TEXT: Romans 3: 21-28
TITLE: Towards a cure for Christian depression
Understanding the Foundation of your Salvation
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.” 
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: “ 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 God ; get 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 !