Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Neh 8:10).
I have spoken with hundreds of people who were tormented by doubts about their salvation. “Am I really saved? I don’t know! I walk around thinking one minute I’m saved, then maybe I’m going to hell the next.”
While they had plenty of anxiety and depression, they lacked joy. And no wonder! What does it matter if everything else is going right in your life, if you’re not sure where you’ll spend eternity?
But when they finally understood the simplicity and graciousness of salvation—that simply believing in Jesus for the free gift of eternal life is really all that is required to be saved forever (cf. John 3:16; Eph 2:8-9)—it’s as though the proverbial weight was lifted from off their chests and they were filled with joy.
Joy can also be part of your ongoing Christian life, because it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness (Gal 5:22).
And joyfulness should also characterize your worship:
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! (Phil 4:4).
In sum, joy should be part of every believer’s life—both because we have eternal salvation and because of our ongoing enjoyment of fellowship with God.
However, a believer can lose his or her joy.
When an eternally secure believer knowingly, deliberately, and persistently, sins against God, he can quench the Spirit (cf. 1 Thess 5:19) and consequently lose his joy.
Remember King David?
Young David was full of faith, a man after God’s own heart, who found favor with God. But after his affair with Bathsheba, and his complicity in Uriah’s death (cf. 2 Sam 12:1-13), David lost his joy. He languished in that state for a long time, until Nathan the prophet confronted him and brought David to repentance. Psalm 51 is his confession of sin. Notice this petition:
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit (Ps 51:12).
David wanted his joy back.
J. Vernon McGee makes this necessary clarification:
David did not lose his salvation. He lost the joy of his salvation, and he wanted communion with God restored. For he found out, as the prodigal son found out, that there is not nearly as much fun in the far country as there is in the Father’s house (McGee, Thru the Bible: Joshua Through Psalms, p. 766).
If you have everlasting life, you can never perish, never be condemned, and never die (cf. John 3:16, 18; 11:26). That is, you cannot lose your salvation. However, an eternally secure believer can lose his joy of salvation, just as David did. Due to sin, you can suffer from spiritual depression, guilt, anger, sadness, disgust, and anxiety. That’s what happened to David. But after Nathan confronted him, David came to his senses. He recognized his sin, lamented his pitiful spiritual state, and he wanted his joy back. But that could only come after confessing his sin.
Thankfully, restoration of fellowship with God is just as gracious as the gift of eternal life itself. As Merrill Unger explained,
The way back to cleansing and fellowship for a believer is always by a full and free confession of sin in total reliance (i.e., faith in) the grace and mercy of God. The believer saved by grace through faith is kept in fellowship in the same way—by grace through faith” (Unger, Commentary on the Old Testament, pp. 819-20).
If you’re a believer who has lost his joy due to sin, don’t be like David and wait for an intervention. Go to the Lord now, confess your sin, believe His promise of forgiveness, and joyfully sing praise to God.