As a third-century man was anticipating death, he penned these last words to a friend: “It’s a bad world, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any pleasure of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people are the Christians—and I am one of them.”
According to these words, the Christian is one who has a joy that is independent of the pleasures and hardships of this world. And that’s precisely the subject that is addressed in this post as we continue our journey through Romans 12 concerning the subject of the transformed life.
The subject of joy is a very helpful and a much-needed reminder because all of us from time to time face the problem of discouragement. Left unchecked, discouragement can lead to a permanent state of depression where we can experience feelings of numbness, fear, and brain feeling like fog. Just making through the day for those battling depression is a battle. And just when the day is done, the night is another battle. Sleeplessness becomes a chronic issue. And as the night is done and the morning comes, the cycle starts all over again.
Whether one faces deep depression or even bouts of discouragement, the first part of Romans 12:12 has the cure. A genuine cure we can all experience that will not cost us a penny. Here is it: “Be joyful in hope.” Notice Paul does not just say, “Be joyful,” but “be joyful in hope” or “be joyful because of the hope you have.” Hope by definition refers to something that we don’t possess at present. It’s something we look forward to possessing in the future. So, what is this hope that is the basis of the joy that Paul is referring to in this verse?
I believe it refers to the time when believers experience the full and final effects of our transformation—the event the Bible calls as glorification when we will be made fully like Christ. I believe this is what Paul had in mind. Why do I say that? Due to Paul mentioning about this hope earlier in Romans 5:1-2, “1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.” That phrase, “hope in the glory of God” means “hope in sharing God’s glory.” We are justified [i.e., made right with God in his sight] due to faith in Christ. The war between God and us is over, and that’s why we have peace with God. This is the first stage of our salvation.
And as a result, we can now look forward to the final stage of our salvation as well where we will share God’s glory, i.e., being made fully like Christ. Paul makes this point clear in Romans 8:30, “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” The phrase, “he also glorified” is in the past tense even though we are not yet glorified. Why did Paul put it that way? Because it’s an absolute certainty. We will be glorified, i.e., made like Christ when we will get new bodies upon Christ’s return [Rom 8:22-25]. And this hope that we will get new bodies is what Paul says we should be looking forward to.
In Romans 12:12 he says such a hope should be the cause of our joy. We rejoice in hope because of what awaits us in the future—being made like Christ when we receive new bodies that resemble his glorified body. And this hope of being made fully like Christ should cause us to be abounding in joy since at that time there will be no more sorrow, no more tears, no more pain, only endless joy in worshiping our God the way he ought to be worshipped. But in the meantime, even though we live in this sin-affected body, we are still called to rejoice; still commanded to exhibit a life of joy even in the midst of sorrow. Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 6:10 that he and the other apostles were “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” How can one do both?
It’s possible when we understand that sorrow is still part of this sin-cursed world we live in as evidenced by the same Paul stating later in Romans 12:15 “mourn with those who mourn.” And while there is the reality of sorrow, there is also the certainty of future blessings that should produce deep within us a sense of unquenchable joy. That’s Paul’s point. As every day passes by, we are closer to this future reality when our hope is realized when Christ returns. And that should cause us to be joyful.
We need to take this command to rejoice seriously. If we are commanded to be joyful not in our possessions and in our position, but in the hope of Christ’s return, failure to do so is a sin. Many would say, “I have a lot of joy. I’m not depressed.” Maybe you are one of them. If so, let me ask you this: What is your joy based upon? Is it based upon having a secure and a well-paying job? Is it based on having good relationships? Having good friends? Having good health? Having a healthy bank account? Not going through many afflictions?
If that’s the case, may I tell you that is not the basis of the joy that Paul is talking here. Even a worldly person, if they have these things, will experience joy. But take away one of these items and their joy will fall vanish and discouragement will set in quick.
Think about it. We can quickly lose your job. We can easily lose your finances. That’s why Proverbs 11:28 says, “Those who trust in their riches will fall.” People we trust can fail us or even die. That’s why Proverbs 11:7 says, “Hopes placed in mortals die with them; all the promise of their power comes to nothing.” Our bodies can fail overnight too. The list can go on. Even right now, what is the main thing that is occupying our minds which is causing us joy? If that is taken away, will our joy still be sustained? Something we need to ask and answer for ourselves.
So, how then can we experience this joy? Let me walk you through this process.
In Galatians 5:22-23, we are told that “joy” is one of the characteristics of the “fruit of the Spirit.” So, joy is something that only the Holy Spirit can produce in our hearts. How does he do that? Through the Bible that he gave us.
So, the connection is simple. The Holy Spirit produces joy in our hearts as we submit to God’s Word. There is a human side to this joy. We have to give ourselves to meditating and especially delighting in God’s Word and thereby allow the Holy Spirit to change us which includes producing joy in our hearts as well.
The more we take time to meditate on God’s word, believe it, and apply it, the more joy we will have. In context, the more we read about the return of Christ and our being made like Christ, the more we want this to happen, the more our hope will be strengthened and the more joy we will experience. And the more joy we experience, the more we will patiently endure during times of affliction.
Jeremiah 15:16 reads this way, “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, Lord God Almighty.” Show me a person who is given to a life of truly believing and meditating, and I stress, meditating on God’s word with regards to the future and acting upon it, I will show you a person who is given to joy and not discouragement as a result of their strong hope.
On the flip side, show me a person who is not focusing on God’s promises regarding the future, I will show you one who is not given to a life of true biblical joy and one whose life is dependent only upon earthly circumstances. Things go well, they are joyful. Little change to their worldly comforts, they are down in discouragement.
Let’s not be like such people. Instead, let’s pursue true biblical joy as a result of receiving God’s mercies [Rom 12:1] by believing, delighting and acting upon God’s promises regarding our future. That proves we are indeed being transformed by the Spirit as we have our minds renewed by God’s Word.