For the past few months, we’ve been meditating heavily on the connection between joy, love, the cross, and faith. As full-blown Christian hedonists, we well know that our joy in Christ overflows into love for others. However, we recently discovered how we have misused this wonderful truth.
It dawned on me that I have so striven to be a good parent and love people that I have been using love or joy in God as a means rather than the only end goal. In other words, as I’ve sought to love my kids or other people more, I’ve gone to the Bible seeking my satisfaction in Christ (rather than convenience, internet, books, etc.) SO THAT I could then be a better parent, spouse, worker, etc…. THIS IS THE PROBLEM!
We can never use joy in Christ as a means, for it is the ultimate end of our existence. There is no greater prize. No greater reward. Being a good parent, spouse, worker, etc does not satisfy as Christ does. His happiness is better and forever. In effect, I have been pursuing the fruit of the Spirit as if they were the consummation of our joy, all the while missing the fact that the only reason these are desirable is because they reflect Christ’s own nature.
How does this practically affect love? We were reminded by John Piper’s Desiring God that the motive for loving people is because God promises us reward. This was the way Christ constantly motivated people, BUT this is not being a mercenary. This is because God is our reward. He alone is the proper aim of all our efforts. Therefore, loving people, displaying patience, etc are all means and opportunities to know and enjoy Christ, particularly as His grace and power move in us. Therefore, even when we don’t feel affection for a person, our ambition to savor Christ propels us to loving acts; these are actually faith steps that God will be satisfying when we obey; then, we see that he reveals Himself to us, changing us more into the likeness of Christ, thereby increasing our capacity for joy. This is the essence of sanctification—the increase capacity for enjoying Christ. [Far too many books only speak of sanctification in term of loving actions]
The true Christian cannot be satisfied with merely seeing Christ; (s)he feels the compulsion and drive to be like Him and experience Him within us. Therefore, when Christ is our ultimate final joy (and not a means), then love does come [but as a result, not the final goal]. This epiphany has taught us the subtly of sin and the difference between a reason and a result. When we say “so that” in English, we may sometimes either refer to a result or to the purpose of an action. When we say, “Find your satisfaction in Christ so that your love may abound,” we need to be clear we are talking about the result of joy, not its purpose. This makes all the difference in finding lasting and final joy in life—in Christ alone.