Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Christian and depression #5

TEXT:    1 Timothy  1:12-17   ;  Phil 3:12-15
TITLE:   How does a Christian deal with  that one  ‘sin’ committed in the past  and which keeps coming up in the present making  them depressed ?
DATE:    THE LORD'S DAY  :  23/10 /2009   

Today I want  to highlight  another common problem   that appears  to trouble  the minds of many  Christians  . It is the problem of that ‘one sin’   committed in the past. This past  sin comes up in your mind time and again .  You  analyze it , scrutinize it  and condemn yourself because of it . It troubles you , and it robs you of joy and peace . Dr Martyn Lloyd  Jones  says : “ I would  say that in my experience in the ministry , extending now over many years, there is no more common difficulty .It is constantly recurring and I think that I have had to deal with more people over this particular thing than over  anything else .” [1] For some people  the thought of this one sin  makes them believe that they may have  committed  the unpardonable sin .
The effect of this recurring thought  is   joylessness  and unhappiness . They know  that they are Christians , but they also know that they are not experiencing  the joy  that they are supposed to have. Jesus said to His disciples : “  These things have I spoken to you , that my joy  may be in you , and that your joy may be full. ( Jn  15:11 ; 16:24 ; 17:13)  . You are designed by God  for that happiness  . These are not simply empty , wishful  words from the lips of  a motivational speaker  . These are the  words that your Creator, your Saviour  speaks into your ear .
But  now that  joy seems illusive to you .  That one sin  does it for you .

We have asserted  previously that   an unhappy Christian is  a contradiction in terms . An unhappy Christian is no great ambassador  for  the  King  and His heavenly kingdom .   The ambassador does his very best to present his country’s  most winsome face . Some Christians , because of this  thing that is perpetually with them  ,  look  and act  as if they  did not  belong to the land  milk and honey  , but to the land of  vinegar  and  lemon juice!
The truth  is that  as  ambassadors of King Jesus   we are sent  into this world with good news . These good news are  spoken to set  people  free , and not to enslave them [2].  The  effect of the Christian gospel  is to give you joy in all circumstances [3] .  So , it is important to know  what to do with that “one sin “ from your past , which  robs you of your joy  and which makes you depressed  and ineffective as a Christian .

We  now turn to our text , and seek a biblical  example and  solution to this common problem. As we do so , we must  remember that   this joy  must be worked out in the midst  of  our life in a fallen world  .   Jesus said :  “ In this world you  will have tribulation“ ( Jn 16:33) .  We ought to be constantly amazed  by that superficial view that so many hold in our day , that  Christian  people  are somehow  exempt from  trials and tribulations  . That this is simply  not true . The Bible  , and life   is filled with   the examples of believers  who  suffer and who are in trouble for their faith .  The Bible  shows us that  trials and  unhappiness  are   a very common experience of the Christian  life . The Psalms are filled with it  .  Peter  says: “ Beloved do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you , as though something strange were happening to you.”  ( 1 Peter  4:12) . James says: “  Count it all joy , my brothers when you meet  trials of various kinds…” ( Jas. 1:2). 
Recently we had completed a study of 2nd Corinthians in our evening service , in which we noted  the sufferings of the apostle  Paul . The sufferings of Jesus are  of course well known.  Jesus said :  “ If the world hates  you , know that it has hated me  before it hated you… if they persecuted me , they will also  persecute you …” ( Jn  15:18).  Sufferings  are part of our  Christian  experience .
Some sufferings  come about as a result of our own  stupidity ( 1 Pet 4:15)  . Other suffering  comes because  we are being sinned against . Whatever the case …

Here is  an important  message  for you  :  If you  are unhappy  or depressed  because of what  may have happened to you in the past  ,  that is no indication that you are not a Christian !  Yes , it  is not a  good thing to  live  in  a state of depression, but  the fact that you have troubles , and the fact that you are  depressed  is  not a sign   that you are not a  Christian .  In fact  , one  could argue  that if you had never experienced any trouble one might doubt that you are a Christian at all .  The  work of Satan  in the Christian is to keep  us obsessed with our   past and with our  troubles .  He  works hard  to keep non Christian  people  blinded to the truth  of Christ and his work  ( 2 Cor 4:4) . But  after  one becomes  a  Christian ,  his chief work is   to keep you from seeing  the light of the knowledge   of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ ( 2  Cor 4:6).  He  is committed to harass  you , and to  rob you of  the joy that you have in Jesus. He knows that  a joyless Christian cannot  really export  his  faith !

So  then we ought to know  HOW we may overcome our depression . We need to  know  HOW to live  as a Christian when  joylessness and  depression threaten to be  our longstanding  companions . We  need to  keep the realities of life  in this fallen world in mind .
I  refer you therefore to  the good example of one who  had come out of a real problematic past  - the apostle Paul .  Read again  what he  writes to Timothy  :  ( read vv 12-17  )  and ask the question  : 
How is the apostle Paul a good model  for those  people who feel  that their particular sin  has  passed the limit of  the grace and mercy of God , and for   whom this leads to  oppression and depression ? 

1. Paul  is a supreme example  of a forgiven sinner
He holds himself up as a supreme example  :  i.e. as the foremost sinner  (ESV)the worst  of sinners (NIV).   Notice how he  qualifies that  in  v.13  . He said that he was formerly  a blasphemer ,  a persecutor , a rude man  and   the foremost – the worst of sinners  ( vv 15,16) .
Was  he overstating the case ? Was  he being overly dramatic ?  No !  Think of how he blasphemed the Lord Jesus  Christ  before  he became a Christian ( Acts 9) . Think of how he persecuted the church  ( Ch 8 ; Gal  1:23)   giving approval to  the execution of  some of  the finest  Christian men and women  ( 8:1) .
Now here is  the first application for you :  Think of his case and say to yourself : “ Well , if he is the worst of sinners “,  then there must be hope for me  and my sin. I don’t have to  hang on to this ” .

2.  Paul’s  thinking  is not  dominated  by  depression because  he knows  the Saviour and His work   so well !  
How could  Paul be so sure  concerning  the forgiveness of his sin – so much so that he could  not be oppressed  by his past  sins  ?
Look at his language :
(i)                  I thank  Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord  , because  He judged me faithful, appointing me to  His service …
(ii)                I received mercy because I  had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace  of our Lord  overflowed for me  with the faith and love  that are in Christ Jesus . The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus  came into the world to save sinners , of whom I am the foremost.
(iii)               But I received  mercy for this reason  , that in me  , as the foremost , Jesus Christ  might display   His perfect patience as an example to those who were  to believe  in Him for eternal life .

We see very clearly  that  Jesus was at the center  of  Paul’s  life.  He knew  what Jesus  had  done for him.  It is  because of that ,  that he could write to the Roman  Christians  in 8:1 “ There is  therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ  Jesus .”  Paul understood the doctrine of salvation  .
Here lies the big problem for so many Christians  who  keep on battling with their past sins . It is an ignorance of  the doctrine of salvation !
Dr Lloyd Jones   has  very helpful  counsel  at this point  : “  Let me put this  plainly and bluntly  in order that I may  emphasize it even at the risk of being misunderstood . There is a sense in which  the one thing that these people  who are in this condition  must not do  is to pray to be delivered from it ! That is what they always do … Now the Christian must always pray … but this is one  of those points  at which the Christian must stop praying  for a moment , and begin to think (! ) , for there are particular problems  in the Christian life concerning which I say ,  that if you do nothing but pray about them  you will never solve them . You must stop praying at times because your prayer may just be reminding you of the problem and keeping your mind fixed on it. So you must stop praying and think , and work out your doctrine .”[4]
So what must you think about ?  You must  think  biblically about the doctrine of salvation . You must  see how  Paul deals with it ,  firstly in his own life . Look at how he deals with his very sinful past . He clearly intends  his own experience to be an example  of Christ’s sufficient grace for every Christian !   You cannot read his testimony without realizing that Jesus  has  provided him with a  full , comprehensive salvation!   Christ  has given him strength  to  have faith ; Jesus  has given him mercy despite his  wickedness ; Jesus  came into the world to completely save the worst of sinners – and here , says Paul , am I , …a  perfect  example and proof  of that  free sufficient grace .

Some Christian  may interrupt at this point and say : “ Yes , but you don’t know how bad my sin was !”  What  you  are really saying is this : “My  sin was worse than Paul’s!  My sin  is even to big for Jesus  to handle !”  Do you really believe that ?  This is bad , unbiblical doctrine on your part !  
If you have not yet seen  in the scriptures  that  any sin ( no matter  how big or small)  is sufficient to condemn you , and if you have not seen yet that  the blood of Christ  is more powerful than all your sin  (  it can cover the  sin of this world and infinite   world’s over!) , then you must not be surprised that  the devil takes your poor theology and turns  it on you, so that you  are doomed  to be  perpetually down in the dumps ! 

Don’t let  a poor grasp of Scripture  / the person and work of Christ  send you back into bondage ! (*this  was ultimately the problem of the Galatians and the Corinthians) 

1. You need to know that   if you  believe that your sin cannot be  fully dealt with by Christ  then you  really do not believe the Scripture . So your ultimate trouble is unbelief . You are not  accepting the Word of God .  So don’t go on praying about that ‘one sin’  , seeking deliverance from it  from this faith healer or  that one . You have but one duty  : Believe  the Word of God . Don’t  ask  God for a message of forgiveness. He has given it to you . Your prayer may well be an expression of unbelief at this point.
2.  Make sure that  you understand  what Jesus achieved on that cross.  Remember that Jesus  purchased  salvation… full freedom.. for those that He came to save … for those that believe in Him . It is a finished work . There is nothing lacking . It is done . It is completed.
3.  Make sure that you understand  the nature of justification . We have dealt with that previously . Remember   when the death of Jesus is imputed to you,  you are righteous – permanently righteous . Your are clothed  with Christ’s righteousness. Your life is now hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3)   
4.  Understand  the fact  of your union with Christ . You are one with Christ . That is what salvation amounts to . “ I have been crucified with Christ .  It is  no longer I who live , but  Christ  lives who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh  I live by faith  in the son of God, who loved me and  gave Himself up for me .”  (Gal 2:20)  

Conclusion :
Never look at your past life in any way except that it leads you to magnify the grace of God in you . I challenge  you to do that . With Paul ,you must say “ That was my  former life!  I  am  forgetting that . I am straining  forward to what lies ahead"  ( Phil 3:13) . And never  forget  to praise God  for that completed work! ( 1 Tim 1:17  )  That is how Paul completes his thoughts  when he  writes in v.17  : " To the King of ages , immortal , invisible , the only God , be hnour and glory forever and ever.  Amen ! Amen !

[1] D. Martyn Lloyd Jones : Spiritual depression: It’s causes and cure , p. 66
[2] This was the problem  found in the Galatian church . They were set free through Christ , but they allowed themselves to come under the yoke of the law again.  ( see Gal 5:1)
[3] Paul had learned this .( see  Phil  4:11-13)
[4] P. 69

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