Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV) says: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance [patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
If you’re a Jesus follower (or if you just know some Jesus followers), you’re probably familiar with this verse. Maybe you can’t recite ALL the fruits of the Spirit by heart, but you know enough to get the idea. If you turned off everything you’ve experienced with Christianity (let’s be real, some people don’t have the best experiences with the church), this description of someone’s personality sounds pretty fantastic, right? Someone who exudes love, joy, patience and kindness? Sign me up to be their best friend.
But sometimes it feels like being a Christian is not so joyful, right? There’s a lot that we can’t do — things that are bad or restricted. And we hear about these things often. No sex before marriage. No alcohol (depending on the church you were raised in). No ___________. There are so many things that you cannot do, that sometimes following Jesus feels more restrictive than joyful.
OK, before we go too far and I get a ton of emails, let me be clear about something. These rules are good. There are rules that are for our good; some life decisions are contradictory with how God called us to live. But come on — sometimes we get so used to saying no and restricting ourselves that we actually end up restricting our joy.
God created everything to be good.
Sometimes the church preaches so heavily against something that we actually lose the ability to enjoy it within the right context.
Let’s talk about sex.
We’re just going to dive right in. Here we go.
There is a huge distinction between what the Bible says about sex, and what the church says. Sex is good. Sex was given as a gift to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Just like everything else God created, it was designed to be good.
But, also like everything else God created, man has the potential to screw it up. Sex within a committed marriage relationship is incredible. It creates unparalleled intimacy and joy and, in some cases, results in new life. Sex is good and meant to be enjoyed. But, sex outside of this context can be detrimental. Sex used to fill a gap in self-esteem never ends well. At best, it leads to some awkward mornings and guilt. At its worst, it becomes a terrible cycle of self-abuse looking for someone who will love you enough to fill the broken pieces (pssst: no human is going to be able to fill the broken pieces completely). Not to mention the physical consequences of sex outside of a committed marriage — unexpected pregnancy, broken families, STDs.
I wanted to open with this example because this is a picture-perfect reason for why we as a church should seek to understand God’s nos. When we simply tack on restrictions of what we can and cannot do, this mentality spreads like wildfire and we begin to live this restricted life that contradicts that second fruit of the spirit: joy.
Understand God’s nos in the right context
God designed this world to be good, and He says He gives us life to the fullest (see John 10:10). This type of full life should be overflowing with joy, but we have to understand why God says no to certain things. Most things in the world are amoral — they are neither good nor bad. How we interact with things is what makes them good or bad.
Look at money, for example. One of the most misquoted verses in the Bible is 1 Timothy 6:10: “The love of money is the root of all evil” (KJV).
Most people misquote this to say that money is the root of all evil. In fact, many churches and Christians believe that having wealth is a contradiction to God’s Word. But the actual verse says that the LOVE of money is the root of all evil. Money on its own is entirely amoral. There are many people throughout the Bible who are called wealthy and righteous, and there are many people who are considered poor and righteous. It’s almost as if money on its own has nothing to do with it. It’s a heart issue.
God’s rules are not meant to restrict us, but rather to focus our hearts on Him, knowing that anything else is second best. “Money doesn’t buy happiness” is a true statement. Sex on its own doesn’t bring happiness. Alcohol alone doesn’t bring happiness.
But sex with a committed partner whom you love and have promised your heart to for your entire life? Yeah, that’s good. That’s going to feel good, not just physically but soul deep.
Money that is used as a means to care for your family and the people around you, understanding that you are simply a steward of the gifts you have been given? That brings a lot of joy.
Enjoying a glass of wine or a drink over dinner with friends? Absolute joy.
God’s nos come from a place of love. He doesn’t want us to settle for less than. When we make choices that don’t line up with the way He created us, then we don’t live life to the fullest. It’s pretty simple. He isn’t saying no because He doesn’t want us to experience joy; the nos are because there is something infinitely better when we use things within the context that they were created.
Aligning our choices with God’s will
When we think about this concept with food, it makes a lot more sense. Most of us know that we should eat healthy and exercise our bodies. That’s a pretty universally accepted idea. This is how you live a healthy life and a life to the fullest — take care of your body and you will be able to do the activities that you love.
But, if you consistently take food (which is amoral) and use it in a way that your body wasn’t intended to use it, then you’re going to experience some negative outcomes. It may start slow with just feeling sluggish and not having a ton of energy, but it can escalate if left unchecked. At some point, consistently using food outside of a healthy context will lead to obesity and a decrease in quality of life.
God’s warnings follow this same pattern. This is not a do/don’t situation because He wants to limit our fun or experiences in life. He just knows what’s on the other side of our decisions, and He loves us too much to let us sacrifice our best life for something that is just less than.
Joy is found not in restricting ourselves, but in aligning ourselves with God’s will. When we actively seek to live a life that honors God, it no longer feels like we are saying no to mediocre things; rather, we begin to say yes to the best things. That’s where the joy is found. When we can run with reckless abandon to the things that God has created without restriction, because we are using it in the right context.
So, if you feel like you’ve lost your joy in the sea of restrictions that have been preached to you, it’s time to regain that second fruit of the spirit. God wants you to live life to the fullest, and He gives the blueprint of how to do that. It’s not no to the things He has created; it’s yes to Him and how He has created us to interact with His creation.
That’s where the joy is found.