The first principle for having Christian joy is that you must be a Christian. I know this seems obvious, but in my experience at least two classes of people need to face this squarely. The first class is composed of those who are not Christians and know it, but who think that Christian fruits can be grown without a Christian life. If you are such a person, you need to recognize that joy is supernatural, and that it’s only given to those who have surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ.
The second class is composed of those who are not Christians but who think they are, perhaps because they’ve been raised in a religious home or because they attend church. They think they are Christians, but they do not understand the heart of the Gospel, and they have not actually committed their lives to Jesus Christ. Hence, these cannot understand their failure to experience the fruits of such commitment. If you are this kind of a person, then you must begin with the first principle also.
Let me explain it as plainly as I can. Before you become a Christian, you stand before God as one who has fallen short of His standards. You come to him with all your best traits of character. But as you stand before Him, you realize that even the best of these things is imperfect and fails before God. You hear God say, “You come to me with all that is human. But what is human is tainted by sin, and I cannot work with that. That is a foundation upon which I cannot build. You must turn from it.”
And so you do. You lay these things aside, you count them as loss, as Paul did. And you come to the cross to receive God’s righteousness. It’s a gift. You say to God, “I admit that everything I do falls short of your standard and I recognize your verdict upon it. I recognize your just judgment on my sin. I lay it aside. I do not deserve anything from you, but I come empty handed to receive what you have promised to give through faith in Christ Jesus. I believe He died for me. I come to receive your righteousness, by which I am accounted righteous. I come to receive the Holy Spirit, by whom I will have power to live the Christian life. And I ask you to help me to live it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.”
Well, if you have done that, then you have taken the first step in experiencing the joy that is to characterize the Christian life. If you have not done that, you can do it now. The Bible says, “Behold now is the accepted time, behold now is the day of salvation.”
The second principle is this: If you are to experience God’s joy, you must first know His righteousness and peace. And this means that a life of holiness and trust in God are prerequisites. The order of these three things is set forth in Romans 14:17: “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”