May 30, 2024

If Joy Is a Fruit of the Spirit, Then Why Don’t I Have Any?

Nathan W. Bingham & Burk Parsons
If Joy Is a Fruit of the Spirit, Then Why Don’t I Have Any?

Sometimes the valleys of life can lead us to question whether we possess the spiritual fruit of joy. Today, Burk Parsons points us to the hope Christians have in the source of true, biblical joy.


NATHAN W. BINGHAM: Joining us in the studio this week for the Ask Ligonier podcast is Dr. Burk Parsons. He’s the senior minister at Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida, and also a teaching fellow at Ligonier Ministries. Dr. Parsons, if joy is a fruit of the spirit, then why do some Christians not experience that joy?

DR. BURK PARSONS: Well, this is a very important question, and it’s a question that many Christians ask and struggle with at one point in their lives or another because when we talk about joy being the fruit of the Spirit, we are talking about something that many Christians really don’t understand because we equate joy too often with happiness. Happiness is based on occurrences, it’s based on happenstance, happenings, things that happen to us. And that affects our emotions. It affects our feelings. It affects how we feel—whether we’re happy or sad.

But joy is different than happiness. Joy is something that is deep. It is rooted within our hearts, and it is a gift to us. That’s why it’s among the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These things are ours as Christians because the Holy Spirit has been given to us. We are indwelt by the Spirit of God. God has given us a new heart. The Spirit has regenerated us, has made us alive in Christ, has united us to Christ, and the Spirit is the source of these fruit, the source of joy.

And when we talk about joy, even from the original Greek language of the New Testament, joy is something that is related to the source of joy, just like peace is related to the source of peace. And so the question is, Why do we have peace? Why do we have joy? The reason is because of the source of that joy and peace within us. God, by His spirit, is the source of that peace, and it is all bound up in the character of our triune God.

And so, we all deal with sadness in our lives. We deal with the realities of miseries and hard situations and catastrophes and tragedies and sadness every day of our lives. And we all know what it’s like to experience the inner turmoil and disturbance and sadness of the soul.

We even see the psalmists throughout the Psalms dealing with this and even preaching to their own souls and asking of their souls, like we see in Psalm 42:5 and 11, we hear the question: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, why are you disquieted within me?” Or, “Why are you in turmoil within me?” We can see how the psalmist is dealing with the pain of life and hurt and betrayal and the realities of sin in this life—not only our own sin but the sins of those around us, the sins of those we love, and the sins of this world.

And so, there are times in our lives, sometimes frequently, when we have to preach what we know is true—preach the gospel—to our souls. We have to say, “Soul, hope in God; remember that God is the source of your hope,” and that leads us to rejoice. It’s interesting how in the New Testament, the words rejoice and joy are related because they both exist. We are able to rejoice. We have and possess joy because the source of joy is within us.

And we may not always feel joyful. But we have to ignore those feelings because feelings can oftentimes, not always—God gave us feelings—but feelings can sometimes be the greatest liars. And what we have to do is we have to use our knowledge of God from His word and His character and what He has told us, and we have to preach those truths to our hurting souls. Because when we do not feel joy, we have to remember that we have Christ. And that settled conviction—that is not frivolous it’s not flippant, it’s not fleeting it, it is not something that’s superficial. That’s what the world has. But as Christians, we have a joy that as a settled conviction because the Holy Spirit has been given to us.

And Paul, in Romans 5, tells us that the Holy Spirit has been given to us and the love of God has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us. And that joy and peace and rejoicing that we can express even in suffering, maybe not at the outset, but as we begin to trust in the Lord and rest in His sovereignty and His character, knowing that He has what is best for us, then He reminds us of the joy that we have because He’s in control.

We have to remember something that, I think it was C.S. Lewis who said, “Don’t let your happiness depend on that which you might lose.” And we could say the same thing for joy: don’t let your joy be dependent on that which you can lose. We can lose a lot of things in this life, but we’ll never lose God, for God, by the Holy Spirit united to Christ within our hearts, can never be taken away from us.

And this is why Jesus says in John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” That means that the joy that we have is not fundamentally our joy. It is not joy that is inherent within us. It is, in fact, Christ’s joy. It is the joy of our eternal, sovereign, holy God that He gives to us because He is the source of our joy.

Joy is not the absence of sadness, because if we’re really, properly dealing with the realities of our sin and the harshness of this world, we will be sad. We will have sadness regularly. But joy is not the absence of sadness. Joy is the presence of the Holy Spirit.

And so, when we don’t feel joy, we need to preach the truth of God to our feelings, and we need to remind ourselves that our joy is not based on our circumstances or our situations, however miserable they might be, but our joy is rooted and based and established in the cross of Christ and what He gained for us on Calvary.