If you were to make a list of nine Christian virtues or aspects that you would like to see more fully developed in your life, would joy be included in that list? If it is, how high up on that list would it be? Paul reminds us that joy is part of the fruit the Holy Spirit cultivates in the lives of believers. And it is high up on the list, second only to love (Galatians 5:22). The Holy Spirit evidently places a high priority in working joy into our lives!
What is this joy the Holy Spirit works in us? Although it might contain many elements, at least three are basic and fundamental to this joy. First, it is a joy in our present salvation, which Peter explains in this way: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8–9; cf. Luke 10:17–20).
The second aspect or focal point of joy is closely related to the first: it is joy in the future consummation of our salvation. In the same passage, Peter points to the believers greatly rejoicing in “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade, kept in heaven” for them (1 Peter 1:3–7). Paul describes the Christian who has been justified by faith in Christ as rejoicing “in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). In Hebrews 10:34 we read about the power this joy has in those who are gripped by it: “You . . . joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.”
The central aspect of this joy, though, is ultimately a joy in the triune God, the author and perfecter of our salvation! The Psalmist expresses this in Psalm 43:4 by calling God “my joy and my delight,” that is, “my exceeding joy.” David praises God for his blessings to the king and includes this blessing: “Surely you have . . . made him glad with the joy of your presence” (Psalm 21:6). What gladness and joy is found in God’s presence? David tells us in Psalm 16:11, “in Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (NKJV). True joy, lasting joy, supreme joy, is joy in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! St. Augustine expresses this well in one of his many prayers in his Confessions:
O Lord, far be it from me to think that whatever joy I feel makes me truly happy. For there is a joy that is not given to those who do not love you, but only to those who love you for your own sake. You yourself are their joy. Happiness is to rejoice in you and for you and because of you. This is true happiness, and there is no other. Those who think that there is another kind of happiness look for joy elsewhere, but theirs is not true joy.1
This is the joy the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of Christ’s own. But this joy must be cultivated! We must work at increasing it. Paul calls all who “live by the Spirit” to “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). How do we “walk in the Spirit” to cultivate this joy?
One of the ways in which we can increase our joy is to turn our eyes and our emotions from this life and focus them on the next, to set our hearts and “minds on the things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2). As our minds and hearts are turned to the sure realities of heavenly glory that awaits all those whose “life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3–4), our present joy grows in spite of the difficulties and trials we still endure in this vale of tears. So what exactly can we meditate on? Here are a few glorious promises about our future home in heaven:
#1 Heaven is a place where sin is absent: This is almost impossible for us to imagine; how marvelous it must be to have no more sin! For the believer the presence of remaining, indwelling sin is a great burden and perpetual struggle (cf. Romans 7:13–25). The apostle John expresses this sinless future wonderfully in his first epistle: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). When Jesus comes, we will be transformed into his image; we will be glorified and become like our Savior. What does this mean? Many things, but at its core, it is that we will be perfectly sanctified, that we will be made completely holy, totally sinless, as Jesus is! Just the thought should lighten our sin-weary souls and fill us with joy inexpressible and full of glory!
#2 Heaven is a place where even the consequences of sin are removed: Not merely sin, but also the brokenness sin has brought will be absent. How incredible that will be! Can you envision such a place? There will be no more sickness, no more disabilities, no more sorrow, no more misunderstandings, no more pain, no more poverty, no more hunger, no more homelessness, no more oppression, no more natural disasters, no more destruction, no more death, and no more tears! What a glorious place this will be! There are two beautiful descriptions in the book of Revelation that give us a glimpse of this wonderful world. Meditate on these words:
Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Revelation 7:15–17) [emphasis added]
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:3–5) [emphasis added]
What joy these passages should inspire in our hearts! Our future is one of glorious restoration in which all the earth will be made new! One aspect of this beautiful future that stands out is the restoration of worship. In heaven our worship will always be pure, holy, heartfelt, undistracted, and completely in Spirit and in Truth. The sinful wandering of our minds, the inability to love Christ as we ought, and the unfeeling worship we so often bring will all be transformed. John Newton expresses this beautifully in his hymn, “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds”:
Weak is the effort of my heart, And cold my warmest thought; But when I see Thee as Thou art, I’ll praise Thee as I ought.2
It should stir our hearts to greater joy as we anticipate the glorious, sinless home and sinless worship that awaits us!
#3 Heaven is heaven, because God is there! This is the most wonderful thing about heaven; it is the place where God is present among his people! His presence makes heaven, heaven! Jesus promises the repentant and believing thief on the cross: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43). What makes this promise so magnificent is not the gift of paradise, but the promise of being in the presence of Christ forever. Read again the two passages in Revelation given above. Both of them emphasize that every blessing that comes to us and is enjoyed in heaven flows from God! And the most glorious blessing is God himself! Both passages focus on the tender care God will show his people who are finally home after their long pilgrimage: God himself will wipe away every tear from their eyes. What a wonderful thing that will be, finally to see Jesus Christ face to face, to enjoy the glorious presence of the Father and the Holy Spirit forever and ever! Jonathan Edwards expresses the anticipation of this future joy in God well:
The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams. But God is the ocean.3
Oh, my dear Christian friend, would this place not indeed be what the older saints called “bliss”? Does this not stir a passionate longing and greater joy in your hearts? If there is the smallest beginning of true faith in any heart, there would also be the beginning of true joy in this glorious future that awaits all of God’s children! And meditating on the future glory that awaits us will increase that joy. Therefore, “be joyful in hope” (Romans 12:12).
Quotes on Heaven:4
“A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.” —C. S. Lewis
“Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave it with regret? There are better things ahead then any we leave behind.”—C. S. Lewis
“The passing beauty and joys of the world points us towards another world, a New Jerusalem in which ‘there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ (Revelation 21:4). In the meantime, we must live and work in the world. Yet we do so as people who know that they are on their way home, and anticipate the joy of return and arrival.” —Alister McGrath
“Hearts on earth say in the course of a joyful experience, ‘I don’t want this ever to end.’ But it invariably does. The hearts of those in heaven say, ‘I want this to go on forever.’ And it will. There is no better news than this.” —J. I. Packer
“My heaven is to please God and glorify him, and to give all to him, to be wholly devoted to his glory; that is the heaven I long for.”—David Brainerd
“O my Lord Jesus Christ, if I could be in heaven without thee, it would be a hell; and if I could be in hell, and have thee still, it would be a heaven to me, for thou art all the heaven I want.” —S. Rutherford
“Heaven and Christ are the same thing.” —S. Rutherford
“There will be little else we shall want of heaven besides Jesus Christ. He will be our bread, our food, our beauty, and our glorious dress. The atmosphere of heaven will be Christ; everything in heaven will be Christ-like: yes, Christ is the heaven of His people.” —C. H. Spurgeon
“To pretend to describe the excellence, the greatness or duration of the happiness of heaven by the most artful composition of words would be but to darken and cloud it; to talk of raptures and ecstasies, joy and singing, is but to set forth very low shadows of the reality.” —Jonathan Edwards
1. Quoted by Philip D. Kenneson, in Life on the Vine, IVP:Downers Grove, Ill, 1999:62.
2. 384 in the Psalter Hymnal, Board of Publications of the Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, MI, 1976.
3. From The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations. Compiled by Mark Water. Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI, 2000:469.
4. From The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations. Compiled by Mark Water. Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI, 2000:469–71
Rev. Jacques Roets is the pastor of Redeemer United Reformed Church in Dyer, Indiana.