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Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part 11: Clarity About the Fruit: Joy

You could rightly say that joy is rooted in the phrase, “I know something you don’t know.”

I heard that particular singsong chant from my multiple siblings plenty of times when I was growing up. It was a tease, but it was also true. They did know something I did not know and it gave them a lot of joy to be the one who got to tell the secret.

It seems that many believers have mistaken joy for something other than it is. Joy is equated with happiness. Or joy is compared to emotional elation. And though sometimes joy can include people feeling happy and elated, this is not the essence of the fruit that the Spirit is producing in us.

Since the fruit of the Spirit is the character of Jesus on display, the question has to be: What did joy look like to Jesus? What comes to my mind is what the writer of Hebrews says as he fortifies his readers’ hearts in the face of persecution and uncertainty. He reminds them that a great crowd of witnesses is surrounding them, like a stadium of fans cheering them on. Then, encouragingly, he adds, “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV)

Jesus knew something we did not know. He knew that joy was the product of the glory of God. And because he knew this, he willing looked the cross in the face and accepted that suffering, shame and death was the pathway he would take. He was not naïve about this. He was not some Pollyannaish kind of person looking for some reason to be glad about rejection and death. He knew the reason. From eternity he knew the Father’s plan to redeem humankind from our decisive rebellion that trapped us in sin. He knew he would sit at the Father’s right hand as he gloriously defeated sin and death.

Joy is rooted in hope—hope of the glory of God—which all who have sinned fall short of, but those who believe can now boast in (Romans 5:2). This hope should make our hearts glad when things are going great—your children growing and learning, your marriage solid, promotions at work, eating all the chocolate you could want. And the same hope should make your heart leap for joy when you find yourself in adverse conditions.

You see, joy is not attached to your circumstances. It is a product of the Spirit filling you up with the reality of what is to come and the knowledge of how to live that out in the present, whether your life is full of happiness or sorrow. Joy knows the ending—that security and fulfilment are coming.

On the day before he died, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was persuaded to hold a service with his then three or four fellow prisoners. He spoke on the statement from Isaiah 53 “. . . with his stripes we are healed” and I Peter 1:3, which says: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

Shortly after the service, the Gestapo came and took him away for execution. As they arrived and called him to accompany them, Dietrich’s last words to fellow prisoner, Payne Best, were, “This is the end—for me the beginning of life.”

I dare say few of us will face a martyr’s ending to our lives. But however we live out the life God has granted to us, we need the same hope, the same joy, produced in us by the Spirit that Dietrich Bonhoeffer demonstrated. We need it when people seek to make us miserable. When those we trust do things to shake our world. When sickness stalks our home. When our bank account runs into the red through no fault of our own. When the culture around us adopts a reckless abandonment of truth and morality. It is in these kinds of circumstances that we need to know something more, something that we did not know before, but now know because the Spirit revealed it to us. Joy is knowing that we are God’s very own. That He will never let us go. That He is renewing us day by day. That nothing that comes against us will prevent God’s eternal purpose for you from succeeding.

And if you did not know that before, now you do.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NIV)

-Steve Smith