Since “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace . . .” (Gal. 5:22), joy is both an indicator and a vindicator of revival and reformation. Genuine joy also helps generate both revival and reformation.
On Pentecost, when the resurrected Christ took His throne as Lord in heaven’s sanctuary, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon believers. Life became a festival of love, joy and peace. Christ’s disciples and their converts “ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:46-47). Even while suffering persecution for bearing witness to the Resurrection of Jesus, their joy was unquenchable (see Acts 5:41). “The disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52).
Can that be honestly said about us in our quest for revival and reformation?
Or are we so wary of emotionalism that we suppress the joy of the Lord—which is our strength in the Spirit?
At this point we must emphatically declare that joy in the Spirit is not a party for half-hearted hypocrites. All who refuse to repent of sin are indulging in their own damnation, even as they fancy themselves to be celebrating in the Spirit. Yes, we all fall short of God’s glorious ideal, but saving grace is no excuse for harboring sin. God is not deceived or mocked by double-mindedness or deceit, as Ananias and Sapphira belatedly discovered.
Having said that, let us remember that nobody who exchanges the follies of the world for the riches of Christ’s resurrection life needs to fear becoming emotional from the Spirit’s love, joy or peace. Somehow, though, a subdued tone pervades our prayers and singing. Many Adventists denounce any music with joyful energy as irreverent—even if the lyrics are purely Bible verses. If we are suppressing the joy of the Lord, are we not also quenching the Spirit?
“Sing a new song unto the Lord!” commands the Scriptures. “Clap your hands, all people; shout unto God with loud songs of joy!” (Psalm 47:1). But those who worry about succumbing to emotion are wary of such excitement. Some simply want to stay safe with the time-tested music of our SDA Hymnal.
Of course we will always love our favorite old hymns. Yet every revival in Christian history—including the Millerite Awakening—is reported to have stimulated fresh music—much of it quite joyful!
Where did we get the idea that reverence in worship requires us to be quiet and old-fashioned? Certainly not from Scripture.
The New Testament is vibrant with testimony that God turns mourning into dancing. But those who didn’t know what really happened at Pentecost condemned the Spirit-filled saints as indulging in drunkenness. (See Acts 2:12-16.) Evidently they imagined that religious people aren’t supposed to be demonstrably emotional. Well, maybe at a wedding party, but not in worship.
Some Adventists today, I’m afraid, venture into judgmentalism by condemning all exuberant and rhythmic praise music as “worldly entertainment” or “rock music.” Is this fair?
Halloween music is played on pipe organs. The same Bach fugues we hear in church are the theme songs of houses haunted by demonic spirits. Should this provide ammunition for attacking fellow Adventists who find inspiration in pipe organ music?
The issue here is not traditional versus contemporary music styles. I suggest that either can be good or evil depending upon motive and context. So worshiping joyously in the Spirit—whether through contemporary or traditional music—shouldn’t be dismissed as superficial sentimentality.
Now, concern about emotionalism is legitimate and necessary if a celebrating congregation forgets why God has made them glad. But has unbridled caution about emotionalism caused us to become celibate of the Spirit? Is emotional hysterectomy a safeguard against potential hysteria?
Within such a barren and unfruitful context, how could the church ever reproduce as the early believers did? Thousands of their neighbors responded to their witness of the resurrected Lord. For us today as well, the joy of the Lord is our strength in evangelism. Without it, true revival and reformation will never transform our congregations and evangelize our communities.
Joy in the Spirit is not a questionable amusement. Rather, it’s an indispensible source of spiritual power. Notice this: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Rom. 15:13).
Do you see it? If we lack joy, we lack power—no matter how earnest and unceasing our intercessions. Joy, hope and peace are essential ingredients of any revival and reformation capable of transforming us into the image of our resurrected Lord.
And joy isn’t something we can scold or scare ourselves into experiencing. That would be like somebody cloistered in a basement apartment claiming promises for a suntan—a transformation that only happens when basking in the sunlight.
So then, how can inSpirited believers enter into the joy of their Lord while still living in a world of sin and pain? Even more basic, exactly what is joy as a fruit of the Spirit? And just as important, we need to know what joy is not.
Joy in the Spirit is the grateful quiver of a heart that finally grasps God’s amazing love and grace. This is not superficial silliness or an entertainment mindset. There is intense emotion, of course, but we do not pursue happiness as an end in itself. That would breed emotionalism—a counterfeit of Christian joy that purports to love the Lord with all the heart but disregards the mind. There is no particular interest in the truth as it is in Jesus, no devotion to learning how to live with integrity, obedience and compassion. Happiness “in the moment” is all that matters.
At the other extreme from such emotionalism we find a perverted gospel that reeks like Clorox, instead of being fragrant with the incense that surrounds God’s throne of grace. (More on this tomorrow when we talk about love as another test of true revival and reformation; our focus today is joy as a fruit of the Spirit.)
Zealous spirituality without joy is like a neutered cat determined to be fruitful and multiply. Don’t expect kittens, no matter how earnest and enduring the pursuit of new birth. Even more pitiful, and doomed to failure, is attempting to love the Lord with a heart circumcised from joy. Fear and uncertainty rule. We become afraid that emotion in worship might lead us astray.
Do we Adventists lose half of our children because our churches have descended into emotionalism? Do we hear our kids complaining: “The joy I’m experiencing at church is so intense I can’t stand it anymore. I’m leaving!”?
That said, I acknowledge once again the possibility for some Adventists to let their hearts run ahead of their heads. People more interested in being happy than in knowing truth often slip into emotionalism. They try to recreate God into their own image rather than submit themselves to be conformed into His image. This actually is self-worship, refusing to love the Lord with all their hearts as well as their minds.
Jesus told the woman at the well that true worship involves both Spirit and truth. Without truth, emotionalism leads us astray. But without the Spirit of love, joy and peace, churches become hospices instead of maternity wards.
Some ultra-conservative Adventists may shun God’s Spirit of joy because they fear it can be fermented into something dangerously intoxicating. But we can enjoy grape juice from God’s throne of grace without worrying about getting drunk. In fact, when we refuse that nourishment, we will become dehydrated spiritually.
Thank God we don’t have to choose between the extremes of getting drunk with joy or getting dehydrated without it. The Spirit of joy is also the Spirit of truth. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the foundational truth to which we bear witness. When we keep focus on that historic event, 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?”
Colossal trouble looms before us, that’s for sure. 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.
To conclude our study, let’s recall several people whose lives were radically transformed by joy from God’s Spirit.
Consider Mary when she visited Christ’s tomb to mourn and pray. Then she discovered that her Lord had risen indeed. What happened with her? She ran with “great joy” (Matt. 28:8) to testify about Christ’s resurrection.
The woman at the well had been 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 in that Samaritan village.
Joy in the Spirit not only sparks enthusiasm for evangelism but also the radical financial generosity it will take to finish our Gospel mission. The wise men en route 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 we afraid of it?
Years of somber exhortations and admonitions about revival and reformation cannot produce the change that happens in one moment of Spirit-filled joy. Not everyone will be happy about this. The man in Christ’s parable of buried treasure quickly ridded his life of everything that would prevent him from experiencing it. What motivated him? Here is Christ’s own description: “In his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matt. 13:44). Perhaps this man’s poor wife felt threatened by his joy and tried to quench his zeal.
The prodigal son’s older brother resisted the festivities of his Father’s homecoming celebration for an undeserving brother. Just like the Pharisees, who tried to stop the emotional shouts of “Hosanna” at Christ’s triumphant procession. They no doubt meant well in trying to quench the Spirit of joy by turning down the volume of Hosanna music. But nothing could stop Christ’s triumphant procession—then or now.
So let the word go forth from this time and place that the joy of the Lord is our strength in the Spirit. This will generate genuine revival and reformation.
By Martin Weber, DMin
Joyous scriptures for further study:
“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).
“Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets” (Luke 6:23).
“In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will” (Luke 10:21).
“I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).
“So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name.Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:22).
“You will make me full of gladness with your presence” (Acts 2:28).
“And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:48-52).
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).
“For it is written, ‘Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than those of the one who has a husband’” (Gal. 4:27).
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23).
“You received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (2 Thes. 1:6).
“But of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions’” (Heb. 1:8-9).
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Pet. 1:6-8).