- Keith Harris
The Fruit of the Spirit
Some people just seem to be missing something in their lives…joy! We all experience people like this. Remember the movie “Grumpy Old Men”? As if that was not grumpy enough, we have the sequel, “Grumpier Old Men”. We all experience people like this. Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
At times, it is difficult to express our joy because we are not sure there is something of which to be joyous. Sometimes a thing can be ennobling and enslaving at the same time. Think about the U.S. Declaration of Independence. It is one of the greatest documents the world has ever seen. It’s unique in striking a blow for freedom and in the inspiration, it has provided for people around the world to be free. But one sentence in the Preamble has often been misinterpreted in a way that has caused many to, ironically, be miserable. It’s a sentence you likely know: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Let’s think on this last part for a moment. Jefferson wasn’t saying that God would guarantee our happiness. He didn’t say happiness is a birth rite for Americans. He simply said that God created the world in a way that includes natural rights – rights such as the right to live, the right to be free, and the right to pursue happiness. No problems so far. All of that is true. But here is where Americans (and most everyone else, too) take a wrong turn: we assume that God’s greatest goal is for us to be happy. The faulty logic looks like this: 1) God wants me to be happy, 2) Whatever brings me pleasure makes me happy, 3) Therefore, God approves of everything that makes me happy. There are so many things wrong with this it’s difficult to know where to begin. So, let’s begin, as they say, at the beginning.
God wants us to be holy.
Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:14-16, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” In 1 John 3:2-5, John says, “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.”
God wants us to be different.
In John 15:19, John wrote, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” James 4:4 says, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Paul wrote in Romans 12:1-2, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
God wants us to be faithful.
In Matthew 23:23, Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” In the letter addressed to the church in Smyrna, Jesus said, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
Our problem is simple: we think we know more than God what will make us happy. But we don’t. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” When we believe our pursuit of happiness gives us license to sin, we become Christian Atheists, living as if we don’t believe there is a God. No matter what we think, God never condones sin, no matter how happy it makes us or seems to make us. At times, we convince ourselves that certain actions or activities or possessions will bring us the happiness and joy we desire, But true happiness comes from loving God and living your life in service to him and others. It doesn’t come from living selfishly and doing anything and everything you think will make you happy. Psalm 68:3 says, “But the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy!”
Joy has been defined as “the evidence of the presence of God in your life.” Joy should not be mistaken with “happiness.” Joy is mentioned some 240 times in the Bible. Happiness only appears 28 times. Happiness is dependent on what happens to you. But joy comes from the inside. Joy comes from understanding who God is, what He has done, and the love He has for us. When we are able to see the reality of God’s deep love for us, we are led to live a life that honors and glorifies Him. It’s that kind of life that produces biblical joy. So, no matter what is happening in our lives, we will be able to celebrate with a joy that is inexpressible. Considering the way this world brings challenges at every turn, we know we have to fight for joy. Fighting for joy involves focusing on the mighty deeds of God and His redemptive work in Christ. Our joy in God will be greater when we see Him as the one who gives both the joy and the strength to fight for it.