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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Resolutions or Regeneration?

O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! - Romans 7:24-25a


Every year on New Years Eve people make New Year’s Resolutions promising to change themselves for the better. But New Year’s resolutions are doomed to failure. If people want to change they don’t need resolutions, they need regeneration.


How Successful are New year’s Resolutions?


How successful are New Year’s resolutions? Statistics in a study from the Journal of Clinical Psychology showed the following:


·         40 to 45% of American adult make one or more resolutions each year.

·         Among the top new years resolutions are resolutions about weight loss, exercise, and stopping to smoke. Also popular are resolutions dealing with better money management / debt reduction.

·         The following shows how many of these resolutions are maintained as time goes on:
- past the first week: 75%
- past 2 weeks: 71%
- after one month: 64%
- after 6 months: 46%   [1]

Another study  estimated that 97% of New Year’s resolutions do not work. In this study entitled New Years Resolutions: Why Don’t They Work ? Michael York of the Michael York Learning Center theorized the reason why resolutions don’t work is because people expect to fail and that they don’t know how to properly set goals in order to keep their resolutions. But I would say that the reason people don’t expect to keep their resolutions is because they have learned from experience that they can’t keep their resolutions and no amount of proper goal setting is going to change that.


So what’s the answer; how can we change for the better? The answer is that we need regeneration not resolutions.


Why Resolutions Can’t Work

The reason why a resolution can’t work is because it depends on me, myself and I; it depends on my own “strength.” The Bible refers to this self-centered dependence upon self as the flesh. Paul was inspired to speak of the predicament of the flesh when in Romans he writes:


·         Romans 7:18-24 - 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

Do you see the futility of relying on your own strength to try to do good things? The New Living Translation (more of a paraphrase) of the Bible renders this portion of scripture in the following way:


  • 18 I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn, I can’t make myself do right. I want to, but I can’t. 19 When I want to do good, I don’t. And when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway. 20 But if I am doing what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing it; the sin within me is doing it. 21 It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another law at work within me that is at war with my mind. This law wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin?[2]


These words express the futility, frustrations and ultimate failure of attempts at self-reformation and that is exactly what a New Year’s resolution is. The reason such attempts at change are doomed to failure is because they depend on an inadequate power source, the sinful self. Read what the Bible says about our self, the me, myself and I of who we are:

  • Genesis 6:5 - 5 Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

·         Job 14:4 - Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one!      

·         Job 15:14-16 - “What is man, that he could be pure?  And he who is born of a woman, that he could be righteous?15 If God puts no trust in His saints, And the heavens are not pure in His sight,16  How much less man, who is abominable and filthy, Who drinks iniquity like water!   

·         Psalm 5:9 - For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; Their inward part is destruction; Their throat is an open tomb; They flatter with their tongue.     

·         Psalm 51:5 - Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.

·         Isaiah 64:6 - But we are all like an unclean thing,  And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away.

·         Jeremiah 17:9 - “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked;     Who can know it?

·         Mark 7:21-23 - 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”

·         Ephesians 2:1-3 - And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

These verses are ample evidence that anything that depends on this flesh or us, is doomed to fail to reach its goal.

If that is the case, then how can a person change successfully?

Regeneration the Way to True Transformation

Sometimes we can have what we believe are the best of intentions, but they are the wrong intentions. Our motives are not always what they ought to be. We may want to change, but if our motive is only to please our self, then we are only compounding our problem and off the mark. What we need is an entirely new way of looking at things and an entirely new way of doing things. What we need is REGENERATION.

What is regeneration? Regeneration is a work of the Spirit wherein He gives spiritual eternal life to a repentant sinner. In Paul’s letter to Titus he is inspired to write:

·         Titus 3:3-7 - 3 For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

The term “regeneration” (παλιγγενεσία - paliggĕnĕsia, pal-ing-ghen-es-ee´-ah[3]) means new birth, regeneration, or rebirth. This is a compound word made up of the Greek term palin which means “again”  and the Greek term genesis which means “birth.”  Regeneration is the work of God to change us from death to life spiritually. God regenerates the person who receives Jesus as Savior. All of this is a work of God offered graciously as a gift to be received by us.


Jesus described regeneration with the following words:


  • John 5:24 - 24 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.

Regeneration is passing from death to life spiritually. Just as we are physically born, we must be spiritual born again if we are ever to be changed from our present state of sinful futility. Before we are spiritually born again we don’t even understand our true need (1 Corinthians 2:14). We need to be born again, we need to be spiritual born of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3, 5).

How do I get this regeneration?  If you want to change for the better you have to realize the following.

First, realize your real problem is sin. Sin is the destructive cancer like thing within you that is keeping you from successfully changing for the better. The Bible says:

·         Romans 3:10, 23 - 10 As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; . . . 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,    

Sin keeps us from God (Isaiah 59:1-2) and it is God alone who can work true change in us. Sin keep our focus on sinful self where we will wallow in defeat and despair.

Second, realize only spiritual birth or spiritual life can make a true lasting eternal change in you. It is the gospel that is the power of God to save us from sin (Romans 1:16). Jesus told the religious Pharisee Nicodemas that he “must” be born again. Jesus said:

  • John 3:3-7 - 3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’


Here we see by way of comparison that Jesus taught Nicodemus just as he had been born physically he needed to experience spiritual birth as well.

This is not something we can work in ourselves, which leads us to the next realization.

Third, realize regeneration is a work of God offered by His grace through faith in His only Son Jesus. The Bible says that salvation is a work of God (John 6:29). The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin and our need of salvation (John 16:8-11). It is God who draws us out of our sin to Himself (John 6:44). And God draws us to Himself by dealing with our sin through faith in Jesus (John 6:29).

Here is the beauty of how God resolves our sinful predicament. He has sent Jesus to pay for our sinful debt (because we are unable to pay that debt off on our own). And He has done away with our sin as we put our faith in Jesus and His work (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is why at the end of Paul’s passage in Romans 7 he is inspired to proclaim:

·         Romans 7:24-25a - 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

It is a glorious thing to turn over the reigns of your life to God. We need to stop trying in our own strength (i.e. weakness). We need to turn form our way of doing things and surrender or turn to God and His way. This leads us to our final realization.

Fourth, realize you need to repent or turn humbly to God from your sinful self ways and rely fully on God’s gracious provision and strength. We can’t work our way out of the mire of our sin (Psalm 69). It is only by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ that this regeneration can occur (Ephesians 2:4-9). If we turn from our self efforts and self interests to God then we can expect times of refreshing from the Lord (Acts 2:38-39).

It has been said:

Our lives are fields that primarily contain weeds. We cannot produce strawberries. We can mow the weeds, but that effort alone will never produce acceptable fruit. If we really want that fruit we will have to go deeper. We must plow up the whole field and start again with new plants.[4] 

We can’t change by resolution. We need the regenerative work of God to change.

But I’ve Done that and I’m Still Failing and Faltering

Sometimes those who have experienced regeneration continue to have difficulties in their lives; why is that? Those who have received God’s gracious gospel provision in Christ need to realize a few things too.


First, realize transformation is only begun at regeneration and is a life long process. The Bible refers to Christians as “being sanctified” (Hebrews 2:11; 10:14). Change is a process that God works in us over time as we live a life of surrender to Him (Romans 12:1-2). Regeneration is when the Holy Spirit comes to indwell a person (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19-20). It is the Holy Spirit that helps us to overcome our weaknesses (Romans 8:26). The work of the Spirit in us is to transform us into the likeness of Jesus (Romans 8:29). This is God’s purpose for us and should be our goal and target in life.


Second, realize the problem is that many who have been regenerated continue to live to please self rather than to please God. There are what are called carnal Christians who live to please themselves rather than to please God. The Christian who lives to please self will only find discord and disruption in their lives much the same as before they were regenerated (1 Corinthians 3:1-4; James 4:1-6). To overcome this problem the Christian must turn their focus on God and seek to please Him by faith (Hebrews 11:6). Paul explains this well when he is inspired to write:

·         Romans 8:1-9 - There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.

When we are regenerated through faith in Christ we are called by God to walk no longer after the things of the flesh or to walk in the power of the flesh, but we are called to live in the Spirit (8:1). It is this life in the Spirit that can set us free from our futile fleshly lives (8:2). God does away with the destructive and depressing affects of sin in a person through faith in Christ (8:3-4). This new life of spiritual regeneration is an entirely new way of life and an entirely new way of looking at life (8:5). If we continue to have a fleshly mindset after regeneration we will continue to experience its destructive and depressing ways (8:6). It will hinder our relationship with God (8:7) and prevent us from pleasing God (8:8). In fact that is exactly the issue; in our flesh we seek to please self; in the Spirit we seek to please God. The truth is when we seek to please ourselves no one will be happy. But when we seek to please God everyone benefits. Without the Spirit in your life, you don’t even belong to God (8:9), which leads us to our final realization for the believer.


Third, realize victory comes through abiding in Christ. The closer we come to Jesus the more power we will have over sin in our lives. We are to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14). In other words, get as close to Jesus as possible, as close as your very clothes, and you will have more and more power over the flesh. Drawing close to Jesus is the way of escape from many a problem issue in the life of the Christian (1 Corinthians 10:13). Jesus put it this way:

·         John 15:4-8 - 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.   7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

We need to “abide” or stick close to Jesus. When we get away from Jesus we shrivel up spiritually like a piece of fruit plucked from a tree. If we stay connected to Jesus, we will grow and become fruitful in Him.


How do we do this? How do we abide in Jesus? The key is in the words “My disciples.” A disciple is a learner who studies the words of Jesus (verse 7 i.e. the Bible) and surrenders to the Spirit to apply those words to their lives (John 8:31-32, 34-36). Disciples also “ask” (verse 7) or pray because prayer is a declaration of dependence on God and a means of relating verbally with God in Christ. A disciple lastly does all they do to bring glory to God which is the culmination of spiritual fruitfulness (verse 8). The more we seek to bring glory to God the further away from self we move. The further away from self we move and the closer we come to God, the more power to live victoriously in life we will experience.


In his book The Power of the Spirit, William Law, writing in the early 1700s, makes the following statement about the church living in the flesh rather than the Spirit:

A letter learned zeal has but one nature wherever it is, and can only do that for Christians which it did for Jews. As in ancient times it brought forth scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, and crucifiers of Christ; as it afterwards brought forth heresies, schisms, popes, papal decrees, images, and anathemas; so in Protestant churches it will do the same things, only under different names. The empty idolatry of Rome will show itself even without crucifixes and indulgences. Images of wood and clay will only be exchanged for images of doctrines. Grace, works, imputed sin, imputed righteousness, and election will all have their worshipping advocates, dividing the body of Christ in their very zeal to defend their own good opinions about Scripture doctrines. And so great will be the blindness thus generated that every kind of gossip, slander, and hatred will be pursued by  brother against brother, all of it done in the name of Him who prayed that we might be one. . . . Our divine Master compares the religion of the learned Pharisees to ‘whited sepulchers, outwardly beautiful, but inwardly full of dead men’s bones.’ How was it that a religion so serious in its restraints, so beautiful in its outward form and practices, and commanding such reverence from all that beheld it, was yet charged by Truth itself with being ‘inwardly full of hypocrisy and iniquity’? It was only for this one reasons: because it was a religion of self. Wherever self has power and keeps up its own interests, even in teaching or defending sound Scripture doctrines, there is that very same Pharisee still alive whom Christ with so much severity of language constantly condemned. The reason for such heavy condemnation is that self is the root and sum total of all sin. Every sin that can be named is centered in it. Self is nothing else but the creature broken off from God: the power of Satan living and working in us the sad continuance of that first turning from God, which was the whole fall of our first parents. (Emphasis added.) [5]

Unfortunately what William Law wrote 300 years ago was not heeded by much of the church and today we have a church that is more carnal and centered on its sarx, than it is filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit. We cannot afford to allow our flesh to rule us; we need the Spirit to overcome it and empower us to do all that God has wonderfully laid out for us to do. If you are a Christian and have slipped back into the futility of a life lived for self and in the weakness of self, surrender to God anew and He will empower you to victorious Christian living. That would be a great way to start a new year.



[1] At - Auld Lang Syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year's resolvers and nonresolvers, by John C. Norcross, Marci S. Mrykalo, Matthew D. Blagys , University of Scranton. Journal of Clinical Psychology, Volume 58, Issue 4 (2002).
John Norcross is a co-author of Changing For Good.
[2]Holy Bible, New Living Translation, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1996.
[3]Strong, James: The New Strong's Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1996, S. H8674
[4] Christian Theology in Plain Language, p. 59. at
[5] William Law, The Power of the Spirit, Edited by Dave Hunt (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade Pubs.) Reprinted 2003 . Pages 28,30.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Jesus’ Joy to the World

"These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full" - John 15:11

Joy, that’s something you don’t see a lot of in our world today. And that’s understandable. The circumstances of life can be very confining. We walk around with the weight of the world on our shoulders. We may feel shackled with no way out; no hope. At times our plight is due to nothing we have done. And at times, we are suffering the consequences of our sinful choices. Natural disasters, threat of war, injustices, the economy, terrorism, illness and disease, politics, family and relational breakdowns topped off with the ever-advancing changes in our bodies due to aging, can all make joy a very distant thought. But what if I told you there was a way to live above life’s circumstances? What if I told you there was a way to transcend and overcome the hardships of life? What if I told you there was a way to actually have joy in the midst of such circumstances? It’s true; God offers joy to help us live above the circumstances in life.

In the Old Testament it states that God is the source of joy:

  • Ecclesiastes 2:26 - For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight; but to the sinner He gives the work of gathering and collecting, that he may give to him who is good before God. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind.

  • Psalm 4:7 - You have put gladness in my heart, More than in the season that their grain and wine increased.

  • Psalm 16:11 - You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

  • Psalm 32:11 - Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous; And shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

We also see that joy comes from taking in God’s word (Neh. 8:10-12). Jesus is the Word made flesh (Jn. 1:1-2, 14). The continued revelation of God’s joy comes through Jesus. He came to bring God’s joy and it is in Him that we can find fullness of joy.

Jesus’ Joy
The night before Jesus went to the cross in the middle of His teaching on the Holy Spirit, Jesus said to His disciples, "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full" (John 15:11). Jesus wants us to be joy full; full of joy; His joy. Joy is linked closely to the fruit of the Spirit which is love (Gal. 5:22). What Jesus was teaching His disciples was that when the Spirit came He would produce joy in them. There is "joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 14:17). It is the Spirit that brings Jesus’ joy to us.

What is joy? And in particular, what is Jesus’ joy? The Bible says, "In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11). The best way to begin to define joy and Jesus’ joy is to look at Jesus and what produced joy or rejoicing in Him and what He said would produce joy in others. Let’s pray and come into His presence. Let’s take a walk by His side in the gospels and discover the fullness of His joy.

When we walk with Jesus through the gospels and in parts of the New Testament we see a number of things associated with His joy. Jesus’ joy is related to the following things:

First, the arrival of Jesus brings joy. When Jesus entered the world His incarnation brought great joy to the world:

  • Matthew 2:10-11 - 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

  • Luke 1:14 - 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.

  • Luke 2:10-11 - 10 Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

When Jesus was miraculously conceived and in the womb of Mary, His presence in her womb brought joy to John the Baptist who was in the womb of his mother Elizabeth:

  • Luke 1:44 - 44 For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.

There’s something about the presence of Jesus that brings joy. When He comes and we realize His presence it means we can rests in Him, it means Someone is there who will take care of our sin problem and circumstantial difficulties (e.g. Mat. 11:28-30). When Jesus comes it leads to joy. Have you recognized the presence of Jesus and welcomed Him with joy?

Second, introducing others to Jesus brings joy. When Jesus is shared with others through the preaching of the word it leads to great works of God and great joy for those who are experiencing the great work of God:

  • John 4:34-38 - 34 Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! 36 And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. 37 For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors."

  • Acts 8:4-8 - 4 Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. 5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. 6 And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 And there was great joy in that city.

Seeing and experiencing the work of Jesus in lives causes a great eruption of joy in those who see it happen and experience it firsthand. That’s because we realize God is real and that He is taking a loving interest in us. Physical and demonic problems are no match for the Lord and that is a source of great joy for us. Have you experienced the joy of Jesus work in you?

Third, personal salvation and being used by God brings joy. Personal salvation brings great joy because when a person is saved from their sin it is like a treasure found, burden lifted, and a harvest come in:

  • Matthew 13:44 - "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Jesus took great joy in leaving His throne and coming to purchase the souls of the lost. Jesus came looking for lost sheep which were of the greatest value to Him. When he found them he rejoiced:

  • Luke 15:5-10 - 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ 7 I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. 8 "Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’ 10 Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

Jesus lived to save the lost.

Mary experienced great joy as she sang to the Lord of His salvation:

  • Luke 1:47 - And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

Mary experienced the joy that comes from the removal of sin in her life through salvation.

Jesus told His disciples that successful work for Him was good and a cause of joy but an even greater source of joy was salvation:

  • Luke 10:20 - 20 Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven."

Have you experienced the joy of personal salvation?

Fourth, faithful enduring service to the Lord brings joy. When you realize all that Jesus has done to work your salvation, serving Him is a privilege. When we faithfully serve the Lord the work he does through us is a source of joy, but the greatest joy comes when our Master tells us well done:

  • Matthew 25:21 - His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’

  • Matthew 25:23 - His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’

  • Luke 10:17 - Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name."

Are you serving the Lord and experiencing His joy? When you see Him will He say to you well done and will you enter the joy of your Lord?

Fifth, Jesus’ words bring fullness of joy. Jesus rejoices when we receive His words. He spoke His word to bring us joy:

  • Luke 10:21 - In that hour Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit and said, "I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.

  • John 15:11 - "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full."

  • John 17:13 - But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.

There’s something about the words of Jesus that bring us joy. When Jesus speaks and we listen it is like the fulfillment of what Jeremiah spoke of when he said:

  • Jeremiah 15:16 - Your words were found, and I ate them,  And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; For I am called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts.

Have you, are you taking in the word of Jesus? If you want His joy, take in His word.

Sixth, persecution for Jesus’ sake brings joy. Blessing and joy await those who go through persecution for the sake of Jesus:

  • Matthew 5:11-12 - "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

  • Luke 6:22-23 - Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you,  And revile you, and cast out your name as evil,  For the Son of Man’s sake. 23      Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven,  For in like manner their fathers did to the prophets.

Being persecuted for Jesus’ sake is not some sadistic or masochistic source of pleasure, it is merely an opportunity to follow in the steps of Jesus (1 Pet. 1:21). Persecution is also a means of making deposits in our heavenly bank account. Are you known as a follower of Jesus? Are you making a difference for Him in this fallen world? Have you been or are you being persecuted for Jesus’ sake? If you are, rejoice, great is your reward in heaven.

Seventh, birthing God’s plan brings joy. Jesus is our model in this truth. He birthed the plan of salvation. It was a painful birth but once attained, it led to great joy. And the prospect of this plan drove Jesus to endure the pain:

  • John 16:20-22 - Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. 21 A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. (cf. also Jn. 14:28)

  • Hebrews 12:1-2 -    Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Joy comes when we first think of what God will do and then actually see it come to pass. Vision for God’s work brings joy and the fulfillment of those plans brings joy. Are you involved in ministry? Is it painful? Look beyond the pain to the joyful conclusion of the work God has called you to and it will lead to joy.

Eighth, asking in Jesus’ name brings joy. When we pray in Jesus’ name and ask in His name it will ultimately lead to joy:

  • John 16:24 - Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

When we pray in Jesus’ name, according to His will, we are assured and promised God will answer (1 Jn. 5:14-15). Do you pray in Jesus’ name? That doesn’t mean Jesus’ name is a magical phrase that gets us anything we want. It means we pray in accord with the nature of Jesus whose name we are asking in. if you do that it will lead to great joy.

Ninth, Jesus’ miraculous works bring joy. When Jesus works in our lives it leads to great joy:

  • Luke 13:17 - And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.

  • Luke 19:37 - Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen,

Are you thankful and rejoicing for the works Jesus has done and is doing in your life?

Tenth, fulfilled prophecy brings joy. Like Abraham, when we see the fulfillment of prophecy it leads to great joy because it assures us of God’s faithfulness:

  • John 8:56 - Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad."

Another example of joy related to the fulfillment of prophecy happened in the Old Testament when God’s people returned from their captivity:

  • Isaiah 51:11 - So the ransomed of the Lord shall return, And come to Zion with singing, With everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness; Sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

We were once captive to sin. Salvation brings liberation from sin. That should bring us joy.

Eleventh, Jesus’ resurrection brings joy. When One who was dead is then raised from the dead, it brings great joy. Jesus’ resurrection, the eternal message of hope leads to joy:

  • Matthew 28:8-9 - So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word. And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, "Rejoice!" So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him.

  • Luke 24:41 - But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, "Have you any food here?"

The resurrection of Jesus tells us His redemptive work was totally sufficient. It tells us not even death can keep us down. And it tells us there is always hope in the Lord. That is reason for great joy.

Twelfth, Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit brings joy. The Holy Spirit is who works Jesus’ joy in us and the prospect of His coming and work in us should give us great joy:

  • Luke 24:49-53 - 49 Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high." 50 And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. 51 Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Amen.

Joy is the work of the Spirit in us:

  • Romans 14:17 - for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

  • Galatians 5:22 - But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

  • 1 Thessalonians 1:6 - And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit,

Have you experienced the joy of the Spirit in your life? Jesus offers that to you. Ask and receive by faith.

Later in the New Testament the apostle John said he was inspired to write, "so that your joy may be full" (1 Jn. 1:4). Peter spoke of the joy of Jesus as "joy inexpressible" stating:

  • 1 Peter 1:3-9 - 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, 8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.

Joy is a wonderful provision of the Lord and we will be greatly enriched and edified in our walk with Him as we study about it in Philippians.

When we put all of this together a definition of joy could be stated to have three components as follows:
Joy is a work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life giving a sense of relief from the burden of sin through salvation in Christ.
Joy is a comforting sense of security based on the reality of God’s divine providence in life; God is sovereign and in control.
Joy is a sense of satisfaction that comes from serving the Lord and seeing His plans succeed.

We can therefore give a summary definition of joy as:
Joy is not a mere feeling, it is the presence of Jesus within assuring, guiding, and empowering through life.

It should be noted that we are not saved by joy. In Jesus’ parable of the Sower he says that there are people who hear His word and "immediately receive it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles" (Mat. 13:20-21; cf. also Lk. 8:13; and John 5:35). Joy may be an indicator of one following the Lord but it does not save us. From Jesus’ teaching here we can also conclude that joy can be a shallow emotional feeling that is very transient and superficial. The joy we are talking about, Jesus’ joy, is enduring. Beware of false and shallow imitations of Jesus’ joy.

Reasons for Joy
Reasons for joy in Jesus:

  1. Deliverance - Isaiah 61:1 and Like 4:18-19 and Jesus said Hd fulfilled these promises in verse 21

  2. Salvation - from "God's Greatest Gift Meets Man's Most Desperate Need":

"Of course, He was not just any king. He was a king with a holy mission. He was a king who was born to die. "Amazing love, how can it be, that you my King would die for me?" Jesus was, and is, our Savior King. Because, the "frightening truth" is that we are all in desperate need of salvation. As author Charles Sell put it, 'If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator. 

If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist. 

If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist. 

If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer. 

But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior. . . .'"

"In spite of the foolish notion often portrayed by some, no nation, no culture, no individual is "basically good." This world is filled with evil, and at one time or another, we’ve all had a hand in it. As the prophet Isaiah puts it, "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all."

Isaiah wasn’t merely painting a picture of sinful humanity. The above Scripture was a prophecy of the coming Messiah. Ultimately, the world doesn’t have a poverty problem, or a crime problem, or a sexual problem, or a terrorism problem, or even (and of course) a climate problem. The world has a sin problem, and Jesus is the answer.

The most quoted portion of the Bible, John 3:16 declares, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." (Emphasis mine.) Less well known is the verse immediately following. John 3:17 says, "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved."

The Red Cross offers "Operation Save-A-Life." Those wanting us to donate blood or organs do so by imploring us to "Give the gift of life." With Christmas, God gave "the gift of life" as it has never before been given. How many dying individuals would say no to a lifesaving medical procedure made possible through the efforts or generosity of another? Yet how many reject the amazing gift of everlasting life that God offers through Jesus?

There’s no escaping this all important eternal truth: we are all in dire need of a Savior. Your life can be filled with treasures and pleasures, but if you ignore Jesus and His message, you will regret it for eternity. Your life can be riddled with poverty, sickness, and strife, yet if you repent and believe in Christ, the magnificent riches of eternal life await you. And whether rich or poor, sick or well, imprisoned or free, in good times or bad, we all need the gift that was given on that first Christmas. Merry Christmas!"


3. Life - John 3:16; 10:10; 20:31; Romans 6:23 and 8:1-2. Apart from Jesus we are dead and no religious performance, ritual, or ceremony can change that. Only giving up our efforts and trusting in Jesus' redemptive cross work and validating resurrection by grace through faith can. 

  1. Quality of Life (Eternal) - Through Jesus we can know God - John 17:3-4. 

For that we can and should be joyful. 

Jail Cell Joy and Paul at Philippi
One of the greatest examples of the presence of Jesus’ joy is the apostle Paul. And one of the greatest evidences of the joy Paul had is his letter to the Philippians. The account of Paul’s ministry to the Philippians begins during his second missionary journey in Acts 16. In this chapter we see the Holy Spirit directing Paul. He is forbidden to go into Asia and Bithynia (16:6-7). The Bible says, "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord" (Psalm 37:23). We see here that the stops of a good man are also ordered by the Lord too. God has a plan. When we pray sometimes He says "No," or closes a door. When He does what He does He does it to direct us toward his best and to carry out his divine plans. We need to trust Him whether He says yes or no.

When we look at Paul as an example of Jesus’ joy we see a man who is joyful during the most intense difficulties. Happiness is superficial. Joy is substantial. Happiness depends on happenings. Joy depends on Jesus.

The Lord did have a plan and gave Paul a vision in the night of a man of Macedonia pleading with him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." Heeding the heaven sent vision Paul "immediately" went to this area concluding the Lord was calling him to preach the gospel there. The reference to "we" in Acts 16:11 would include Luke (the author of Acts), Silas (15:40), and Timothy (16:1-5).

Philippi was the "foremost city of that part of Macedonia," a colony of Rome. One commentator states:
Philippi was a Roman colony (Acts 16:12). After the Battle of Philippi in 42 b.c. some Roman soldiers were ordered by Anthony to live there. Then in 30 b.c. Octavian forced some people in Italy to give up their homes and settle in Philippi and elsewhere. These Philippian residents were given special privileges including the "Italic right." This meant that the colonists, in return for their displacement, were treated as if their land were part of Italian soil. So the residents were citizens of Rome, their "mother city," and enjoyed the full rights of Roman citizenship, including exemption from taxes. So Paul’s words (Phil. 1:27) "conduct yourselves" (lit., "live as citizens") and "our citizenship is in heaven" (3:20) had special meaning to the Christians at Philippi.

Once in Philippi Paul may have been looking for the man he saw in the vision or simply looking for how the Lord would use him. On the Sabbath Paul went to the riverside where customary prayers were offered and it was there that he met Lydia a business woman from Thyatira. It states that, "The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul" (16:14). She and her household were baptized and she then insisted that Paul and those with him should stay in her house. This kind act of faith in action was evidence of her genuine conversion. This was also the beginning of the church in Philippi.

We gain some insight into Philippi itself by what happened next. As Paul and the group prayed a demon possessed slave girl started to follow and "annoy" Paul. She was involved in divination or fortune telling. She did this for many days until finally Paul, "turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And he came out that very hour." (16:16-18). This indicates that there was an occult presence in Philippi. There was spiritual warfare going on.

We also learn that this possessed slave girl was being used by her masters to make money. When they "saw that their hope of profit was gone" because the slave girl freed from demonic possession no longer divined for them, they attacked Paul and Silas (16:19). They took Paul and Silas and brought them before the local magistrates in the marketplace with their complaint. Then it states the magistrates and a multitude of people tore off Paul and Silas’ clothes, beat them with rods and threw them in the inner part of the local Philippian prison and put their feet in stocks (16:20-24).

Right about now Paul must have been wondering where that man was he had seen in his heaven sent vision. He might have been tempted to question whether he had followed God’s leading correctly or if he had, why he was meeting with such opposition. Opposed, stripped of his clothes, beaten sore and restrained in painful stocks, Paul and Silas could have been depressed or down about their circumstances. But it seems just the opposite was true. That night in prison, "Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them’ (16:25). C.H. Spurgeon once said, "Any fool can sing in the day. It’s easier to sing when we read the notes by daylight. But the skillful singer is he who can sing when there is not a ray of light to read by. Songs in the night come only from God. They are not in the power of men."

Here we see up front and personal the sustaining joy that Paul will so often mention in his letter to the Philippians. This would not be the last time Paul was put in prison. To appreciate the pains of prison you need to understand that prisons in Paul’s day were not like they are today. Today prisoners get three square meals a day, heat and air conditioning, television, and activities. Today prisoners can even get an education and have access to numerous activities to occupy their time. Paul had none of that. He was often chained to a guard and had little to no privacy. Prison for Paul was usually too cold or too hot. Meals were meager, space hard and uncomfortable. And being thrown in prison was not the only hardship Paul experienced in his life of ministry. Read what Paul comments of his experiences from other portions of scripture:

  • 2 Corinthians 4:8-11 - 8 We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

  • 2 Corinthians 11:22-28 - 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. 24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— 28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.

At one point in his life the Lord through prophets was telling Paul that more imprisonment and persecution lay ahead of him. Even though he knew this full well, he was able to say:

  • Acts 20:24 - But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

"None of these things move me," he was able to say. There was a settledness to Paul, a stability, an assurance, a confidence, a trust in the Lord that kept him on course and his head above water (sometimes literally!). What was the source of Paul’s steadfastness and resolve, of his perseverance under extreme pressures? I believe the secret to Paul’s steadfastness is bound up in the words, "so that I may finish my race with joy." For Paul joy, the joy of the Lord, and living in it, transcended everything else. That is what we will see in his epistle to the Philippians.

As Paul and Silas prayed and sang in the Philippian jail there was a great earthquake that shook the foundation of the prison resulting in all the prison doors coming open (16:26). It must have been quite a quake to break open the metal prison doors. When the prison keeper woke up and saw the doors open, knowing that if the prisoners escaped he would be executed by the Romans, drew his sword to kill himself. But Paul, not rattled by the quake, still able to think on his feet, shouted to the jailer to spare himself. None of them took the opportunity to flee. Seeing this, the jailer fell down before Paul and Silas (16:27-29). Maybe this jailor was the man Paul saw in the Macedonian vision.

The jailer recognized there was something supernatural going on and asked them, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" This question implies that though he had been asleep he had at some point heard the gospel message of Paul and Silas and his circumstances shook him enough to turn him to the Lord. They told the jailer, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household" (16:30-31). Paul and Silas spoke God’s word to him and his family. The jailer and his family were baptized. And the jailer showed Christian compassion to Paul and Silas by caring for their wounds. They brought Paul and into their house, fed them and all celebrated joyfully what God had done (16:32-34).

In the morning the magistrates sent word to release Paul and Silas. But Paul, who was unjustly imprisoned and abused publicly, even though they were Roman citizens no less, required the magistrates to humbly come and release them. The magistrates pleaded for them to go quietly which indicated the victory to Paul. He left the jail, went to Lydia’s house and after seeing the brethren there, departed on the next leg of his journey (16:35-40).

In the daily devotional Extreme Devotion from Voice of the Martyrs, there is an entry with a story very similar to that of Paul and Silas in prison. The story is found on day 78 in the devotional under the heading "Extreme Instruments – A communist Prison: A Christian Pastor." The verse for that day is from Psalm 95:1," Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation." The story goes as follows:
Why is it that so many Christians sing only once a week? Why only once? If it is right to sing, sing every day. If it is wrong to sing, don’t’ sing on Sunday."
The pastor had spent several horrifying years in prison at the hands of the Communist authorities. He was jailed for his belief in Christs, and though he remembered the tortures there, he did not focus on them much. Instead he spoke of the times of joy in the presence of the Lord. He and his fellow Christian prisoners formed a community of praise – in the middle of prison.
"When we were in prison we sang almost every day because Christ was alive in us. The Communists were very nice to us. They knew we liked to praise God with musical instruments, so they gave every Christian in prison a musical instrument. However, they did not give us violins or mandolins – these were too expensive. Instead, they put chains on our hands and feet. They chained us to add to our grief. Yet we discovered that chains are splendid musical instruments! When we clanged them together in rhythm, we could sing, ‘This is the day (clink, clank), this is the day (clink, clank), which the Lord has made (clink, clank), which the Lord has made (clink, clank).’" What a joyful noise unto the Lord!

At the end of this story for the day the following comment was made:
To those who have yet to experience it, persecution seems to focus entirely on loss. The loss of freedom. The loss of hope. Even losing one’s life. However, those who have suffered for their faith in Christ overlook what’s missing and focus on new discoveries. They relish what little freedoms they have instead of regretting what they lack. In this story, communist captors robbed believers of most of life’s freedoms and dignity. However, these stout believers focused on what remained – their joy in the Lord. If it is good to sing to the Lord when you have everything – it is good to sing to him when you have lost it all, too. What will you do today to make sure you do not lose your Christian joy?

That’s the kind of Jesus’ joy we need and need to be known by as Christians. That kind of joy is sustaining in all circumstances. Do you have that joy? Have you ever had that? If you had it did you lose it? The devotional above ends with a vital question, "What will you do today to make sure you do not lose your Christian joy?"