Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

We get about 800 emails per month from listeners like you. I wish we could answer more of your questions. We do our best to keep up. Here’s today’s question: “Hello Pastor John, my name is Pedro, and I pastor a church in Granada, Spain. I would like to ask if there is a danger in Christian Hedonism confusing joy and faith?”

There are dangers everywhere. It would be a mistake to simply make joy and faith identical, not because faith doesn’t include delight in God, but because faith—as the Bible presents it—is more than delight in God. So I have spent most of my ministry trying to get people to experience faith in such biblical fullness that it has joy in God as its essence. And so, yes, the danger exists that this will be misunderstood as being the same as faith. If I say it is the essence of faith, people might say: Well, then, it is the same as faith.

So let me say a few things that I hope will minimize that danger and clarify what I mean by faith including joy in God, but being more than joy in God.

Historically — and I think this goes back at least to the Reformation, I think to the fathers — saving faith has been seen as these three things. Usually the Latin words notitizia, knowledge, ascensis, ascent, fiducia, trust. Those three together make up saving faith. Faith has an object that it knows and faith ascents to the truth and the reliability of that object and then faith actually puts trust in that object. And I think the best exponents of that three fold view have intended when they say trust to mean something like what I mean when I say: Included in that is a delight in the object of the trust. But what I have done is to say: Maybe we should add a fourth word to those three. And if we wanted to use a Latin word like {?} or felicitas or gaudium, happiness, felicity, joy.

Let me give an illustration. I remember I was with R. C. Sproul at one of his conferences and he had just used an illustration of the chair to illustrate what saving faith is and he said: Now you can know that chair is there and you can ascent to the fact that it will hold you up, but will you sit in the chair and, thus, approve that you are trusting in it. And when I came on to speak after him, I repeated that and I said: Yes, yes, yes. And do you love the chair? And is the chair beautiful and are you unsatisfied with you fellowship with the chair? And everybody laughed, of course, and so did R. C. He knew that that, in fact, did round out the fuller picture of what saving faith is. If you were trusting Jesus and you thought he were a broken down, ugly, dilapidated chair you would never want to be around, then the trust of sitting in him wouldn’t be what the Bible means by saving faith.

So I want people basically to ask: Ok, if faith is trust, what are you trusting him for? And if the answer doesn’t include Christ himself as our greatest treasure, our greatest hoped for satisfaction, I don’t think we have saving faith. If Christ is only a means of getting something other than Christ that you really want—and you don’t really want him, you just use him to get what you really want—I don’t think that is saving faith. And the gospel of John, I think, makes that pretty clear in a couple of ways. You know, everybody knows John 1:11–12. He came to his own. His own people did not receive him, but to all who did receive him who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God. So believing is a receiving of Jesus for who he is. And as what, then? How are you receiving him? Savior? Yes. Lord? Yes. And I want to say treasure. You have to receive Jesus as your treasure, not just receive him as Savior and Lord. And I think that is made clear in John 6:35 where Jesus says: I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me I shall not hunger and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. So we are coming to Jesus to have our thirst satisfied in him and our hunger satisfied in him. He is the joy that we have always wanted and we embrace him as that in the act of saving faith.

So when we have saving faith, what are we trusting Jesus for? We are trusting him to remove every obstacle and bring us to God as our fullest satisfaction, 1 Peter 3:18. Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. That is what we are trusting him to do. And so delight in God as our all satisfying goal and treasure is in faith. So that is what he died for. That is what we trust him for and trusting him to bring us to God means trusting him that God is our fullest soul satisfaction.

So here is my conclusion. Yes, faith includes knowing the fact of Christ and assenting to the truth of the fact and trusting in him and treasuring him as the best promise of all. So faith is more than being satisfied in God.

So the question was: Is there a danger of confusing them or making them mean the same thing? And, yes, the danger is there, but I hope I have made clear it is an essential part of saving faith, but it is not the whole thing.

Excellent, thank you Pastor John. Pedro, another wonderful text on the relationship between faith and joy is in the 2 Corinthians 1:24, in the context of pastoral mininstry. See episode #303 of the Ask Pastor John series in an episode titled, “The Greatest Threat to Gospel Ministry” for more. Again that’s episode #303. … On Monday we are back with another new episode of the Ask Pastor John. How divine election not divine favoritism? I’ll ask Pastor John on Monday. … I’m your host Tony Reinke, have a great weekend!

Related Resources: The Greatest Threat to Gospel Ministry