Christianity is a religion of joy. Real joy comes from God, who has invaded us, conquered us, and liberated us from eternal death and sadness—who has given us hope and joy because He has poured out His love within our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us (Rom. 5:5). Joy comes from God, not from within. When we look within, we just get sad. We have joy only when we look outside ourselves to Christ. Without Christ, joy is not only hard to find, it’s impossible to find. The world desperately seeks joy, but in all the wrong places. However, our joy comes because Christ sought us, found us, and keeps us. We cannot have joy apart from Christ, because it doesn’t exist. Joy is not something we can conjure up.
Joy isn’t the absence of sadness—it’s the presence of the Holy Spirit. And although the Holy Spirit produces joy within us, He often does so by humbling us so that we would take our eyes off ourselves and fix our eyes on Christ. Real joy exists even amid real sadness, and real joy doesn’t always mean there’s a smile on our faces. It sometimes means we are on our knees with tears of repentance. Charles Spurgeon admitted, “I do not know when I am more perfectly happy than when I am weeping for sin at the foot of the cross.” Joy comes in repentance and forgiveness and by daily looking to Christ and living for His glory, not by looking to self and living for our glory. But if we live each day bearing the shame of yesterday and the anxieties of tomorrow, we will never experience the joys of today. So let us always be quick to run to the cross to seek the joy that only Christ can give, for trying to find joy apart from Christ is like trying to find day without the sun.
We have joy only when we look outside ourselves to Christ.
Christ was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief in order that we might have fullness of joy, now and forever. This is why the first answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches us that “man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” C.S. Lewis rightly said that “joy is the serious business of heaven.” But having real joy that comes from enjoying God is not something we will experience only in heaven. It is what we experience now. For the greatest joy in this life is to know that our greatest joy is not in this life but in the one to come. We live each day in light of our hope for the future, when Christ “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21). And when we see Christ, He will dry every tear from our eyes—not just our tears of sadness, but our tears of joy as well. Otherwise, we would never be able to see Him.
Dr. Burk Parsons (@BurkParsons) is editor of Tabletalk magazine, senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. He is cotranslator and coeditor of A Little Book on the Christian Life by John Calvin.