Joyless Christianity Is Dangerous

Such joy cannot be extinguished by the circumstances of life. It is a God-given joy greater and stronger than any trouble that comes into my life. As the prophet Habakkuk says,

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17–18)

As a spiritual barometer, joy is not a slave to circumstances. The light of Jesus’ face shines in the darkest night. Jesus said, No one will take your joy from you (John 16:22).

Joy Protects From Religion

How does Christ-gazing, Spirit-given joy keep us safe? Here are two ways.

First, joy keeps you safe as you serve. If you lose your joy, that could be a sign that your work for the Lord is no longer worship. Joy protects you from serving God for the wrong reasons.

George Müller was an evangelist and orphanage director in Bristol, England. He is famous for his tremendous faith and amazingly effective ministry—he cared for over 10,000 orphans over the course of his life. And joy was Müller’s first priority each day:

Joy protects you from serving God for the wrong reasons.

I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how the inner life might be nourished.

Working hard for Jesus—even caring for thousands of orphans—is a cold and empty duty if we have lost the warmth of our love for Christ. Joy keeps you safe from serving as a religious duty.

Joy Protects From Temptation

Second, joy keeps you safe from temptation. Matthew Henry said, “Joy in the Lord will guard you from the empty pleasures the tempter uses to bait his hooks.”

Joy protects you because joy in Christ comes from being satisfied in Christ. I like what Jonathan Edwards says:

The enjoyment of (God) is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, children, or the company of earthly friends are but shadows, but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams, but God is the ocean.

When I get up from the table after Thanksgiving, the last thing I want is more food. You can’t tempt me with another bite. In the same way, it’s hard for Satan to tempt a joyful believer with the empty pleasures of this world.

A joyful believer is already more than satisfied in Christ—what more could he possibly want? Make it a point to be satisfied in Christ so that you rejoice in the Lord, and you will find safety and strength in your fight against sin.

Coal miners know that if the canary is not singing, there is trouble on the way.

So rejoice in the Lord! To write the same things is safe for you.  

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Jim Johnston is senior pastor of Tulsa Bible Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the author The Psalms: Rejoice, the Lord Is King (Crossway, 2015). He and his wife, Lisa, have four teenage children.