Admittedly, there are some truths in Scripture that are difficult to understand. No less a luminary than the Apostle Peter acknowledges this. Speaking of the letters written by Paul, Peter confesses that they contain “some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction” (II Pet. 3:16). Other truths are completely transparent: for example, the following statement made by Christ, which we will consider here. “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:11). It is not our purpose in these paragraphs to discuss what it is that produces this joy, which Christ has promised. (But for those who do not have a Bible handy and may not be familiar with this chapter, it can be said that Christ explains that joy results from abiding in Him as a branch abides in the vine. He further expounds that abiding in His love involves obedience to His Word, or keeping His commandments.) Rather, we want to consider the implications of this verse.
The overwhelming truth confronting us in this verse is that the Lord wants believers to live a life of joy. Contrary to the opinion of the world and the lies whispered by our own flesh, the life of a believer is not one of colorless drabness, restrictive rules and regulations that cramp your style, and boring duties and responsibilities. A person who views Christianity in that perspective or who is in actuality living that kind of life does not know the Lord at all or is living under a grievous misconception. We must make clear that biblical joy should not be confused with happiness, which is essentially a positive emotional response to pleasant circumstance, nor to joviality, which is the expression of a human personality trait. Unlike the joy of the Lord, neither is substantial. The joy that Christ desires us to experience is not governed by experience nor affected by human emotion. At times joy manifests itself in a lightness and cheeriness of spirit but it cohabits with suffering, sorrow, and grief as well. John MacArthur has defined it as “the settled conviction that God sovereignly controls the events of life for believers’ good and His glory.” The Lord desires that we experience a joy-filled life because He wants us to enjoy that fruit of salvation. But He also desires it because a joyful believer glorifies Him and His saving work. When others are hurt, angry, depressed, complaining, and swearing, while a believer rests serenely in the joyful confidence that he is under the watchful eye and guiding hand of an all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving God, they take note, affording the believer an opportunity to explain that his joy is the fruit of God’s saving work on his behalf.
A second truth found in this verse is that the joy spoken of here is not of human derivation. As suggested above, it is both more than and other than a lighthearted human emotion. It is supernatural in origin. This joy is the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22). It is an aspect or quality of the very character of Christ that He imparts to the believer through the indwelling Spirit of God when he is saved. It is not a quality that the believer must endeavor to discover within himself or manufacture through the power of positive thinking, or the use of any other mental exercise. This joy is Spirit-wrought, the work of God in a believer. Hence, Christ refers to it as “My joy.”
Third, when He imparts this gift, it becomes “your joy.” But unlike the sinless Christ, believers can and do stifle, even extinguish, that joy by sinning and simply because of human frailty. Knowing the human condition, Christ assures believers that He wants that joy to “be made full.” Exclusively sad, completely somber, overwhelmingly depressed believers do not manifest the trademark of faith—joy—nor do they satisfy the desire of the Lord that they be joyful, nor do they experience one of the foundational blessings of salvation, nor do they testify to the saving grace of God as they ought. To repeat: it is the desire of the Lord that believers live a joyful life, even (perhaps, especially) in times of grief, sorrow, and trials. The full joy of which Christ speaks is the heritage of the believer, part of his birthright, if you will. The believer should desire it for himself as Christ desires it for him for his own blessedness and God’s glory. And he should pursue it with fervor and diligence. The fifteenth chapter of John reveals how to do that. It is not hard to understand.
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