Name that tune: “Repeat the sounding joy! Repeat, repeat the sounding joy!”
It’s Christmas time, and at this time of year everything is about joy, but you know what? Sometimes we feel so far from joyful.
I received an e-mail from a young woman recently sharing her story of a struggle with pornography. She had found freedom and support. She even had a great Godly boyfriend now, but there was one thing she was missing, joy.
“… I am still so ashamed of what I did and I would love any advice that you have to become the joyful girl I used to be.”
In my experience, joy is one of the first things we lose when we are exposed to pornography. I assume that, in part, so much of our joy is connected to our innocence.
When there is not a care in the world, it is easy to be joyful. When we get wrapped up in ‘darkness’ and have to start weaving lies of deception to protect a secret sin, then of course, we would lose our joy. Not to mention, pornography, with its violent degradation of women, isn’t exactly a wellspring of joy and happiness itself.
Since lust is very self-serving and struggle with pornography can arise from emotional unrest, discontentment, frustration or anger, one could assume that lust and joy cannot really co-exist. I’ve never met a person who is just so happy with life that they just have to look at porn. No, quite the contrary. It would seem we are drawn to lust, pornography, fantasy, and release as a way to escape and cope with life. Joy doesn’t exist in that environment.
So, wondering if we can ever have our joy back is a good question. If we’ve forever lost our innocence, can we ever truly regain our joy?
The answer is yes.
This is the beauty of knowing Jesus Christ. This is the beauty of mercy and grace. Mercy saves us from punishment for our sin. Grace takes it one step further.
Whenever I illustrate this, I like to talk about the woman caught in adultery. She was caught in the very act of adultery (talk about humiliating), hauled into the middle of the street, with her sin blurted out for the entire world to hear, with the verdict also announced. According to the law, she needed to be stoned to death. That was the law (never mind the fact that the actual law was that both the man and the woman were to be stoned, which opens up a whole can of conspiracy theories).
Here she is, guilty of her sin, left to bear the consequences of her own choices. But Jesus shows her mercy. He essentially dismisses all of her accusers. Did she deserve to die? She was guilty, and the law that God Himself wrote said she should die for what she did. But Jesus, the only one without sin- who should have thrown that first stone, did not kill her. He spared her. That is mercy.
But it gets better. He could have walked away. He could have left her there cowering in the street. He had done His part. He had spared her life, protected his reputation, and taught those religious show-offs a lesson. He did not stop there. He stayed with her, talked with her, made sure she knew He forgave her, and sent her on her way.
Guilt and Shame
More often than not, our lack of joy comes from a misunderstanding of God’s grace. We ask for a scrap- we beg that He please not give up on us. That He please rescue us. That He get us out of here and save us from ourselves.
Then we walk around beating ourselves up for being there in the first place. That’s where we miss it. That’s where we successfully manage to squelch the fires of grace and kill our own joy. We transition from guilt, which acknowledges that I have done something wrong, to shame, which says, “I am a horrible person.”
We sit there in town square, just grateful that all the bad guys are gone. We’re humiliated. We’re embarrassed. We are ashamed. Eric Ludy, in his presentation, the Gospel, likens it to being in a prison cell. God loosens our chains, and then we just sit there. We sit there, holed up in this place, unchained and just praising God that we are unchained.
But being unchained, is not the same as walking free. See, to walk free, you actually have to be walking. What we so often do, is we sit there, thankful that we don’t have to be there anymore, but choosing to remain in that darkness.
No, we may not be actively involved in pornography anymore, but we live like we are. We live with that same cloud of shame. We live with that same secrecy. That same feeling of isolation. We keep believing the lies that say we will never be able to truly be free and that we are going to have to live the rest of our lives a social outcast, a leper of Christian society. We think that even though we are forgiven and cleansed by the blood of Christ, that we must bear the scarlet letter of our sin.
But. we. don’t.
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
As children of God, we are given His Spirit. That Spirit has certain fruits. One of those fruits is, in fact, joy. So, you, as a child of God, indwelt by the Spirit of God, quite literally have joy living within you.
This is different from the carefree joy and innocence of childhood. This is different from the happiness of getting an A on your last test. This is joy- unspeakable, and full of glory, available to all who know the Spirit of God. That would include you.
The choice left for you is to embrace the reality of your freedom in Christ, and to walk in His Spirit. That is a choice you have to make. It does not mean you forget. Joy is not a blissful ignorance. Joy is a grip on eternal reality. Joy does not walk around with a fake, shining white smile and Sweet Valley voice. Joy does not mean we never hurt, never cry, never fail, never fall.
Joy is just one of many fruits that manifest in our hearts. When we choose to walk in the Spirit, we choose joy. We choose love. We choose peace.
We can’t choose joy at the expense of all the others. We can’t choose joy while still fulfilling our own selfish desires. Joy is a byproduct of walking in the Spirit. God’s Word says that when we walk in the Spirit we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh. So, walking in the Spirit is walking in freedom.
We choose the truths of God’s love and grace for us. We choose to see ourselves as He sees us- forgiven, redeemed, loved, and set free. That is a source for never-ending joy, and it is ready and waiting for us.