Power for Joy
The Character of the Kingdom (4)
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Romans 14.17
A new character in the world
The Kingdom of God brings an entirely new “national character” to the world. Americans are known for their practicality, their “can-do” spirit. People think of the British as maintaining a “stiff upper lip” in all situations and “muddling through” no matter what. The Spanish and Italians are flamboyant, the French oh so sophisticated and romantic, the Germans austere, and so forth. None of these stereotypes is entirely true, but I mention them just to show that, over the centuries, people of certain national origins tend to be stamped with, and, in many ways, to represent the character of their native land.
The character of the Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Because the Spirit of God brings heavenly, eternal power to bear on and in all those who are translated into the Kingdom of God, He brings a bit of God Himself, and of His eternal existence, to spread around among the members of Christ’s reign. Our being-in-the-world reflects the eternal character of the unchanging and holy God. As He is all righteousness, peace, and joy in and unto Himself, so we who submit to His rule begin to express that “national character” as well.
Or, at least, that’s what we aspire to represent to the world around us. The followers of Jesus Christ still carry around a good deal of “old baggage” from their former way of life; the law of sin continues to express its presence in us, even as we strive to become in reality more of what we already are in fact through Jesus Christ.
The joy of God
The third dominant attribute of the Kingdom of God is joy. The triune God is full of joy within Himself; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit take infinite delight in one another, in their several perfections and combined beauty, and know a joy in merely being that no external circumstances or conditions could ever interrupt. The joy which God has in and of Himself is the same joy which believers in Jesus Christ begin to know in the Holy Spirit as part of their citizenship in the Kingdom of God.
This joy differs from mere happiness. As the word itself suggests, “happiness” tends to derive from the combination of favorable conditions at any particular time (happenstance). We may expect to know a good deal of happiness in this life as followers of Jesus Christ. God wants His people to be happy. He provides for their every need and brings them blessings untold, day by day, because He wants us to be happy.
But we may not always be happy, for the simple reason that the circumstances of our lives may not always be as we would choose them. In this life, Jesus said, we will know trials of various kinds (Jn 16:.33) – illness, loss, deprivation, persecution, disappointment. At such times the conditions of our lives are not such as we would choose; they do not combine to bring us that feeling of goodness and overall wellbeing that we experience as happiness.
But though our happiness may at times be interrupted, we may know a joy in the Kingdom of God that sustains and motivates us even in the midst of trials.
The conditions of joy
Joy is a much more deeply-seated affection than happiness, and therefore much more to be desired. Joy comes not from favorable temporal conditions, but from secure, unchanging, and eternal ones – the condition of being safe in the Father’s hand, forgiven, free, and bound for eternal glory.
Nothing can change that circumstance. Our salvation is all of grace, as is our daily increase in the Lord. We did not create the conditions by which we have come to know God and eternal life, nor did any other temporal creature or entity. God has saved us; God keeps us; God sustains and cares for us; God daily witnesses to our spirits by His Spirit that we belong to Him. Of course, in gratitude for this, we must work out our salvation in fear and trembling; but the certainty of our standing with the Lord is of the Lord, and not of ourselves or any temporal creature or contingency.
Nothing that can happen to us in this life, not even death, can change the eternal, God-given conditions of our salvation. Thus we always belong to the Lord – even when we stray from Him and incur His displeasure – and we always possess the promise of eternal life and a place where there are no sorrows and no tears but only everlasting bliss in the presence of the Lord.
Knowing that we belong to God, that our sins are forgiven, that He provides all our needs through His riches in glory in Christ Jesus, that Jesus is coming one day to take us to be with Him forever, and that then we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is – knowing all this gives citizens in the Kingdom of God a deep peace and joy which issue in lives of righteousness in the power of the Spirit.
This is the joy of God’s Kingdom, which, together with righteousness and peace, represents the true national character of those who have entered the eternal and unseen realm. As citizens of the Kingdom it is our high calling in life to seek the Kingdom of God as our first priority, so that we may bless both God and man by bringing our national character to light in the world (Rom. 14:18).
For more insight to the Spirit’s work of joy in our lives, get the book, The Hidden Life, from our book store.