Virtues for Christ-Followers: Joy

May 14, 2024

by Peter Amsterdam

As Christians, our joy emanates from our faith in what the Bible has taught us: that God is our Creator; that though humanity is alienated from Him due to our sins, He has made a way for us to be reconciled with Him through the sacrificial death of Jesus and the forgiveness of our sins; that through this reconciliation, we enter a relationship with Him, His Spirit dwells within us, and our relationship will last for eternity.

Our faith in God and deep trust in His promises of salvation, reconciliation, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the ultimate fruit of salvation—spending eternity with God—help us have peace of mind and a confident outlook. Our beliefs generate hope, an expectation of good things to come, and cause us to live in joy.

Christian joy is connected to and is a result of our faith. We believe in God—not just as our Creator, but as our Father. We believe in His Word, which tells us about Him and His character, and His deep abiding love for us. We have an ongoing two-way relationship with Him, which will continue for eternity. His Holy Spirit dwells within us, and joy is a fruit of that indwelling.

Author Michael Zigarelli wrote about what it means to have this joy: “From a biblical point of view, we can define joy as ‘having a daily spirit of rejoicing through all circumstances.’ It’s more than inner contentment, more than gladness, more than overall satisfaction with life.1

It is helpful to examine ourselves in this area of joy to see if we are living in the richness of the joy of the Lord that the Bible tells us is our strength, as the following article highlights.

Living in the Joy

Joy is something we all long for but that often seems difficult to grab hold of. Experiencing joy should be a part of every Christian’s life. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, produced by God’s work in us, and it is part of God’s will for us…

The first thing is to realize that joy is a gift from God. The root word for joy in the Greek is chara, which is closely related with the Greek charis for “grace.” Joy is both a gift of God as well as a response to the gifts of God. Joy comes when we are aware of God’s grace and relish His favor.

With this in mind, it’s evident that one way to experience joy is to focus on God. Rather than dwelling on our difficulties or those things robbing our contentment, we can dwell on God … remembering that He is near, praying about our worries, and keeping our minds focused on the good things of God. We can experience joy when we intentionally praise. David wrote that the study of God’s Word can bring us joy (Psalm 19:8). We can experience joy by communing with God through prayer.—Gotquestions.org2


When we’re grateful for what God has done for us; when we’re focused on His goodness, love, and care, and are content with His blessings, then we have reason for joy—even in the midst of life’s storms and in times of trouble, grief, and sorrow. Being thankful for God’s blessings helps us live in joy and hope.

Joy is a work of the Holy Spirit. The theme of joy is prominent in Philippians, where believers are called to trust that God is working all things together for their good. Joy is a response to God in our lives—to His blessings, presence, promises; the relationship we have with Him; our being His children. It’s a response to who He is and His involvement in our lives, to His love, as the following quote highlights:

It is the consciousness of the threefold joy of the Lord, His joy in ransoming us, His joy in dwelling within us as our Saviour and Power for fruitbearing, and His joy in possessing us as His Bride and His delight; it is the consciousness of this joy which is our real strength. Our joy in Him may be a fluctuating thing: His joy in us knows no change.—James Hudson Taylor

The following article highlights the example Paul and Nehemiah in the Bible set for us of joy even during trying times.

Unfaltering Joy

We all face challenges and struggles, as did people in the Bible... Anxiety and unexpected problems seem to push joy away easily... But God wants us to have an inner joy that remains despite outward forces. We discover sources of such joy in Bible people who also faced difficulties…

Nehemiah Shares a Secret about Joy (read Nehemiah 8:9–10). After supervising the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem after the exile, he had the people listen to God's Word. They wept because they realized they had disobeyed God. But Nehemiah turned their hearts to rejoicing. He explained that the day of reading God's Word is holy, and the joy of the Lord is their strength. He urged them to celebrate and give gifts of food to those who have nothing. The word for strength is ma’ōz, and it’s a word picture for a fortress. This led to a great feast. Feasts and sharing our blessings should be times to celebrate and rejoice. When you need more joy, open the Bible!

Paul, in Prison, Knows Great Joy. Paul faced many hardships, including prison, beatings, being shipwrecked in a storm, and lashes. But he always spoke of joy. His joy came from many sources, especially from how he focused his thoughts:

  • Gratitude for support and gifts sent to him (Philippians 4:10–23), for the faith of others, and for Christian love (Colossians 1:3–4).
  • Life with no regrets as he focused on loving people and trusting God (2 Timothy 4:7).
  • His contentment in any circumstance (Philippians 4:12).
  • He allowed God to work in him. The [Greek] word in Philippians 2:13 to work in us is energes or energeia and can also be translated as revitalize. It’s God’s power to breathe new life into us.
  • Positive outlook. For example, Paul observed that his imprisonment encouraged others to speak out (Philippians 1:14) and helped grow the kingdom.
  • Hope in the eternal future (Philippians 1:20).

Adopting these principles will help us let go of anxieties and live with more joy… Thank God for each day and what it brings in joys and hopes, as well as giving thanks in troubled times for new insights and growth.—Karen Whiting3

We hear a lot in popular culture about “happiness” and the pursuit of it, but is that the same as the joy of the Lord? The following provides helpful insights into the gift of the joy of the Lord:

The Key to Christian Joy

The word joy appears over and over again in the Scriptures. For instance, the Psalms are filled with references to joy. The psalmists write, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5b), and “Shout for joy to God, all the earth” (Psalm 66:1). Likewise, in the New Testament, we read that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22), which means that it is a Christian virtue. Given this biblical emphasis, we need to understand what joy is and pursue it…

The heart of the New Testament concept is this: a person can have biblical joy even when he is mourning, suffering, or undergoing difficult circumstances. This is because the person's mourning is directed toward one concern, but in that same moment, he possesses a measure of joy.

In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul speaks about joy and about the Christian's duty to rejoice over and over again. For example, he writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4). Paul says Christians are to rejoice always—not sometimes, periodically, or occasionally. He then adds, “Again I will say, Rejoice” (v. 4b). Paul wrote this epistle from prison, and in it he addresses very somber matters, such as the possibility that he will be martyred, poured out as a sacrifice (2:17). Yet he tells the Philippian believers that they should rejoice despite his circumstances…

The key to the Christian's joy is its source, which is the Lord. If Christ is in me and I am in Him, that relationship is not a sometimes experience. The Christian is always in the Lord and the Lord is always in the Christian, and that is always a reason for joy. Even if the Christian cannot rejoice in his circumstances, if he finds himself passing through pain, sorrow, or grief, he still can rejoice in Christ. We rejoice in the Lord, and since He never leaves us or forsakes us, we can rejoice always.—R. C. Sproul4


The excerpts from the following two articles remind us of the importance of rejoicing and praiseful joy in our lives as we work to fulfill our mission of reaching the world with the gospel message:

The Joy-Driven Life

“It is astonishing,” wrote Karl Barth, “how many references there are in the Old and New Testaments to delight, joy, bliss, exultation, merry-making, and rejoicing, and how emphatically these are demanded from the Book of Psalms to the Epistle to the Philippians.”

Indeed, from “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth!” (Psalm 100:1) to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)—and dozens of places before and after and in between—we are urged to lead joy-filled lives…

[But with the world situation the way it is,] who in their right mind can talk about joy? There will be time for rejoicing once we make some headway on the human catastrophe.

But is it not truer to say that we will not make progress on the human catastrophe until we first rediscover joy? The gospel remains a scandal, indeed, because it announces joy right when everything is falling apart, just when today’s experts offer “sober assessments of the current situation,” and in their euphoric moments can only say they remain “cautiously optimistic.”

The gospel’s tone is utterly foreign to all this. “Do not be afraid,” the angel tells the quaking shepherds. “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” The church’s angelic mission to the world is no different. “Do not be afraid,” we announce to a world shivering in the dark. “We bring good news of a great joy—for everyone!”

No matter how earnest we become, we cannot fix the world. It has already been fixed, and that fixing will become manifest when Christ comes again. In the meantime, we really are given crucial work to do: to heal the socially sick, to raise the spiritually dead—among other jobs! But practicing deadly serious discipleship is not one of them.

We do well to recall how Jesus began his ministry among us… “It’s Cana of Galilee, the first miracle,” says Father Paissy in The Brothers Karamazov. “Ah, that miracle! Ah, that sweet miracle! It was not men’s grief, but their joy Christ visited. He worked his first miracle to help men’s gladness.”

There is a time to ponder the sobering reality of evil, to write the occasional dirge. But G. K. Chesterton knew well the greater truth—which is why the Bible harped on it so. A person is fully human, he says, “when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labor by which all things live.”

Earnest purpose, to be sure. But let it pulsate with praise.—Christianity Today5

Long Faces Cannot Proclaim Jesus

The Holy Spirit is the “author” of Christian joy and to proclaim the Gospel we need to have joy in our hearts gifted us by the Spirit of God. There is a certain understanding of Christian life that is marked by sadness, but long faces cannot proclaim Jesus. Joy alone and praise of God are the only way to advance the Gospel.

The Pope noted, “We Christians are not so accustomed to speak of joy, of happiness. I think often we prefer to complain.” Instead, it is “the Holy Spirit that gives us joy.”

“It’s the Spirit that guides us: He is the author of joy, the Creator of joy. And this joy in the Holy Spirit gives us true Christian freedom. Without joy, we Christians cannot become free, we become slaves to our sorrows. Paul VI said that you cannot advance the Gospel with sad, hopeless, discouraged Christians…”

And how do we praise God? We praise Him by coming out of ourselves, we praise Him “freely, like the grace that He gives us is free,” said Pope Francis. “Do you give praise to God or do you only petition God…? Do you praise God? This is something new, new in our new spiritual life. Giving praise to God, coming out of ourselves to give praise; spending a little bit of time giving praise.”—Vatican Radio6

A Praise for the Day

Lord, I lift my heart, mind, and spirit to You in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. You are the giver of all good things, and You are all good things to me.

You are my Creator, my Father, the source of life and strength. You cause the sun to rise, the light to shine, the night to come. You hold me in Your arms. You console me in my sadness. You warm me with Your love. You shield me and protect me and provide for me.

All peace, contentment, and blessings come from Your hand. I praise and honor and thank You. Amen.7

Food for Thought

“You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of joy in Your presence” (Acts 2:28 NKJV).

“God can’t give us happiness and peace apart from Himself because there is no such thing.”—C. S. Lewis

“When I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart’s delight” (Jeremiah 15:16 NLT).

“We may not be able to give much, but we can always give the joy that springs in a heart that is in love with God.”—Mother Teresa

(For more on this topic, see “More Like Jesus: Joy,” part 1 and part 2. To be continued.)

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 Michael A. Zigarelli, Cultivating Christian Character (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Design Publications, 2005), 49.

5 Christianity Today editorial, December 7, 2009.

6 Vatican Radio quoting Pope Francis, May 31, 2013.

7 Activated, November 2012.