I have been navigating, over the last couple of years, the current situation in our world and in our country and trying to address issues that would be of help to you. And there seems to be one sort of dangling issue that I haven’t gotten around to, and the Lord prompted my heart for that subject today. And you notice the title: “The Believer’s Highest Earthly Joy.” This is a call for joy, and it is a reasonable call for joy. And it strikes me that this is an important thing to examine from the Word of God, because if ever there was a time that your joy could fade, it would be this particular time in the history of our society—especially for those who are older, who have seen the degradation and the corruption and the loss and the spiraling down and the darkening darkness in ways that really are very different from the past; and even for the younger generation, who are basically hammered incessantly with the corruption of this culture and wonder just exactly if there’s going to be anything left of society in which we could find a measure of joy and a measure of satisfaction if things continue the way they are going.
We have said numbers of times to you that we’re basically living in Romans 1. We’ve had a sexual revolution, followed by a homosexual revolution, followed by a reprobate mind. It’s an insane culture that doesn’t know truth from lies and deception, and the horrors of it continue to mount, and it begins to have an effect on us because we are so saturated with the ugliness of this culture through the media. And I want this morning to draw you away from that, if I can, and I want to direct you toward the believer’s highest earthly joy; and this is a joy that should overpower all that disappoints you and tends to make you sad. So open your Bible to 1 Peter, 1 Peter, that little epistle toward the end of the New Testament; and I want to read to you verses 3 through 9 and then talk about this subject of the believer’s highest earthly joy. And some of you have perhaps been thinking about what that joy might be; you can maybe think of a number of joys. But there is one that you will soon find out is the believer’s highest earthly joy, and it has no equal. We’ll get to that in a moment.
But starting with 1 Peter 1:3, with that benediction, I want to read down through verse 9 as the setting for our message this morning. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” Marvelous portion of Scripture.
And I want to draw your attention to two statements. One of them appears in verse 6 at the beginning of the verse: “In this you greatly rejoice.” This is a statement of fact. This is a fact: “In this you greatly rejoice.” And then at the end of verse 8, “You greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” Peter is saying that is your experience as a believer—and he’s writing to some people who are in very, very dire circumstances. They are suffering. If you go through this entire epistle, you will find references to the fact that they were being slandered, they were being falsely accused, they were being persecuted, they were being intimidated. They were basically being denounced at every point by a completely pagan culture. Life was hard. It was all-out, hostile persecution. And in the face of that, as Peter writes to them, and all through this epistle, he acknowledges that difficulty, that suffering, that persecution.
In chapter 4 and verse 12, just summing it up, he says, “Don’t be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you.” He described it as a “fiery ordeal.” And then in verse 13 he says, “To the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing.” You do rejoice; keep on rejoicing even as the difficulty escalates. That seems to be a fitting parallel to the culture in which we currently live. And it calls for an exuberant joy.
In fact, the language is just as rich as it could possibly be. Again in verse 6, “In this you greatly rejoice.” This is a statement of fact about the believers who were under this duress. And then even more expansive in verse 8, “You greatly rejoice”—repeating what it said in verse 6, and adding—“with joy inexpressible and full of glory.”
I suppose the question to us is, Is that a description of me? Is that me, now, as a believer, as one who belongs to Jesus Christ? Am I basically marked by great joy, joy that is inexpressible and full of glory, or joy unspeakable? The Greek word “unspeakable” is only used here—it’s nowhere else in the entire New Testament—and it really means a joy that is beyond words, so joyful that you can’t find words. It also implies that you can’t find thoughts or you could put them to words. In other words, this is an unexpressible, unspeakable joy. It is a joy, he says, that’s “full of glory.” In other words, it’s related to heavenly things. It’s related to divine realities. Does that mark you? Is that a description of you? Are you someone who greatly rejoices, you find your joy so overpowering that you can’t even find thoughts or words to express your joy? That was true of these suffering believers in a situation perhaps far more challenging than ours.
This is reminiscent of the words of Jesus in Luke 6:23, “Be glad . . . and leap for joy”—why?—“for behold, your reward is great in heaven.” So where does your joy come from? Your joy comes not from circumstances on earth, but the anticipation of reward in heaven.
This is what Paul is talking about, as well as Peter, when Paul says, “Set your [affections] on things above, and not on things on the earth.” In Luke 10, verse 20, our Lord said to His disciples, “Rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” Rejoice that you’re among the elect. Your names were written down before the foundation of the world. “Rejoice . . . for your reward is great in heaven.” A great reward calls for great rejoicing.
And again, just to ask the question: Does that describe you? Or do you find yourself falling into the milieu and the malaise of a very angry, unfulfilled, hostile, dissatisfied culture? You ought to be continually filled with the joy of heaven because of your salvation. It shouldn’t be a command; but actually the New Testament is full of commands, and one of the commands is to “rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, rejoice,” for those times when you lose touch with reasons for joy. First Thessalonians 5:16 says, “Rejoice always”—“always.” Why? Because your joy is not connected to the ups and downs of your circumstances; it is connected to the fixed, immovable realities of heaven.
This was the experience of Mary, back in the first chapter of Luke, when she heard from the angel that she was going to be the mother of the Messiah. “And Mary said,” Luke 1:46, “‘My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.’” “My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” This is where your joy needs to be. That’s joy full of glory, joy that reflects heavenly realities, the person of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), the realities of our eternal reward. “Be glad . . . and leap for joy.” When you can’t find words, jump around, do a little dance to express your joy. And all the blessings of salvation should produce that kind of joy. If you count your blessings and continually focus on all the heavenly promises that are yours, you will find that joy will dominate your heart.
But of all the joys, all the heavenly joys, there is one joy that is the highest earthly joy, and it’s the doorway to all other joys. I’ll introduce it to you by introducing you to Thomas Brooks. Thomas Brooks was a Puritan who was born in 1608 and died in 1680. Among the many contributions he made to the kingdom and to the church, even of our day, is his great book called Heaven on Earth. If you haven’t read it, I would highly recommend it: Thomas Brooks, Heaven on Earth.
What is the subject of his book? What does he mean, “heaven on earth”? It’s a book on this subject: the assurance of salvation, the assurance of salvation. And Thomas Brooks says, “This is the Christian’s highest joy. Assurance,” he says, “will yield two heavens: one to come and one in the present.” And let me tell you why he’s saying that. If you’re not sure you’re saved, you can’t enjoy any of the blessings of salvation; if you are sure you are saved, then you can enjoy all of the blessings of salvation.
So the highest bliss this side of heaven is the ability to enjoy all the blessings of salvation, which is only possible to people who believe they’re saved. If you live with doubt and fear, you literally shut the door to the treasure house of blessing, and you find it very difficult to have an inexpressible joy that is full of heavenly glory. So Thomas Brooks writes things like this: “The greatest thing we can desire is our own salvation, and the sweetest thing we can desire is the assurance of our salvation.” You understand that? Without assurance you’ll still get to heaven, but you won’t have heaven on earth.
Brooks says, “In this life we cannot get higher than to be assured of the next life to be enjoyed.” He says, “All saints shall enjoy a heaven when they leave this earth; some shall enjoy a heaven while they are here on earth.” He says, “Being in a state of grace makes a man’s condition happy, safe, and sure. But the knowing of himself to be in such a state is that which renders his life sweet and full of comfort.” He also writes in his book, “This assurance is the beauty and apex of a Christian’s happiness in this life. It produces the strongest joy with the sweetest comforts and the greatest peace.” And he says, “It is a pearl that most want and a crown that few wear.”
I’m afraid so many Christians, real Christians, have so much doubt that they can’t unlock the treasure house to joy because they can’t even rejoice in the reality of their salvation. That’s where all joy starts. That’s what opens the door to your joy in response to all blessing.
There’s some history with this. As you know, the Puritans were fighting apostate religion in England. There was the vestiges of Roman Catholicism. Basically, Roman Catholic theology to this very day hasn’t changed. And Roman Catholic theology says you can never know you are saved; you can never be sure. First of all, you can never be secure, because you can lose your salvation because it’s a cooperative effort between you and God. God never misses on His part, but you might miss on your part, and so you can never be sure you’re saved. And if you can’t be sure that salvation is permanent, how can you possibly have the assurance that you possess it?
This legacy of Catholicism has crushed the joy of generations of people. And it was an issue, a significant issue, with the Reformers to help people understand that salvation was not a cooperative effort between men and God. It was a solo effort on God’s part, who saved the sinner by grace. And God doesn’t break His promise, and it doesn’t depend on your ability to stay connected to Him.
So there was much sound theology in the Reformation to correct that distressing lie. And the Puritans who inherited the theology of the Reformers made much out of the issue of assurance. Some of them, however, seemed to set the bar very high. And there were some people under the influence of Puritan preaching who really were given such high demands that they felt they didn’t meet, that they literally were driven to doubt their salvation.
Certainly we don’t want someone who is saved to think that he is not. We don’t want someone who is not saved to think that he is, which is common today. It’s more likely today that people will think they’re saved when they’re not. In the Puritan era it was more likely that they were saved and thought they weren’t, because the standards were raised so high. But if you are a true believer, all joy is tied to your eternal salvation. That’s what I read in 1 Peter. But in order for you to embrace those joys, you have to believe you’re Christ’s and you possess that salvation. And I want to make it as simple as I think Peter makes it.
How do you know if you’re a true Christian? There are two things, and they appear down in verse 8. In the middle of the verse Peter says, “Though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him”—there’s the first one. How do you know you’re a Christian? By what you believe, and that you believe in Him—that is, the Lord Jesus Christ and everything about Him, and the gospel of grace that comes with Him. So you believe in Him. Earlier in verse 8, “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him.”
There are basically the two tests as to whether or not you’re a genuine believer. One is objective, you might say, and the other is subjective. The objective test is you believe. You believe what? You believe the gospel, which means you believe in the true God, the true Christ, salvation by grace through faith alone. You believe the gospel.
If you believe the gospel, if that is a conviction, then you’re a true believer because that’s exactly what probably the most repeated verse in the Bible says: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but will have everlasting life.” Believing in Him.
You say, “Well that seems like a pretty simple thing.” In one sense, it is; in another sense, it’s not. It’s simple in the sense that it’s true that believing the gospel, believing the full truth of the gospel, indicates that you are a Christian because non-believers don’t believe the gospel. It’s that simple. “The natural man understands not the things of . . . God: they’re foolishness to him.” The preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who perish.
So if you believe the gospel, you believe in Him. There has been a divine miracle in your life. You have been regenerated. You have passed from darkness into light, the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. You have been delivered, in the language of Romans 6, from the past form of teaching into a new form of teaching. So the essence of your salvation is indicated by what you believe, by what you believe.
And then, by who you love. You believe in Him, and you love Him. Now we’re not talking about some sentimental idea. There are a lot of people who have sentimental feelings about Jesus. But what we talk about here is this: The great commandment—what is the great commandment? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength,” right? That means there’s no love for any other god. There’s no love for any other being at that level of submission and honor and respect and worship. And that’s what loving God means: With every faculty, you’re devoted to Him and no other god. It’s talking about the singular affection that you have toward the one true God, the one Savior, Jesus Christ.
We’re not talking about some kind of emotional attachment, although certainly our emotions are captive to that love. But we’re talking about the fact that there is no other Lord in our life. Love is lordship. Belief is conviction about the truth, the written truth. So you could say, “Believe the truth written. Love the truth incarnate.” You believe in Him, and you love Him and Him alone. You are solely devoted to Him so that, as Romans 10 says, you confess Jesus as Lord.
If these things are true of you, if that is your conviction about the truth written and your affection about the truth incarnate, then the result is in verse 9. And verse 9 says, “The outcome of” that, the outcome of that faith and love, is “the salvation of your souls.” The verb “obtaining” is a present middle tense. It means in the present. You can know for yourself that your faith has brought to reality the salvation of your soul.
How do you know your soul is saved? How do you know your faith is real? Because of what you believe and whom you love. “Obtaining”—present middle, komizō, presently receiving here and now, for yourself, “the salvation of your souls.”
This is heaven on earth, folks. This is heaven on earth: to know you are saved. If you don’t know that, you can’t find your way to enjoy the richness of salvation, because you can’t get through the door of assurance to even know you’re saved. If you know you’re saved by what you believe and who you love, then your joy should be inexpressible, and it should be full of heavenly glory. Your life should be so filled with joy that you leap for joy no matter what’s going on in the world around you. The psalmist said that God had put gladness in his heart, Psalm 4. Isaiah said that “the ransomed of the Lord will . . . come with joyful shouting . . . with everlasting joy,” Isaiah 35:10. Isaiah also said that the Christ was appointed to give the oil of gladness.
Coming with salvation is gladness and joy. Isaiah 61:10, Isaiah writes, “I will rejoice greatly in the Lord . . . for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation.” If you’re clothed with the garments of salvation and you know it, you need to rejoice greatly.
When the angels announced the birth of Christ, they said they were bringing good news, the gospel, and it was good news of great—what? Great joy, Luke 2:10. The apostle Paul wrote the Thessalonians and reminded them that they had received the gospel with joy. John writes in his first epistles, “These things I write unto you, that your joy may be full.” Joy is clearly the benchmark of a truly converted person. Why? Because your eternity is settled. You have nothing to fear in the life to come.
Now you can experience diminished joy. When sin comes into your life your joy can fade away, because assurance is a gift of the Holy Spirit to an obedient believer. You remember in Psalm 51 and David’s great sin; he prayed to God and asked God to wash him, make him clean, and restore to him the joy of his salvation.
But salvation in its essence has built-in joy. What do you care what happens in this life? You’re only here for a moment, for a breath, compared to eternity. No matter how difficult life is, Jesus in Matthew 5:11 and 12 says, “Blessed are you when all men speak evil of you when they persecute you.” What do you care; for you have your Father in heaven who takes care of everything.
No matter what the world brings, the believer should be marked by joy. So you get that joy when you know you’re the real thing. And you know you’re the real thing when the Lord has so changed your nature that you believe the gospel and you love the Savior. So let’s go back to our text and see something of the components of this believing and loving.
There’s a lot here, but go to verse 6: “In this you greatly rejoice.” In what? What is “this”? Well, what he’s just said: the gospel. Go back to verse 3, the mercy of God that caused you “to be born again”—regenerated—“to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.” And this inheritance is “protected by the power of God through faith,” through the means of—you never let go of this hope, you never let go of this anticipation, because the faith that God gave you never dies. So you are “protected by the power of God through [the permanent] faith [that He has given you] for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
So what is it that you believe? You believe in God the Father. You believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. You believe in divine mercy. You believe in the new birth. You believe that being born again gives you a living hope; and that hope for life eternal is built on the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, who conquered death for all who follow Him. You believe there is an inheritance in heaven, imperishable, undefiled, unfading, reserved in heaven for you.
Why are you living a Christian life? Why are you walking with Christ? Why are you a part of the church of Christ? Not because you expect something in this life. Far more important than that: You’re headed to heaven, and that’s eternal. You have escaped everlasting hell and punishment. You rejoice in the gospel because you understand that it’s divine mercy that gave you new life, a promised resurrection through the resurrection of Christ, a heavenly inheritance protected by God; and from your standpoint your faith is so permanent it never lets go of that confidence.
You know, in Job’s case, if you remember the book of Job, all of his children were killed—all of them, the whole family—all of his animals; just a horrendous disaster in the beginning of the book of Job in chapter 1. And at the end of that chapter he said, “I never ever spoke a word against God.” Really? And your entire family is wiped out? Why? Well, you know what the story was, right? Satan comes to God and says, “The only reason Job serves You is because he’s got everything. Take away what he’s got, and he’ll deny You.” And the Lord said, “You don’t understand saving faith. When I give saving faith, nothing can change it.” And God allowed Satan to do what he did to Job, and Job said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” That’s not normal; that’s not human faith. That’s the gift of faith from heaven.
So what is it that you believe? You believe in heaven, and you believe in Christ as the way to heaven, the One who died in your place for your sins. You believe in His resurrection, you confess Him as Lord, and you believe that God raised Him from the dead, Romans 10—and you are saved. And no matter what happens in your life, that genuine faith will pass every test.
You have a protected inheritance. Listen, why would God protect the inheritance if there was some chance you weren’t going to show up? Why would it be “an inheritance . . . reserved in heaven for you” if there was any question about you arriving, if there was any possibility of forfeiture? No. You are protected, you have a protected inheritance, and “in this you greatly rejoice.” This is where your joy comes from.
Life offers you all kinds of circumstances that may be good or bad, happy or sad; but heaven never changes, and your internal inheritance never changes, and it’s reserved for you, and there is no possibility that it would ever be given to anyone else. So you rejoice, as Paul says in Romans 5:2, in hope. And you go through life, and you focus on that heavenly perspective: “Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth.”
One writer said it’s like riding on a train through the mountain. You’re sitting on the train—you’re on the train, you’re headed to the destination, and on one side of the train is just a series of sheer cliffs. You’re going along on a track against the side of the mountain, and when you look out the window you see nothing but dirt flying by. On the other side of the train are beautiful, verdant valleys with streams and waterfalls. Look, you’re on the train, you’re going to the destination, but you could choose which side you want to look at. And as one who has, waiting in heaven, an eternal inheritance, you ought to go to the side where you can enjoy the anticipation of your heavenly reward.
Some Christians, it seems to me, have only enough Christianity to make them miserable; and you want to tell them, “Get on the other side of the train,” because all they do is become weighed down with burdens of guilt, unfulfilled aspirations, broken promises, and they get caught up in the disappointments of life. You’re on the train to heaven if you believe the truth, and you might as well look out the window at all the beauties to come.
There’s a second thing here besides a protected inheritance that demonstrates the elements that you need to focus on for assurance, and this is in verse 6 at the end: “You have been distressed by various trials.” It’s not to say that life’s going to be easy. No, “you’ve been distressed by various trials.” They are “for a little while.” They are “necessary.” They are distressing. They are varieties of trials.
Why? Why do we have these trials? Why—why do we have these trials? “Why can’t You give us a life free from trials?” Because, verse 7, “So that the proof of your faith”—now wait a minute. You need a proven faith, right? If your faith is not proven, then you’re liable to live in doubt.
So how do you prove your faith? And the answer comes immediately in verse 7: “The proof of your faith [through various trials is] more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire.” You know what proves your faith? Trials. Trials prove your faith.
How does that work? Well, it’s pretty simple really. When you go through a deep trial, a destressing trial, does your faith survive? Are you like Job? Do you still praise the Lord? Do you still thank the Lord? Or does that trial crush your faith and make you turn away from God?
You’re not proving your faith to God—He knows your faith is real—but the way it’s proven to you. God wants you to know you’re saved so you can enjoy the believer’s highest earthly joy and all other joys that come with it. And so He puts you through trials because trials test your faith. And when you come out the other side of the trial and your faith is still intact, you know you’re the real thing.
Looking back on my life, when Patricia broke her neck and should have been killed in a car accident, I came out the other side of that not questioning God but praising God and thanking God. I ran to God with all my might and all my power and all my concentration to hold her up in prayer. I turned to Him. Those intense times of prayer make you stronger than ever. It kind of works like this: When a heart is grieved and a heart is broken, a heart is suffering in its sorrow or its fears or its anxieties, and the environment around is collapsing, and it naturally leads the person to look for comfort and peace and an answer, where do you go? If you belong to God, you go directly to Him. It’s the most immediate thing you do.
The folly of the world is, well, where do you go when it goes bad? You go to the bank and get more money. You go to the bar and get more booze. You go to the drug salesman or the medicine cabinet and get more drugs. You start swapping people in your life for sexual gratification. Maybe you lash out in vengeance.
But the Christian, no. Like James, the Christian counts it all joy when he goes through various trials because those trials produce proven character. You know your faith is real by how it stands the test of trials. And Peter actually says that’s the most precious thing there is.
What is more precious than knowing your salvation is real? Knowing your faith is that faith which is “a gift of God, not of yourselves,” Ephesians 2. Apart from salvation, apart from the gift of salvation is the knowledge that salvation is real. That is the most precious gift the Lord can give, and it comes through trials, it comes through trials.
Gold is referred to, because it was the most precious thing, about 385 times in the Bible. Far more precious than gold is the knowledge of your salvation, because then you can say, “You know, it really doesn’t matter what happens to me here. I have in heaven a reward because my name is written in heaven, because the Lord has laid up for me an imperishable treasure.”
And look, as Warren Wiersbe once wrote, “When God permits His children to go through the furnace, He keeps an eye on the clock and a hand on the thermostat, and He doesn’t let you go through more than you can handle.” Coming out the other side is the best, the very best, because your faith is strong. So again, it’s faith, it’s the faith that’s tested. You’ve gone through difficult times, and you still believe the gospel—that tells you that this is a work of God, who has planted that faith in you and given you the Spirit of God to confirm to your mind the truth of the written gospel.
But just quickly, the second one—don’t have time to say much about it—is love, affection. Verse 8, “You love Him.” “You love Him.” And because you love Him, even “though you don’t see Him,” you rejoice. And if you go back into verse 7, because one day you will “be found . . . in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” You love Christ because you believe that He has promised you heaven, that He has prepared a place for you, a room in the Father’s house, and that one day you’ll see Him; “though you see Him not now,” one day you will see Him, and you will, along with Him, “be found . . . in praise and glory and honor” when that day comes.
If the written gospel is what you believe, and the incarnate Christ is the one you confess as Lord, you’re a Christian. And your faith may need some more testing. Welcome the trials that test your faith, because that’s how the Lord secures your assurance. When you think about loving Christ, you think about being in fellowship with Him in heaven, seeing Him in close, intimate communion, being like Him, loved and adored by Him, reigning with Him, serving alongside of Him, and having Him serve you in heaven.
So you know you’re a Christian by what you believe and the one you love: You believe the written truth; you love the incarnate truth. And again, that love is not a sentiment, it is lordship. And that love will find its fulfillment, as I showed you, when you see Him face to face, and with Him are “in praise and glory and honor.”
So Peter is exalting faith and love, faith and love. And those are things that God gives us. He grants us the faith to believe the truth when it’s not natural to do that. And, “We love Him because He first”—what?—“loved us.” And if you know you’re saved—and every believer should, by those two tests—then you have enjoyed the believer’s highest earthly joy, because in being confident of your salvation, you can then be confident in every blessing that comes with it.
Our Father, we thank You for Your Word. We thank You for the promises You’ve given us. And we know You are a God who is faithful, loyal, loving, fulfills all promises. Lord, it is a corrupt world in which we live, but we don’t want that world to steal our joy. Our citizenship is in heaven. We’re strangers and aliens in this world. We can’t get caught up in what’s wrong with this world, because nothing is going to fix that until You come back and we will come with You in glory.
Help us to have no expectations for what the world might be. Help us to turn away from trying to find our joy in the world and find our joy in heaven, in Your promises, and all that we anticipate with the living hope that is continually kept alive and stoked like a fire by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, who witnesses to us that we belong to You. Fill us with joy, inexpressible and full of glory, we pray. Amen.
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