Thursday, April 10, 2014

Rediscovering Joy in the Grip of Our Sovereign God

“The hope of the righteous brings joy,
    but the expectation of the wicked will perish.”
Proverbs 10:28 (ESV)

                I am what is often referred to as a Calvinist. In fact I have been since the moment I was born again from above. I do not wear this title proudly or even gladly. It is simply an easy way for many to identify what it is I believe. It is nothing more or less than an effort, on the part of many, to understand me and those out there like me. It is no different than being identified by your denomination or lack thereof. Often times when meeting other believers we will utter something like this “Oh great. Where do you go to church? Who do you worship with?” This is our way of coming to understand what the other person believes and how they practice those beliefs. It may be pigeon-holing but it works; and more often than not, I am glad for it.

                What has become painfully obvious to me in the mere ten plus years that I have been walking with Christ is that my particular theological and doctrinal views are woefully misunderstood. Yet that misunderstanding and misconception are not simply the fault of lazy anti-intellectual Christians but sadly the fault of many Calvinists. Calvinists from within the “truly Reformed” camp, the “Reformed Baptist” camp and the “Reformed Evangelical” camp have made it very easy for our positions to be misunderstood and heartily rejected.

                What is the self-promoted and self-perpetuating problem I am speaking of? We are seen as joyless. Joyless as defined in the dictionary - without joy or gladness, unhappy - is a moniker we have taken on. Sadly it has almost become an attribute of God by the way we present Him to others. I truly wish I had a dime for every time someone I know personally said to me “God seems so angry the way you talk about Him; no wonder you never have a smile on your face. If I believed God was like that too I would be sad all the time.”

                I own this. I really do. I think many of us do. Paul Washer, a man I have met (I am sure he has no recollection of the event, but I do) and a man I love and respect as a brother in Christ, is one whose preaching led to me having a conversation with a very dear lady in my family where she made much the same statement as the one I quoted just above. Having shared several messages and thoughts from Brother Washer this dear lady flat out stated she did not see any sense in talking about the things I was passionate about because it just appeared to make me angry and somewhat sad. At the time I was frustrated with such a comment, thereby proving that her assessment was more accurate than I wanted to acknowledge. And I have noticed this in Brother Washer often: I know he is loving and full of the grace of God, but you can’t hear that in most of his messages.

                The issue is that we become so obsessed with the attributes of God such as His wrath and His Justice that we often take our eyes off His Love and His Grace. Oh we would willingly acknowledge that we know He loves and shows grace and joy, but those things tickle ears in our perspectives. Everyone wants to hear about His Love and Joy and Grace; no one wants to hear about Wrath. So we go to the hard to digest and pointed attributes and drive them home like we are driving the last nail in the transcontinental railroad.

                Yet this should not be for those of us who rest so peacefully in the arms of a sovereign God. Is there any greater sense of joy than knowing that despite our utter worthlessness and wickedness God in His sovereignty and for His own joy chose us for salvation? Is there any greater joy-inspiring reality for those of us who have so gladly embraced and adamantly affirm the working of a sovereign God when we consider that “for the joy that was set before Him Christ endured the cross.”?  This not only humbles us and moves us to genuine repentance but it also inspires us to hope and joy in our Lord. As I quoted above Proverbs 10:28 states clearly that “The hope of the righteous brings joy, but the expectation of the wicked will perish.”

            What is the hope of the righteous? No better yet, who is the hope of the righteous?

Is it not Christ?
Is it not our Savior?
Is it not our Redeemer?

If this is the reality for us, then we should be experiencing joy. It should pour out of us. It should be erupting from us in even the most dire of situations. No longer should those of us embracing our sovereign Lord walk about as Eeyore-esque believers with looks of despair on our faces as we ponder the depths of His wrath and the profundity of His justice against wickedness. Instead the reality is this: we should rejoice in the knowledge of His wrath against evil men and the wickedness that they perform. We should find joy in His justice because we do not ever have to share in it with the workers of lawlessness.


Christ is our hope and He brings us joy, having endured the wrath of His Father on our behalf. The wicked do not have this promise, and sadly many of those who do not acknowledge the sovereignty of God in salvation do not have a guarantee of this hopeful joy either. Their salvation is contingent upon their performance and their merit, and while this should be the most burdensome and weighty load, they seem to outdo us in their expressions of joy. Maybe in a sense this joy they express is false but they do seem to put us to shame.

Maybe I am only speaking to myself here. Perhaps my myopic view informed by my own battles with depression and the overwhelming and often crushing burdens of my own sin have caused me to perceive this as a problem when it does not exist. Yet I want to stand and scream from the tops of the highest mountains that this Sovereign God that I serve is a God of joy and gladness. He, when at the darkest hour, crushed His own Son to atone for the sins of all believers, still found joy in that moment. If the One who could give up so much by sacrificing the One of infinite worth could do so for His own pleasure in redeeming fallen and wicked men then those who are redeemed should rejoice in the knowledge that He did so gladly.

I will close with this quote from Matthew Henry as he commented on Proverbs 10:28:

“Religion lengthens men’s lives and crowns their hopes. What man is he that loves life? Let him fear God, and that will secure him from many things that would prejudice his life, and secure to him life enough in this world and eternal life in the other; the fear of the Lord will add days more than was expected, will add them endlessly, will prolong them to the days of eternity. What man is he that would see good days? Let him be religious, and then his days shall not only be many, but happy, very happy as well as very many, for the hope of the righteous shall be gladness; they shall have what they hope for, to their unspeakable satisfaction. It is something future and unseen that they place their happiness in (Rom. 8:24, 25), not what they have in hand, but what they have in hope, and their hope will shortly be swallowed up in fruition, and it will be their everlasting gladness. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”

Soli Deo Gloria!

-Todd

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