Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:11–13)
HOLINESS AND HAPPINESS
We’ve said that the goal of the Christian life is to glorify God by displaying our love for him in all that we do and say. We should want every action we take and every thought we have be an overflow of our joy in God. Another way to say this is to say that our holiness (a life lived for God’s glory) is measured by our happiness in God. Holiness is not about mere outward conformity to God’s commands (though that is a necessary component!). It is mainly about loving and delighting in God in everything that we do. Ultimately, our holiness and our happiness are not at odds with one another. God isn’t a champion of holiness at the expense of happiness. He delights in us when we delight in him. He doesn’t want begrudging, or even disinterested obedience. He wants joyful devotion. As John Piper says, “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in him.”
This is why God’s Word commands us over and over again to rejoice in God, delight in God, and be satisfied in him:
Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Psalm 34:8)
But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. (Psalm 5:11)
Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! (Psalm 32:11)
But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the LORD!” (Psalm 40:16)
Let the righteous one rejoice in the LORD and take refuge in him! Let all the upright in heart exult! (Psalm 64:10)
Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name! (Psalm 97:12)
Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice! (Psalm 105:3)
Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the LORD has done great things! (Joel 2:21)
Be glad, O children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God… (Joel 2:23)
May we shout for joy over your salvation, and in the name of our God set up our banners! May the LORD fulfill all your petitions! (Psalm 20:5)
Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright. (Psalm 33:1)
Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy! (Psalm 47:1)
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. (Psalm 67:4)
Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob! (Psalm 81:1)
Let the godly exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their beds. (Psalm 149:5)
Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 12:6)
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. (Philippians 3:1)
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)
But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:13)
Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; (Revelation 19:7)
These commands are joined by numerous statements about rejoicing in the Lord and pleas for God to satisfy his people with the gift of his own presence:
May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you! May those who love your salvation say evermore, “God is great!” (Psalm 70:4)
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. (Psalm 90:14)
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God… (Isaiah 61:10)
I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:18)
More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:11)
For you make him most blessed forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence. (Psalm 21:6)
Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God. (Psalm 43:4)
But the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy! (Psalm 68:3)
My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. (Psalm 84:2)
For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy. (Psalm 92:4)
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17 )
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13)
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. (Psalm 63:5–7)
Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure…. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:9–11)
You do not need to be a biblical scholar to see how prevalent and central our joy in God actually is in the Bible. This is not a minor theme. This is central to the Bible’s story and essential to our spiritual life and growth. Clearly, true spiritual happiness is worth fighting for.
THE ENEMIES OF JOY
We will have to fight, of course. As in any battle, there are enemies that stand between us and victory. In fact, there are three constant enemies that we have to face in this fight for joy: other pleasures (the world), our old selves (the flesh), and the Tempter (Satan). These three enemies work hand-in-hand, weaving together their deceptive and distracting webs all around us.
The Old (Sinful) Self
We need to begin by recognizing that even though we have been justified (declared righteous) by God through faith, we are still sinful people. We are sinful not because we continue to do sinful things. No, we continue to do sinful things because we are sinful people. We need to be sanctified. This means that, while our hearts have been made alive by God’s Spirit, our desires still need to be realigned in large measure. We are new, but we have to fight against the old man.
Paul can affirm “you have been raised with Christ,” (Colossians 3:1) while at the same time commanding us, “put to death, therefore, what is earthly in you,” (Colossians 3:3). There is a real sense in which “you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, (Colossians 3:9–10); but there is also a sense in which we must be told “to put off your old self, which… is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to… put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22–24).
So, first we need to recognize that the problem is not mainly “out there.” It is mainly “in here,” in our own hearts. A man commits sexual immorality because lust resides in his heart. A woman steals because she covets in her heart. Children fight because unrighteous anger and jealousy abound in their hearts. We will have to die to ourselves if we are to live for Christ. We will have to be able to say with Paul,
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20).
The Lure of the World
Of course, this does not mean that all of our problems are found in our own hearts. Adam and Eve did not have a sinful nature until after the Fall. They still faced temptation (and failed). Jesus, born in the “likeness of sinful flesh,” did not have a sinful nature. He is the second Adam. Nevertheless, he still faced temptation (and succeeded!).
We need to know and be prepared for two kinds of difficulty that come from the world. First, the world will offer us alternative, sinful sources of pleasure. There will be opportunities every day to place our joy and satisfaction in things that God has not given to us. Satan tempted Jesus to satisfy his hunger by turning stones into bread. But the Spirit had expressly led him out into the wilderness so that he could fast. If God wanted Jesus to eat bread, he could no doubt have provided it. Jesus’ response is telling, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4).
David, on the other hand, failed when presented with something that was not given to him by God. When he saw Bathsheba, he lusted after her and then took her for himself. The writer of 2 Samuel repeatedly calls her the “wife of Uriah” throughout the story, reminding us that she isn’t David’s wife. Even in the New Testament, she is called “the wife of Uriah,” (Matthew 1:6). David had no right to take her and make her his own. This is precisely the charge that Nathan the prophet levels at him:
*Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms… Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife… (2 Samuel 12:7–9). *
Even when David’s life is summed up much later in the story, this sin is singled out: “David did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite,” (1 Kings 15:5). Like David, we will often be tempted to take what does not belong to us or to use that which God has declared off-limits.
We will also face temptation in the world when we consider the good things that God has given to us. We will be tempted to make our families into an idol. This is why Jesus says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me,” (Matthew 10:37). We will be tempted to place our security in our jobs or the people around us. We will be tempted to love the things that God has given to us more than or instead of God himself. Rather than delighting in the Giver, we will be satisfied by the gift in and of itself. This satisfaction is always a lower, temporary source of joy (cf. “the fleeting pleasures of sin,” Hebrews 11:25).
God gives us good things so that we will rejoice in his goodness. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights,” (James 1:17). God is not a cosmic kill-joy. He delights to give us good things. That is why he is revealed as the “Father of lights” when he gives us good things. To turn away from him to his gifts is idolatry. We are, however, prone to idolatry, so we must fight idolatry. The fight against the old self and the things of the world are so bound together that we will almost always be fighting on more than one front.
The Garden of Eden was a peaceful, harmonious place. God and his people lived together in perfect peace. Adam’s delight in Eve was a delight in the one who had given her to him. The first couple’s enjoyment of the fruit of the Garden was an overflow of their joy in the maker of the Garden.
Enter the Serpent, whom John calls, “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world,” (Revelation 12:9). His goal is not to strip us of all happiness. Instead, he wants to insert doubt into our minds about God’s ability to satisfy us. He comes to propose alternative sources of joy. Following the Devil’s lies, we are told that Eve “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes,” (Genesis 3:6).
The word translated “delight” in this verse is found two times in Psalm 78:29-31. There we read:
And they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved. But before they had satisfied their craving, while the food was still in their mouths, the anger of God rose against them, and he killed the strongest of them and laid low the young men of Israel. (Psalms 78:29–31)
In this passage, the word “delight” is translated “craved” and “craving.” In the Psalm, we are told that God continued to provide manna and meat for the people of Israel despite their sin. He satisfied their physical cravings, yet his anger rose against them. The story the Psalmist is referencing is found in Numbers 11. We find the same word used there to describe the desires of the people of Israel: Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” (Numbers 11:4–6)
God has delivered Israel from slavery and he has gone with them and provided for them, but they are longing for the life of servitude they “enjoyed” in Egypt! In response, God gives them all the meat they could want and more. Listen to God’s judgment upon them. Take note of the reason for his fierce anger:
And say to the people, “Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat, for you have wept in the hearing of the LORD, saying, ‘Who will give us meat to eat? For it was better for us in Egypt.’ Therefore the LORD will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the LORD who is among you and have wept before him, saying, ‘Why did we come out of Egypt?’” (Numbers 11:18–20)
God is angry with Israel because their “desire” or “craving” for their old life in Egypt evidenced their rejection of him. This is what all sin is. We prefer other things to God. We doubt God’s goodness and the all-satisfying sweetness of his presence, so we go after lesser things. This is Eve’s downfall. This is the Fall of us all.
Satan’s goal is to convince that there is something better and more satisfying than life in God’s presence. His task is not simply to get us to do bad things, but to believe that God is not enough. He doesn’t have to convince us to hate God; he just needs to persuade us to love the things of the world more than we love God. Those things may be bad, or they may be gifts that God has given to us. The difference is negligible to the Tempter.
We have to be vigilant in the war against Satan, the world, and our own sinful nature. We need to recognize that this spiritual plane, at the level of desire and temptation, is where the real battle is to be fought:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:10–13)
Now that we know the nature of our enemies and have seen the theater of the conflict, in our next session we will begin to consider some of the protective armor and weapons that God has provided for us in the fight for joy in Christ.