More Like Jesus: Joy (Part 1)

March 28, 2017

by Peter Amsterdam

As we try to model our lives after Jesus and His teachings, joy plays an important role in our efforts. While Jesus only specifically mentioned His joy twice in the Gospels,1 joy permeated the events of His life and His teaching. We also find mentions and examples of joy throughout the New and Old Testaments.

There are seven Greek words used in the New Testament which refer to joy, intense joy, gladness, and rejoicing. The main two used are chairō (rejoice) and chara (joy). These words are used 72 times in the Gospels and 101 times in the rest of the New Testament. Such wide usage indicates that joy is important in our lives as Christians.

The night before He was crucified, Jesus said to His disciples:

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.2

As believers, we have the privilege of partaking of His joy. The apostle Paul wrote:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.3

We’re told that God’s kingdom is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, and that if we serve Him in these things, we are acceptable to God.4 Joy is listed right after love as a fruit of the Spirit:

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control… 5

Clearly joy is important for a Christlike life. But what exactly is this joy that is spoken of here?

In the English language, for the most part joy and happiness are considered synonyms. However, the Greek words used in the New Testament for joy and happiness aren’t as close in meaning to each other as the two words are in English today. Greek words that express the concept of happiness weren’t used very often within the New Testament. One author explains:

One begins to suspect that for most of the Christian writers joy was more than a happy feeling, a pleasing mood or a sense of overflowing jubilation, although it might include these. Rather, by joy they seem to have been referring to something more profound, something more difficult to define yet real. Joy seems not to be laughter, gaiety, lightheartedness, and dance and song (at least in this present world) but something more akin to faith, more akin to a settled state of mind marked by peace. Joy is fundamentally an attitude toward life that views and accepts the world with equanimity, a confident way of looking at life that is rooted deep in faith, in a keen awareness of and trust in the sovereign God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection.6

As Christians we can have that settled state of mind, that confident way of looking at life, and the keen awareness of and trust in the sovereign God, all of which make up joy. What is the basis for that joy? It’s rooted in our salvation—that our names are written in heaven. When the seventy-two disciples returned after going two-by-two to towns that Jesus was about to visit, they returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” Jesus responded: “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”7 We have joy, we rejoice, because we have the hope of an eternal inheritance.

According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you… In this you rejoice…8

We can have joy because we take the long-range view, knowing that whatever hardships or setbacks we experience in this life, we will live with God forever. We see an example of looking beyond the present trials of this life to what lies ahead in eternity in Jesus, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.9

Joy is an outgrowth of our salvation.

May we shout for joy over your salvation, and in the name of our God set up our banners!10

I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.11

My soul will rejoice in the LORD, exulting in his salvation.12

This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.13

I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.14

But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the Lord!” 15

We have joy because of the presence of God in our lives.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy16

When we read of the presence of God in the Incarnation—of Jesus, God’s Son, coming to be present on the earth—the whole event is filled with joy. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s voice, the child (John the Baptist) leaped for joy in his mother’s womb;17 the angel appeared to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth proclaiming, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people;18 and when the wise men saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.19 God’s presence brings joy to those who believe in Him.

God’s presence becomes part of our lives as we are filled with the Holy Spirit; the Spirit is also connected to joy.

The disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.20

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy…21

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.22

You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit…23

Knowing God’s Word produces joy in our lives.

Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart.24

The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart…25

I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil.26

Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart…27

Worshiping and praising the Lord evokes joy within us.

My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed.28

These things I remember, and I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God, with the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.29

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!30

They worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.31

We are told to have joy in the Lord, and that believers rejoice.

Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!32

Let the righteous one rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him! Let all the upright in heart exult!33

But the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy!34

The hope of the righteous brings joy…35 

The light of the righteous rejoices.36

A righteous man sings and rejoices.37

Even in difficult times we are encouraged to have joy.

In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.38

As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing…39 

[Speaking of the churches in Macedonia:] In a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.40

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.41

The knowledge that the difficult times we face will one day pass away gives us a foretaste of heaven, where there will be no more grief, suffering, sorrow, or pain.

For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.42 

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever! 43

Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.44

Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.45

The ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.46

Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”47

As believers, we can rejoice and be filled with His joy—joy that our names are written in heaven, that we are filled with God’s Spirit, are in communion and fellowship with our Creator, and that in whatever hardships we may find ourselves He is present with us. This doesn’t mean that we will always be happy, but no matter what our circumstances, we are able to stand on the solid rock of joy. We are a redeemed and blessed people who will dwell with God forever.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.48

(Other aspects and applications of joy will be covered in the next article.)


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

1 Now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves (John 17:13).

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full (John 15:11).

2 John 15:11.

3 Romans 15:13.

4 The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men (Romans 14:17–18).

5 Galatians 5:22–23.

6 R. P. Martin and P. H. Davids, eds., in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments, electronic edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 600–605.

7 Luke 10:17, 20.

8 1 Peter 1:3–6.

9 Hebrews 12:2.

10 Psalm 20:5.

11 Psalm 13:5.

12 Psalm 35:9.

13 Isaiah 25:9.

14 Habakkuk 3:18.

15 Psalm 40:16.

16 Psalm 16:11.

17 Luke 1:44.

18 Luke 2:10.

19 Matthew 2:10.

20 Acts 13:52.

21 Galatians 5:22.

22 Romans 15:13.

23 1 Thessalonians 1:6.

24 Psalm 119:111.

25 Psalm 19:8.

26 Psalm 119:162.

27 Jeremiah 15:16.

28 Psalm 71:23.

29 Psalm 42:4 NAS.

30 Psalm 100:1–2.

31 Luke 24:52.

32 Psalm 32:11.

33 Psalm 64:10.

34 Psalm 68:3.

35 Proverbs 10:28.

36 Proverbs 13:9.

37 Proverbs 29:6.

38 2 Corinthians 7:4.

39 2 Corinthians 6:10.

40 2 Corinthians 8:1–2.

41 2 Corinthians 12:9–10.

42 Psalm 30:5.

43 Psalm 30:11–12.

44 Psalm 51:8.

45 Psalm 126:5–6.

46 Isaiah 35:10.

47 Nehemiah 8:10.

48 Philippians 4:4.