Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How come new Christians are so full of joy and then that fades?

I had the privilege of spending several hours with Cat at Starbucks in Plymouth today. Part of our time was guided by Paul from Galatians 3:1-14. We're reading through this this year as we seek to lay foundations for ministry, and I'm loving it.

We reflected on how amazing it is to see the joy of new Christians students and also how it sometimes seems those who have been Christians longer lose some (or all) of that joy. You know the kind of Christian who says, "you should be a Christian, it's rubbish and I feel really rubbish but you should be a Christian, just like you should go to see the Dentist."

Paul's question in Galatians 4 of "what has happened to your joy?" seems alarmingly relevant.
Paul sets up two approaches to Christianity in Galatians 3.

Christianity is concerned with having received the Spirit and continuing, and this happens by "hearing with faith" and the alternative is labelled two ways - "works of the law" and "flesh". The Galatians started as people receiving the Spirit and seeing miracles happen, not because they performed but all because they heard the gospel and believed. A gospel that is concerned with God's blessing for all peoples that comes as he gives himself to us - the promised Holy Spirit. Just as with a marriage the great thing is you get the person you marry, their stuff might be great but we marry to have the person, so the gospel is about bringing us to God. Great grounds for joy!

Confusingly and foolishly and bewilderingly the Galatians swap faith in the gospel word and hence life in the Spirit for works of law and flesh. For religion and do-it-yourself living. What happens? Joy disappears. Life fades, and you get the kind of phenomenon that we observe happening as a Christian apparently "matures" and we pat them on the back for getting over their early enthusiasm and getting on with joy-so-deep-you-can't-see-it. Except Paul wouldn't call it a move to maturity - he'd call it the drowning out of the gospel, the sinking of the gospel, the abandonment of the gospel.

I suppose what happens is that well meaning Christians start to nudge the new Christian in all kinds of directions to stop doing certain things and start doing other things, you know like "don't sleep around and don't get drunk and do read the Bible and do pray" which makes being a Christian all about not doing and doing. Yet, being a Christian started out being "hear with faith the good news about Christ crucified, the one who loved you and gave himself for you so that you no longer live but only Christ lives..." which was noticeably all about Jesus rather than about us, and was cause for boundless joy.

Paul's word to us would be let's start with the gospel and grow up with the gospel, please don't poison new Christians, or older Christians, with the filth of religion and effort - what good is that? - let the gospel change lives, let the Spirit change lives, help one another with that by walking one another back to the gospel, loving and bearing with one another rather than rushing people to something that has an appearance of godliness but nothing more than a veneer. Win hearts to Jesus rather than to a miserable lifestyle.

Spurgeon on Acts 8:
"if you have read the Scriptures with a clear understanding, they have made you glad, for this eunuch "went on his way rejoicing." The man who gets up from reading his Bible, and says, "I am a believer in Jesus; what a solemn thing it is!" and then goes forth with a pious resolution that he will make everybody as miserable as he can all the day long, wants converting again."
(or at the very least needs a fresh filling with the Holy Spirit)


  1. Me back on the old broken record of Galatians, but I unashamedly love it!

  2. You would think that the joy of salvation would keep us happy forever, but it does not. Adrian Rogers had a broadcast touching in the same subject but he focused more on the joy of sharing Christ. Both should bring us joy!