The Flower and Life of True Religion

~~There are few topics that are more worthy of the Christian’s study and attention than the topic of Christian joy and rejoicing. Gordon Fee hits the nail on the head when he writes, “Joy…lies at the heart of the Christian experience of the gospel; it is the fruit of the Spirit in any truly Christian life, serving as primary evidence of the Spirit’s presence” (The Epistle to the Philippians, 81). He goes onto say that, “Unmitigated, untrammeled joy is . . . the distinctive mark of the believer in Christ Jesus” (ibid., 404). The great British expositor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, wrote that, “Nothing was more characteristic of the first Christians than this element of joy” (Life of Peace, 143). Elsewhere he said, “The greatest need of the hour is a revived and joyful church” (Spiritual Depression, 5). And perhaps the great Puritan Richard Baxter said it best when he said, “Delighting in God, and in his word and ways, is the flower and life of true religion” (The Cure of Melancholy, 257).This teaching absolutely permeates the entire New Testament and is everywhere confirmed by it. Take in this staggering emphasis on the centrality of joy in the Christian life as revealed in Scripture.•The kingdom of God itself is said to consist in joy. Romans 14:17: “The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.•Joy is atop the list of the fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy….”•The Gospel is good news of great joy (Luke 2:10).•The Gospel itself—the work of the Lord Jesus Christ—was fueled by joy.  Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus “endured the cross” “for the joy set before Him.”•Joy characterizes the very beginning of the Christian life. In Matthew 13:44, Jesus describes conversion as a man finding a treasure hidden in a field, “and from joy over it he goes and sells all he has and buys that field.” (See also Acts 13:48.)•Joy also characterizes the end of the Christian life. In Matthew 25:21, Jesus describes the welcome of His faithful servants into heaven with the phrase, “Enter into the joy of your master.•Joy is the great end and purpose of prayer. In John 16:24, Jesus commands His disciples, “Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.•Joy is the great end and purpose of Jesus’ teachings. In John 15:11, He tells the disciples, “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” And again in His high priestly prayer, He said, “these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves” (John 17:13)•Joy was the distinctive mark of the early church. Acts 13:52: “And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit•Joy is the true consequence and companion of saving faith. In Romans 15:13, Paul prays: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing.•Joy is the dominating characteristic of all true believers. 1 Peter 1:8: “And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.•Joy is the inevitable result of serving the Lord. Luke 10:17 records the great joy of the seventy disciples Jesus sent out to the lost sheep of the house of Israel•Joy is also the very goal of ministry for those ministered to. In 2 Corinthians 1:24, Paul describes his ministry to the Corinthians by saying, we “are workers with you for your joy.” And in Philippians 1:25, he tells the Philippians he’s convinced that he’ll remain on in the ministry “for your progress and joy in the faith.•Joy is what sustains suffering Christians in the midst of affliction. 1 Thessalonians 1:6, Paul says: “You . . . received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit.•Joy is the result of true Christian fellowship. In 1 Thessalonians 3:9, Paul asks his dear friends, “For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account?”•And finally, joy is the very occupation of heaven itself, as we learn in Luke 15:10 that “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” There simply cannot be any doubt as to the centrality of joy in the Christian life. Any thought of joy as being the “icing on the cake” of the Christian life, or a “take-it-or-leave-it” fruit of the Spirit, falls woefully short of the biblical testimony. The kingdom of God, the fruit of the Spirit, the Gospel itself, the beginning and the end of the Christian life, the goal of prayer, the goal of the Word, the goal of ministry, the result of fellowship, the strength to endure suffering, and the occupation of heaven. Joy absolutely saturates the pages of Scripture.And in the same way, it must saturate every fiber of our soul and of every aspect of our Christian lives. It is to be the distinctive and dominating characteristic of the Christian life. It is, as Baxter said, the flower and life of true religion. May God give us grace to pursue our greatest and highest joy in Him through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

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