“For we consider that a person is declared righteous by faith apart from the works of the law” – Romans 3:28
“What’s this got to do with Christian depression?” A lot. It’s a fact that the born again blues is an ailment more common than anyone wants to fess up to. It’s not only a sorry state to be in but detrimental to our ability to visibly display the privilege of being a Christian. Non-believers are watching us and one of our main jobs is to convey to those lost souls that we’ve found the answer to all of mankind’s woes, our own in particular. We are to present ourselves as “more than conquerors” but sometimes we look more like the vanquished. So it’s important that we check out every aspect of it.
The Celebrate Recovery ministry has helped thousands of Christians to not only face their tendency to do the wrong thing (becoming spiritually morose included) but to find healing. They do that by taking an honest look at themselves and digging deep into their being to discover the causes of their bad behavior. Then they take hold of their sinful desires, drag them out into the light and allow God to shine his transforming power on them so they will wither away one day at a time until they are no more.
It’s easy to understand the undiluted joy we see in those who’ve been rescued from lives of misery, pain and hopelessness by the amazing grace of God. They walk around with the countenance of a person who’s been released from a rat-infested prison cell. But what about those who were raised in the church, never strayed from the Word, taught in Sunday School, led Bible studies and helped out with VBS every summer yet find themselves in near-constant funks? Funks sometimes deepened after they’ve seen new converts rejoicing in their newfound freedom because they themselves have never experienced such an epiphany and are envious. They get down in the dumps because no matter how many conferences they attend, no matter how many sermons they hear and no matter how many inspirational books they read they feel that something vital is missing in their walk with God. They feel like the prodigal son’s sibling.
The core problem for this type of Christian is that they’ve failed to comprehend the way of salvation. They focus on their sanctification but it doesn’t offer relief for the blahs because they have yet to grasp their justification. There’s a whole bunch of people in this group. They’ve been trained to think that if they do everything the church asks of them and if they participate willingly any way possible that they should feel elated due to their dutiful submission to the will of the Heavenly Father. But they aren’t and wonder why. It’s because the foundational understanding of their justification is askew. It’s not a new problem. Satan encourages us to zero in on being holy so he can confuse us on this very point. The lifelong Christian opines that as long as he/she is doing good things they’ve got their ticket on the glory train. Unfortunately, that’s what the Jewish leaders erroneously believed and what Jesus (and later, Paul) struggled to get them to re-evaluate. The Pharisees believed that if they kept The Law they would justify themselves and, thereby, be accepted by God. They interpreted The Law so that it became something they could manage to obey and they were quite content with that situation. Case closed.
But Paul preached fantastic news. “…For it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, ‘The righteous by faith will live.’” (Romans 1:16-17) And that last part came right out of Habakkuk! So why was this incredible message not received as being the greatest news flash ever heard? It’s because they didn’t want to believe it. They didn’t see the need. Paul was talking about getting tight with God and he got no argument from the robed honchos about that in theory. The disagreement arose concerning how one achieves that. The Pharisees had (as have many modern-day Christians) perverted The Law to the extent that they could no longer see the forest for the trees. They didn’t see the big picture.
The lesson to be learned is that we must be clear on certain basics before we can know the bliss of our salvation, starting with one’s conviction of being a sinner. “Oh, great,” you say. “Here I’ve got the Christian blues, seeking relief, and now you’re going to make me feel more wretched by highlighting my sins. Is that what you’re trying to do?” Well, yes. That’s what Paul taught and his message hasn’t changed in almost two millenniums. You must experience trials of the soul before you can experience Christian joy. No exceptions. That’s why so many I’ve-never-done-anything-all-that-sinful-in-my-life believers don’t yet know the ecstasy of redemption. Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it succinctly. “Ultimately, the only thing which is going to drive a man to Christ and make him rely on Christ alone, is a true conviction of sin.” The since-birth churchgoer might hear a gut-wrenching testimony from someone who was pulled out of the pit of drug addiction by God’s grace and secretly wish they could know that kind of marvelous release. But therein lies the problem. They don’t see themselves as a full-fledged sinner. They think of sin as being an action, a deed. By comparing themselves to those who’ve done terrible things to themselves or to others they think they’re immune to the disease of serious iniquity.
How does one overcome that way of thinking? By absorbing the words of Paul. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Too many respond to that statement like the protagonist in “Taxi Driver” who looks in the mirror and asks, “You talkin’ to me?” You bet your boots, Paul insists. That’s why the Pharisees hated Paul and his posse of preachers as much as they’d hated Jesus. They, the leaders of the “chosen race,” were being told that they’re no holier in God’s eyes than the Gentiles and heathens. What an outrage! They couldn’t stand to hear that.
Are the discontented Christians of today different? Not really. We all have prejudices in that we confine sin to certain things in particular and, because we don’t do them, we think we’re not sinners. Or at least not as bad as the riff raff. “I follow God’s Law. I don’t kill, I don’t steal and I don’t commit adultery so, therefore, I’m not a first class sinner.” If that’s your mindset then you need to be reminded that there’s more to The Law than a list of rules. Jesus said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. The second is: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31) What he was trying to get across was for us to forget about the alcoholics and the perverts and the terrorists who blow up innocents as being the worst of the lot. He looks us straight in the eye and asks, “Are you loving God with everything you have? If not, you’re a sinner. You were created to glorify your Heavenly Father and love all his children. Everything else is secondary. If you’re not doing that you’re as filthy a rag as they come whether you feel like it or not.”
Here’s the big question. Do you know God? Not do you believe in his existence or believe in certain of his characteristics. Our Lord said in one of his prayers “…This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) So we shouldn’t be pondering what we have or haven’t done but whether we know God. Is Christ real to you or not? You were created to have a close relationship with Him, to enjoy Him and to walk through life with Him. If that isn’t your #1 goal then you’re chasing your tail. Not loving God above all else is the very essence of sin. You may not be a murderer but if your spotless church attendance record, your faithful tithing regimen and your ability to quote scripture cause you to look down on others and think you’re closer to God than they are then you’re just like the Pharisee in the temple who thanked Yahweh that he wasn’t like “this publican.” There’s no more terrible sin than believing you don’t need forgiveness. We tend to rank sins on a scale of 1-10. God doesn’t. Paul said “There is none righteous, no not one.” You can’t know the relief of receiving an unearned pardon unless you’ve accepted that you’re guilty of a crime that deserves the death penalty. Until you realize that you’re unworthy to stand before God you’ll never climb out of the hole your spiritual depression has put you in.
Conviction of sin is first. Second is that God’s path to salvation goes through Christ alone. If you haven’t gotten that straight yet then you’ll never escape the blues. “The righteousness of God in Jesus Christ,” means that God sent Jesus into the world because He alone could honor every aspect of The Law and establish a way for men to be justified. In other words, God’s eternal kingdom is a place of perfection so before man can live there he must be sinless. God said he’ll banish sinners from his presence and there’s nothing we can do to change that. He who made the universe made the rules. But, because He is a loving Father who wants all of his children to be with Him forevermore, he allowed Jesus to take responsibility for all of our sins. Christ placed them on his shoulders, took them up on the cross with him and there bore our punishment in our place. The price of sin has been paid in full so God, who is just and righteous, can forgive us our trespasses and make us perfect.
“How do I get in on that?” Here it is, plain and simple. Jesus has suffered the penalty of your sin. It is finished. The Law is fully satisfied. So, if you acknowledge your desperate need of forgiveness (and of Christ’s sacrifice), go to God and confess it, God will bestow upon you His own Son’s righteousness. Why? Because he is good. When He looks at us He’ll see the radiance of Jesus and pronounce us holy. That’s what Paul told the Jews. He said, “You can’t boast of your obedience to The Law and expect to stroll through the Pearly Gates anymore. You must rely on Christ and His perfect work done on your behalf.” But they didn’t want to own up to their own sinfulness.
Consider yourself notified. Only through Christ can you wear His righteousness and be welcome in the kingdom of God. You might say that, while you believe that to be true, you hesitate because you don’t feel you’re “good enough.” If that’s so then you’ve missed the point altogether. You can’t make yourself “good enough” to receive that incredible amount of mercy. You might think taking that stance is an act of humility but, in truth, it’s a denial of faith. As Paul said, no one has ever been “good enough.” The Christian is one who says that none except Jesus Christ is “good enough” and that their identity is wrapped up in Him.
Still have the born again blues? That malady can stem from believing that you don’t qualify for grace. That’s the devil’s lie. Forget yourself, forget all about yourself. Of course you’re not “good enough” and you never will be. And that’s where the miracle comes in. It doesn’t matter how many or what kinds of sins you’ve committed. It doesn’t matter from the standpoint of being justified with God. You’re on a par with the Reverend Billy Graham. Yeah, you! When you accept Christ you have no human peer. You no longer need to compare yourself to others. You look only to Christ for guidance, acceptance and assurance. He becomes your only role model.
Want to beat the gloomies? Then wave adios to the sins in your past and don’t look back. They’ve been washed in the blood of Jesus and are obliterated. Stop trying to be “good enough” and look to Christ as your source of “goodness.” And thank your Father in Heaven for providing you with a way, not just out of the mess we’ve made down here, but into an eternity so brilliant and so wonderful that words cannot describe it. Make it a habit to fix your eyes on Jesus Christ and you will escape the clutches of depression.