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In his second sermon in Spiritual Depression, Lloyd-Jones expounds Romans 3:28–“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without deeds of the law.” Early in the sermon, the Doctor lays down the challenge: “There are so many people who never seem to arrive at the true Christian position [on justification] because they are not clear in their minds about certain primary matters, certain fundamental things that should be dealt with at the beginning.”  He adds, “The particular trouble with which we are dealing tends, I find, to be common among those who have been brought up in a religious manner rather than in those who have not been brought up in a religious manner” (p. 24).

So, the Doctor identifies Christian nominalism as a source of spiritual depression.  Here’s the problem in Lloyd-Jones’ experience: “They often concentrate on the question of sanctification, but it does not help them because they have not understood justification” (p. 25).  Such Christians have the holiness cart before the righteousness horse.  As a result, they’re prone to spiritual depression.

Lloyd-Jones rightly pinpoints confusion about justification as “a masterpiece of Satan.”  He writes, Satan “will even encourage us to be righteous as long as he has us confused at this point [how we are justified]” (p. 26).  Lloyd-Jones poses the treatment.  First, we must be quite clear on the conviction of sin.  Joy, the reversal of spiritual depression, depends on being absolutely clear about our sinfulness.

We go astray because we are not truly convicted of our sin.  That is why I say that this is in particular the problem of all those who have been brought up in a religious or Christian manner.  The chief trouble often is their wrong idea of sin.  … That kind of person thinks of sin only in terms of action, in terms of sins.  Not only that, but in terms of certain particular actions only.  So their tendency is to think that because they have not been guilty of these particular things, that they are not really sinners at all.  Indeed, sometimes they put it quite plainly and say: “I have never really thought of myself as a sinner: but of course that is not surprising as my life has been sheltered from the beginning.  I have never been tempted to do these things, and it is not surprising therefore that I have never felt myself to be a sinner.”  Now there we see the very essence of this fallacy.  Their thinking is in terms of actions, particular actions, and of comparisons with other people and their experiences, and so on.  For this reason they have never had a real conviction of sin, and because of that they have never plainly seen their utter absolute need of the Lord Jesus Christ.  they have heard it preached that Christ has died for our sins and they say that they believe that; but they have never really known its absolute necessity for themselves. (pp. 28-29)

Consider what’s being said here.  We can’t properly pursue sanctification and joy until we’ve properly understood justification.  And we can’t properly understand justification until we’ve come to be convinced of our sin, our nature as rebels before a holy God.  Until we are convicted of our sin in a genuine way, we will not have the spiritual joy that the gospel provides to justified sinners.  The root of our joy, according to Lloyd-Jones, is personal conviction of sin.

Having been convicted of our personal sin, the second fundamental thing Lloyd-Jones argues must be understood “is God’s way of salvation in Christ.”  The gospel.  At the heart of the gospel, according to Romans 3, is the imputation of Jesus’ righteousness to the sinner by faith in Jesus’ work on the cross and resurrection.  We stand righteous before God through an alien righteousness credited to our account.  We are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, apart from any works of our own.  Understanding this, Lloyd-Jones contends, unlocks the key to spiritual joy and increasing victory over spiritual depression.  Without this basic understanding, spiritual depression will continue to reign in the lives of those who are nominally Christian and unconvinced of their sin.

Here’s how Lloyd-Jones illustrates this point using conversations he had with many professing Christians:

To make it quite practical let me say that there is a very simple way of testing yourself to know whether you believe [Rom. 3:23-26].  We betray ourselves by what we say.  The Lord Himself said we should be justified by our words, and how true it is.  I have often had to deal with this point with people, and I have explained the way of justification by faith and told them how it is all in christ, and that God puts His righteousness upon us.  I have explained it all to them, and then I have said: “Well, now are you quite happy about it, do you believe that?”  And they say, “Yes.”  Then I say: “Well, then, you are now ready to say that you are a Christian.”  And they hesitate.  And I nkow they have not understood.  Then I say: “What is the matter, why are you hesitating?”  And they say: “I do not feel that I am good enough.”  At once I know that in a sense I have been wasting my breath.  They are still thinking in terms of themselves; their idea still is that they have to make themselves good enough to be a Christian, good enough to be accepted with Christ.  They have to do it!  “I am not good enough.”  It sounds very modest, but it is the lie of the devil, it is a denial of the faith.  You think that you are being humble.  But you will never be good enough; nobody has ever been good enough.  The essence of the Christian salvation is to say that He is good enough and that I am in Him!

As long as you go on thinking about yourself and saying: “Ah, yes, I would like to, but I am not good enough; I am a sinner, a great sinner,” you are denying God and you will never be happy.  You will continue to be cast down and disquieted in your soul. You will think you are better at times and then again you will find that you are not as good as you thought you were.  You read the lives of the saints and you realize that you are nowhere.  So you keep on asking: “What can I do?  I still feel that I am not good enough.”  Forget yourself, forget all about yourself.  Of course you are not good enough, you never will be good enough. The Christian way of salvation tells you this, that it does not matter what you have been, it does not matter what you have done.  How can I put this plainly?  I try to say it from the pulpit every Sunday because I think it is the thing that is robbing most people of the joy of the Lord.  It does not matter if you have almost entered into the depths of hell, if you are guilty of murder as well as every other vile sin, it does not matter from the standpoint of being justified with God.  You are no more hopeless than the most respectable self-righteous person in the world.  Do you believe that?

I’ve had very similar conversations with many people myself.  I’m sure many pastors have.  In a very real sense, the secret to our joy is our embracing justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone apart from any work whatsoever.  All of our salvation is bound up in a Person and His Work on behalf of sinners, given freely to all those who believe.  We lose joy when we lose sight of this.  We fertilize the ground of our joy when we till this truth into our hearts and minds.  We are great sinners with an even greater Savior.  That’s the seed of joy!

It would be interesting to have Lloyd-Jones join the recent blog discussions about indicatives and imperatives in the pursuit of sanctification.  It strikes me that Lloyd-Jones might not “side” with either supposed camp or emphasis.  He wouldn’t say that we need a tighter embrace of the indicatives and justification by faith alone.  Nor would he simply say that we need to move on to the use of means and a more faithful pursuit of commands.  Before he reconciled either of those points, Lloyd-Jones would say to the Christian that we need a deeper conviction of our sin before a holy God.  Until we’re flat on the ground before God because of our sin, we’re not sufficiently prepared to derive full joy out of either the free justification offered through Christ or the life of sanctification that necessarily follows true justification.  Our difficulty begins farther up stream in our sinfulness.  But having seen our depravity, we can then look to the Remedy and receive it with joy!  Gladness happens when we recognize what Jesus has saved us from–ourselves.

Rom. 3:28: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the Law.”  That’s a sentence worth shouting about!

The question is: Is conviction of our sin a wellspring of joy in the justifying work of Christ?

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Thabiti Anyabwile

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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