For the sake of Joy
Few theologians have left as profound a mark on my life as John Piper. His ministry, Desiring God, is a comprehensive lesson in Christian Hedonism. For decades, he’s echoed the same refrain: our pursuit of joy and our mission to glorify God are two inseparably intertwined truths. There is no need to compromise one for the other. If this message holds true, its implications are profound. It suggests that Christ’s purpose in glorifying His Father’s name is intrinsically linked to our joy found in Him. Our joy is tied to God’s glory.
In his book ‘God’s Passion for his Glory’, John writes, “Sometimes people ask: should we pursue obedience to God or joy in God? Edwards would answer: The question involves a category confusion. It’s like asking: should I pursue fruit or apples? Obedience is doing what we are told. And we are told to delight ourselves in the Lord. Therefore pursuing joy in God is obedience.”
Why Joy is important
At its core, joy embodies a deep sense of happiness, contentment, or delight—a response to something that resonates deeply within us. It’s an emotion intricately tied to our human desires, an emotion rooted in our longing and the fulfilment of those longings.
Joy is simultaneously the most important human emotion and the most volatile one. We live our lives in the pursuit of happiness. Thomas Jefferson, in the American Declaration of Independence, wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These men of old when creating a Christian nation were persuaded that the pursuit of happiness was an unalienable right God had endowed as part of creation.
And given that our joy in Christ is so intertwined with His glory, and since God tells us that we were created for his glory,
we can confidently arrive at the logical conclusion that we were created to rejoice, to be a happy people. The pursuit of God is the pursuit of joy. We were created to be in God’s presence, and in his presence is fullness of joy.
Therefore, if the Bible is all about God’s glory, it must in essence be all about our joy, because God has determined to make much of himself through our rejoicing in him. Joy is a biblical command, but we have to distinguish between the joy that is set on this world and the joy that is set on Christ.
The Essence of Christian Joy
What is Christian joy? Let us turn to the apostles Paul and Peter.
Christian salvation is the justification we have by faith through our Lord Jesus Christ. And according to Paul here, that justification is manifest in our peace, the grace of God (his favour) in our lives, and (this conjunction here is so important) in our rejoicing in hope of the glory of God. Joy then isn’t an optional part of our salvation but a manifest result of it. To be Christian is to be manifestly happy.
Peter’s words echo through time, speaking to our past, present, and future experiences in our relationship with God. In referencing the past, Peter speaks of a love that transcends mere sight: “Though you have not seen him, you love him.” Here lies the heart of a Christian’s affection for God, a love kindled by the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. Transitioning to the present, Peter continues: “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him.” This ongoing love for God manifests in the unwavering faith of believers, resonating through their lives.
Then, most crucially, Peter interconnects these experiences with the conjunction “and,” unveiling a seamless continuum of faith and affection: “Rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.” Here, Peter emphasises that a Christian’s love for God resides in belief and expression in triumphant celebration.
Gazing toward the future, Peter culminates these intertwined elements: “Obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” This fusion of love, belief, and rejoicing paves the way for the ultimate promise—eternal life, the fruition of our faith. Peter masterfully threads these components—love, belief, rejoicing—into an unbroken narrative, portraying the dynamic and interconnected nature of a believer’s relationship with the Divine.
Christian Joy is a deep sense of happiness, contentment or delight that is felt in response to the hope of the glory of God.
This joy is a joy that is set on the object who is Christ. This is an unwavering joy because Christ is an unwavering Saviour.
It doesn’t end there. In Romans 5:3–5, Paul unravels a profound truth that shapes our perspective on joy and how to relates to suffering, endurance, and the transformative journey of faith.
Paul speaks boldly of a joy so deeply rooted in the unchanging Christ that it perseveres even in the midst of suffering. This joy stands as a testament to the profound reasoning behind our enduring hope—a chain reaction starting from suffering, leading to endurance, character development, and ultimately, hope.
This enduring joy doesn’t arise in isolation. It stems from a profound understanding that suffering isn’t the end but a catalyst for growth. Endurance, borne from hardship, moulds our character, anchoring us in a hope that doesn’t disappoint. The catalyst for this transformative journey lies in God’s love poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit—a divine infusion that echoes the same foundational truth seen in verses 1 and 2, centered on justification by faith through Christ.
John Piper beautifully labels this enduring joy as “Serious Joy.” It’s not a dichotomy of sorrow and joy, but a coexistence—a simultaneous experience of sorrow yet an unwavering rejoicing, as articulated by Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:10 as ‘sorrowful, yet always rejoicing‘. Paul’s words unveil a profound reality—a joy rooted in Christ that endures through suffering, forging endurance, character, and hope—a tapestry woven by God’s love within us.
The Advent season is a reminder that Christ was born for our joy! What the angels call – good news of great joy (Luke 2:10).