We are coming off Easter Sunday, yesterday, my favorite date in the church calendar. There are so many sources of joy in the Christian life. Certainly, Christ’s victory over sin, the devil, and the grave is one of the most astounding sources of our joy in this life. And it leads to today’s question from a woman who listens regularly to the podcast. She writes, “Hello, Pastor John! Can you explain how our joy relates to the three aspects of the Christian life — justification, sanctification, and glorification? Specifically, I would like to know how joy is obtained in each of these distinct blessings, and how they are similar or different from one another.”
I love this question. In fact, I love it so much that I want to make it bigger. So, I’m going to add to justification and sanctification and glorification propitiation, which comes before those three, and without which they could not exist for sinners like us.
How does joy relate to each of these four massive, indispensable, wonderful works of God, which make up the steps of our great salvation? Here’s my short answer: In propitiation, joy is purchased and secured once for all. By justification, joy is given once for all. In sanctification, joy is tasted throughout this life. And in glorification, joy is perfected once for all. That’s my summary answer. Let me take those one at a time, with just a brief word.
Propitiation: Joy Purchased and Secured
Propitiation is the decisive, once-for-all act of God on the cross, removing his wrath from his elect by transferring it onto Jesus Christ his Son as our substitute. Propitiation means the removal of the wrath of God. We all deserve God’s wrath because of our sin against him. But God himself steps in between us and his own wrath, and bears our punishment in his Son.
- Romans 3:25: “God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation by his blood.”
- Romans 8:3: “By sending his own Son, . . . he condemned [that is, he poured out his wrath on] sin in the flesh” — namely, Christ. Christ bore in his flesh the condemnation, the wrath, owing to our sin.
- Isaiah 53:5: “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities.”
“Our joy reflects the value of God and the beauty of God and the greatness of God.”
Now, we were not even alive when this happened, when propitiation happened. It happened AD 33 — never to happen again. But when it happened, God’s joy over his people, instead of wrath, and our eventual joy in him, was absolutely secured, guaranteed, purchased. At the price of the blood of the Son of God, God secured in Christ, once for all, the reality of Romans 8:31 — that God is for us and not against us. This is the ground of all our joy: wrath removed; God for us.
Justification: Joy Given
That was true before anything happened in us. The foundation was laid in history. Justification now is the act of God by which, on the basis of Christ’s propitiating death, he declares us righteous in union with Christ through faith. He counts the punishment poured out on Christ as ours. Our punishment happened in Jesus, and we own it and receive it and are counted righteous through it by faith. He counts us righteous because of Christ, and he does this by uniting us to Christ by faith. So, we speak of being justified by faith. This did not happen in AD 33; it happened the instant every one of you believed.
So, when I say that by justification joy is given once for all, I have two things in mind. Listen carefully. In the instant of justification, we experience faith uniting us to Christ. That faith, I would argue, has in it at least a seed of the experience of joy in Christ. Faith is not just a mental affirmation of the truth that Christ is Savior and Lord. Saving faith is also the experience of Christ as our Treasure, and that implies there is in this faith a sweet element of delight in him, treasuring him — treasuring, owning, embracing, receiving the glory of Christ.
But I also mean — when I say that by justification joy is given once for all — that, by justification, we are launched in that moment into a life indwelt by the Spirit of God, whose fruit is joy. So, justification is experienced once for all as the launching pad into the joy of the Holy Spirit, and that launch is by faith, which itself includes an element of joy — namely, treasuring Christ.
Sanctification: Joy Tasted
In sanctification, joy is tasted throughout this life. So, you can see the difference between propitiation, justification, and glorification, because in each of those, I speak of something happening once for all. Propitiation is not a process; justification is not a process; glorification could be seen as a process, an eternal process of ever-increasing joy from fullness to fullness. But when we are raised from the dead at Christ’s return, we don’t enter into a process from defect to betterment. We’re not always getting out of defects a thousand years after we were raised from the dead.
“Joy is not an add-on to sanctification. It’s an essential weapon by which we put sin to death.”
But sanctification, beginning from the launching pad of justification, is a process of increasing holiness, goodness, righteousness, love. And right at the heart of that progressive experience is the essential reality of joy in Christ. And I call it an essential reality in the process because it is joy in God that severs the root of sin (which is what sanctification is) and makes it possible to grow in holiness. Joy is not ancillary to sanctification; it’s not an add-on to sanctification. It’s an essential weapon by which we put sin to death.
Hebrews 12:2 says that Christ endured the cross, which is the most loving act that’s ever been done in the history of the universe, “for the joy that was set before him.” In other words, Christ had tasted the fullness of the joy that lay on the other side of suffering, and this taste assured him that the joy that he anticipated was worth anything to get it, including the suffering of the cross for us to take us with him into that joy.
Now, that’s exactly the way the book of Hebrews argues that we should be willing to suffer in the cause of compassion and love. Paul, in fact, in another place, puts it like this: “Their abundance of joy . . . overflowed in a wealth of generosity” (2 Corinthians 8:2). That’s what sanctification looks like: joy liberating us from the lies of sin and overflowing in love to people.
Glorification: Joy Perfected
In glorification, joy is perfected once for all. Romans 8:17 says that if we suffer with Christ, we will be glorified with him. Glorification is the final, perfected condition when all suffering is behind us. Our joy will be perfected because it will be the very joy of God himself in us. Jesus says, “Enter into the joy of your master” — meaning me, the Son of God (Matthew 25:23). It will be perfected because Psalm 16:11 says, “In [his] presence there is fullness of joy; at [his] right hand are pleasures forevermore.” So, “full” and “forever” is what I mean by perfected.
There will be no more restraints from a fallen, imperfect body and mind. We will be given all the physical and emotional and mental and spiritual capacities to experience the immeasurable voltage of ecstasy that comes from seeing and savoring God. And lest you think that the emphasis on the perfection of our own joy somehow displaces or distracts from or diminishes the glory of God himself as central in the new world, remember this: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. Our satisfaction is not self-centered; it is God-centered. Our joy is in God, and therefore our joy reflects the value of God and the beauty of God and the greatness of God.
That great end is where propitiation and justification and sanctification and glorification are all leading.