The festivals and feasts of the old covenant were occasions for the people of God to gather and rejoice. As great as it was, such joy was but a foreshadowing of the joy that we know as new covenant believers, for we can celebrate our salvation with a knowledge the old covenant saints never had. For the next week, we will examine Christian joy more fully using Dr. R.C. Sproul’s teaching series Joy.
Unfortunately, our culture has so trivialized joy that it is all but impossible for many people to understand properly the biblical definition of this fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23). Every day we are told both explicitly and implicitly that real joy cannot exist apart from success in all our relationships and happiness with our standard of living. The mantra, “Don’t worry, be happy,” has been immortalized in song and is often used as a quick way to silence any fears that we might harbor.
Yet we can see a slight similarity between this phrase and Scripture’s teaching on joy, for both the phrase and the Word of God command us to have a certain attitude. Just as “Don’t worry, be happy” orders us to be happy, the Bible commands us to rejoice. In fact, rejoicing is so important to the Christian life that the apostle Paul makes joy the central theme of his epistle to the Philippians.
As we have noted, joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23), and it must be evident at some level in the life of every believer. Joy need not be tied inescapably to our circumstances, for we have the Holy Spirit, and we can decide to rejoice always (Phil. 4:4).
Of course, Christian joy does not deny the existence of pain or the legitimacy of grief. Jesus was a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3); thus, there are times when it is okay to be sad. Only when we are consistently despairing or hopeless has sadness become tainted by sin. Being made in God’s image, we are complex creatures who can be both sad and joyful at the same time, though in different senses. We can grieve the death of loved ones because we no longer have personal communion with them. At the same time, we can have a deep, abiding joy, knowing that death for the Christian is only temporary. Christ’s death and resurrection have crushed this enemy, and now we wait for God to finally and fully defeat death when the new heaven and earth dawn (1 Cor. 15:20–28; 2 Tim. 1:10).