The Way to Jesus’ Joy

God’s inherent self-sacrificial love motivated Him to even die for our sins against Him. God had created us in His image (Gen 1:26-27), but we “all have sinned” (Rom 3:23). Because “God so loved [agapan] the world [mankind]” (John 3:16) He has made a way through faith in Jesus for mankind to be “created according to the likeness of God” (Eph 4:24), once again! This isn’t just good news, it is great news! Our nature, the very nature of who we are is changing to be more like Jesus according to how we choose to live in His ways by His grace.

Now, joy should be characteristic of the Christian life, and having joy relates to having this kind of love, agapan. Paul wrote in his letter to the believers in Rome, “The kingdom of God is … righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (14:17; italics added). A friend of mine recently quoted this scripture to me concluding, “The kingdom of God is 1/3 joy!” Amen to that! I want to live in at least 1/3 joy! 

Several Holy Spirit inspired writers of the New Testament recorded the idea of joy being a major part of our life in Christ, and of our joy being “complete”. John records Jesus’ words in John 15:11, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” In 1 John 1:4, John wrote, “We write this to make our [or your] joy complete”. In both contexts, John is connecting the idea of complete joy to obeying God’s commandments. In both contexts the commandment is, “ … Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12), and, “ … this is his [Jesus’] commandment, … to love one another as he commanded us.” (1 John 3:23). 

So, it is through obeying His command to love each other as Jesus loved us that we will find such joy. Observe that Jesus said to love “as” He loved us, not “as” we choose to love, but as Jesus “loved us.” This term for love in both of these contexts is “agapan”. If we love “as” He loved us, then we will “remain” in His love (John 15:9-10). This is the self-sacrificial love Jesus proved to us by dying on the cross for our sins, even though we hated him (anyone who sins hates Him and we have already seen that all have sinned). “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). I want to emphasize the term “while” because Jesus loved us “while” we were sinning against him.

In other words, we are only, really, and truly loving each other and those who hate us if we love them “as” Jesus loved us. It is in this way that we experience the joy that Jesus and John are speaking about. Here, we have come to a key truth in which the kingdom of God works. This truth is that we must “die” to ourselves in order to love each other in this way. We must choose to self-sacrificially love one another and our enemies, even to the point of physical death if God so calls us, in order to live in this kind of joy. Simply but ironically put, the way to true joy is through death.Jesus said this a bit more eloquently, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Luke 10:39; Mark 8:35). 

Jesus also said, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8). And we know that joy is “fruit,” for Paul wrote that the “fruit of the [Holy] Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22; italics added). And we know that the Christian can only “bear fruit” by obeying His commandments, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Steven Jetton