Over the last few months at Capitol City, as we’ve considered different encounters people had with Jesus in the gospels, we’ve seen that there are certain places all of us innately turn to in life as we search for joy. Joy is something we are made for, but it is something that we cannot find apart from Christ. Yet we look to all sorts of created things for what only our creator can provide. These are empty wells; we turn to them, over and over again, expecting fresh water…only to find sand.
Given our tendency to search for joy in all the wrong places, should we resign ourselves to a life without joy? Should Christians, knowing that joy cannot ultimately be found in any earthly thing, accept a certain joylessness this side of eternity?
While our joy – even our joy in Christ – will never be complete in a fallen world, Christians can and should pursue and have joy in this life. In fact, the Bible says (at least) two things about joy in this life – it is both commanded by God and compelled by God.
1. Joy is commanded by God. Paul tells the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil 4:4). The command is repeated for emphasis, and it is a present-tense imperative. Right now we are to rejoice. Yes, it will be easier to rejoice in the future. But even in this fallen world, we should respond to the Lord and what he has done with joy. Often people think about verses like this and conclude that we to find joy in something other than our circumstances. Instead I like to say that there’s a greater, unending, unchanging circumstance in the life of a believer – you are in Christ. Paul calls us to rejoice in that greater circumstance. It is a truer, deeper, and more significant reality than any earthly circumstance.
2. Joy is also compelled by God. God himself is the only real source of joy. Yes, there are earthly joys – but these are just shadows or echoes of God himself. Real joy only exists through knowing the person and entering into the presence of God. This is why the psalmist can say, “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psa 16:11). In the entire universe, the person and presence of God are the only legitimate means to unfading fullness of joy. But in Christ Jesus, God pushed forward both his person and his presence. He revealed “the radiance of [His own] glory and the exact representation of his being” (Heb 1:3). Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). Jesus makes God known. Which means, since knowing God is the one true source of joy in the universe, that Jesus compels our joy. As we know him, as our affection for him deepens, and as our hearts are transformed by his grace, our experience of joy in this life will increase while we are being prepared for eternal joy in the life to come.