Joy is something that has always been a rather elusive concept both cognitively and experientially for me. Cognitively it has always seemed that it was something that people experienced but couldn’t describe in any meaningful or conceptual manner, it seemed as though Joy was something limited to experiential reality and had no place in being under the contemplation of healthy thought life. Joy has often been something that I didn’t trust if I experienced it. for reasons I am still discovering and seeking to understand Joy has become synonymous with danger in my emotional and experiential life. Thus, I have often struggled to understand people’s joyful dispositions and their descriptions of Joy itself. Through my work with CBMC and my friendships with Christians at SMU, I found myself challenged to articulate what I exactly believed not only about Joy but especially what Joy is. The remarks, analyses, and arguments below will hopefully be a journey through the weeds of New Testament Greek, Theology, and Joyful living that help those of us who struggle with the Christian’s Joy to find something to hold onto and pray about in every season of life.
Galatians 5: 22-26
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things, there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.
A couple of critical remarks about joy in the context of this passage:
- Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, it is a byproduct of the presence of God in and near us.
- Joy is not for the unbeliever but is reserved for the believer.
- Joy is not in opposition to the Law
- Joy is not natural to our flesh
- Joy is an integral part of living in accordance with Galatians 2:20
So, looking to the greek, what do all these statements mean for our lives?
χαρά: Best understood as a state of being that is the result of a choice and closely related to the emotions of happiness and gladness.
- There is a state of being closely related to the emotions of happiness and gladness which is a byproduct of God being present in and near us. This state is Joy and is considered an effect of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Joy is the opposite of shame, shame is us wounding ourselves, it warps and twists our life away from reality and into despair, frustration, and fear. Joy is God’s answer to the Christian’s newfound understanding of their sinfulness and is intended to be a comfort for our lives through the presence and indwelling outpour of the Holy Spirit.
- This state of being is reserved for the believer, and while God may grant a form of Joy as a means of grace to draw an unbeliever in, Galatians emphatically declares the specialness of Joy and its purpose being connected to its identity as a fruit of the Spirit. Only the people who abide with God experience Joy.
- Joy does not lead to sin, nor is it outlawed by sin. Joy is not a state of reckless euphoria. It is grounded in God’s nature and is given as a gift.
- Joy is not natural, it is something that grows and becomes more tangible as we grow in maturity and relationship with God.
- Joy is clouded and disguised when we fail to live out our real and true identity. When we live by faith rather than flesh in accordance with the scriptures, Joy suddenly comes alive and fills us.
All of those things are beautiful and impactful statements about Joy and our life, but for those of you, who like me, struggle with an intensity of cloudy and dark emotional states, not necessarily diagnosable as depression but some of you may struggle with that as well. Let me remind us about some of the things we learn from scripture.
- Pain is real. I don’t want anyone to read this and get the feeling like I am shirking away from the gritty realities of life. Scripture continuously reminds us of the reality of pain.
- Trauma is real. I don’t anyone to feel like their circumstances are being left out. Look at the life of Job, of Paul, of Jeremiah, and Isaiah.
- Satan is real. We know that he comes to seek, kill, and destroy. Again see the lives of Job, Daniel, David, Jesus, and so many others in scripture.
- Paul had a thorn. There will always be something in our life that mutes our joy when we are honest with ourselves.
In our society, happiness, euphoria, gladness, bliss, and temporary highs are held at a premium and elevated as the most important experiences both in their long-term payoffs and short-term boosts of emotional goodness. It makes sense for the Devil to target Joy in a society such as ours, how much easier it becomes to tempt us when he is interfering without joy and amplifying our flesh’s natural proclivity towards shame.
I don’t know your story, and many of you don’t know mine. If there is one thing I can do to encourage you it is to remind you that Pain exists as an aid to our intimacy with God, for without our pain and recognition of sin we would have no motivation to seek God in the trials and blessings of life. Joy may be the furthest thing from your life, and let me be maybe the first to tell you. That is okay. It’s okay to struggle with living joyfully. It is not a sin to struggle with experiencing one of the fruits of the spirit. God never told us that we disappointed Him when we struggle to feel joyful. Whole sections of scripture are prayers written by those who weren’t feeling any joy at all.
If studying the scriptures has taught me anything, it has been, that I need to focus on chasing and clinging to Christ rather than chasing and clinging to glimmers of joy. Christ ultimately is the fountain of joy. Establish your life with Him as the foundation and Joy will come with time and spiritual maturity. Do not neglect community and coming together for prayer and the study of scripture and doctrine. Focus on Christ, Focus on God, Joy will come with time.