Spiritual Depression

Spiritual Depression

Reformation Sunday this Lord’s Day; worship in the morning, hymn sing (5:00p) led by Ross Hauck in the evening. Please join us. Check the announcements for details.

I’ve been trying to synthesize Wm. Gurnall’s teaching in The Christian in Complete Armour (1665) and Martyn Lloyd-Jones sermons and thoughts on spiritual depression. I’m just getting into it, but here are some thoughts.

MLJ felt depression in Christians was usually connected to sin. He wasn’t saying “if you’d just stop sinning you wouldn’t be so miserable.” Rather he knew sin leads to profound and debilitating damage in souls — more Satan’s device to destroy the people of God than our own stiff-necked rebellion. Sin breeds a sense of betrayal (“can I really love God if I do this?”), loss of identity in Christ (“this proves who I really am”), and subsequently despair and hopelessness (“I’m never going to get past this”). MLJ’s preaching was a kind of biblical unpacking of the complexity.

Quick aside and something I try to always say: Paul distinguishes between the act of sin and your identity. Rom. 7:17 “…it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” Yes, you sin; but it is not who you are. Who you are is a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17).

Gurnall would add that Satan’s relentless tactic is to lure us to sin, then condemn us for conceiving and pursuing the sin (Complete Armour p.71ff). This is one of “the devil’s schemes” (the Greek reads literally “methods of the devil”), a phrase Paul uses in Eph. 6:11. So, Satan entices us, then he pins on us both the initial idea and the consummation of it. More often than not, we were just along for the ride. Yes, that makes us complicit in sin, but we are also subject to the endless scheming of a twisted, cunning, devious mind. Hence Gurnall’s concern for how to use the armor of Christ.

Perhaps hardest for us to believe in the midst of sin, yet urged by Gurnall, is that God is our advocate (literally one who pleads the case of another before a court). When we betray God, we feel intuitively that we have made ourselves his enemy. That’s how sin feels. But regardless of our enmity and our feelings, God’s resolution of the sin-dilemma is to reconcile his enemies to himself (Rom 5:10).

Say it this way. We think the way to be free from the destruction and despair of sin is to stop sinning. We naturally take the burden onto ourselves: we are the sinners; we are the ones who need to stop. What God does, though, is very different. He begins by declaring us free of sin’s guilt and power “as though I had never sinned nor been a sinner” (Heidelberg Cat. #60). He knows we cannot fight sin while we are under the condemnation of sin, so the first thing he does for every new creation is remove condemnation (Rom 8:1).

This was—in some ways unbeknownst to Luther—the real heart of the Reformation: shifting back to God, and off of God’s people, “a yoke… that neither we nor our forefathers have been able to bear” (Acts 15:10). Because Christ has set you free, you are free indeed. Soli Deo gloria.