Thesis 26


Spirit-Filled Joy Generates Revival

Since “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace ...” (Gal. 5:22), joy is both an indicator and a vindicator of genuine revival and reformation.

On Pentecost, when our resurrected Jesus became enthroned in heaven’s sanctuary, the Holy Spirit came upon praying believers. Life for them became a festival of love, joy and peace. Christ’s disciples and their converts “ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:46–47). Even when suffering persecution for bearing witness to the resurrection of Jesus, their joy was unquenchable (see Acts 5:41).

“The disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52). Honestly, does that verse describe our church’s quest for revival and reformation? Or are we often so wary of emotionalism that we suppress the joy of the Lord — which is our strength in the Spirit?

At this point let’s affirm that joyous worship is not a party for hypocrites. All who refuse to repent of sin indulge in their own damnation, even as they fancy themselves as celebrating in the Spirit. It’s equally true, however, that nobody who exchanges the world’s follies for the riches of Christ’s resurrection life needs to fear becoming emotional from the Spirit’s love, joy or peace.

Somehow a subdued tone often suffocates our prayers and singing. Many sincere Adventists decry any music with joyful energy as irreverent — even if the lyrics are purely Bible verses. If we thus suppress the joy of the Lord, are we not also quenching the Spirit?

Concern about emotionalism is legitimate and necessary if a celebrating congregation forgets why God has made them glad. But has unbridled caution about emotionalism make some churches celibate of the Spirit? In such a barren and unfruitful context, how could a church ever reproduce as the early believers did? Thousands of their Jerusalem neighbors responded to their vibrant witness to the resurrected Lord.

For us as well, the joy of the Lord is our strength in evangelism. Without it, can we expect true revival and reformation to transform our congregations and awaken our communities?

Joy in the Spirit is not a questionable amusement; it’s an indispensible source of spiritual power: “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” (Rom. 15:13). So if we lack joy, we also lack power — no matter how earnest and unceasing our intercessions. Joy, hope and peace are essential ingredients of any revival and reformation capable of transforming God’s final remnant into the image of their resurrected Lord.

And joy isn’t something we can scold or scare ourselves into experiencing. That’s like somebody cloistered in a basement apartment frantically claiming promises for a suntan — a transformation only possible when basking in the sunlight.

Zealous spirituality without joy is like a neutered tomcat determined to be fruitful and multiply. Don’t expect kittens, no matter how earnest and enduring his vain pursuit of new birth. Even more pitiful (and equally doomed to failure) is a church attempting to love the Lord with hearts cut off from joy. Fear and uncertainty rule.

Some of us seem afraid that emotion in worship must lead us astray. But really — do we Adventists tragically lose many of our children because our churches have descended into emotionalism? Do our teens complain, “The joy I’m experiencing at church is so intense I can’t stand it anymore. I’m leaving!”?

That said, I acknowledge once again the possibility of letting our hearts run ahead of our heads. People more interested in being happy than in cherishing Bible truth often slip into emotionalism. They try to recreate God into their own image rather than submit themselves to be conformed into His likeness. Such is self-worship, refusing to love the Lord with all their hearts as well as their minds.

Jesus warned the woman at the well that true worship involves both Spirit and truth. Without truth, emotionalism leads us astray. But without the Spirit of love, joy and peace, churches become hospices instead of maternity wards.

The prodigal son’s older brother resisted the festivities of his Father’s homecoming celebration for an undeserving brother. Likewise the Pharisees tried to stop the emotional shouts of “hosanna” at Christ’s triumphant procession. They no doubt meant well in quenching the Spirit of joy by turning down the volume of hosanna music. But nothing could stop Christ’s parade of joyous grace — then or now.

So let the word go forth from this time and place that the joy of the Lord is our strength in the Spirit. This generates genuine revival and reformation.

Joy Is a Core Character Quality

Is joy a questionable amusement or a quality of character that facilitates revival and reformation? Last month we recognized joy at the core of the fruit of the Spirit, along with love and peace. Now let’s witness how the joy of the Lord offers strength to transform our lives.

Remember the woman at the well, imprisoned in shame and guilt. Jesus surprised her with joy. She ran back to town, shouting, “Come see a Man who told me everything I’ve ever done — is He not the Christ?” Her joy generated revival and reformation among her formerly resistant neighbors.

“The disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52). Such joy not only sparks enthusiasm for evangelism but also the radical financial generosity it will take to finish our gospel mission. The wise men traveling to Bethlehem saw the Savior’s star and “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matt. 2:10). Such joy unleashed their lavish generosity.

Zacchaeus was up a tree, entangled in greed, when Jesus came along and extended His gracious acceptance. “So he hurried down and received him joyfully” (Luke 19:6). Joy in the Spirit stimulated victory over the sin that had enslaved his life — just as with David, who said in Psalm 51, “Restore to me the joy of salvation, and I’ll sacrifice bullocks on your altar.”

The work of God will never be finished by the turtledoves of tithe. We need to willingly sacrifice our bullocks — that is, indulge ourselves in radical generosity. This happens spontaneously in the Spirit — only and always — when we discover God’s altar of joy.

Do you see the connection between joy and generosity, and also how joy spurs evangelistic zeal? So why are so many afraid of it?

Many devout Seventh-day Adventists shun God’s Spirit of joy because they fear it can be fermented into something dangerously intoxicating. But we can (and must) enjoy grape juice from God’s throne of grace without worrying about getting drunk. In fact, when we refuse that nourishment, will we not become dehydrated spiritually?

I’m glad we don’t have to choose between the extremes of getting drunk with mindless glee or getting dehydrated without genuine joy. The Spirit of joy is also the Spirit of truth. Christ’s death and resurrection are the foundational truths to which we bear witness. When we keep focus on those historic events, we need not fear the joy it inevitably generates.

“But, what about the judgment going on in heaven?” we may wonder. “Aren’t we living in the antitypical Day of Atonement, when we should be afflicting our souls in agonized preparation for Earth’s final time of trouble?”

No doubt colossal trouble looms before America as it descends into moral darkness. But we don’t need to inflict fear upon each other in another vain attempt to revive the church for the latter rain.

The book of Hebrews explains the doctrine of heaven’s sanctuary under the new covenant. It contrasts old covenant uncertainty regarding the Day of Atonement with the joyous confidence we have and our constant access to God through Jesus — in the specific timeframe of seeing “the Day drawing near” of Christ’s coming (see Heb. 10:19–25). Christ’s victory turned the Old Testament mercy seat into a throne — the throne of grace where He reigns as our royal high priest.

Endless warnings will not fortify us to face Earth’s final conflict with confidence. Yet some of what we are hearing and reading these days about revival and reformation resurrects and reinforces the dread under which too many of us were raised. What sincere believers in Jesus really need — now more than ever — is the joy of the Lord to be our strength. Nobody who has forsaken sin to embrace the Savior needs to fear trouble of any kind, present or future.

Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). He compared Earth’s final tribulation to a woman’s birth pangs and assured us that the birth of a baby will overshadow all her pain. So it will be at the end of time, when thousands will be converted in a day through the joyous witness of a Spirit-filled church. This evangelism explosion will stimulate within us even greater joy — despite persecution — just as it did for the first-century church.

Consider Mary when she visited Christ’s tomb to mourn his loss. There she discovered her Lord had risen indeed. What happened with her? She ran with “great joy” (Matt. 28:8) to testify about Christ’s resurrection.

Years of somber exhortations and admonitions about revival and reformation cannot produce the change that happens in one moment of Spirit-filled joy.