How do you balance joy in Christ with discontentment toward sin? As Christians, we are called to the paradoxical life of joyful discontent. Following Jesus means we have been transformed from death to life, we were once in darkness and now walk in the light, we were orphans in the world and are now sons and daughters of the King. Pondering these realities leads us to rejoice. "Rejoice in the Lord always!" we are told. "Give thanks in all circumstances," we are exhorted. We are called to joy.
And yet, there ought to be a righteous dissatisfaction with our lives. In our new life, it is as though we are growing a beautiful garden as followers of Jesus, but weeds remain that want to choke out our fruit. Even as we rejoice in the Lord, we are discontent with the weeds of sin that are yet to be fully removed. Like weeds, sin grows when unattended and left to its own devices. Like weeds, sin is fought in both the growth of good vegetation and the direct attack upon its roots.
You cannot truly have one without the other. You cannot be rightly discontent over sin without joy in Christ. And our satisfaction in our savior is severely undermined if we are not actively fighting the sin that lurks in our hearts. This is one of the paradoxes of following Jesus. As his followers, until he returns, we will always be joyfully discontent. Joyful in Christ. Discontent with our sin.
Joyful in Christ
As we abide in Christ, we have peace in our hearts. There is nothing more satisfying to our spirits than fixing our gaze upon our savior. He who came not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. He who was made to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. He who brought life to my dead heart by nailing my stained record of debt to his pure hand on the cross. He who, though he was clothed in righteousness, wore the sins of mankind, so we can be clothed in a pure white robe. There is nothing more satisfying to my soul than fixing my eyes upon him.
What is at stake if we do not find our joy in Christ? More than I can outline here, but in this regard, if we are not finding our joy in Christ, but are discontent with our sin, we will constantly swing back and forth between pride and shame. Pride when we feel successful in our fight. Timid and ashamed when we are failing. When our joy is not in Christ, it will be in our own ability to conquer sin. When our joy is not in Christ, sin will always win.
Discontent With Our Sin
There is a poisonous attitude that creeps into our churches, which positions discontentment with sin against joy in Christ. It's as if people see them as opposite forces when in reality they work together. Out of a fear of being legalistic, we fail to fight sin and end up ignoring its dark devices. Rather than implement strategies and means to wage war on sin, we allow it to grow. What we fail to see is that picking the weeds of sin out of the garden does not undermine the beauty of the flowers, it enhances their beauty. Being discontent with sin, and employing strategies to fight sin does not undermine our joy in the grace of Jesus, it clears a path for us to enjoy the grace more.
If we are unwilling to see our sin and be discontent with our lack of holiness, we will undermine our joy in Christ. Sin will eventually choke out our joy, and we will constantly search for something new to bring us joy. We will wind up discontent either way - because we are unhappy with our sin, or because we are unhappy with what we lack by way of the world. One form of discontentment will actually lead to joy, the other will lead to depression.
Not Paralyzing Self-Condemnation
Like a novice at the grill, who overcooks his steak out of fear that he will serve raw meat, we have a nasty habit of overcompensating. You may find yourself either entirely discontent with no joy, paralyzingly self-condemning, or respond too far in the opposite direction, embracing the grace of God but failing to take seriously the sin of your former self. This is not paralyzing self-condemnation, nor is it a cheap grace alternative which excuses sin. We have joy because we have all we need in the gospel. We are discontent, not because we need to do more, but because the gospel compels us to grow in our sanctification and never be satisfied to let sin lurk in our heart.
Finding that perfect middle is not simple, joyful discontent is only found in continually preaching the gospel to yourself, continually reminding yourself of the joy to be found in the gospel of Jesus and continually reminding yourself to fight the sin that wants to choke out the fruit of your new life. Like grilling the perfect steak, we learn through continual training and practice. As we are trained by the Scriptures and reminded of the gospel, we find the right balance between joy and discontentment.