The following is a chapter from Short Answers to Big Questions about God, the Bible, and Christianity, co-authored by Dr. Clinton E. Arnold (Dean of Talbot School of Theology) and his son, Jeff Arnold. This book was published by Baker Books and can be purchased here. A second chapter from this book has been shared on The Good Book Blog.
Joy and Purpose
Without any hesitation we can say that yes, God wants you to be happy. The Bible (as well as experience) tells us that the Christian is given happiness in an incredible number of ways. But Christ has actually sweetened the deal and offered us something even better. While happiness is used to describe a basic feeling of gladness and contentment, what Christ offers is joy, which includes happiness, but runs much deeper, lasts much longer, and is felt much more strongly than happiness. The word joy shows up roughly four hundred times in the Bible, and it is no coincidence. Christ wants you to experience the joy that comes from him.
The angel announcing the birth of Christ declared, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). You cannot read the Bible, particularly the New Testament, without hearing time and time again of the joy we have in Christ. So anyone who claims that happiness is not necessarily a part of the Christian life is missing out both on God’s Word and the joy that is found in him.
Joy and Happiness
It’s also important to remember that our idea of “happiness” is often deeply misguided. Many assume that happiness means getting more money, more power, and more casual sex. Have you ever stopped to question that? Many don’t, which is strange when you consider how many celebrity examples are out there of people who have gained everything they ever wanted and were still deeply unhappy and dissatisfied.
There is a popular Christian saying that says, “God cares more about our holiness than our happiness,” and this is true in one sense—making us like him is his top priority—but it also makes it sound as if we have to make a difficult choice between being happy or following God. This is not the case. God made us to find the greatest happiness in him. Choosing to follow Christ is choosing to be a happier person.
How We Experience Joy
Here are some of the ways those who are in Christ experience joy right now:
Knowing that our sins are truly forgiven (Ps. 32:1–2). If you don’t take joy in this, then, simply put, you don’t understand Christianity yet. You could be saved from a burning building, or caught before falling off a cliff, and it wouldn’t be half the good news that this is. Your criminal record before God, the very thing that had separated you from God and eternity with him, has been wiped clean.
Having a clear conscience before God (1 Pet. 3:21). Many of us still refuse to allow ourselves to feel the joy of a clear conscience. We know that we are forgiven, but still feel that we must approach God as if he were waiting to punish us and tell us how terrible we are. You don’t have to feel that way! You are no longer under guilt and condemnation! Psalm 103:12 puts it beautifully: “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”
Realizing that God views me as his own son or daughter (2 Cor. 6:17–18). The apostle John says it best in 1 John 3:1 when he exclaims, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (NIV). When you were saved, you not only gained eternal life in heaven, you also, among many other things, were adopted by God. This means that you will never go another day without having a Father who loves you more than you could ever love him back. It means that you will never be alone again. It also means that he is looking out for you. Romans 8:31 reminds us that “if God is for us, who can be against us?”
Experiencing God’s presence with me in all of the ups and downs of life. No one can completely understand everything about you or how you are feeling. No one, that is, except God. On the one hand, it’s a relief to know that there is finally someone out there who understands us completely. On the other hand, sometimes that’s terrifying—that means that God sees all the darkness in me too. But this fear melts away when we read of God’s love for us. This way, when things are going well in life, I have a heavenly Father that I know is rejoicing with me, and in times of difficulty, someone who completely understands what I’m going through and loves me through it. This has been genuinely comforting to me in my own life.
Enjoying deep friendships with fellow Christians. Fellow Christians are not just like any other people in our lives—they are people who have been saved from death in the same way we were. They are family. God values and loves them every bit as much as he loves you . . . and that’s a lot! We have so much to celebrate together. God has arranged for the body of Christ to be fed not only by him, but through each other. The companionship, support, and love we receive from the body of believers is part of the joy that we as Christians experience.
Knowing that I will enjoy life after death and a wonderful future (Ps. 16:11). Armed with this knowledge, what can harm us? No matter what happens, we know that the end of our story finishes with “happily ever after.” Not everyone can say that. For many of us, life didn’t turn out the way we wanted. It feels like we’ve failed or wasted our lives. Christ not only gives us a clean slate and a fresh start, but the relief that this life is but a drop in the ocean, and we have an eternity in paradise to look forward to. The knowledge that we have heaven to look forward to allows us not to stress about the little things. It also enables us to see the people around us in a different light, and view material things for what they are—temporary possessions that have nothing to do with our long-term happiness.
Having the Holy Spirit within us (Rom. 14:17; 1 Thess. 1:6). While a Christian has many reasons for deeply rooted joy, the most direct reason is that the Holy Spirit lives within you, and he gives you joy. Galatians 5:22–23 tells us that the Holy Spirit produces a number of good things within us, the first of which is love, and the second being joy. Not only do we become naturally more joyful people, but we begin to take great joy in the things that make God happy. By residing within us in this way, God is sharing in our struggles and our victories, helping us, and simply being there with us.
Seeing the gospel reach others (Phil. 1:18). There is no greater gift we can give someone than the good news of Jesus Christ. Getting to take part in others finding salvation, and consequently the joy, meaning, and change that comes with it, is far greater than the joy we could ever gain in giving nice gifts to people. Having worked at an evangelism training camp for years, I (Jeff) have been blessed enough not only to lead people to Christ myself, but to share in the joy of my fellow believers when they are able to share the gospel with someone. There are few things in life as joyous or rewarding as getting to see someone receive salvation.
These realities, and so many more, are enough to bring us joy and happiness each day of our lives, much more than if we did not have Christ in our lives. This joy transcends anything that wealth or success can offer, and the pain, betrayal, and difficulties of life cannot take it away.
This post is an excerpt from Clinton E. Arnold and Jeff Arnold, Short Answers to Big Questions about God, the Bible & Christianity (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2015).