Monday, November 16, 2009

The Christian and Depression #7

TEXT: Romans 8:15
TITLE: “Dealing with the spirit of slavery which leads to fear
DATE PREACHED : 15/11/2009

Here is another problem which frequently contributes to Christian depression : “The spirit of slavery which causes us to fall back into fear “ ( Rom 8 :15 ; ESV). Let me explain this with the help of Paul’s logic in Romans and particularly Romans 8.

Understanding the context:
Why did Paul write his letters (epistles) – for what purpose? They were always written for some practical reason. They were “pastoral letters “, and they were written to help struggling Christians to get perspective in their various situations. The apostle Paul knew very well that after men and women had received Christ, there would come a time of inevitable testing. The Christian follows Christ in this regard who “…was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil…(Matt 4:1). Jesus warned His disciples: “In this world you will have tribulation …(Jn 16:33). The apostle Peter said: “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). Christ after His baptism was tempted by Satan, and so will you, when upon conversion you identify with Christ and His body in Christian baptism . in this regard we remember also the words of the apostle Peter …” your enemy the devil who prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1Peter 5:8).

Satan’s strategy in the life of the Christian ( since he cannot undo the saving work of the cross in a believer) is to take away the Christian’s joy – the Christian’s full perspective on his /her salvation , and to replace that joy with a spirit of slavery ( or bondage ) causing them to fall back into fear . This is what Paul addresses here.

So then , we remember that the letter to the Romans is written to Christian men and women , born again into a fallen , sinful world so infested with human depravity and exploited by demonic powers.
But at the heart and root of it all, is the problem of sin. It affects the life of every person on this earth ( Rom 3:23).
Living in such a fallen world is very challenging for a Christian. If we do not continue to see our need to keep our eyes on Jesus , and continue to live by faith in Him ( having begun our journey in faith) , then although we cannot loose our salvation , we can easily be taken captive (i.e. be made slaves) again , falling back into fear . It is classically seen in the life of Peter who walked on the water as long as he looked to Jesus, but began to sink when he looked at the wind and the waves. (Matt 14:29-31). Thankfully and mercifully, dear believer, Jesus is always there to rescue His own , even when  you  loose perspective. By His Word today He is able to restore your perspective and your joy.
So the question arises : What is this spirit of slavery or bondage that causes us to fall back into fear? How does it happen, and what must we look out for?

Paul’s primary  answer to this question  would be  this:  "Beware, that you do not fall back under the yoke of the law after you have begun with Christ! " In the letter to the Romans Paul has much to say about the relationship between law and grace. While you will never find  Paul denouncing  the law of God   (because it is a righteous , holy law) , yet Paul  persistently teaches that mankind is utterly unable to redeem itself from the righteous demands of the law . We are so fallen, and so kept in bondage by sin, that we cannot resist sin by our  power  We simply fail to keep the law perfectly. The extent of our fall into sin is so deep that the old theologians have termed this  condition “Total Depravity “. So, I trust that you can see that only Jesus can save us from this sea of depravity. This is so important , and we must never tire of repeating this : Cling to Jesus ; look to Jesus ( like Peter on the water) . Jesus  has kept the righteous demands of the law for you .
Here's a useful illustration once again from Matthew 14:29,30:   Jesus suspends the law of the viscosity of water . Normally you cannot walk on water! But because of who Jesus is, He can command that law to be suspended. This is exactly what He does when He suspends the law of God, not by denying it, but by surpassing it, because He is the end of the law. Similarly, when you look to Christ , the  normal  way of the law ( which judges all our sin  in utter  righteousness) is  not ignored , but  it is suspended .  When Paul struggles with the righteous demands of the law  in Romans 7  , and sees that he cannot possibly  meet them , he looks to Christ !  ( see Rom 7:24, 25.)  Consider also  the results  of that action  in  Rom. 8:1 : " There is  therefore now no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus " !
So trust that you see this clearly. This is the basis of our salvation. But this is not necessarily the end of our problems! After we have been saved by grace, having looked to Christ for our redemption and justification, we must continue looking to him.

The slavery of the law.
Here is  the problem for the new Christian. Will she/he continue to look to Christ as long as they live? The sad truth is that when God “leaves them"  ( though not finally) a while ”to test them” , the Christian very often reverts to a default mode . He starts trusting  in his own  strength once again  ; and very  often Christians will fall into a pattern of legalistic religiosity. This, in essence is what the letter to the Galatians is all about. The prime illustration there is that of the apostle Peter. He fell under the spell of the law, and thus into the slavery of fear because he was afraid of the circumcision party (Gal 2:12). Paul had to rebuke him for that act of hypocrisy  , in which he was clearly not trusting in Christ . Instead he was  intimidated by the law and thus he was driven by fear  (Gal 2:11).
This is a common trap  laid for Christians  by Satan. After the new Christian has become alive in Christ ( see Col 2:6-15) there is a real danger that he  may get caught in a  legalistic trap ( see Col 2:16-23 -  see also Romans 14:17) . The result of a legalistic way of thinking is that we begin to “fall back into fear “. The most prominent exhibition of this legalism  is the fear of man. (See Peter’s example in Galatians once again). When legalism grips us, we fear more what people think and say  than what the Word of God says! People become big and God becomes small.
The result of coming under the law is that you live your life more by do's and don’ts than by a living relationship with Christ.
Listen! A relationship with Christ will take care of the do's and don’ts! When you love Christ  you , will love His  commands - the law of God – after all you do not want to offend your Saviour? But you will not be under the law because you are in Christ!  Living under Christ  and in Christ and with Christ makes you moral, and at the same time He gives you grace for when you sin. When you fail the law, you fail. The law is powerless to save you from the consequences of sin. But when you fail as a Christian , then you have an Advocate ( 1 Jn 2:1) : “My little children , I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin . But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous.”
The truth is that many Christians  are tempted  to live more under the fear of law than by the joy of a gracious Christ. You were designed to live by joy and not by fear.

A subtler variation !

Now some Christian people are quite clear about their relationship to the law.  They know that the law cannot save them and they know that they cannot be justified through the works of the law. But subtly, very subtly, this spirit of slavery can creep back into their lives. Luther was correct: “It is very hard to keep the gospel in our hearts. They are too slippery”!
And it may be  the committed Christian  that is  at  risk here!
Let me explain. Here you have a serious Christian who is very committed to the principle of holiness. He reads the Scriptures and sees the standards of the Christian life portrayed there. She reads the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5 – 7) and she is challenged by it; she desires to live this kind of life. So, she organizes her life, and makes sure that the spiritual disciplines are kept. Now there is nothing wrong with these things in themselves. In fact they are almost indispensable to living a happy life! I said “almost”! But, here’s the subtle problem! Her life becomes characterized by that quest for holiness. The activity (routine and discipline) subtly become greater than her love for the  Saviour. And a subtle thing that develops quietly alongside  this is pride! (What’s wrong with this person that they can’t manage a daily quiet time?).  Very subtly the passion for Christ is substituted by all sorts of good things!
The effect is that you begin to feel depressed , and yourself and your   Christian friends can’t figure out why on earth you should be depressed . After all you’re doing everything right. But you are down, and the reason is that your center is no longer in Christ! 
Some subtle substitutes for  Christ  in Christian circles  would be  to make  your  family , or your church into a god. The net result  is that  you  put your family or church  first and if you had to be honest , your  worship of God  follows a distant second place ! You have become a Martha (distracted by much serving – anxious and troubled about many things) and not a Mary (at the Lord’s feet – enjoying the good portion, which will not be taken from her(Lk. 10:38-42). In your desire to have a disciplined routine, you may actually become an idolater!
I think that we who are very zealous for the Lord need to see this! We may be faultless with respect to the exercise of our disciplines , but if Christ is not at the center  we  will begin to experience a joylessness- a reminder that you must return to Him quickly ! If you cannot say with Paul : “ The love of Christ compels me ...” ( 2 Cor 5:14) , then it may be a lesser love that compels you. . A lesser love, may I remind you, is a loss of your “first love “. The Ephesian believers were made aware of that by the ascended Jesus (Rev 2:4)
So here are some things that make for joyless Christianity , and frankly it may be the reason for many a good Christian’s spiritual depression . It’s not easy to see that, because on the surface of things you may be doing all the right things!
Can I say this in another way? A quest for holiness without Christ at the centre makes us no better than “his- holiness –the- Dalai- Lama “, who is sometimes called a holy man by many in this world. But remember: he is a Christ-less man! And what good is it my brothers and sisters, if we gain the attention of the whole world, with reputations of purity , holiness and good deeds and yet have not Christ at the centre and so forfeit our soul? (paraphrasing Matt 16:26)

But let’s not miss the main point: The spirit of slavery / bondage always brings with itself a spirit of fear! Legalism and the subtle legalism ultimately bring you into a spirit of bondage that issues in fear.

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of Adoption as sons by whom we cry “Abba Father”.

Remember,  that you do not need to be a slave held in the grip of fear because Paul reminds us that the Holy Spirit lives in you and testifies that you are not the children of slavery, but the sons of God!
You will  need to wrestle with these things again and again as you live your life in a fallen world , but be assured that as you wrestle against your own sinful nature (Rom 7) and against Satan’s “spiritual booby traps” (Eph. 6:10ff)  , so the Spirit of God Himself bears witness with your spirit that you are a child of God (8:16) . That is important to know, for when you are depressed you often think that God has forsaken us. But the Word of God says that “you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons “– and so at such a time you must cry out (pray) “Abba Father!” God will not forsake you in your hour of need. He has promised you that. (Josh 1:5  Hebr. 13:5)

But one more thing that you should know , and it comes to you out of the text: When you are in Christ , you are not only in right standing with the Father , you are not only empowered by the indwelling witness of the Holy Spirit , but you have something to look forward to : your heavenly inheritance (8:17) . When you are depressed and oppressed by things that rob your joy right now , remember Jesus, and remember that He has promised you a glorious future. What you will inherit through Christ is not yet known. But what we know is what is written: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Cor 2:9  cf Isa 64:4). The sufferings and the sacrifices made gladly now for Christ’s sake will soon be compensated with eternal Life that is filled with greater joy and greater glory (8:18) ! So while life in a fallen world is difficult, let no legalism and no subtle legalism rob you of your present birthright – which is your joy in Jesus. May the Holy Spirit be pleased to seal this truth to your hearts. Amen!

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