Without joy, our salvation is without benefit, at least in this life.
Christianity is an intrinsically happy religion because we worship a happy God who calls upon us to worship him with joyful song. “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” ( Isaiah 12:3) Joy is the bucket by which we draw all the benefits of salvation. Without joy, our salvation is without benefit, at least in this life. It is through apprehending the joy of God that we have the strength and motivation to live the Christian life, as Nehemiah 8:10 points out, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” A faith that is not happy is not Christianity at all; it is something far worse. It is the stuff of Pharaseeism. It is the stuff that our Lord went on a rampage about. The guilty, He forgave; the broken, He made whole; the sick, He healed; the ignorant, He taught. To the ones whose religion resembled His but had not joy, He blasted. He nailed them to the wall. Theologically the Pharisees were not far from Jesus. They accepted the same text for their authority (although they added some rules and gave to them equal authority), they believed in the resurrection, they had enough commitment to make any evangelical blush, but they lacked joy. They lacked heart. They did religion, but they did not love God.
I appreciate Piper’s translation of 1 Timothy 1:11, “The good news of the glory of the happy God.” The Pharisees knew nothing of a happy God. If the God we worship is happy, he is surely not pleased with anything less than a people who joyfully worship him.
Esther’s king had a law stating it was illegal to be in the presence of the king with a somber countenance. Violation of this law was punishable by death. Perhaps the theory was, “I don’t know what your problems are, but being in the presence of the king ought to be exciting enough to snap you out of it.” (If you think about it, it would be a pleasant rule to have; I wish I could decree that no one was allowed to be in my company who was grumpy.) I wonder if Xerxes is a type of our King.
The one exception, of course, is that God expects, and indeed demands that we come to Him sorrowfully in our repentance. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalms 51:17) But this is just for a moment, a season at most. Our God is quick to forgive, and when He does it is time for celebration on earth, as it is in heaven. “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:7) That sinner will, of course, repent again, and he will be sorrowful in his repentance again. But he must quickly wash his face and accept by faith that God has forgiven and that they are throwing a party in heaven over this repentance as they threw a party when he was converted. It is time for him to rejoice as well. To fail to do so is to call into question the wisdom and mercy of God.
We enjoy God because we imitate a happy God. We grieve temporarily, mostly over sin. But it is only for a season.