Dear Christian, how is it with your joy? Has it become depleted within you? Is it a tiny flicker of what it should be? Some Christians have experienced little the joy of salvation for so long, that they are worried that that they never really had it.
There are two reasons for this. One reason is afflictions, and the other is personal sin.
Some afflictions come from being on the receiving-end of persecution. All kinds of persecution can impact upon a Christian’s joy, whether it be the mild but unrelenting mocking and shunning, loss or prevention of employment or business, physical violence, imprisonment, torture, or full martyrdom (e.g. 1 Corinthians 4.9-12; Hebrews 11.33-12.4; 1 Peter 2.19-25).
Paul was not being stupid when he considered the intense persecutions that he personally suffered, and the Christians with him suffered, as “light afflictions” (2 Corinthians 4.8-11,17). They were light when compared with the “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” that waits for the Lord’s people in the immediate presence of their Triune God in heaven (vv.17-18). Other concerns that impact upon a Christian’s joy are seeing fellow-Christians suffer (1 Corinthians 12.26; 2 Corinthians 11.28), or seeing Christ himself rejected by loved ones (Romans 9.2-3; Luke 12.51-53).
Besides persecution, there are the afflictions of aches, pains, diseases, infirmities, and losses which we all suffer in this world, and which some suffer much more than others. The greatest of these, of course, is death itself. Christians believe and sing with the Psalmist, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Psalms 23.4).
To speak candidly: death is not the king of terrors for the Christian, because we find it to be a narrow path along which we do not walk alone, for “the LORD is my Shepherd”—Jehovah, our covenant-of-grace keeping God, our Saviour—is with us (Psalms 23.1,4). Through death we depart “to be with Christ, which is far better” than anything in this world (Philippians 1.23).
In this world, when we actually stop to pray and think about what we have in Christ, and from our knees we look up and forward, we only begin to discern what we have with Christ in heaven—much more: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1.21).
Unless we are in that last generation that will “not…sleep” (Christians should think about the passing of death as like falling asleep: 1 Corinthians 15.51; 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18), we will find that our own “walk through death’s dark vale” (Scottish metrical version of Psalms 23.4) will bring us into the presence of Christ in “paradise” (Luke 23.43; Revelation 2.7), in that intermediate state between our physical death and physical resurrection.
Later, when this world is brought to an end (2 Peter 3.10-13; Revelation 21.1-5), God “will raise up us” (1 Corinthians 6.14; 2 Corinthians 4.14)—and we will find for ourselves what is true for the Christian: “So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15.54-55).
“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty…I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Revelation 1.8,18). “…And so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4.17-18).
While all afflictions impact upon the joy of the Christian, they do not rob us of our joy. The Lord Jesus Christ is ours and we are his—and all the comforts that this covenant relationship brings shall keep this joy going in our hearts—even while circumstances and afflictions prevent us from expressing it outwardly.
This is the personal experience of a Christian: “though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4.15).
“For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope…And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose…What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8.22-24,28,31-32).
“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1.2-4).
The other reason for lack of joy in a Christian is personal sin. For this, the apostle James gives the remedy: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your [worldly] laughter be turned to mourning, and your [worldly] joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up” (James 4.7-10).
This lifting up will include the restoration of your joy in the Saviour. Why so? “If we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1.9). Now, it is only from such repentance that God will lift us up and restore in us this real, Spirit-cultivated joy.
It is only from the position of chastened humility, that you are encouraged to pray with king David: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.…Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.” (Psalms 51.7,12).