Joy and Happiness
Joy, in my opinion, is the most confusing virtue of the fruit of the Spirit. Often, we think of joy as being synonymous with happiness. Happiness, however, is a feeling that comes and goes. We have all experienced the fleeting nature of happiness, only to find ourselves searching for satisfaction again the next week, day, or even hour. As believers, we’re commanded to “rejoice always,” or be joyful in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:16). We assume this means we should be happy all the time. But if joy is distinct from the feeling of happiness, what is it exactly? What does it look like to bear this fruit of the Spirit in our lives?
Joy is not a false sense of optimism that denies the realities of living in our broken world. Jesus Himself told us that in this world we will have trouble. But, in the midst of that trouble, we can take heart. We can have hope, because He has overcome the world (John 16:33). The book of James tells us to “count it all joy, my brothers, when you face trials of various kinds…” (James 1:2).
If you’re anything like me, you’re thinking, Really? Trials should be faced joyfully? But they can, because of what they produce in us: “…for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2–3). We can have joy in the midst of trials and suffering because we know they’re producing in us our sanctification. They are making us look like Christ, and that will last for eternity. The Holy Spirit uses trials and our circumstances to produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.
Joy in Trials
As with all fruit of the Spirit, Jesus is our perfect example of joy. When Christ was going to the cross, He wasn’t skipping or whistling as if nothing was wrong. No, He agonized over what was to come, to the point of sweating drops of blood. He begged the Lord to intervene, but remained surrendered to His will (Luke 22:41–44). We wouldn’t describe this situation as “joyful” and yet Hebrews tells us that Christ endured the cross “for the joy that was set before Him” (12:2). He had eternity in view. He knew what would ultimately be accomplished through His suffering on the cross—the redemption of His people from their sin, and being united with God for all eternity. Having this in view in the midst of suffering produced joy in Him.
Our definition of joy as believers is counter-cultural. For those in Christ, our joy in this life is deeply intertwined with our hope for the next. Proverbs 10:28 tells us, “The hope of the righteous brings joy.” Joy, then, is the belief that God is in control and is working all things for our good, despite our current circumstances (Romans 8:28).
Having happiness in the midst of infertility, unemployment, or the death of a loved one doesn’t make logical sense. In fact, it would seem downright wrong. Just as Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus in John 11, it is right for us to grieve when we experience trials in this life. But our joy in the Lord in every season shows that our ultimate happiness is not rooted in our circumstances. Instead, it is found in our hope that the Lord will one day make all things right and all things new (Revelation 21:3–5).
This joy is something we could never produce on our own. It can only be produced in us by the Holy Spirit.
As we abide in Christ, remaining connected to our true vine (John 15:1–11), His Holy Spirit will produce the fruit of joy in us. In fact, it’s in abiding that our joy will be made full (v. 11). This joy bears witness to our hope in God that surpasses the circumstances of this world. Let us be marked by joy, sisters, because in Christ our eternal hope is secure.
Alyssa is passionate about discipling women to love God with all of their hearts, souls, minds and strength. She currently serves as the women’s ministry fellow in her local church in Dallas, TX. Reading, writing and going to the movies are just a few of her simple joys!