“I believe that a trusting attitude and a patient attitude go hand in hand. You see, when you let go and learn to trust God, it releases joy in your life. And when you trust God, you’re able to be more patient. Patience is not just about waiting for something…it’s about how you wait, or your attitude while waiting.” ~Joyce Meyer
“We’re never so vulnerable than when we trust someone—but paradoxically, if we cannot trust, neither can we find love or joy.” ~Walter Anderson
God’s plan for enlarging His kingdom is so simple—one person telling another about the Savior. Yet we’re busy and full of excuses. Just remember, someone’s eternal destiny is at stake. The joy you’ll have when you meet that person in heaven will far exceed any discomfort you felt in sharing the gospel.” ~Charles Stanley
The purpose of this post is to examine the scriptural meaning of joy. More specifically, it will attempt to address the following three questions:
- What is joy?
- Are their types of joy?
- How can we experience more joy?
WHAT IS JOY?
The Greek word used in the bible for “joy” is chara, and is closely related to the word charis, which means grace or a gift. This relationship is not surprising, because joy is a natural response towards God’s grace. Moreover, joy is a fruit of the Spirit:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-25, NASB).
Understanding joy means understanding fruits of the Spirit. As a fruit of the Spirit, joy has a relationship with the other fruits of the Spirit. Personally, I believe that the order in which Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit is done intentionally. I believe these fruits emanate from one to the next, typically—though, I wouldn’t go so far as saying always—following a progression that aligns with the order in which they are listed.
If agreeing with my personal perspective (theory) pertaining to an intentional order of fruitfulness, then our ability to (agape) love is at the source of everything. Assuming my theory is true, consider that:
- As we (agape) love God and others better, we more regularly find ourselves in a state of joy
- The more often we are in a state of joy, the more likely we are to be at peace with God and others
- Being at peace with God and others, we exhibit more patience
- Exhibiting more patience, our actions are more often kind
- In our kindness, we more regularly engage in “good” deeds (as in those glorifying God)
- As we more regularly engage in “good” deeds, we become more faithful to God, and we become more trustworthy in general
- As faithful followers of God, we tend to approach difficult situations with gentleness
- Out of our efforts to be gentle, we are more intentional in all our actions, exhibiting self-control
Again, the proposed progression above is just a personal theory as to how all the fruits relate to one another. Something that should not be considered a personal theory, but rather biblical teaching, is that these fruits of the Spirit emanate from the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, there would be no rationale for Paul referring to these attitudes and behaviors as “fruits of the Spirit.” In other words, these are attitudes and behaviors that become more regularly exhibited by those who have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, to all (Acts 10:45-47) who believe and follow (obey) Christ (Acts 5:32).
At this juncture, allow me to provide some necessary points of clarification regarding fruits of the Spirit…
First, for the attitudes and behaviors listed above to be “fruit of the Spirit,” they must be manifested by the influence of the Holy Spirit. The question then arises, “How can non-believers exhibit these attitudes and behaviors, if they arise from the Holy Spirit?” My response to someone who asks this question is that the “fruitfulness” of these attitudes and behaviors are dependent on the intentions behind them.
For instance, maybe there is a non-believer that is involved in numerous charities, and acknowledged for their kindness towards others. The likely intention for their behaviors is that it makes them feel good to be recognized as a kind and good person by others. During biblical times, there were many Scribes and Pharisees that were implied to do the same. Christ referred to these people as “white-washed tombs” (Matthew 23:27). In other words, He was asserting that while the exterior was beautiful, there was nothing but death within.
Rather, Jesus is the living water. He is the source of eternal life. The Holy Spirit is Jesus’ gift to His followers. Those who are Christ’s followers are supposed to (agape) love God and (agape) love others (Matthew 22:36-40), spreading the Good News (i.e. the Gospel) throughout the nations (Matthew 28:16-20). Thus, the actions of a follower should bring glory to God. Subsequently, the attitudes and behaviors that Paul refers to as fruits of the Spirit are only as such when the enactor’s intentions are to bring glory to God. The Holy Spirit serves to align our hearts and minds with God’s intentions (John 15:7), allowing us to glorify Him in word and deed (Proverbs 3:6; 16:3: Col 3:17, 23). The Spirit guides us along the path to eternal life and peace with God:
“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:2-6, NASB).
Second, the fruits of the Spirit are attitudes and behaviors—not feelings. Acknowledging this aspect of fruitfulness is essential. If the fruits of the Spirit were based on feelings, our ability to adopt these attitudes or to engage in these behaviors would be dependent on how we felt. Yet, we are warned in scripture that our feelings can often betray us:
“The heart is deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jeremiah 17:9, NASB)?
Now, while it is true that our hearts and minds are renewed and transformed through work of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5; Romans 12:2), this process of sanctification is not completed during our time in this fallen world. Thus, we should always exhibit wise discernment by validating our thoughts and feelings through God’s Word (Joshua 1:8):
“Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17).
“…examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22, NASB).
Again, this is not suggesting that all feelings are misleading, but rather we must understand from where our feelings originate—we must examine them before acting upon them, so that we can do so wisely. My personal belief is that the further we progress within the sanctification process, the more consistently our (positive and healthy) feelings will align with our fruitful attitudes and behaviors. For the flesh will be less capable of deceiving us as we more consistently clothe ourselves in Christ.
Which brings me to my final point of clarification…producing fruits of the Spirit requires an eternal perspective of our reality—one that is focused on Christ.
Consider the following scripture found in Paul’s letter to the Galatians:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16-25, NASB).
Consider that the deeds (sins) of the flesh are self-serving and impulsive; whereas, the fruits of the Spirit are others-focused. Delving deeper, we should recognize that we are more likely to commit sins of the flesh if we believe that our lives are temporal—that they end with our death in this world. We are more likely to produce fruits of the Spirit when we acknowledge the eternal nature of our being; realizing the eternal implications of our words and deeds.
To summarize succinctly:
- Sins of the flesh are committed when accepting a temporal perspective of our circumstances
- Fruits of the spirit are produced when accepting an eternal perspective of our circumstances
C.S. Lewis understood the relationship between living in a state of joy and accepting an eternal perspective of our reality. Maybe that is why his autobiographical testimony was titled Surprised by Joy. In his work, The Weight of Glory, Lewis aptly describes the implications of accepting an eternal perspective of purpose and meaning—recognizing that we are all immortal souls:
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors” (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory).
Thus, I would define biblical joy as follows:
Biblical joy is an attitude based in hope of God’s love, and founded on His promises; requiring an eternal perspective of purpose and meaning that is focused on Christ. It is a choice, and serves as a response to God’s grace. It is not a feeling, though joy encourages feelings of happiness and contentment. Living in a state of joy brings about loving action and peace with God and others.
ARE THERE TYPES OF JOY?
Considering that joy is a fruit—and not fruits—of the Spirit, there is likely only one type of joy. However, given that joy serves as a response to God’s grace, it may manifest itself as response to the various ways that God grants us His grace. Below I present four ways in which we may respond in joy to God’s grace:
- The joy of salvation. We may respond in joy when acknowledging that God love’s us, and desires to spend eternity with us (Luke 15:3-7; Acts 8:5-8; Acts 13:47-48; Acts 15:3)
- The joy of deliverance. We may respond in joy when God delivers us from enemies; freeing us from our tribulations (1 Samuel 2:1; Acts 12:1-14).
- The joy of spiritual maturity. We may respond in joy as we see the work of the Holy Spirit transform us more into our Lord’s image (John 15:7-11; Philippians 2:1-2).
- The joy of God’s presence. We may respond in joy when we acknowledge the presence of God through the Holy Spirit (Psalm 16:11; Matthew 2:10, 28:8; Luke 1:14, 24:41).
Basically, joy is our response to God’s work and presence in our lives. This is why it is impossible to possess joy when we look to ourselves instead of to our Lord.
HOW CAN WE EXPERIENCE MORE JOY?
Having defined biblical joy, and manners in which it may manifest itself in our lives, we now address an important question: What can we do to experience joy more often and more fully? Here are four steps that I suggest may help us more consistently and fully experience biblical joy:
1st Step. To pursue joy is to purse a relationship with Christ:
“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved” (Romans 10:9-10, NASB).
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NASB).
2nd Step. To experience joy more fully is to spend time with God; cultivating our relationship with Christ
“One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple” (Psalm 27:4, NASB).
“You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever” (Psalm 16:11, NASB).
3rd Step. To experience joy more consistently requires that we view temporal circumstances with an eternal perspective:
“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NASB).
“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.
“Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:1-17, NASB).
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21, NASB).
4th Step. To allow ourselves to rest in a state of joy requires constant obedience to the Word of God.
“Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the LORD. Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts. They do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in his paths. You have charged us to keep your commandments carefully. Oh, that my actions would consistently reflect your decrees! Then I will not be ashamed when I compare my life with your commands. As I learn your righteous regulations, I will thank you by living as I should! I will obey your decrees. Please don’t give up on me” (Psalm 119:1-8).
Some may notice that I emphasize the need for an eternal perspective of our circumstances to rest in joy, and produce fruit of the Spirit. That eternal perspective should be one that comes from Christ. He is the lens that we must look upon our circumstances. We are to be His ambassadors, and serve as reflections of His goodness towards all in whom we come into contact. If we look at our circumstances in the moment and take a short-term mindset to address our reality, we are assured to commit sins of the flesh. If we look to what God has promised us—we can look past any hardship we experience in this world at any present moment to make obedient and fruitful decisions; holding onto the joy of what is to come.
A joy that exists when we set our hearts and minds upon our Lord. May we run and not weary. May we walk and not faint:
“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31, KJV).