A Defense For Biblical Joy

Eternal Joy in a Temporal World

The world as we know it today is cursed by human sin (Rom 5:12; 19). To make matters, the world is ruled by the prince of darkness and his demonic henchmen (2 Cor 4:4). It is through unbelieving men that demonic activity works to stir up strife in the world (Eph 2:2). That being the case, how can one find true and lasting joy in a world that is built on the shifting sands of strife? The answer to our question lies solely in the pages of Scripture. God has told humanity in the Bible that in order for anyone to have joy and gladness of heart one must serve the Lord in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24; Phil 3:1-16). Eternal joy is spiritual joy.

God said through Moses,

If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel (Ex 19:5-6).

The Apostle Peter said,

And coming to Him as living stones which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4-5).

The Bible clearly points to the fact that the material world can never bring about joy and gladness of heart because the material world is not spiritual. I am not saying the material world is useless or evil.  That would be the age old argument of the Gnostics. God created the material world to declare His wondrous glory (Ps 19:1-6). God also created the world for mankind to enjoy (Gen 1:29-30). What I am saying is joy and gladness of heart are the product of that comes from knowing God and obeying Him. True joy is spiritual joy. But that doesn’t stop false teachers in their attempt to convince the Church otherwise.

False teachers are not born of the Spirit of God and therefore they cannot understand the spiritual nature, character, and purpose of God (1 Cor 2:14). False teachers will always gravitate toward an attempt to explain God by means of materialism or sensuality (2 Peter 2:17-19). The material world is all false teachers have. They naturally defy the commandments of God by seeking to make the God of glory into their own image; the images of the material world carved by human hands (Psalm 115:1-8). John Piper is no exception. In his attempt to explain that which he cannot grasp, Piper says about the spiritual joy:

If obedience is doing what God commands, then joy is not merely the spin-off of obedience, it is obedience. The Bible tells us over and over to pursue joy (Dangerous Duty, 13-14).

But nowhere in the Bible does God tell anyone to pursue joy as an act of obedience. God has never said, ‘Joy yourself to the fullest.’ In the Old Testament, joy is always the result of knowing and obeying God. Contrary to what Piper said, Moses explained joy in a completely different way. Moses looked to God as the spiritual source of joy in the believer’s life. Moses made it clear that unless God gave to the Israelites the mind, eyes, and ears to know and obey Him, they would never know the joy He had in store for them  (Deut 29:4). Unless God provides that which man lacks in his heart, no one will ever possess abundant, lasting, eternal joy. Biblical joy is purely spiritual in nature. Sure, the obedience of the Christian brings about spiritual benefits that may manifest in the material world and result in joy. But the source of joy is the Spirit of God at work in the lives of His elect.  God’s spiritual work in the heart produces joy and rejoicing with the mouth. An example of this is when God drew a distinction between all of the grumbling and unbelieving Israelites and Caleb son of Jephunneh. God gave Caleb that which he lacked. God said to Moses that Caleb “has had a different spirit and has followed Me fully” (Num 14:24). Again King David clearly points to this need when he said,

Deliver me from my blood guiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation; Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness. Open my lips that I may declare Your praise. (Ps. 51:14-15).

Eternal Joy Comes through Regeneration

Men who seek God in humility by the knowledge of the Scriptures are led to salvation (2 Peter 1:19; Psalm 51:1-13; 119:105-112). Spiritual birth from heaven produces the character of God in the lives of men (John 3:3). The apostle Paul provided a list of characteristics that accompany those who are born of God. That list is more commonly known as the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). One of the fruits is joy.

In Galatians 5:22 the word in the Greek for joy is χαρὰ (khar-ah). This word  is translated as joy or gladness. It is a noun that is used to identify the attribute of joy the Holy Spirit possesses. The Holy Spirit indwells believers at the point of regeneration (Titus 3:5). The apostle Peter clearly stated that Christians are partakers of the Divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). Therefore, Christians are those who possess the joy of the Lord. The joy of the Lord is a communicable attribute He emanates within His children. Joy naturally accompanies the life of the spiritually reborn believer.

For example, Paul was obedient to Christ unto imprisonment (Phil 1:7). Paul’s obediencefurthered the gospel into the highest political offices in Rome (Phil 1:12-14). Furthermore, Satan sought to break Paul of his obedience to Christ by using sinful self-centered men to preach the gospel to others (Phil 1:15-17). But the spiritual fruit of joy cannot be quelled by Satan. The apostle John made that clear when he wrote, “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). So it can be said spiritual joy attends to the life of the believer and is the result of a spiritual work of grace in the heart which solely comes by faith through  hearing the Word of God (Rom 10:17). Therefore faith is based upon knowing God through His Word and illuminated by His Spirit. For Paul, joy in his heart resulted in him saying, “whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice” (Phil 1:18). So the act of rejoicing was the both the attribute of the Holy Spirit in Paul and the result of Paul’s regeneration. Thus we can say eternal joy is spiritual joy.

Piper’s Temporal Joy

John Piper contradicts Scripture by reversing its order of joy and obedience . Piper argued that Moses understood joy to be an act of obedience. If that was the case, the apostles would have explained it that way. But that is not what the apostles did.

Piper said,

It goes back to Moses, who wrote the first books of the Bible and threatened terrible things if we would not be happy: “Because you did not serve the Lord Your God with joy and a glad heart…therefore you shall serve your enemies” (Dangerous Duty, 10).

So we must as some questions in order to know who is telling the truth. First, we must ask ‘has Piper correctly represented the meaning of the text?’ Does the context of the chapter and book of Deuteronomy support Piper’s claim? Well, let’s see what Moses said.

The Authoritative Word of God

When we look at the Bible, God tells us that He spoke mouth to mouth with Moses in plain and clear speech. Furthermore, God tells us that Moses beheld the form of the Lord which can be none other than the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ (Numbers 12:6-8). After all, God is spirit. Man cannot see spiritual things through his natural eyes (Genesis 1:2; John 4:23-24). This is important to note because God said that what Moses received from Him is clear and easily understood. Secondly, that which Moses received came directly from Christ (1 Peter 1:10-12). Therefore Moses and the apostles should harmonize with each other. After all, they both received their revelation from Christ. Also, Moses’writings should be easy to grasp in a clear and straightforward manner.

The Law of Moses and Spiritual Joy

The first five books of the Bible serve as the foundation for all of Scripture. Commonly referred to as the Pentateuch, Torah, or the Law of Moses, the first five books provide the foundational  principles through which man can gain lasting joy. Moses, the writer of the Pentateuch and prophet to the Israelites, repeatedly called the nation of Israel to hear, know, and obey God in order to achieve lasting joy and satisfaction of life. In other words, Moses said joy is the result of knowing God and obeying Him.

For example, Moses wrote,

If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the Lord, am your healer (Ex. 15:26).

Moses clearly said that to know God and obey Him brought about the result of joy for the Israelite. What is the joy Moses spoke of? The joy was in the work of God to prevent diseases from coming upon the nation of Israel. The spiritual protection against material diseases was not the act of obedience, it was a promised result. God’s spiritual protection was a gracious gift. After all, God deserves perfect obedience from the entire human race without them expecting a reward (Luke 17:10). But God being rich in mercy and abundant in grace and steadfast in His lovingkindness gives blessings to those who love and obey Him (Exodus 20:5-6; 34:6-7).

Again God said through Moses,

If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel (Ex 19:5-6).

Did Moses reveal that joy was the act of obedience? No. The act of obedience was to know what God had said and do it. The result of obedience was God making the nation of Israel a people for His own possession. But in both cases God was the initiator. Without God making Himself known, there was no means by which mankind would know true, lasting, eternal joy. Thus it can be said that joy was the result of grace, not works.  It is a result of grace in the Old Testament by God’s gracious revelation of Himself to the Israelites. In Moses mind, joy came from God making Himself known to the Israelites and it was the result of the Israelites obeying God. But once again obedience could neither be accomplished a part from the work of the Spirit nor the Word of God. Caleb is an example of that. God therefore magnified His grace when He set the Israel apart as special from among all the nations of the world.

And again God said through Moses,

Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and judgments which I am teaching you to perform, so that you may live and go in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you…See that I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. So keep them and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him? “Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today” (Deut. 4:1-8)?

Did Moses ever say that joy is an act of obedience? No. Rather, joy is the result of one walking in obedience to God. Furthermore, the Israelite’s joy was magnified when they saw God’s blessings resulting from their obedience to Him. Moses was saying joy is a state of the heart, not an act of work-righteous obedience. Remember God’s words to Moses about Caleb: “he has had a different spirit and has followed Me fully” (Numbers 14:24).

Piper’s Inability to Understand Spiritual Truth

How is it that John Piper cannot seem to grasp the simple truth of the text? How is it that Piper works hard to avoid the obvious? Piper strives hard against the winds of truth to convince people that emotions are the means or even the method by which they obey God (Dangerous Duty, 14). How is it that Piper has confused the emotions of fallen men with the attitude of obeying God from a pure heart? Piper makes more out of something that is built on shifting sand of man’s sinful mind.

John Piper Perverts Truth

The Scripture tells me that men seek to pervert the truth by way of suppressing it in unrighteousness. The apostle Paul wrote,

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them (Rom 1:18-19)

It is evident from the Scriptures that joy is a spiritual state of the regenerated heart. As the apostle Paul wrote, “the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom 5:5). Therefore joy is the overflow of love and outward manifestation (result), not the act of obeying God. The Scriptures tell me that Piper has either become “captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the traditions of men, according to the elementary principles of this world, rather than according to Christ” (Col 2:8) or he is a false teacher who takes the simple truth and twists it to his own destruction (2 Peter 3:16). Either way, Piper has been compromised to the point that he is untrustworthy. Piper misrepresents Scripture, leading many away from a biblical understanding of joy.


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