If God grants his Holy Spirit freely by grace through faith, such that anyone who believes in Jesus and is therefore made pure by his sacrifice can be filled with his presence, why do Christians not continually feel the secure joy of that presence? To put it another way, why does it appear that a Christian must work to attain the joy which is promised in grace?
Jesus prayed to his heavenly Father saying
“I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.”
– John 17:13
Jesus taught so that his disciples would have joy. Yet this is certainly not my experience of reading and hearing Christ’s word. Often it’s a chore, a bore and a burden.
This notion of joy in Christ is actually only being summarised here. In Chapter 15 there is an extended discourse on this.
Jesus taught his disciples that they were like fruit on a vine and he himself was the vine. They depend on him (John 15:1-5). Those who abide in Christ, the vine, are granted an answer to every prayer. Jesus assumes that those who abide in him will pray for much fruit, as this is the promised result of their prayers (John 15:6-8). His followers are promised the love of God, the Fatherly affection Jesus enjoyed as they obey Christ’s word (John 15:9-10).
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:11)
All this abiding, obeying, praying and fruit bearing is summarised as Christ’s will for his followers to have joy.
There is a thoroughly holistic appreciation for the human being in Jesus’ words. He captures our imaginations, calls us to think and pray and act. Yet all these things are a part of us being joined with Christ. It’s not as though union with Christ is some kind of ecstatic experience. It’s the hard work of listening and obeying and loving and being loved. Jesus seems to think this somehow adequate for his followers to find joy.
This great pursuit and monumental task of knowing Jesus and obeying him and feeling the Father’s love and baring good fruit and above all being a disciple. This is the joy promised in Christ.
You see there is an unfortunate assumption amongst many that conversion to the Christian faith is a one time event, a last stop on the train as it were. This is not the case!
It may be far more appropriate to speak of the faith as a vast walled garden. In believing we enter, and are perhaps greeted by many dazzling and wonderful things. But we see beyond and notice a vast work to be done. The cultivation of our own souls and of our world.
It is this work to which Christians are called. This discipleship. And it’s for our joy.
Is this a contradiction? Does this mean our joy is no gift, but some wage? The wage of doing what we think we ought? The wage of meeting others or our own expectations?
Maybe that’s a matter of faith.
But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works.