It is often in my pastorate that someone approaches me complaining, “Where’s the joy?” They often continue to complain about the fact that in our church we talk too much about sin and suffering. In their view, the Sunday Morning gathering is their opportunity to get a shot of encouragement so that they can go out and face the world for the rest of the week. To them, the church is a haven, a hospital where wounded Christians can find healing and support for the battle. Now, although there is an element of truth to those statements, a half truth is not a whole truth. Yes, the church family needs support and should find a comfort in the healing salve of God’s Word taught and applied to life of the believer in the context of the gathered body of Christ. I am, however, compelled to begin by emphasizing that “if you are relying on one shot in the arm to take you through the week then you are extremely misguided as to what it means to walk with Christ and, very likely, you don’t have a habit of walking daily with Him.”
The idea that the Sunday Morning gathering is somehow supposed to be a warm fuzzy emotional and encouraging experience that is all about stroking each believer and making them feel good about themselves is not a principle that Christ taught or that you can find in Scripture. The Apostle Paul writing under the inspiration of God said to Timothy…
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
(2 Timothy 4:1-5 ESV)
Now, it is very difficult to “reprove” or “rebuke” in a climate where people will not “endure sound teaching” and simply want to be encouraged and motivated to face the next week. In this context reproof and rebuke are not tolerated and are replaced by a Polyannaish attitude toward how God should be shepherding them. In their hearts they are saying things like:
- “Don’t talk about sin!”
- “Don’t do surgery in the hidden recesses of my heart!”
- “Don’t tell me what I should or shouldn’t be doing, that’s between me and God.”
Instead, they just want (Christian Snuggie’s) the good bits, the positive and encouraging nuggets of God’s Word:
- “Just tell me that I’m more than a conqueror in Christ.”
- “Remind me that I am loved and special in God’s eyes.”
- “Keep me focused on God’s special purpose for my life.”
- “Tell me of Grace that covers my sin.”
Ultimately, however, although this disgruntled attitude is expressed to the pastor, it is really an attitude that is expressed to God. It is an unwillingness to recognize one’s own sinfulness and the reality of one’s own “itching ears that have turned away from the truth and have wandered off into myths.” Now, that is incredibly offensive to those who identify themselves as followers of Christ and attend services every Sunday. But friends, it is nothing new. The fact that joy can be found apart from the Cross is a myth that has been around for a while. Listen to these faithful preachers from the past…
Martyn Lloyd-Jones writing about the condition of the church in the middle of the 20th Century tells us:
“I cannot help feeling that the final explanation of the state of the church today is a defective sense of sin and a defective doctrine of sin…”
“They have failed to see that they must be convicted of sin before they can ever experience joy. They do not like the doctrine of sin. They dislike it intensely and they object to its being preached. They want joy apart from the conviction of sin. But that is impossible; it can never be obtained. Conviction is an essential preliminary to true conversion.”
Also Charles Haddon Spurgeon, in speaking about the wave of “Revivalism” (with its unbiblical roots in Charles Finney) that was plaguing his era, the middle to late 19th Century, says…
“A very great portion of modern revivalism has been more a curse than a blessing, because it has led thousands to a kind of peace before they have known their misery; restoring the prodigal to the Father’s house, and never making him say, “Father, I have sinned.” How can he be healed who is not sick, or he be satisfied with the bread of life who is not hungry? The old-fashioned sense of sin is despised… The consequence is that men leap into religion, and then leap out again. Unhumbled they came to church, unhumbled they remain in it, and unhumbled they go from it. C. H. Spurgeon.
When we try to find joy without going through the cross we may find words of temporary encouragement, emotional experiences and some form of positive thinking, but it will all be anemic, a passing fancy, a short shot of encouragement all because we are unwilling to see the sinfulness of our sin and mourn over it, the cost of the Gospel, and the value of God’s grace. J. C. Ryle says it well…
“Christ is never fully valued, until sin is clearly seen.”
So, friends, there is great joy when we are willing to hear from God regarding our sin. How we respond to it also reveals our character and growth in Christ-likeness.
Our first reaction to sin must be to see it clearly from the scriptures. Then, realizing that it put our Savior on the cross, we should mourn over it. Finally, we should confess it without excuse to the God of mercy. The end result is a joy that comes through the cross that has lasting peace in our hearts as a result of a true assessment, a Christ-like grieving and a whole-hearted confession before a just and merciful God.
So, if you are looking for joy, and who isn’t, be careful that you are not deceived into pursuing a placebo substitute when the eternal Substitute, Jesus Christ, has paved the way.