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Is Joy in God Different from Happiness?


Joy vs. Happiness

Throughout the Bible God commands us to have joy in him.

You can see this in passages like Matthew 5:12, Romans 12:12, Philippians 3:1, and 1 Thessalonians 5:16.

But what does it mean to have joy in God?  I have heard people explain this by saying that joy in God is different from happiness.

But this is puzzling, because dictionaries say that joy IS happiness.

For example –

Joy is “the emotion of great delight or happiness.” (

Joy is “great happiness or pleasure.” (Cambridge Dictionary)

Joy is “a feeling of great happiness.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

So why do many Christians say joy and happiness are different?

Digging Deeper

I think one reason is because they are nervous about putting so much emphasis on feelings.

They know we are commanded to rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4).  But they also know how often they don’t feel this joy, and that they can’t make themselves feel this joy by an act of the will.

So to avoid this problem, they say that the joy God commands is different from happiness.  They say that happiness is a feeling that comes and goes.  But that joy in God is not really a feeling, but is more like a settled conviction that lasts.

But is that true?  In the Bible, is joy in God not a feeling?

More Joy Than They Have

Look at what David says in Psalm 4:6-7 —

There are many who say, “Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!”  You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.

So is this joy that God puts in our hearts a feeling?  Notice that David uses the same word “joy” for what’s in people’s hearts when they have grain and wine.

So the question is, when people have abounding grain and wine is their joy a feeling?  Yes.

Therefore, since David uses the same word to describe what God puts in our hearts, that joy must also be a feeling.  And it is MORE joy, because the pleasures of knowing God are more — infinitely more — than the pleasures of grain and wine.

Joy over a Treasure

Notice also how Jesus uses the word joy in Matthew 13:44 –

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Here Jesus describes the joy a saved person has in the kingdom of heaven.  But is this joy a feeling?

It is, because Jesus compares our joy in God’s kingdom with the joy a man has when he finds a treasure.

Imagine finding a treasure chest full of millions of dollars’ worth of gold coins.  Would your joy be a feeling?  Absolutely.

So the joy we will have in God’s kingdom is also a feeling.

What This Feeling Is

This feeling is not joy in our circumstances.  It is not a happy disposition, or a positive outlook.  It is not an overall sense of well-being.

But it is a feeling of joy in God as revealed in Jesus Christ.  It means experiencing pleasure and delight in his majesty, power, love, mercy, death, resurrection, and glory (Philippians 3:8).

That’s the joy God commands us to have.

What This Does Not Mean

The fact that joy in God is a feeling does not mean we will never experience sorrow or grief.  Paul said his heart was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).

So we will feel sorrow in this life – over our sin, our trials, the wayward, and the lost.  But Christ is such a treasure that at the same time we can also feel joy in him.

Nor does this mean our lives will be free from trials.  God promises that we will have trials (John 16:33).

So the reason we feel joy in Christ is not because we have no trials.  It’s because he is worth all the trials (2 Corinthians 4:16-17).

This also does not mean we always have this joy.  We don’t.  But we should, because no matter what else is going on, Jesus Christ is always an all-satisfying Treasure.

When we don’t feel this joy, it’s because we are trusting something else to satisfy us more than him.  Which is why we need the command to rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4).

How to Experience This

The joy we are commanded to have in Christ is definitely a feeling — of pleasure, satisfaction,  and delight in Christ.  But we know we can’t make ourselves feel this by an act of the will.  So what can we do?

Confess.  When we lack joy in Christ it’s because of our sin of unbelief.  So we must confess our sin, and what ever else we’ve been trusting to satisfy us more than Christ.  And by faith alone, in Christ alone, we can be fully assured of forgiveness (1 John 1:9).

Pray.  This feeling of joy only comes as the Holy Spirit helps us see and taste the glory of Christ.  And here’s good news – when we ask for more of the Spirit’s work, the Father will always give it to us (Luke 11:13).

Read.  This heart-changing work of the Spirit comes through the Word (John 6:63; Galatians 3:5).  As we pray over Scriptures describing all that God promises to be to us in Christ, the Spirit will enlighten the eyes of our hearts so we once again see and feel Christ as our all-satisfying Treasure.

At the right time, and in the exact amount that we need, God will enable us to rejoice in Christ.

And we will feel it.

Questions?  Comments?

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Category: Finding Peace and Joy


13 Responses

  1. DFedor says:

    Steve, my wife and my daughter and I were just talking about this last night – and you bring up some good points I hadn’t thought of before!

    I wonder if there’s also an aspect of what is being paid attention to, at a given moment. For instance I am right now simultaneously: happy about the breakfast I had, joyful about God and what he’s like, concerned about thing #1 and thing #2, frustrated at thing #3, etc… and my felt emotion of the instant depends on which of those things are on my mind at that instant. And the more I think about God’s goodness, whether that comes to mind spontaneously or by an act of the will as you outlined above, the more the feeling of that joy is mixed in with my overall emotional state, increasing its percentage. Maybe?

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Great to hear from you, brother!

      And I think you are right that our emotions will change depending on what we focus on. And like you said, the more we intentionally set our hearts upon God, beholding and trusting him, the more our hearts will experience his joy.

      Isn’t it encouraging that because of Christ we ALWAYS can look to God and be strengthened, encouraged, and filled!

  2. K says:

    “when we ask for more of the Spirit’s work, the Father will always give it to us.” Will he do that if someone outside Christ asks? For instance, if someone ask for the Spirit to work and cause them to disagree with self and desire Jesus and repentance, will He? Or is that just a verse for children of God?

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Good question.

      I believe that anyone who looks to Christ, desiring to be freed from sin, and trusting with even weak faith that because of his death on the cross he will forgive you, change you, and satisfy you — will be heard by the Father.

  3. K says:

    Will you plead today that I will desire to be free from sin?! That my crazy mind that says I love unrighteousness will be overcome by a hatred for sin! That I’ll have the faith that Jesus will free me. Please pray that for me! That I will HATE sin and death and everything Jesus came to redeem us from and look to Him! That I will HATE my flesh and pride and self justifying! That I will HATE lies that I cannot love The Lord. That today will be a new day in my mind and heart! Please plead he wi ll give me a hatred of sin that causes me to look to him in faith! That I won’t fail to have enough faith! That I won’t love the world! Oh, please pray he will convict levy the spirit of sin and that I’ll HATE it, no matter what state my mind seems to be in!

  4. K says:

    And that the obsessive thought that I don’t want to look to Jesus will be crushed! Please pray for freedom and that I will delight in looking to the savior! That the thought that I’m offended to need a savior will be crushed! Please plea for me!

    • Paul Walton says:

      The best & most assured way to know the beauty & goodness of Christ is through the study of God’s word. We all need a pastor (mentor) who will help us understand scripture, & brothers & sisters who will support & edify us in our journey with Christ.

      K, It sounds to me like you are all alone in your attempt to live by faith, in Christ. Though it is possible to do, due to circumstances that may be beyond our control, we should be joined to a body of believers if at all possible.

      I’m still praying for you.

  5. K says:

    Thank you so much Paul. I am actually not isolated and have much support; it’s like my mind has just lost it! Please pray I will HATE anything opposing The Lord, within and without. That God and his kingdom will be my delight. That I won’t believe the constant refrain of my mind that it isnt! That as I speak words of truth about who God is for his people that the Spirit will draw me! That I won’t feel like I don’t love truth. That God will place a love for truth and for himself in my heart and my mind!

  6. Paul Walton says:

    If we don’t love truth then we choose to embrace a lie while knowing the difference between the two. Have you ever seen the movie the Matrix? There comes a time when the main character must choose between the truth & continuing to trust a lie. Knowing the truth will cause him to endure much pain, but it’s reality, or he could choose to continue to live in a controlled environment that’s fictional, but safe.

    Why do you think you want to cling to a world that is dying & will never give you true Life? Fear? I think that’s the answer for everyone, fear of what will become of my life? You need to answer that question, why do I want to cling to this life?

  7. K says:

    Yes, fear. And also my mind constantly tells me I’m warped and don’t want right things. So please pray for me in this; that God will draw me to life and beauty and grace and I will have a new self concept.

  8. K says:

    And abhor what’s evil and hold fast to Jesus, who is good. That that will be the cry and delight of my heart. That he will stamp out love of the world.

  9. Brian says:

    Jesus had joy on the cross but it wasn’t euphoric.

    “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2

    Similarly, we are are told “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” James 1:2-3

    It seems to me that having “joy” is similar to having “faith”. It is not that one has it that matters but what or whom one has it in.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Great to hear from you, Brian. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      I agree that biblical joy and happiness aren’t necessarily euphoric. That’s why Paul could say that he was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”

      May the Lord richly bless you, brother. I have lots of joyful memories of San Gabriel days.

      Your friend and brother,


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