How To Abide In Christ

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

Jesus Christ did not come into the world just to show us how wrong we are and embarrass us and make us feel small. He came to spread his joy our way. He came to bring us what we all most deeply desire. Pascal wrote,

All men seek happiness…. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.

You might hate your job. But tomorrow morning you’ll get up and go to work. Why? That job you hate is a stepping-stone to something else that does make you happy. God made us with a passion for happiness, because he too has a passion for happiness – through his own glory. The question for us is, where do we go to satisfy that raging thirst? God says in the Bible,

My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and have hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. —Jeremiah 2:13

These “broken cisterns” are the lukewarm, stale, unsatisfying mechanisms we build into our lives to make up for a lack of God. So, when Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full,” let’s listen. Three things here cry out for explanation: “my joy,” “in you” and “full.” “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy . . .” Jesus Christ was “a man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3). But here he refers to “my joy” because he was also a happy person. The Bible says that Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit (Luke 10:21), meaning that his joy had the power of God in it. The Old Testament predicted that God would anoint the Messiah “with the oil of gladness” more than anyone else (Psalm 45:7). Even when Jesus went to the cross, the Bible says he did it “for the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus said, “I always do the things that are pleasing to God” (John 8:29). Jesus enjoyed a constant feast of God’s approval. That is joy! The Father said to him, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). Is it conceivable that Jesus was emotionally neutral about that? He said to his disciples, “Be of good cheer” (Mark 6:50, AV).

How could he say that, if he was downcast? In fact, the way Jesus speaks here – “that my joy may be in you” – he seems to think that his joy is the only real joy we’ll ever experience. We are visitors to happiness now and then, and often strangers to it. But Jesus Christ is the owner of all the true and lasting happiness that exists in the universe, and he wants to share it with you. We need it, and for more than one reason. But here is one. We are created, dependent beings. Our joy is not innate to us. We’re not born joyful. We’re born screaming, and every single drop of happiness we ever taste comes from beyond ourselves. Every day throughout our lives, if we ask the question, “What’s making me happy right now?”, our answers run the gamut from my toys, to my sports, to my romance, to my spouse, to my children, my career, my retirement, and so forth. But it would never occur to us to say, “What makes me happy? I do. I don’t need toys or sports or romance or anything else. Endless happiness just wells up from within me.” We’re not like that. Every moment we draw our happiness from beyond ourselves.

Jesus Christ is so relevant, because he comes to us from beyond. Forever and ever, from eternity past through time and on into eternity future, God the Father and God the Son always enjoy one another, always communicate to one another in the power of the Spirit the glory each adores in the other. The Triune God is the overflowing fountainhead of all real, solid, lasting, worthy joy. And he created us so that his glorious happiness would spill over onto us, catching us up forever in the joy of who God is. That is the loving purpose of God, so massively disbelieved in this world, so overlooked, so unknown and ignored. But it is the most relevant fact of our everyday lives. Christ came to teach us about it: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you….”

Do you know the most amazing thing about God? The most amazing thing about God is not that he is complete and happy and full within himself. The most amazing thing about that gloriously complete and full Person is that he cares about grumpy little people like us who treat him poorly. The greatest glory of God is that he loves the undeserving, supremely at the cross. Only God would. Only God could. He has all happiness within himself – more than enough for us forever. And he came down to us in Christ, to give himself away, despite what we deserve. Believe it. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you….” When we believe the gospel, something happens to us. We start feeling loved by God the way Jesus felt loved by God, because we are included by grace within the joy of the Trinity. In Christ alone, we sinners have God’s approval. Because of Christ alone, God rejoices over us. The Bible says,

The Lord your God is in your midst,… He will rejoice over you with gladness;… He will exult over you with loud singing. —Zephaniah 3:17

The Bible says, “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5).

So dear, so very dear to God, dearer I could not be;
For the love wherewith he loved his Son is the love he has for me!

If you struggle to believe that God could rejoice over you and yet you’re looking to Christ to make it so, you are the one to whom he promises to transfer his joy. And you don’t need outward prosperity with money, health, popularity. It will be, he says, “in you.” And the fact that we don’t deserve it is the very thing that makes his love so sweet. It is so freeing when we stop living on the basis of what we deserve – grabbing and demanding – and we fall into the arms of Christ and start living on the basis of what he gives. Jesus Christ obeyed God perfectly, with no regrets, no backward glances, no pain of conscience but only a continual sense of God’s rejoicing over him – when he becomes yours, his joy starts seeking your heart, he starts giving himself to your heart. I’ve heard preachers say that God doesn’t intend to make us happy; he intends to make us holy. But pitting happiness against holiness is like saying, God doesn’t intend to make us colorful; he intends to make us red. Red is a major part of being colorful. And right here in this context, in verse 10, Jesus says, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

Those words in verse 10 are included in the things Jesus spoke so that his joy would be in us (verse 11). We have peace with God through the obedience of Christ. That’s both happy and holy. We then learn to abide in his love by obeying his commandments. That’s both happy and holy. Would someone please explain to me from the Bible why I have to choose between happiness and holiness? Moreover, can you see in the flow of this passage, in the sequence of verses 10 and 11, that joy is the ultimate purpose of God? In verse 10 he speaks to us about obedience; in verse 11 he says that he spoke to us about these things for a still higher purpose – so that his joy would be in us. I am so glad to tell you that the new work Christ wants to do in your life is not some cheerless, barren duty; he comes to give you himself, his cheerful, glorious self. We are sinful and weak and half-hearted. But he robes us in his own righteousness and places us alongside himself under the smile of God, and he says to us, “Welcome to your new home. You are now included. You will never be shut out. My Father and I have settled everything for you. And it only gets better from here.”

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

In this world we’re constantly struggling out of our sadness toward happiness, or, if we are happy, toward a higher happiness. But Christ gives a level of joy that nothing in this world can create, and he sets no bounds to our joy. He never says, “Enough is enough.” He never says, “I have nothing more to give.” He never says, “Uh, anybody got a new idea?” He says, “My joy is full, and I only gain by giving it away. You, for your part, can never enjoy me too much. The joy I give will be oceanic in its fullness forever.” If you are in Christ, you don’t need my permission to rejoice. It is his will. He put it the opposite way in Matthew 6:16, “Do not look somber, as the hypocrites do.” The nihilist philosopher Nietzsche explained why he rejected Christianity: “I never saw the members of my father’s church enjoying themselves.” And here’s why you and I can defy the darkness and dare to enjoy ourselves in Christ. The foretaste of God’s love that we have now will forever grow more ravishing, more astonishing forever in heaven. The joy of Christ will pour into us and joy in Christ will pour out of us, and we will never come to the end, because there is no end to his glory. Don’t be afraid that if you give yourself to Christ, you might get bored. Is river-rafting boring? I’ll tell you what’s boring and worse than boring – it’s knowing that others are out there swimming in the ocean of God’s love, and you’re not a part of it because you held back. The Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross to absorb the guilt of hold-back, face- saving, guilt-ridden, joy-skeptical sinners and to set them free into wholeheartedness. This is love. If he were a cranky, dark personality, then every moment of happiness in our lives right now would be a fraudulent mockery of our desires. But the truth is, Christ came and taught and died and rose again and sent the Holy Spirit and is now preparing a place for us, so that his joy will be in us forever and our joy will be full. That’s the gospel. Here is what God wants you to do with it.

One, don’t settle for any lesser joy, and don’t look for joy in the wrong places. C. S. Lewis warned us about our own amazingly low standards, our defeatism and unbelief:

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Our culture tells us that the only joy we can hope for is right here, right now. That message says, “These things we have spoken to you, televised to you, emailed to you, posted to you, so that our sales pitch may get into you, and that your credulity may be full. So give your conscience away. Sell out. This moment is your only chance.” Are you settling for that? Here is God’s offer: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). Whatever it takes, lay hold of Jesus Christ. It will be no heroic sacrifice. You’ll be buying the field where the Treasure is hidden. Is there anything in your life keeping you from him? Let it go. It isn’t worth it. There’s no joy in it. And aggressively lay hold of him. He is the only true joy you will ever taste. None other exists. But he is offering himself to you, and freely, as you are.

Two, go for all the joy in Christ that God will give you. The Bible says, “Eat, friends, and drink; drink your fill, O lovers” (Song of Solomon 5:1, NIV). Personal, daily communion with the Lord Jesus is precious beyond description or calculation. Get near to him. Enjoy him. Draw strength and comfort from him. Pour your heart out to him. Accept suffering for him. Practice his presence. Get involved in spreading his gospel to others. But know this. Joy in Christ will cost you big-time. Here’s what you stand to lose – your self-pity, your victimhood, your coolness, your brooding and woundedness and negativism. If you will believe the good news that Jesus Christ is the Friend of sinners and your Friend, then he will prove it to you very wonderfully, and you will have your own personal story to tell of miracle-joys you never even knew existed. And best of all, you’ll never need to deserve it. Will you give yourself wholeheartedly to the Lord Jesus Christ? Don’t expect it to be easy; but you can expect it to be joyful. “Enter into the joy of your Lord.”