjoying Christ? We will start with three definitions:
1. Loving Christ
Loving Christ means experiencing Christ as precious for all his character and virtue (cf. 2:7).
2. Trusting Christ
Trusting Christ means experiencing Christ as reliable in all his promises and all his counsel.
In other words:
Love is attracted to the Beloved for who he is.
Faith is confident in the Trusted for what he will do.
3. Enjoying Christ
Now what about joy? Peter says (v. 8), "We rejoice [in Christ] with inexpressible and glorified joy." The more I think about it, and the more I consider biblical texts (like Philippians 1:25 and Romans 15:13 and 2 Corinthians 1:24), the less I think we should conceive of joy as separate from love and faith.
Joy in Christ is the deep good feelings in loving him and believing him. It's the echo in our emotions—our hearts—of experiencing Christ as precious and experiencing Christ as reliable. It's the deep good feelings of being attracted to him for who he is and the deep good feelings of being confident in him for what he will do.
So joy is part of love and part of faith. Because it would be a contradiction (wouldn't it?) to say, "I am attracted to the preciousness of what Christ is, but I have no good feelings in this attraction." What is attraction without good feelings for something? There may be terror in the attraction (as to a Lion named Aslan) but if there were no deep good feelings in it, it would not be experienced as attraction at all, but only as rejection.
It is the same with faith: it would be a contradiction to say, "I am confidently trusting in what Christ will do for me, but I have no good feelings in this confidence." What is confidence without good feelings of hope and assurance in the one you trust? There may be expectation of pain and suffering on the way, but if there were no deep good feeling that it's going to turn out well, it would not be called trust or confidence at all.
So I conclude that attraction to the ultimate preciousness of Christ (which we call love), and confidence in the ultimate reliability of Christ (which we call faith) are not less than a deep good feeling, called joy. They are more; there are other elements in them besides the deep good feeling of joy, but they are not less than joy. So this holy joy that Peter refers to in verse 8 is a constituent part of love and faith, and together they are true Christianity.
This goes a long way to explaining why Peter calls this joy "inexpressible and full of glory [or glorified]."
Joy: You Become What You Crave
What gives joy its quality? I don't mean merely its intensity, but its moral character? What makes joy ugly or beautiful? Depraved or noble? Dirty or clean? The answer is that the thing enjoyed gives joy its character. If you enjoy dirty jokes and bathroom language and lewd pictures, then your heart is dirty and your joy is dirty. If you enjoy cruelty and arrogance and revenge, then your heart and your joy have that character. Or the more you get your joy simply from material things, the more your heart and your joy shrivel up like a mere material thing. You become like what you crave.
Peter says (in v. 8) that Christian joy is inexpressible and glorified. So how does it become that like that? It becomes like that because Christian joy is the joy of craving the preciousness of Jesus and the reliability of Jesus. You become like what you crave. Christians crave Christ. Therefore they become like Christ. Christ's preciousness and reliability are inexpressibly great, and so our joy is inexpressible in him. And Christ has in him all the glory of the universe and of God, and so our joy in him is a glorified joy—that is, a joy being changed from one degree to another by his glory as we are attracted by its preciousness and as we are confident in its reliability. We become what we crave and what Christians crave above all else is the glory of Christ. So our joy is "inexpressible and glorified" because it is joy in loving Christ and trusting Christ who is inexpressibly glorious.
Seeing What You Cannot See
The gospels are better than being there!
But how do we come to crave the preciousness of Christ and trust the reliability of Christ if we can't see him? How do you love him and believe in him, if you can't see him?
We See Him in Another and More Important Way
I think the answer to that question is that even though we don't see him face to face with our physical eyes, we do see him in another way that is even more important. For example, in Romans 15:20–21, Paul described his mission to unreached peoples (who could never see Christ physically) like this: "I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named . . . but as it is written, 'They who had no news of him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand.'" In the preaching of the gospel Christ can be seen in a way that is more important than seeing him physically.
Hundreds of people in Jesus' lifetime saw him physically and never really saw him. "Seeing they did not see," Jesus said. There is a seeing that is infinitely more important than seeing with the eyes. In 2 Corinthians 4:6 Paul describes it like this: "The God, who said, 'Light shall shine out of darkness,' is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." There is a spiritual seeing in the heart of the glory of God in the face of Christ, and without it no one is saved. Michael Card expressed the paradox of not seeing yet seeing in one of his songs like this:
To hear with my heart
to see with my soul
to be guided by a hand I cannot hold
to trust in a way that I cannot see
that's what faith must be.
"That's What Faith Must Be"
Music and words by Michael Card
We See Him Through the Word of God
How does it happen? How is this kind of seeing happen? It happens through the Word of God. When the gospel of Christ is preached, we can see Christ more clearly for who he really is than many could see in his own lifetime. If you read the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, with openness to Christ, you can see the true glory of Christ far more clearly than most of the people who knew him on earth could see him—Nicodemus, the Syrophoenician woman, the Centurion, the widow of Nain, Zacchaeus, the thief on the cross, the thronging crowds. They saw a snatch here and a snatch there. But in the gospels you get four complementary portraits of Christ inspired by God and covering the whole range of his teaching and his ministry.
The gospels are better than being there. You are taken into the inner circle of the apostolic band where you never could have gone. You go with him through Gethsemane and the trial and the crucifixion and the resurrection and the meetings after the resurrection. You hear whole sermons and long discourses—not in isolated snatches on hillsides but in rich God-inspired contexts that take you deeper than you ever could have gone as a perplexed peasant in Galilee. You see the whole range of his character and power which nobody on earth saw as fully as you can now see in the gospels: you see his freedom from anxiety with no place to lay his head, his courage in the face of opposition, his unanswerable wisdom, his honoring women, his tenderness with children, his compassion toward lepers, his meekness in suffering, his patience with Peter, his tears over Jerusalem, his blessing those who cursed him, his heart for the nations, his love for the glory of God, his simplicity and devotion, his power to still storms and heal the sick and multiply bread and cast out demons.
Though you do not now see him, yet in another sense you do see him far better than thousands who saw him face to face. You see the glory of God shining in this man's face at every turn in the gospels. And because you see him with the eyes of the heart, you love him and trust him and rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory. This is true Christianity.
That is the flag waving on the side of the river of godlessness. I pray that if you are looking at it this morning from downstream floating comfortably toward destruction that God will wake you up and open the eyes of your heart and set you to stroking—not with legal works to earn anything from God, but with the stroke of love and faith and joy. That is true Christianity.