It is a question Christians often ask: What is the relationship between obedience and joy? I was asked about this during a recent Ask Me Anything event in Philippines (which followed a sermon I gave that focused on Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”). Here is my answer.
How should Christians strike a balance between obedience out of duty and obedience out of joy in the Christian walk?
Well, Christian hedonism, of course, is the term associated with John Piper and I think if you went around to a hundred different Christians and asked how they would define Christian hedonism, I think you would get a lot of different answers. I’m not sure that people when they use the term, are really often meaning what John Piper means by the term. And frankly, I think not too many others have used it. Not too many people out there are saying he must be a Christian Hedonist. That’s, you know, I think really Piper-esque language that mostly he uses. But I do think he’s on to something, that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. So he wants us to be obeying God, finding great joy in God, great delight in God, not because we have to, but just out of the overflow of our salvation. So yes, I think ultimately what we want is to find great joy and let that joy motivate our godliness, motivate our sanctification, motivate our relationship with the Lord.
However, we’re sinful people. I think there are times where we don’t have the joy we want to have, there’s times when joy is very hard to come by. And that’s why the Christian life is also a disciplined life where I think in moments of our greatest spiritual sanity and spiritual self-control, we kind of look out at life and say, what do I need to do in life, what rules do I need to put in place in my own life? Not to save myself, these laws don’t make me more acceptable to God, but what rules or laws or regulations or something do I need to implement in my life to keep me from sin? Where do I need to impose an obligation on myself? Again, not to save myself, but in order to honor God. Where do I struggle to find such delight in God that I’ll obey Him? And therefore, I think that’s where we really bring self-control to bear. So, people use Covenant Eyes to keep themselves away from looking at pornography, I think is an example of this, right. You’d want the joy in the Lord to be enough, I would never look at pornography. That’s our goal, right, to have such joy that it overflows in obedience. Yet realistically, each of us has those areas where we just don’t have that joy, we’re not far enough down that path of sanctification, we haven’t taken advantage of all that the Spirit offers us yet, we haven’t grown through our own fault. So that’s where there can be times where we can say, okay, I’m putting this in place to guard myself against sin that I know at other times is very, very attractive.