Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Christian and Depression #3

TEXT:    Romans 3: 21-28
TITLE:   Towards a cure for Christian depression  

Understanding the  Foundation of your Salvation 
DATE:     27/ 09/2009   

One of the major discoveries  we had made in  our study of Psalm 42  is  that  the Psalmist was talking to himself about his depression. We saw that  he suffered from Deprivation , Exasperation , Desolation and Isolation . 
However,  we also saw that he was not allowing this depression to get to him.  I am indebted  to Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones   for this insight . He said  : “  We must talk  to ourselves instead of  allowing ourselves  to talk to us . We must take ourselves in hand, we must address ourselves as the psalmist addressed himself and his soul, and ask the question: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Psalm 42: 5, 11; 43:5). You have no right to be like this. Why are you depressed and cast down? He faces himself and talks to himself, he argues with himself and brings himself back to the position of faith. He exhorts himself to have faith in God, and then he is in a condition to pray to God.” [1]
Lloyd Jones then goes on to say:  “if we   are among those that never seem to know the joy of salvation and the joy of the Lord, we must discover the cause.

The causes of depression   may be  varied  and many   ,  and  like a good diagnostician we must  learn to deal with each possible cause  one by  one.  That may be hard work, but we must remember that God has given us all we need  for such an exercise  :  the Holy Spirit (the Counselor) and the Word as sufficient means for wisdom.

Today we are  going to consider a  particular  and fundamental problem  for many  depressed  Christians  : An inadequate  understanding  of the basis  and foundation of their salvation !  I will begin by helping you to see the problem before we apply the cure  with the help of  Romans 3:21ff.
Let me be quick to add this: Remember that we are never saved by our understanding. We are always and only ever saved through free, unmerited sovereign Grace. The Grace of God  alone   is the  instrument by which  people  ( young and old ,  simple minded  and  intelligent)  are brought  to salvation .  Salvation is a  free gift  given  by God the Father,  through  the  life and death  of  Jesus the Son  , effectually applied   and sealed  to the recipient  of grace  by the work of the Holy Spirit  . He convinces you of sin and helps you to see the only solution for your sin –  Jesus Christ  our  Saviour.  From that moment ,  when you  see Christ  as your Saviour,  you have become like  Christian in John Bunyan's "Pilgrim’s progress "  as he feels the great sin burden lifted   from his shoulders. 

When  you  become a Christian  however ,  you  are  rarely  aware  of the profundity  of this salvation . You  receive  and experience that free gift of  salvation , but if you  had to  explain  HOW that happened you might find that  you are like the blind man    in John 9  healed by Jesus ,   who when asked  to explain   what had happened  , said : “ …I don’t  know. One thing I do know , that though  I was blind  , now I see.” ( Jn  9:25)  . In many ways the profundity of our salvation  only becomes clear once we take up the Bible and read all about it, and  when  we have it explained by  our  pastor- teachers   .
It is sad to say that  there  may  be many  Christians   who have   never read the Bible systematically for themselves . They have  never  been  helped  by their  pastors and churches to understand the basis of their salvation . In some churches this does not happen because the necessity of salvation is not emphasized . People slide into church membership  through  infant baptism. And in many churches  the   great doctrines of Grace (i.e. those doctrines that  explain  the basis of  our salvation)  are never taught.
Therefore many Christians  have no idea  what their basis ( or ground) of faith is. They are taught  how to tithe  and how to pray  , how to sing and how to serve in the church – but there comes a time  when  such believers   invariably  become  disillusioned  or depressed, and they find their joy  vanishing  . It is a very common thing!
You may   find  some time after your conversion experience  that  your experience  of the Christian faith  is not as dynamic as the guy  or  girl down the road   who have been saved ‘ out of a real life of sin ‘.  Moreover, by now you have perhaps   seen other Christians more joyful, more committed and vibrant   than you.  You envy them , and you  conclude that your  faith is not as strong , and your joy not as visible , and  your commitment is not as  deep  as theirs .
And then , to make it even worse , you read   biographies  about  great  Christian men and women , or  perhaps you hear glowing testimonies   from  successful sports  , media or business people -    and  then  all of a sudden  you feel  that  you can’t be like this , and  now you’re down in the dumps .
So you go  to Christian conferences ,  courses ,  seminars or Youth retreats ,  always seeking the magic key that would  somehow unlock the door to a greater spiritual experience, but somehow it always eludes you.  Your soul is disturbed within you and you remain depressed and dissatisfied.  Many Christians are in this  condition  and  this partially explains why there is such a current  obsession among Christians  in Namibia   with attending  courses , seminars and camps . Not that these are necessarily bad in themselves  ,  and often  such an event  helps people . But there  are equally many  who  go to such seminars  and do not find the  ‘ magic solution’ and  therefore  they  remain depressed .

Understanding the fundamental principles of the Christian faith

Depressed Christians are very often frustrated about the lack of spiritual progress in their lives. They  may  need to know that  they   are to  focused on  their  spiritual progress ( sanctification)  ,  and  that they  are not sufficiently  grounded  in an understanding of their primary  experience  :  Justification  !  
Dr.  Lloyd Jones has a useful comment here[2]: “  They often concentrate on the question of sanctification  , but it does not help them  because they have not understood  justification … I am suggesting that this is the case  with  large numbers of people … They have assumed that they are right about their first things , but they have never  been right about their justification  , and it is  just here that the devil causes confusion . It suits him well that such people should be concerned about sanctification and holiness and various other things, but that they can never be right until they are right here, and that is why we must start with this.  It is no use dealing with the superstructure if the foundation is not right. We therefore start with this great doctrine. This confusion is an old trouble. In a sense it is the masterpiece of Satan. He will encourage us to be righteous as long as he has confused us on this point. That he is doing so at the present time is clear from the fact that the average person in the church seems to regard men as Christian simply because they do good works… It is an old trouble, and it was the essential trouble with the Jews. It was what our Lord was continually saying to the Jews, and it certainly was the major argument which the apostle Paul had with the Jews. They were entirely wrong with regard to the whole question of law“.

Now this  is where our text  from Romans  3: 21-28  becomes  an important counseling  tool: In the first   4 chapters of   his  letter to the  Romans ,   Paul expounds the doctrine of Justification by Faith alone . He was anxious  to  make sure that   his readers  would understand that  the  foundational  gospel  message  which he preached  (see Rom 1:16,17)    was  built upon  “ the righteousness of God  which is by faith in  Jesus Christ” .
Now,  remember that the prevailing view of the Jews   was that   one is justified before God by the keeping of the law- and that law was  ‘ skewed’  by the Pharisees  .  May I add that this is not the problem of the Jews only? It is the ‘default position' of all mankind. We are all legalists  in our thinking  about salvation until  the Scripture corrects that .
Sinful man always likes to deal with his need for atonement in his own way, instead of God’s way.  Now   both Jesus and Paul taught  God’s way : No sinner is ever  justified by law, but is justified by God’s Grace alone , through the gift of Faith alone ,  in the person and work of Christ alone!

Why is the doctrine of justification so fundamentally important?  Romans 3:21-28 teaches  that  the  doctrine of God’s  justification  of sinners robs  us  of any thought that our right standing with God is primarily achieved by   keeping the law  .
Now  lets apply this .  Here’s a man in our church who is converted.  He is filled with joy  , but  a few months later  his Christian life his zeal is waning.  What is happening? He is looking around.  He is comparing himself to others. He lacks  systematic  reading of Scripture  and prayer; he lacks discipline; and now he also begins to lack joy. This man desperately needs help. What help must we give him?  We need to help him to see where his foundation for Christian assurance is, and we will have to show him that the ground  of his assurance is  not in his works ( his keeping of the law)  , but in his justification – his faith in Christ! Yes , he does need discipline  , but he needs more than that . He needs Grace- He needs the Lord Jesus Himself   to help him .

Romans 3:21 -28   makes it very clear where the Christian is grounded.
  • V. 21& 22 :   His faith is grounded on the righteousness that God imputes to him – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus.  (Note: the law as a means of grace is excluded here).
  • V 23 tells him that he and every other person in the world is a sinner. This means that he falls short of God’s glory. He deserves God’s wrath. V24 makes the point once again: How will this man be justified? “By God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that comes through Christ “. Vv 25& 26 illustrates how God does it.  Do you see it ? He is  completely discouraged from seeing the basis of his salvation in  good works .
  •   v.27  asks the important question: If Christ has done it all -  if Christ has secured his salvation  , then does this man have any grounds for boasting i.e. saying  “ I did it my way ?”  Has he done anything by which he might have justified himself in the eyes of God, and so feel good about that?
  • V28  puts it very plainly  : “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law”. There you are! What is the ground of your acceptance with God? Is it by what you do? Or is it by God’s free justification of you?  What is the foundation of your faith?

Now let me return to my poor depressed young Christian friend.  Where has this lack of focus and understanding led him? It has led him back to  a basis of works - the law ! And this poor fellow , now living by the law once again ,  not understanding  his  rich inheritance  from Christ  , not understanding His identity in  Christ  , looks  at  other people ,  seeking to justify himself  by  his own performance ( which  he sees is lacking) – only to find that he is desperately  unhappy ! 
Here’s a particular warning   to all of us. It has to do with something that I have been telling you for a long time. It has to do with the relationship between our justification and sanctification   . Remember that Justification is the ‘senior partner ‘to sanctification. It is  therefore vital that  we keep the relationship between these two in proper perspective .
Both are important, and are in fact indivisible. It follows that when you are justified,  there must also  be fruit – evidences of  sanctification .  But, remember that the fruit of the tree is not the measure of all things.  Christ in you is the measure of all things!  There are seasons when the tree bears no fruit. What must you then rely on?  You must rely on the Life that has been given to you by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit.
A tree may look dead in winter, but it has life in its roots, stem and branches.  The true Christian  has  the life of Christ  in his /her soul , even when   they  don’t  see and feel much evidence  in  their   life  .  Sometimes God  removes all  external evidences  to show us that  we must live in dependence on divine Grace alone ! The  true life of the Spirit  is first of all an internal matter , settled by  an external  fact – justification . Evidences of sanctification follow from this .

So my dear depressed Christian friend, what  parting counsel do I have for you?

1.      Get to understand and  to apply the basics of your salvation. Understand that the love of God for you is not rooted in your performance (or lack thereof). It is rooted in Christ’s finished work.  When you are in Christ  you  have  been  declared righteous ! (Unless you fail the test 2 Cor 13:5- in which case you are a dead tree with no life in its roots, stem and branches). Tests for  authentic  faith are  : Sorrow for sin and repentance from sin ; trusting in Christ ‘s finished work on the cross  and following  Him  in  confession of faith  ( baptism / communion)  and in the fellowship of His church . Is this true for you?  If so , be encouraged!

2.      Continue to live by Grace alone. Stop comparing yourself with others;  stop applying a legalistic framework by which you judge yourself. Let the life of Christ in you   lead you.  Make sure that you remain faithful in worship of Him at all cost and at all times. Remember that God intends to use you, your personality and His gifts in you (as small as they appear to be) for his glory. Stop living in a dream world, or by wishful thinking. Stop being unrealistic in your goals. Get to know  Godget to know yourself ( your strengths and weaknesses) ; get to know the  measure of the spiritual gift that God has placed in you  and be faithful to that .

And the God of all grace and peace with your spirit . AMEN !

[1] Martyn Lloyd Jones  : Spiritual Depression  -It’s  causes and cure , pp  23,24
[2] pp. 25 ,26

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