What? Joy Again?
Here we are, only a few weeks after Christmas, talking about joy again. Haven’t we said enough? I’m joyful, already!
Joy is usually talked about as something we experience, or a euphoric feeling, brought about by some external event – the birth of the Savior of the Universe, for example. But as we talk about Paul’s Fruit of the Spirit, joy seems like a result, an emanation, perhaps, unattached to an event. Is this merely a distinction without a difference? Joy is joy – a rose by any other name – so why care where it comes from?
In Galatians 5, Paul does set out a very clear distinction between “the works of the flesh,” which is a list of bad stuff, and the “fruit of the spirit,” obviously, the list of good stuff. But for Paul, it is the bad stuff that is “obvious,” and the list is filled with the usual suspects like fornication, drunkenness and envy, to name just a few. Paul admonishes us to “Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit.” And those who live by the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of God.
What Paul is describing here (and in other writings) is a liberation from sin. And although there are sins other than sins of the flesh, they do seem to frequently manifest in destructive behaviors like adultery. The Fruit of the Spirit is evidence of this liberation. Joy is not attached to one specific event; it is more like an ongoing expression of the state of being freed from sinful behavior. It is like a curtain pulled away to reveal the Holy Spirit at work within us, unhindered by the bad stuff.
You would think that the idea of living in a constant state of Joy would be motivational for just about everyone. But it isn’t, is it? Sin isn’t just attractive, it’s seductive, and from Adam and Eve on humanity has proven over and over again how easy we are to seduce. So easy that God sent his only Son to light a path for us in the seductive darkness. So ultimately, joy is the condition of following that light, following and trusting Jesus, to steer clear of the darkness. Joy is not an event, it is a way of being.
I’m not saying that there aren’t plenty of events to feel joyful about, but there is a deeper joy that persists when all of those events are gone or forgotten. Joy that keeps the spirit from sinking. Joy that keeps the darkness from winning. Joy that prevails when all other joys have failed. Joy that shows the emergence of the Holy Spirit within regardless of what is going on without. Paul concludes, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.”