The joy of living in holiness

The overarching connection that joins all our considerations of holiness in the Father’s service is the ‘Joy of Holiness’. In this article we want to consider this wonderful blessing that comes through all the effort and determination to develop a walk of holiness that echoes the walk of our Lord.

You see, God has always intended that our life be one of joy and happiness, not one of misery and failure. He has not appointed us to the drudgery of feeling hopeless with our condition, in fact this is the opposite of what holiness brings into our lives, once we begin to live it fully in our hearts.

There are three quotations linking holiness with joy. They are:

Romans 14:17—“For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit”.

Romans 15:13—“Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Spirit”.

1 Thessalonians 1:6—“And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much afliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit”.

Unfortunately, the AV has introduced the definite article in the expression ‘Holy Spirit’ and compounded the problem by rendering the words in capitals. These verses are not talking about the power of the Holy Spirit. They are referring to ‘a holy spirit’, that is, a spirit, or disposition of holiness. When the mind is transformed by the Word of God, the mind is cleansed (Psalm 119:9; Rom 12:2) and we are considered to be “holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:26-27).

Paul is teaching in these verses that a spirit of holiness, and by extension, a life of holiness, is intimately conected with a life of righteousness, peace and joy.

What we learn from Scripture is that only those who walk in holiness experience true joy and this is supported by the words from our Lord, “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:10-11). Notice how the Lord here links obedience and joy in the ‘cause and effect’ manner, that is, joy results from obedience. So, it follows that only those who are obedient, those who are pursuing holiness as a way of life, will know and experience the joy that comes from Yahweh.

But you might well ask, “In what way does holiness produce joy?” Firstly, there is the joy of fellowship with God that is unique to those who walk in holiness. Look at what David says in Psalm 16:11: “Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore”. David wrote this because he had experienced it! He was not writing to express what a person might find if they get lucky! He was teaching us, from personal experience, that true joy only comes from the Father and He shares this joy with those who walk in fellowship with Him.

In contrast, when David committed the awful sins of adultery and murder, he lost his sense of God’s joy, because he lost fellowship with God. And he knew it keenly! Look at how he pleads to Yahweh in his prayer of suffering to help him with this: “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit” (Psa 51:12). You see, because David had lived a life of holiness, he now felt the loss of that joy that comes from breaking that bond of closeness he had with God. So,we also understand that a life of disobedience cannot be a life of joy.

Another cause of joy for us is when we know that we are trying to obey Yahweh, when we know that we are trying to embrace the Word of God in our lives and when we have made the commitment to no longer follow our own will. This is a joy that can especially be experienced when we finally see, after a long and hard battle over our own will, some small victory in our service to the Father. It is probably considered the joy of victory, when we see the spirit of Christ prevailing in us. But in reality, we have to see it as the joy of obedience. And obedience is joyful. It arises when the goal of obedience has been realised in some small measure.

In addition to the joy of fellowship with our holy God, living a life of holiness also produces the prospect of anticipated joy in the kingdom. Think of the words of Hebrews 12:1-2, taken from the NIV, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”.

Clearly, the joy that was placed in front of him was a strong motivation for endurance. That’s exactly why the apostle recorded it here, because he is saying that if the Lord anticipated the joy of the kingdom and he has gone before as the example, how much more should we? We are being taught that no amount of difficulty, no amount of hardship, no amount of struggling, was going to overcome the Lord, because his anticipation of that joy was far greater. What an amazing encouragement that is for us, to be always focused on that joy.

Turn your thoughts to the words of the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 and consider in particular the words of our Lord to those faithful servants who he welcomes into his kingdom. Verse 21 says,“His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” and again in verse 23, “His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord”. Here in the parable, the faithful are congratulated for their efforts, feeble though they may be, and invited to “enter into the joy of thy lord”. Notice he doesn’t say, “enter into the kingdom of thy lord!” He used the word, joy! Because that’s exactly what it will be, in every sense of God’s purpose. By yielding our “members servants to righteousness unto holiness” and producing “fruit unto holiness” the reward will be “everlasting life” (Rom 6:19,22). For this reason, we too can look forward to entering into the joy of the Lord as we walk in holiness.

But joy not only results from a holy life, there is also a sense in which joy helps to produce a holy life. An excellent example of this is in Nehemiah 8:10 when Ezra read from the book of the law and instructed the new Jewish settlers. His parting words to them were, “Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength”. Why was this day holy? Because, through the knowledge Ezra had given them, they had the opportunity to set their lives on the path of holiness and turn from serving sin.

“The joy of Yahweh is your strength”

What an amazing statement that is for us; when we least feel like we possess any strength to live in holiness, we know that Yahweh our God can give us strength through the joy His Word provides. And as we hope in Christ, we begin to experience that true joy of service to our God. Then, in the strength of our joy, we begin to overcome the sins that can so easily entangle us.

As we have seen earlier, “the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in a holy spirit” (Rom 14:17). So perhaps we should examine ourselves and see if we have become a person of peace in serving Christ. Right living is important, but have we given much thought to the importance God places on the fruit of joy in our lives?

You see, God is not satisfied with only righteousness and peace in our lives. Paul tells us very plainly that the kingdom of God is not only a matter of righteousness and peace, but also joy. In addition, we learn in verse 18 that without joy, our life is not really very pleasing to God: “For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God and approved of men”. What we need to remember is that because we have been given the joy of the kingdom, we have every reason to be joyful. But not only that, it is also a fact that every believer should practice being joyful.

John 10:10 tells us that true joy is both a privilege and a duty: “I came so that they (his sheep) would have life and have it in its fullest”(CEV). Our Lord has come, that our lives might be full of joy. Twice in his discussion with the disciples on the very evening of his betrayal, Jesus referred to the joy that he desired for them to have: “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:11); “Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24). He has truly done everything to make it possible for us to live joyful lives.

Rejoice in the Lord

But we are not to sit around waiting for our circumstances to make us joyful. We are in fact, commanded to be joyful always. “Rejoice evermore” is Paul’s brief encouragement to the Thessalonian brothers and sisters (1 Thess 5:16), and in Philippians 4:4 he makes this even stronger: “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice”.

Look how emphatic Paul is – “I say it again, Rejoice!”

As with the other character traits we have referred to, joy is not an option available only to those whose temperament is conducive to it. Yahweh intends that every one of His children exhibit the joy of holiness.

Yahweh has provided all we need for our pursuit of holiness

He has delivered us from the reign of sin and given us His living word through Christ. He has revealed His will for holy living in His Word of truth, and He works in us to will and to act according to His good purpose. He has set examples within the pages of Scripture to exhort and encourage us in the path of holiness, and He answers our prayers when we cry to Him for strength in the face of temptation.

The choice is ours for the making. What will we choose? Will we accept our responsibility and discipline ourselves to live in habitual obedience to the will of God? Will we persevere in the face of frequent failure, resolving never to give up? Will we decide that personal holiness is worth the price of saying no to our natural desires?

At the very beginning of these articles we considered the farmer, who, in dependence on God, fulfils his responsibility to produce a harvest . He does not sit back and wait for God to act—rather, he acts himself, trusting God to do His part.

If we are to attain any measure of holiness, we must have a similar attitude. God has clearly said, “Be holy, because I am holy”. We know He has not commanded us to be holy without providing the means to be holy. The privilege of being holy is ours, and the decision and responsibility to be holy, is ours. If each of us makes that decision, we will experience the fullness of joy which Christ has promised to those who walk in obedience to him.

Finally, let us consider Ephesians 5:25-27 “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the [ecclesia], and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious [ecclesia], not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish”.

What a truly wonderful calling we have – to be part of the holy and unblemished bride of our Lord together with those who have, “eagerly pursued peace and holiness with all, without which no one will see the Lord”(Heb 12:14 LITV).