The famous preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in a sermon on Philippians, said, quote, “False doctrine makes joy in the Lord impossible.” How would you articulate this connection between orthodoxy and joy? How does false doctrine make joy in the Lord impossible?
The key in that phrase, I think, is “in the Lord.” “Joy in the Lord.” False doctrine can make you very happy. If you don’t believe in hell you might feel happier. If you believe that you can sleep around on the weekend and cheat on your wife, you might have some brief surges of pleasure.
But when he says false doctrine makes joy in the Lord impossible, he is articulating something really important, namely, that the only joy that glorifies God is joy that is based on a true view of God. If you have happiness because you see God a way he is not, you might have happiness based on your doctrine. But your doctrine will be false, and therefore God would not be honored by your happiness.
“The only joy that glorifies God is joy that is based on a true view of God.”
You are like a person who is just thrilled. He is watching his favorite football team, and the running back just crossed the goal line. So the fan is cheering his lungs out, until he realizes that the running back ran the wrong way. He crossed the wrong goal line. He didn’t make six points, he lost them. So the fan’s cheering isn't honoring to the team — it is making a fool out of the team.
False doctrine presents God or his ways as they are not, and if we are happy by what God is not then he is not honored by our happiness. Right doctrine is a way of showing God as he is, so that our joy can be in what is. Only then is our joy honoring to God.
True Joy Needs a True View
When I say that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him, it presumes that the God in whom we are satisfied is the true God, and false views of God will prevent joy in the true God. I don’t know whether he Lloyd-Jones had that in mind, but clearly if you have a wrong view of salvation, you lose your joy forever.
That is what was happening in the book of Galatians. The Galatians and the Pharisees knew God, and Jesus says, “You are children of hell and you are going there because your view of how to relate to God is upside down. You think that God is impressed by your works for him and that you can put him in your debt.”
And you can’t. That is a hellish doctrine and Paul says that those who bring a gospel like that are cursed. So all happiness vanishes, and that is probably what Marty Lloyd-Jones ultimately meant.
Entrusting Our Affections to the Bible
So it seems that built into this conception of happiness based on true doctrine is some level of distrust toward our own affections.
That is a very good point. I have been criticized sometimes for calling myself a Christian Hedonist because historic hedonism has often meant that pleasure becomes the criterion of what is right. That has never, ever been what I mean by hedonism. All I mean by Christian Hedonism is that you are living to maximize your pleasure forever. That is why biblically, it is right to pursue your happiness.
But, yes, we must be suspicious of making our pleasures the criteria of what is right, holy, good or true. Rather, it works the other way around. The Bible decides what is true, and then we labor to submit our heart to that truth, so that we find happiness in the truth, not determine what is true by what makes us happy.