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The Joy of God in Us: Why the Spirit Produces HappinessBy Jon Bloom — 12 months ago
As we read through the New Testament, we encounter a unique connection between the Holy Spirit and joy. I’ll give you a few examples. Luke tells us how at one point Jesus “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit” (Luke 10:21) and Paul tells us how the Thessalonian Christians had “received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:6–7). In Romans, Paul instructs us that “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).
I call this connection unique (and worthy of further reflection) because the New Testament pairs joy with the Holy Spirit in a way it doesn’t with other affections. For instance, we don’t read of people experiencing the “sorrow of (or in) the Holy Spirit” or the “anger of (or in) the Holy Spirit,” even though it’s clear the Spirit can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30) and angered (Romans 1:18).
So, why does the New Testament uniquely tie joy to the Holy Spirit? To explore this question, we’ll briefly look at who (and what) the Holy Spirit is, what it means for us to experience this Spirit-empowered joy, and what difference it makes in the Christian life.
Spirit of Joy
Two qualifications before I delve in further. First, the few words I’m about to share on the nature of the Holy Spirit are, I believe, foundationally helpful to understanding the joy that the Holy Spirit produces in us. I don’t have space here, however, to offer a full treatment of that complex reality, so if you’d like to explore this further, this sermon by John Piper and this article by Scott Swain are good places to start.
Second, it’s helpful to keep in mind that while Scripture describes the Holy Spirit as a divine person distinct from the Father and the Son (John 15:26), it also describes him as the Spirit of the Father (Matthew 10:20) and the Spirit of the Son (1 Peter 1:11). In one place, Paul refers to the Spirit in all three Trinitarian ways in the space of three verses (Romans 8:9–11). As we talk about the joy of the Holy Spirit, we need to remember the oneness of God.
Now, let’s probe deeper into the nature of the Trinity as it relates to joy. Citing New Testament texts such as 1 John 4:16 — “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” — theologians at least as far back as Augustine have understood the Holy Spirit to be the living, personified love flowing between the Father and the Son (John 17:26). John Piper says it this way — and note the connection between the love of God and the joy of God:
God the Holy Spirit is the divine person who “originates” (eternally!) from the Father and the Son in their loving each other. And this love is not a “merciful” love as if they needed pity. It is an admiring, delighting, exulting love. It is Joy. The Holy Spirit is God’s Joy in God. To be sure, he is so full of all that the Father and Son are, that he is a divine person in his own right. But that means he is more, not less, than the Joy of God. (“Can We Explain the Trinity?”)
Piper goes on to say, “This means that Joy is at the heart of reality. God is Love, means most deeply, God is Joy in God.” If an essential dimension of the Spirit’s nature is that he is “God’s Joy in God” personified, that helps us understand what makes the joy he produces in us a distinctive joy.
God’s Joy in Us
When we experience the joy of the Holy Spirit, we taste the joy that is at the core of ultimate reality. For when we are born again by the Spirit (John 3:6–7), we receive the astounding, incredible, empowering, priceless gift of the Holy Spirit who resides in us, just as Jesus promised:
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:16–17)
And when the Holy Spirit dwells in us, the Father and the Son dwell in us — and we in them (John 17:20–21):
If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (John 14:23)
Given all that Jesus says about the Spirit in John 14–16, we know that the Spirit factored significantly in what he meant when he said,
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:11)
“When we experience the joy of the Holy Spirit, we taste the joy that is at the core of ultimate reality.”
For the only way we can abide in the Son (John 15:4–5), the only way the Son and the Father can abide in us (John 14:23), the only way the Son’s words can truly abide in us (John 15:7), and the only way the Son’s joy in the Father and the Father’s joy in the Son can abide in us is by the Helper, the Holy Spirit, dwelling in us.
This is why Jesus said our experience of the Holy Spirit would be like having “rivers of living water” within us (John 7:38–39). The Spirit is the indwelling wellspring of joy in God that we experience as we “live by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20).
Joy of Believing
This brings us to the unique experience of joy that a Christian experiences by the power of the Holy Spirit in this age. We see it all over the New Testament, but Paul captures it beautifully in Romans 15:13:
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.
Paul describes the ground of this Spirit-empowered, joy-producing hope in Romans 5:
Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. . . . And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1–2, 5)
And Peter describes the ineffable joy produced by the love we experience for the now-unseen Jesus, in whom we believe because of his Spirit-revealed word:
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8–9)
This is how the New Testament typically describes the joy we receive from the Holy Spirit: hope in the glory of God’s grace, received by faith, fills us with deep joy in the Spirit.
He was watching the Father, by the power of his Spirit, reveal the gospel of the kingdom to “little children,” and fill them with hope in the glory of God’s grace toward them as they believed in it, that moved Jesus to “rejoice in the Holy Spirit” (Luke 10:21). It was hope in the glory of God’s grace toward them that filled Gentile disciples “with joy and with the Holy Spirit” as they believed the gospel (Acts 13:52). And it was hope in the glory of God’s grace toward them that filled the Thessalonians “with the joy of the Holy Spirit” as they believed the gospel message, even though they received it “in much affliction” (1 Thessalonians 1:6–7).
Joy to Pursue
We all know from personal experience and observation that Christians are not always filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit. The fact that the New Testament repeatedly draws our attention to specific instances when believers experienced this joy shows that the early Christians didn’t always experience it either.
“This Joy of God is an eternal joy — it will outlast death and only increase in us forever.”
But Paul said that “joy in the Holy Spirit” is a crucial dimension of the kingdom of God (Romans 14:17). It is something we are to pursue. For Joy is at the heart of reality, and if the Spirit dwells in us, we have the one who is ultimate Joy dwelling within us. So, to experience the joy of the Holy Spirit is to experience the joy of “life indeed” (1 Timothy 6:19 NASB).
Not only that, but it is to experience indomitable joy. For this Spirit-empowered joy can’t be destroyed by persecution (Colossians 1:24), suffering (Romans 5:3–4), various trials (1 Peter 1:6–7), sorrow (2 Corinthians 6:10), or a sentence of death (Philippians 1:21). In fact, it is the hope of this joy set before us that helps us, like Jesus, endure all manner of adversity, suffering, and death (Hebrews 12:2). And that is because this Joy of God is an eternal joy — it will outlast death and only increase in us forever (Psalm 16:11; Mark 10:21). Indeed, it is the hope of this eternal joy set before us, which we lay hold of by faith, that makes us “more than conquerors” over any would-be obstacle to the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:35–39).
And so, “May the God of hope fill [us] with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit [we] may abound in hope.”
If God Is Sovereign, Why Is His World Full of Suffering?By John Piper — 1 year ago
We open the week with a pretty raw email from a hurting man — a hurting dad. He’s sad over the brokenness of the world. And that brokenness hits home for him. Here’s his story, sent in as an anonymous email.
“Dear Pastor John, to be totally truthful and honest with you, I struggle to believe the Lord is completely ruling his world today. It’s impossible to believe simply because of the state of the world today — or, I should say, his world today. Not only has our nation gone down a slippery road of immoral self-destruction, but our economy is faltering. National debt is skyrocketing. The unborn are massacred daily. Murder rates in America are swelling. In Chicago the crime rate has escalated to such a high degree that I’m beginning to believe it is safer in Iraq or Afghanistan than it is in the South Side. Most children sleep under their beds in fear they may become victims of gun violence.
“The struggles hit home for us, too, a family of four. We have a son born with ADHD, and this has created a life of pure frustration, pain, sorrow, and sometimes even despair. One night while attempting to do his school homework across the kitchen table, he told me, ‘Dad, I hate going to school. Even the teachers make fun of me. I hate ADHD and this medication that makes me sick to my stomach.’ Pastor John, if God is in charge, why is there so much suffering all around?”
Well, the most grievous thing this dear man says is “It is impossible to believe.” And so I’ve been praying — I pray now — that God might perhaps use something I say to make it possible again. We’ve tried to address this question many times at Desiring God and in Ask Pastor John. But when I saw the question, I thought, I really do want to address this again.
World of Pain
I feel the gut-wrenching pressure of the problem, not just because of the way this man so effectively articulated it, but also because a while back, Noël and I watched a three-part documentary called Pain, Pus, and Poison. And in the second episode, about the history leading up to the discovery of penicillin and the emergence of antibiotics in the twentieth century, I was almost overwhelmed with the thought of how many thousands of years the world languished horribly under the most horrific diseases with no medical defense whatsoever — and in fact, with medical procedures that often made matters worse.
For example, the night before George Washington died, they bled four pints of blood from his body. Four pints. That’s almost 40 percent of his blood. That second episode showed pictures of people dying of horrible open infections and little children covered with smallpox sores as I watched their mothers fanning the flies off of them just waiting for their children to die. When I saw them, my wife looked away. She couldn’t look. And I just felt myself gasping, saying, “No! What if I were there? What if I were the parent fanning this horribly deformed child, hideously covered with smallpox sores, and just waiting for a miserable death?” And that happened millions of times in the history of the world.
Most of us in the West have been spared any immediate contact with the most gruesome, ghastly, repugnant forms of infection and disfigurement and writhing pain. And I felt the force of the question, “God, what does this mean about you? What are you doing? What are you saying?”
And I’m aware from this man’s question, and from thousands of others, that such experiences of unimaginable suffering and hideous disfigurement have confirmed countless people in unbelief. They would say, as he does, “It’s impossible, Piper. It’s just impossible to believe anymore, simply because of the state of the world today.” That’s his quote — only I’m saying the problem is worse. It’s horribly worse, because between 1900 and 1977, 300 million people died of smallpox. Then, with a massive global vaccination effort in 1977, it was gone — and today, nobody. Think of it: from 300 million to nobody. Nobody gets smallpox. Nobody gets polio.
The problem with suffering is not that the world has gotten worse. Oh yes, it’s plenty bad, and he documented its badness. It’s plenty bad. But the worst problem is that for thousands of years, the world had it so much worse than it is today in terms of horrific suffering. So how do I, John Piper, stay a believer when the little suffering that I have been exposed to, directly and indirectly, takes my breath away? Here’s my witness. I think I’ve got three thoughts here.
Scripture Is Not Naive
One, the first thing that grips me is the absolute realism of the Bible. I spent several years writing a book on providence, and month after month I was stunned at how candid and open and blunt and even gory the Bible is in presenting God’s judgments upon the world, especially his own people. Just a taste from Deuteronomy 28:
The Lord will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew. . . . And you shall be a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. And your dead body shall be food for all birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth. . . . The Lord will strike you with the boils of Egypt, and with tumors and scabs and itch, of which you cannot be healed. The Lord will strike you with madness and blindness and confusion of mind . . . because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God . . . because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things. (Deuteronomy 28:22, 25–28, 45, 47)
“The Bible doesn’t shrink back from any horror or injustice in this world.”
Now, my point here is simply that our objections to God’s ways are not because we have seen things more clearly or honestly than the Bible sees them. The Bible doesn’t shrink back from any horror or injustice in this world. That’s my first step. I can’t throw away the Bible because it’s naive or deceptive or a whitewash of the miseries that God himself ordains.
Suffering Witnesses to Sin
Here’s my second step: I would say that the physical horrors in the world can make sense to us and have meaning and eventual righteous resolution only if we come to embrace the biblical reality that sin against an infinitely wise and just and good God is a moral outrage greater than the physical outrage of centuries of global suffering. Let me say that again, because it is the heart of the matter, and it is very difficult for people without the Holy Spirit’s massive work to embrace: the physical horrors of suffering in this world can make sense to us and have meaning and eventual righteous resolution only if we come to embrace the biblical reality that sin against an infinitely wise and just and good God is a moral outrage greater than the physical outrage of centuries of global suffering.
I’m not saying that each experience of suffering corresponds to each person’s particular sins. If that were true, we’d all be in hell. As far as I can tell, and as far as the Bible reveals, there is no clear correlation between the extent of an individual’s suffering in this world and the extent of their guilt. What I’m referring to is what Paul means in Romans 8:20–23, when he says,
The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. [It’s like the earth is pregnant and screaming with birth pains.] And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
The universal groaning of creation, the agonizing of all creation in suffering, is owing to what verse 20 calls “subjection,” the creation’s subjection, and what verse 21 calls “bondage to corruption.” And this subjection and corruption is owing to the one who is subjected it “in hope” — namely, God.
This is what I’m referring to when I say that the sin that came into the world through Adam and spread to all people is a moral outrage greater than the physical outrage of suffering, which means that seeing and believing the goodness and justice of God assumes a Copernican revolution of our mind and heart. If we’re going to see God as good and just and wise, we have to undergo such a profound mental and spiritual Copernican revolution of mind and heart so that God ceases to be a planet circling the sun of humanity and becomes the massive, blazing, glorious sun at the center of the solar system of all things. God becomes supreme reality. His being becomes the supreme worth and treasure of the universe.
“All human suffering is a screaming witness to the greater horror of human sin.”
Only in this way will the moral outrage of sin be seen as worse than the physical outrage of suffering, which means very practically that when I gasp at the hideous pictures in the documentary and find myself inevitably saying, “Oh God, oh God, what does this mean?” the answer I hear is “All human suffering is a screaming witness to the greater horror of human sin.”
Christ Died for Sinners
Finally, the third thing that keeps me believing is that God sent his Son into this world, sent his very self, to suffer a moral outrage greater than the outrage against his Father by all his people in their sin. For the infinitely pure and good and wise and strong and holy Son of God to descend to the degradation and torture of a Roman crucifixion is enough suffering, enough indignity, to cover all the outrage of all the sins of all who believe.
Therefore, all who believe will have eternal life; all who believe will have eternal joy. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). So I don’t claim that such faith is simple or easy. It is a gift, and I am simply bearing witness to how it is that I am still a Christian.
Trembling Before God on SundayBy John Piper — 8 months ago
On Monday we looked at humor. In what ways is a humorous personality a liability? That was APJ 1813. The answer there was that humor can be stewarded well. The key is developing sober-mindedness — an awareness that doesn’t abolish humor, but puts humor in its place and protects things that are greater and more glorious. To be sober-minded, as we saw, is to cultivate a “demeanor that corresponds to the weight of the great things of life.” Which means we must avoid being “obsessed” with humor to the point that we become “incapable of serious moments” and “allergic” to them to the point that we become quick to break serious moments with injected humor. In other words, we must learn to tremble before God. This word is especially relevant to the tone of our Sunday gatherings together.
And that brings us to today. In the presence of God, everything trembles. The earth trembles, according to Psalm 114:7: “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob.” The psalmist trembles in Psalm 119:120: “My flesh trembles for fear of you, and I am afraid of your judgments.” Indeed, the one who trembles at God’s word, that person catches God’s attention, according to what he tells us in Isaiah 66:2: “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” And in the New Testament, Paul calls us in Philippians 2:12 —Christians — to “work out” our salvation “with fear and trembling.”
So why do Christians tremble? Here’s Pastor John to explain, from a 2005 sermon.
Here’s Revelation 19:15: “From his mouth comes a sharp sword [now, this is describing Jesus at his second coming] with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” Now, that last sentence is exceedingly terrible. “He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.”
Just make four observations:
1. God is “Almighty.” We are not dealing here with a mere president of the United States, the mere premier of China. We’re dealing here with the person whose power includes all the power of the political realm, and all the power of the electromagnetic realm, and all the power of the atomic realm, and all the power of the gravitational pull of the biggest stars in the universe, and all the power that upholds the universe by the word of his might. We are dealing here with what’s called Almighty — omnipotence, absolute sovereignty — and he is angry.
2. The second observation is that this Almighty God is about to pour out his wrath. So, he is a God of love (the Bible is clear about that) and he is also a God of justice and holiness and wrath (the Bible is very clear about that). We need to know God as he is, not as we make him up to be.
3. The third observation is that this wrath is full of fury — “the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” It’s not a cool opposition. It’s not emotionally indifferent. It is a furiously angry wrath.
4. The fourth observation, and it’s the most terrible, is that it is like Christ treading a winepress in which the unbelieving are under his feet, and their blood flows like wine from the winepress.
That’s the image of the beloved apostle John, among others. And my point today is this should produce a certain appropriate emotional response in us.
Favor for the Trembling
Psalm 114:7: “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob.” Psalm 119:120: “My flesh trembles for fear of you, and I am afraid of your judgments.” That’s a very godly man talking. Isaiah 66:2: “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble [this is God talking] and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” God’s countenance shines with favorable grace upon trembling people.
“God’s countenance shines with favorable grace upon trembling people.”
Or here’s the New Testament testimony that we should all heed. Philippians 2:12: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” To all believers, the Bible says, “Get on the road that leads to life. And if necessary, cut off your hands to stay there; gouge out your eyes to stay there. This is war, all the way to heaven. And as you go, let there be fear and trembling upon this road.”
This is not something you grow out of as you get more mature as a Christian. “Oh, maybe you start afraid, and then later on there’s no fear and trembling.” This is something that immature Christians must necessarily grow into, not something you grow out of.
Our Dread and Sanctuary
To which you should perhaps respond, “But doesn’t the Bible teach, ‘Fear not,’ dozens of places? Doesn’t it say, ‘Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God’ (Isaiah 41:10)? So, what are you saying about the ‘fear not’ passages if you’re calling us to experience normal Christianity as fear and trembling?”
What does “fear not” mean? It means two things:
It means fear God, not man.
It means don’t fear God as your enemy; fear him as one who was your enemy, and who is very great.
Let me give you a text for each of those. Fear God, not man: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). This is the way I would put it: “Fear distrusting God; don’t fear displeasing men.” Let it be a terrifying prospect to you to distrust your God, but don’t let it be at all a terrifying prospect to you to displease your enemy who might cut off your head. That’s all they can do: cut off your head. But God, after the head has been cut off, can cast the soul into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear distrusting God. Fear turning away from God.
“Don’t fear God as your enemy; fear him as one who was your enemy, and who is very great.”
Isaiah 8:12 puts it this way — this is a paradoxical verse: “Do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts . . . let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary” (Isaiah 8:12–14).
It’s like when my son Karsten visited Dick Teagan at age six. There was this big German shepherd who met him eye to eye in the doorway at age six. And he was very much afraid. And Dick said, “Don’t be afraid; she’s very friendly.” We sent Karsten to the car to get something we’d forgotten, and he went trotting out to the car, and this dog comes loping up behind him with a deep rumble in her voice. It did not look like this dog was safe. And Dick hollered out to him, “Oh, Karsten, better not run away from her. She doesn’t like people to run away from her.”
And I took mental note: “That’s going into a sermon, because that’s exactly the way God is.” He’s a very friendly God. He just doesn’t like people to run away from him. And he will lope after you with a deep rumble in his voice. And if you don’t heed that rumble and turn and hug his neck, you’re going to be history forever.