Written Word

As a Christian, I should be joyful

When Paul preached the gospel in the region of Galatia it was received with enthusiasm resulting in many conversions to the Lord. In his letter to those churches he recalls their reception of him: “You welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself…I can testify that if you could have done so, you would have torn out your own eyes and given them to me.” (Galatians 4:14-15) Fond memories indeed. However, the liberty they enjoyed through the gospel was being attacked – with some success – by false teachers who had infiltrated the church with a message that contained strong emphasis on works as the way of salvation. Some of the believers had been influenced by this teaching; hence Paul’s question: “What has happened to all your joy?” (Galatians 4:15) Their move away from the gospel had killed the joy they once had.

There is no such thing as a joyful legalist. We see this in the lives of the Pharisees; they were a joyless people who were permanently miserable. Their religion was a heavy burden with no room for grace. Joylessness was the inevitable result. And the reason is this: those who seek to be justified by their works (legalists) are never certain of their salvation. How could they be! Their focus is on themselves and so their relationship with God is performance driven. They are always wondering: Am I praying, fasting, giving, serving enough to please God? The legalist is forever entertaining the idea that if he could increase his work rate, try a bit harder, sin a little less, then he would be right with God. This is a recipe for disaster and Paul addresses this unfortunate attitude by asking, “Are you trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Galatians 3:3). Surely, he implies, if you cannot be saved initially by your works, you certainly cannot keep yourself saved by your works. Salvation is grace from beginning to end.
The gospel is a message that brings freedom. It is freedom from our futile efforts to try and earn our way to heaven. The gospel is the good news that through Jesus crucified and risen we can be reconciled to God the Father having been forgiven of all our sins. Our relationship with God our heavenly Father is based upon what Jesus achieved for us, not upon how well we are doing. When Jesus is the focus of our faith we will never be asked the question: “What has happened to all your joy?” Joy will be evident in our lives.