Joy Is a Core Character Quality

September 22, 2014 | Martin Weber

Is joy a questionable amusement or a quality of character that facilitates revival and reformation? Last month we recognized joy at the core of the fruit of the Spirit, along with love and peace. Now let’s witness how the joy of the Lord offers strength to transform our lives.

Remember the woman at the well, imprisoned in shame and guilt. Jesus surprised her with joy. She ran back to town, shouting, “Come see a Man who told me everything I’ve ever done — is He not the Christ?” Her joy generated revival and reformation among her formerly resistant neighbors.

“The disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52). Such joy not only sparks enthusiasm for evangelism but also the radical financial generosity it will take to finish our gospel mission. The wise men traveling to Bethlehem saw the Savior’s star and “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matt. 2:10). Such joy unleashed their lavish generosity.

Zacchaeus was up a tree, entangled in greed, when Jesus came along and extended His gracious acceptance. “So he hurried down and received him joyfully” (Luke 19:6). Joy in the Spirit stimulated victory over the sin that had enslaved his life — just as with David, who said in Psalm 51, “Restore to me the joy of salvation, and I’ll sacrifice bullocks on your altar.”

The work of God will never be finished by the turtledoves of tithe. We need to willingly sacrifice our bullocks — that is, indulge ourselves in radical generosity. This happens spontaneously in the Spirit — only and always — when we discover God’s altar of joy.

Do you see the connection between joy and generosity, and also how joy spurs evangelistic zeal? So why are so many afraid of it?

Many devout Seventh-day Adventists shun God’s Spirit of joy because they fear it can be fermented into something dangerously intoxicating. But we can (and must) enjoy grape juice from God’s throne of grace without worrying about getting drunk. In fact, when we refuse that nourishment, will we not become dehydrated spiritually?

I’m glad we don’t have to choose between the extremes of getting drunk with mindless glee or getting dehydrated without genuine joy. The Spirit of joy is also the Spirit of truth. Christ’s death and resurrection are the foundational truths to which we bear witness. When we keep focus on those historic events, we need not fear the joy it inevitably generates.

“But, what about the judgment going on in heaven?” we may wonder. “Aren’t we living in the antitypical Day of Atonement, when we should be afflicting our souls in agonized preparation for Earth’s final time of trouble?”

No doubt colossal trouble looms before America as it descends into moral darkness. But we don’t need to inflict fear upon each other in another vain attempt to revive the church for the latter rain.

The book of Hebrews explains the doctrine of heaven’s sanctuary under the new covenant. It contrasts old covenant uncertainty regarding the Day of Atonement with the joyous confidence we have and our constant access to God through Jesus — in the specific timeframe of seeing “the Day drawing near” of Christ’s coming (see Heb. 10:19–25). Christ’s victory turned the Old Testament mercy seat into a throne — the throne of grace where He reigns as our royal high priest.

Endless warnings will not fortify us to face Earth’s final conflict with confidence. Yet some of what we are hearing and reading these days about revival and reformation resurrects and reinforces the dread under which too many of us were raised. What sincere believers in Jesus really need — now more than ever — is the joy of the Lord to be our strength. Nobody who has forsaken sin to embrace the Savior needs to fear trouble of any kind, present or future.

Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). He compared Earth’s final tribulation to a woman’s birth pangs and assured us that the birth of a baby will overshadow all her pain. So it will be at the end of time, when thousands will be converted in a day through the joyous witness of a Spirit-filled church. This evangelism explosion will stimulate within us even greater joy — despite persecution — just as it did for the first-century church.

Consider Mary when she visited Christ’s tomb to mourn his loss. There she discovered her Lord had risen indeed. What happened with her? She ran with “great joy” (Matt. 28:8) to testify about Christ’s resurrection.

Years of somber exhortations and admonitions about revival and reformation cannot produce the change that happens in one moment of Spirit-filled joy.