Two main misconceptions about joy in the Christian’s life exist. One is that Christianity is a serious and somber religion based on a list of things not to do. The other conflates earthly happiness with spiritual joy. They are not the same thing. Christianity is serious, the most serious thing in our lives. It is deadly serious, but God didn’t intend for His relationship with us to be somber and drab. He created mankind in His own image with a wonderful garden for us to live in forever, and all we had to do was keep up the garden and not eat of a single tree in the midst of the garden. Adam and Eve couldn’t follow even those simple instructions without fouling them up. And, a fine fix they got us into that time. Still, God provided the means through the Holy Spirit for us to find joy and live a wonderful life here on earth.
God intends for His people, Christians and Jews-especially messianic Jews- to be prosperous. The misconception most people have about prosperity is conflating earthly physical wealth with God’s idea of prosperity. He gives us all we need and help with carrying out His will for us on earth, which is evangelism. I’ve gone into this in previous blogs, so I won’t dwell on it here. One popular megachurch pastor and evangelist preaches monetary prosperity. He contends that if you give $100 to God, God will give you back $1,000, or ten times your donation, which this pastor implies should be sent to his church.
Earthly happiness is not the same as joy. Happiness is based on worldly possessions which moth and rust corrupt ( Matthew 6:10 ), and life circumstances which can and do change, usually when you don’t want them to. If they change for the worse, then your happiness is gone. Happiness is mistaken for the thing itself, or the end, rather than an element of a greater life. Joy is permanent. We’ll get to that below.
The other misconception is that Christianity is based on self denial. This is a negative concept in that it suggests, not caring for others, but doing without as a necessary virtue. True, the New Testament has much to say about self denial, but not as an end in itself. It is necessary to get our earthly wishes out of the way so that we can function in the capacity that God has intended for us to function without being distracted by earthly concerns. Denial is a means rather than an end.
We too often look to temporal worldly pleasures as the source of the happiness God intends for us. These enticements fall far short of what God intends for us even here in this world. The problem lies in our never having experienced, true joy so we have no idea what awaits us. Accordingly, we settle for what we do know as a substitute for spiritual joy. Christian apologist and writer C. S. Lewis explains: “If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the stoics and is not part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering rewards promised in the gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half – hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased” ( Clive Staples Lewis, “The Weight of Glory and other addresses”, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 2001, p. 26 ).
We were made for heaven, not earth. And God’s rewards are not limited to what we have here on earth. However, many Christians don’t experience what God intends for them to have because they are separated from Him by sin, as Lewis mentions in the quote above. And, these things are not of God. Sin is corporate, the thing in itself. Sins are the thoughts, actions or inactions that violate God’s will for us. God is benevolent. He wants what is best for us, and His prohibitions are intended to keep us from harming ourselves. Our sins distract us from God and lead us down enticing but dangerous roads. We do not lose our salvation by sinning, but we do lose our fellowship with God until we return to Him. A prime example in the Old Testament is King David, who was led astray by another man’s wife, which cost the husband his life and, as a consequence from God, David’s son died as well. God’s retribution for sin can be drastic.
Sin, then, is the misplaced allegiance we have in things that are not good for us and not of God. It is the misapplication of free will in our lives. It is doing what God knows is harmful for us and that which distracts us from Him.
The Christian church today is becoming more and more apostate, becoming farther and farther away from the Bible and from God. Pastors at best simply fail to address sin in society and among church members, and at worst, they embrace sin as part of Christian society ( more next week). God had John write a warning about this falling away in Revelation chapter three. John wrote of “The great whore of Babylon” ( Revelation 17:1 ), and God’s retribution against it. The city of Nineveh was used as an example. Nineveh was a great city on the bank of the Tigris River, across from where the modern city of Mosul sits today. It was supposedly founded by Nimrod ( Genesis 10 ), and it was the capital of Assyria. God sent Jonah in about 700 BC to warn Nineveh to cease from its corrupt practices, and the citizens of the city repented. However, they again lapsed into their sinful lifestyle of idolatry, violence and arrogance about 100 years later. God had the Babylonians and others completely wipe Nineveh off the face of the earth (Nahum, chapter 3). It lapsed into a semi-mystical state for centuries, until Sir Austin and others rediscovered the city in the nineteenth century. This, warns John, is what awaits the modern apostate churches.
Christians today need right consciousness, the mindset of allowing Christ to direct their lives, and to abstain from even the appearance of evil ( 1 Thessalonians 5:22). Right consciousness and justification go hand in hand. And, right consciousness is the manifestation of justification which comes from being saved, or born again. Justification is manifested through Christ: We are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” ( Romans 3:24; Titus 3:4,5; Ephesians 2:8-10; Acts 13:39).
Living the right consciousness all the time is impossible to do. We all slip now and then. Paul wrote that the good he would do, he did not. And the bad he would not do, he did. And that was arguably the greatest of all apostles ( Romans 7: 14-24 ). It is fortunate for us that we are not justified by works, but by grace through faith ( John 3:16; Ephesians 2: 8,9). The Holy Spirit weaves into the heart of the justified people the divine love of God ( 2 John 5; Romans 5:5; Hebrews 10:16,17 ).
Not all people will accept Christ as Savior. In fact most won’t. It is a biblical fact that many are called, but few are chosen ( Mathew 22:14). It is crucial, then, that God knows us ( 1 Corinthians 8:3 ). He only knows, or pays attention to, those persons who have accepted Jesus as Savior. Many pretenders exist, even in the ministry. They act like Christians for whatever their reason is, but it’s all show. To those people Jesus will say “I never knew you. Depart form me you who work iniquity” (Matthew 7:23). God knows who is His and who isn’t. Those justified persons who slip or regress temporarily do not lose their salvation, but God will not hear them, Though he will chastise them for their wayward ways.
We are made for heaven and living in Christ. That is why worldly rewards and pleasures do not satisfy us. Deep down in our subconscious is the knowledge of and desire for heaven and God’s rewards which infinitely exceed any pleasures we can conceive of in this world. This spiritual nature is stronger than our fallen, sinful nature. But in this world we are blasted 24 hours a day by the physical, and our orientation is based on the physical because that is what we need to survive on this planet until we go home. But it doesn’t satisfy us.
Biblical joy is contentment, satisfaction. Moral joy comes from doing God’s will. Spiritual joy is fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22), exercised in faith: “And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith” (Philippians 1:25). Salvation is forever, therefore joy is forever. Worldly happiness is a fleeting thing, to which we can all attest if we’re honest. But true Christians never lose their joy (John 16:22), which is unspeakably wonderful (1 Peter 1:8). My definition of joy is that it’s the quiet assurance of present and future well being and security as promised us by Christ: In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world” ( John 16:33; see also John 16:22). It only makes sense, then, that we live our lives as Christ would have us live them. Let is not be “too easily pleased”, because God has rewards for us that we cannot imagine with our limited experience and understanding. If you live according to how God wants you to live, the joy and rewards follow automatically from the Holy Spirit. You don’t have to work for them. Take stock of your life, and reorient it to being the servant of Christ. You can’t believe, before you do that, what a huge difference that will make in your life. And now is the time to make the change.