The joy of the Lord
Can a believer ever be carefree and happy in the face of a malicious devil, a hostile world and a consciousness of remaining indwelling sin?
One popular model of sanctification has it that the believer at his best will constantly be beating his breast – always parading before his conscience the rigorous demands of God’s holy law and his failure to live up to that standard.
Perhaps they (wrongly) believe that the Reformers or Puritans set about godly living in this manner. They certainly misunderstand what the New Testament teaches.
But what some evangelical traditions present as the height of Christian maturity – constant, inward self-flagellation – is actually a deep failure to rightly apply the Word of God, and in particular to appreciate where a Christian stands in relation to God’s moral law.
The need for balance
Now, there certainly is a balance to be kept. Mourning for sin is integral to the experience of born-again Christians (Matthew 5:4). There is a struggle between flesh and Spirit (Galatians 5:16-18) and there are God-ordained seasons of chastisement, when mourning may dominate our thoughts (Hebrews 12:11). But this is never presented by the New Testament as ‘normal’, nor should it ever be the leading edge of the Christian psyche.
What loving father spends all his time telling off or punishing his children? Is our Heavenly Father worse than that? Is not chastisement an occasional event in any happy household? What about the household of our loving God (Luke 15:21-24)?
The New Testament exhortation is: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!’ (Philippians 4:4). It was to bring about this blessed exchange – the ‘oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness’ (Isaiah 61:3) – that the Messiah came.
Gloom is not the New Testament norm. Rather, we are exhorted to ‘be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord’ (Ephesians 5:18-19).
A clean slate
Shall we live in inward denial of ‘the joy of the Lord’ while outwardly professing that joy? This will not commend the gospel. Efforts by miserable Christians to assure unbelievers that they are ‘happy in Jesus all the day long’ will soon be rumbled.
We can all tell when someone is ‘down’ and a gospel invitation from a depressed Christian will earn the cynical reply, ‘No thanks mate. I’ve problems enough of my own!’
Why can we be happy as believers – really happy? Because we have Jesus Christ. We have forgiveness, salvation and eternal life. We are possessed of a new heart, new destiny and a new Master (Romans 6). We have a clean slate – our sins have been totally blotted out.
But what about the inexorable law of God that seems to threaten our rejoicing in Christ? Here is the amazing answer – the believer has died to it. He or she has died to the law and is now united to someone completely different – Jesus Christ.
Where is your old spouse, the law? Dead and buried (read Romans 7:1-6)! But does this leave us lawless? Not at all. Your new spouse, Jesus Christ, will fulfil in you what the law once demanded but you were unable to perform (Romans 8:1-4).
Of course, being married to Christ involves obeying his commandments (in both Testaments!) and thus abiding in him by walking in the Spirit. But if we do so walk, says God’s Word, we ‘are not under the law’ (Galatians 5:16-18). Even when you fall short, he will clothe you with his righteousness (1 John 1:7-9). You need never feel condemned as a Christian, because you are not condemned!
‘O wretched man that I am!’ was not the Apostle’s normative experience. He wanted to be delivered from that, and he was – ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Romans 7:24-25).
Come brothers and sisters, dare to be happy! Dare to enjoy God’s free and sovereign grace! It is there for you in Jesus Christ!