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Christians: If you have no joy, you're doing something wrong

Unsplash/Ben White

Chicago Police issued a community alert recently after at least 11 armed robberies were reported within a span of five hours. And while having one's possessions stolen at gunpoint is certainly traumatic for the victims, it is not nearly as bad as being robbed of joy. After all, if you lose your joy, what else is there?

The first human beings to ever lose their joy were of course Adam and Eve. They were deceived by the devil in the Garden of Eden who tricked them into disobeying the command God had given them. Satan devised a scheme aimed at robbing them of their joy and their good standing with their Creator. In Genesis 3:4, the serpent said to the woman “You will not surely die.” Unfortunately, he coaxed them into believing a big fat lie. Adam and Eve were seduced by the serpent’s tantalizing argument, and the rest is history. 

Now jump ahead about 4000 years on the biblical timeline of God’s interactions with his people. The churches in Galatia had been infiltrated by some false teachers who were presenting a message contrary to the Gospel. 

The Apostle Paul wrote, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the Gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7).

Some people in Galatia were swayed into thinking that the Law somehow had the same saving power as the Gospel. False teachers were claiming that circumcision was necessary for salvation, and this false teaching was creating spiritual havoc. 

In his epistle to the Galatians, Paul posed the question: “What has happened to all your joy?” (Galatians 4:15) The answer was obvious to Paul. When they began to rely upon the law in order to be justified before God, they lost their footing in the Gospel. And when you lose your confidence in the Gospel, you definitely lose the joy that accompanies the Christian faith.

Paul wrote, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes, Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Galatians 3:1-3)

Spiritual conversion is a miracle worked by the Holy Spirit when a person repents and believes the good news of the Gospel. No one has ever been converted by the law or by seeking to obey the law. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9)

There is not an ounce of genuine spiritual joy apart from faith in the Gospel. If we move away from the Gospel, we move away from the Lord and we forfeit the joy that only God can give us. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…” (Galatians 5:22). And as Paul reminded those in Galatia, believers receive the Holy Spirit the moment they trust in Christ alone for salvation. 

Once converted, believers then seek to live for the One who died for our sins on the cross. This holy pursuit is conducted not in order to be saved, but because we have already been saved and cleansed by the blood of Jesus through faith in the Savior.

Relying upon the law in order to be justified before God is a common practice that robs people of joy, but it is not the only way to become joyless. Another way is to disobey the Lord in your daily life of Christian discipleship. Disobedience always results in a loss of joy.

Jesus said in John 15:9-13, 

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”

It really is not all that complicated. In order to experience the joy of the Lord, one must first be converted through repentance and faith. Jesus said, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). And the joy continues to flow freely within us who believe the good news as we yield ourselves to God’s will and as we “live by the Spirit” and “sow to please the Spirit" (Galatians 5:16 and Galatians 6:8)

In the words of a hymn written by John H. Sammis in 1887: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

If you sense that you have been robbed of joy, ask yourself two questions:

  1. Am I trusting in the death of Jesus on the cross as the full payment for my sins, rather than trusting in my own righteous acts and religious deeds to be saved?
  2. Am I as a follower of Christ deliberately sinning against God’s Word and against my conscience in one or more areas of my Christian life?

If you have been robbed of joy, you can get it back. But you will need to humble yourself before your Savior and receive the forgiveness God grants to those who “repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15). And then sincerely seek to “find out what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10) as you meditate daily upon Scripture, pray continually, worship often with other believers, and use your spiritual gifts to serve others.

As the American evangelist Billy Sunday wisely stated: “If you have no joy, there’s a leak in your Christianity somewhere."

Dan Delzell is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska. 

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