I thought it was a party. Maybe a holiday celebration. And in a way, it was. The grinning girls and cheering women in the photo were commemorating an event with festive rejoicing.
But it was all wrong.
I let the New York Times paper drop in crinkles to my lap, my eyes straying back to the front-cover photo. Arms lifted high. Smiles spread wide. For “rights,” the Times said. Rights now allowing Irish women to choose abortion. To end life.
The sickening image was one more reminder that the unbelievers living around me plant the hope of their joy in drastically different soil than Christians do. It’s a joy that sprouts at what we mourn over and shrivels at what we celebrate.
And when unbelievers do rejoice in the successes, friendships, kindnesses, and everyday smiles of the world, it’s without the eternal Hope that is the source of the Christ-follower’s authentic and eternal joy.
We Don’t Rejoice in Evil
It isn’t difficult to see that today’s unbelievers are “call[ing] evil good and good evil” (Is. 5:20a). And when the gold medal of “goodness” is hung on the neck of evil, no longer is it a sin to mourn but a deed to praise.
In sharp contrast, a Christian’s joy stems from the truth of Christ in Scripture. We “rejoice that [our] names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20b) because of Jesus, and this informs anything else our hearts and lips smile about.
But the joy of a Christian doesn’t stop at refusing to rejoice over evil. It also breeds grief. Not only do we see our sin, as we learned in Part One, but we grieve the sin in and around us.
As it is, Paul wrote to the Corinthians, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief leads to salvation without regret (2 Cor. 7:9-10a).
The New York Times’ photo rendering of rejoicing isn’t a one of a kind. Whether it’s a parade of rainbow-garbed supporters or a mass of cheering transgender teens, the snapshots of today’s newspapers and magazines swipe broad strokes on the canvas of a counterfeit joy.
But joy rooted in Christ that bears the fruit of godly grief is the exact opposite. It’s authentic and it rejoices in good with a Hope.
We Rejoice in Hope
It would be wrong to assert that unbelievers only rejoice in the sinful things of the world. Because that isn’t always the case.
Look around and you’ll see that humans are excitable people. Christian or not, we can’t help but smile at the baby giggles, ocean sunsets, friendly faces, French fries, home runs, holidays, or heroes’ homecomings happening around us.
Yet, for a follower of Jesus, things should look different. Christians foster a delight that doesn’t place it’s hope in the happiness of life, but in the Giver of life. We rejoice in a Hope that’s eternal (see Rom. 12:12a).
God the Father gave up his perfect Son to save us from eternal death so we could live forever with him. This is the greatest news that has ever struck Planet Earth; the grandest Gift and the most miraculous Hope. And it’s this gospel that sparks and fuels the lasting joy of a Christian.
How Are We Different?
In a familiar New Testament passage, Paul commands his readers to “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4).
There’s a difference between “rejoicing” and “rejoicing in the Lord.” When the flaming sunrise meets a Christian’s eyes, we aren’t simply filled with joy. We’re filled with the joy of the Lord, because we know every good gift flows from him (see James 1:17).
And when abortionists cheer or eschewed rights are praised, we mourn. Because where evil is present, the joy of the Lord is not.
Unbelievers either rejoice in evil or rejoice in good without hope. Christians mourn over the evil in this world, but rejoice with a hope that Christ has rescued us and will one day return to reclaim his people and renew all things.
This is the message we’ve been commissioned to carry to those who rejoice and live so differently than us.
May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you!
May those who love your salvation say evermore, “God is great!”