Regarding Joy

Confess and Believe

What must we do to be saved? In a way, nothing. Paul explains that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Rom 10:9). We are not saved by our doing. Salvation is not an outward act of meeting God’s standards (hands and feet) and meriting righteousness. Salvation comes by faith in Christ (heart and mouth cf. Rom 10:10). One should not attempt to put a wedge between “believing” and “confessing” or “justification” and “salvation” for they are parallel realities: heads and tails. There is, however, a nuanced component to believing and confessing. Believing is an internal trust; placing your faith in the person of Christ (inward). Confessing is a public acknowledgment or praise of the truth (outward). These are not two, distinct realities, but one fluid motion that starts internally and manifests itself externally.

We know that the gospel is “good news” (that's what it means). We believe it in our hearts. We believe it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes (Rom 1:16). We are not ashamed of the gospel, per se. But we sometimes struggle to muster the courage to tell our next-door neighbor—whom we discuss sports, taxes, work, and politics with—about the reconciling work of Christ on the cross and his kingdom. I am not trying to promote evangelism through guilt. In fact, I hope to do the opposite. Rather than trying to convince you that if you really loved God, you would share your faith, my aim is to fan into flame your heart for evangelism through joy.

Praise is the Consummation of Joy

The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins with this Q & A:

Q. What is the chief end of man?

A. Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

While there are two parts to this answer, I have always understood it as one stroke of the pen (the cursive of joy): man’s chief end is to glorify God by and through enjoying him forever. Or as Piper puts it: God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. “But Dave,” you protest, “I thought you said that belief and confession are inward and outward expressions of faith? Now, you are implying that our only call is to enjoy God, which sounds like a one-way street.” Not exactly.

As we breathe in grace, we breathe out praise. Praise, or the public profession of our faith, is not merely an expression of our faith, but the completion of our joy.

It took me years to learn this lesson (the hard way). And, by God’s grace, he allowed me to learn it through the pen of C.S. Lewis. In his book Reflections on the Psalms, Lewis discusses his difficulty with accepting the ostensible vanity of God in his commands for the people to praise him. He explains:

The most obvious fact about praise — whether of God or anything — strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless . . . shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise — lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game — praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praised least….

I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value.

I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with.1

The outward expression of praise is the consummation of our joy. It is the last step in the process. As Lewis says, "It completes the enjoyment." It's the teapot whistling when the water is boiled. Pleasure with your spouse (inwardly) manifests itself externally through smiles, laughter, cards, flowers, dates, sweet words, and even children. The enjoyment experienced watching your team pull off a historic comeback in the Super Bowl is typically followed by outstretched arms, screaming, and dancing. No one told me to throw my hands in the air when Julian Edelman made the catch of a lifetime: I just did it. Paul's point in Romans 10:10 is that the "heart and mouth, inward belief and outward confession, belong essentially together.”2 And maybe, just maybe, the reason you struggle with evangelism isn’t because you don’t believe the gospel, or because you're afraid of men, or a host of other reasons. Perhaps the reason you struggle with confessing with your mouth that Jesus is Lord is that you haven't experienced the profound, sensible joy that this confession can bring. It is possible that you have been so preoccupied with your duties as a soldier in Christ's army, that you've not allowed yourself the bliss of knowing that “I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine” (Song of Solomon 6:3).

What are some steps Christian can take to increase their delight in God?

We can talk to God, rather than about him (1 Jn 5:14). Like David, we can ask him to give us joy: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Ps 51:12). We can read his Word with eyes to see him, and ears to hear his voice believing that he will speak to us and teach us his truth (Ps 119:130). We can seek joy in God by putting to death our sins, which are obstacles to real intimacy with him (Prov 28:13). We can enjoy God by reminding ourselves of his presence with us, even as we pursue “menial” tasks of obedience, whether it is changing diapers, cutting the lawn, waking up early to work out, taking out your neighbor’s trash (1 Cor 10:31). Some may need to cultivate their joy in the Lord by partaking in the common-grace of medicine to fight off depression. We can use our senses to cultivate our joy by enjoying the Giver through his gifts (Ecc 9:7; 1 Tim 4:4). The joy of the Lord is meant to be your strength (Neh 8:10). If your joy in Christ is lacking, your faith is only partial. Seek joy in Christ! Joy will buoy you up (inward) and joy will send you out (outward).

“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).

  1. C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harcourt Books, 1986), 93–5 emphasis added. ↩︎
  2. John Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2001), 283. ↩︎
David Kakish