How To Be Joyful
As a third-century man was anticipating death, he penned these last words to a friend: “It’s a bad world, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any pleasure of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people are the Christians—and I am one of them.” According to these words, the Christian is one who has a joy that is independent of the pleasures and hardships of this world.
The subject of joy is a very helpful and much-needed reminder because all of us, from time to time, face the problem of discouragement. Left unchecked, discouragement can lead to a permanent state of depression where we can experience feelings of numbness, fear, and the brain feeling like fog. Just making it through the day is a battle for those struggling with depression. And just when the day is done, the night is another battle. Sleeplessness becomes a chronic issue. And as the night is done and the morning comes, the cycle starts all over again.
Whether one faces deep depression or even bouts of discouragement, Romans 12:12 has the cure—a genuine cure we can all experience that will not cost us a penny. Here is the cure: “Be joyful in hope.” It is a command, not an option. This means living a life void of joy is actually a sin!
Notice Paul does not just say, “Be joyful,” but “Be joyful in hope” or “be joyful because of the hope you have.” Paul knows that in this sin-affected world, joy does not come naturally—even for the believer. That’s why he states hope is the basis for joy.
Hope, by definition, refers to something that we don’t possess at present. It’s something we look forward to possessing in the future. So, what is this hope that is the basis of the joy that Paul is referring to in this verse? I believe it refers to the time when believers experience the full and final effects of our transformation—the event the Bible calls glorification when we will be made fully like Christ. I believe this is what Paul had in mind. Why do I say that? Because Paul mentions this hope earlier in Romans.
Romans 5:1-2 ” 1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.”
That phrase, “hope in the glory of God,” means “hope in sharing God’s glory.” We are justified (i.e. made right with God in his sight) due to faith in Christ. The war between God and us is over, and that’s why we have peace with God. This is the first stage of our salvation. As a result, we can now look forward to the final stage of our salvation as well, where we will share God’s glory, i.e., being made fully like Christ as we get new bodies.
This hope that we will get new bodies is what Paul says we should be looking forward to. And in Romans 12:12, he says such hope should be the cause of our joy. We rejoice in hope because of what awaits us in the future—being made like Christ when we receive new bodies that resemble his glorified body.
However, Paul was not the only one who wrote about this hope concerning the return of Christ and our bodies being changed. Even the apostle John mentioned it.
1 John 3:1-3 “1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”
According to John, this hope of being made like Christ in the future when he returns is not only the cause for our hope but is also a cause for pursuing purity.
So, this hope—the hope of being made fully like Christ—the purpose of God saving us should cause us to be abounding in joy since, at that time, there will be no more sorrow, no more tears, no more pain, only endless joy in worshiping our God the way he ought to be worshipped.
But in the meantime, even though we live in this sin-affected body, we are still called to rejoice, still called to exhibit a life of joy even in the midst of sorrow. Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 6:10 that he and the other apostles were “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” How can one do both? It’s possible when we understand that sorrow is still part of this sin-cursed world we live in, as evidenced by the same Paul stating later in Romans 12:15, “mourn with those who mourn.” And while there is the reality of sorrow, there is also the certainty of future blessings that should produce deep within us a sense of unquenchable joy. That’s Paul’s point. And as every day passes by, we are closer to this future reality when our hope will be realized, which in turn should cause us to be joyful.
We need to take this command to rejoice seriously. If we are commanded to be joyful not in our possessions and in our position but in the hope of Christ’s return, failure to do so is a sin!
Now, many would say, “I have a lot of joy. I’m not depressed.” Maybe you are one of them. If so, let me ask you this: What is your joy based upon? Is it based on having a secure and well-paying job? Is it based on having good relationships? Having good friends? Having good health? Having a healthy bank account? Not going through many afflictions?
If that is the case, may I tell you that is not the basis of the joy that Paul is talking about here. Even a worldly person, if they have these things, will experience joy. But take away one of these items, and their joy will fall vanish, and discouragement will set in quickly.
Think about it.
You can easily lose your job and thus lose your finances. Proverbs 11:28 says, “Those who trust in their riches will fall.”
People you trust can fail you or even die. Proverbs 11:7 says, “Hopes placed in mortals die with them; all the promise of their power comes to nothing.”
Health can fail overnight. 2 Corinthians 4:16 says, “…outwardly we are wasting away…”
The list can go on. Even right now, what is the main thing that is occupying your mind that is the cause of joy? If that is taken away, will your joy still be sustained? Something you need to ask and answer for yourself.
How, then, can we experience this joy? Allow me to walk you through this process. In Galatians 5:22-23, we are told that joy is one of the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit. So, joy is something that only the Holy Spirit can produce in our hearts. How does he do that? Through the Bible that he gave us! The Holy Spirit produces joy in our hearts as we submit to His Word.
There is a human side to this equation as well. We are to give ourselves to meditating and especially delighting in God’s Word and thereby allow the Holy Spirit to change us, which includes producing joy in our hearts. Let me list a few verses that stress this truth about delighting in God’s Word.
Psalm 119:16 I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.
Psalm 119:24 Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors.
Psalm 119:35 Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.
Psalm 119:47 …I delight in your commands because I love them.
Psalm 119:70 Their hearts are callous and unfeeling, but I delight in your law.
Psalm 119:77 Let your compassion come to me that I may live, for your law is my delight.
Psalm 119:92 If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.
Psalm 119:143 Trouble and distress have come upon me, but your commands give me delight.
Psalm 119:174 I long for your salvation, Lord, and your law gives me delight.
Jeremiah 15:16 When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear
your name, Lord God Almighty.
The more we take time to meditate on God’s word, believe it, pray it, and apply it, the more joy we will have. In context, the more we read about the return of Christ and our being made like Christ, the more we want this to happen, the more our hope will be strengthened, and the more joy we will experience. And the more joy we experience, the more we will patiently endure during times of affliction.
Show me a person who is given to a life of meditating, truly believing, I stress, truly believing God’s word with regards to the future and acting upon it, I will show you a person who is given to joy and not discouragement as a result of their strong hope. On the flip side, show me a person who is not believing and not focusing on God’s promises regarding the future, I will show you the one who is not given to a life of true biblical joy and one whose life is dependent only upon earthly circumstances. Things go well, they are joyful. Little change to their earthly comforts, they are down in discouragement.
Let’s not be like such people. Let’s pursue true biblical joy as a result of receiving God’s mercies by believing and delighting, and acting upon God’s promises regarding our future. That proves we are truly being transformed by the Spirit as we have our minds renewed by God’s Word.