Online Worship is Good, But it is Not Church

I am thankful for the option of online worship in times like these, but we need to be clear, it is not church. During this time, when we are sheltering at home to slow the spread to coronavirus, having the option for watching our local churches conduct some kind of worship program is a good thing. I recently wrote a post that argued that deciding on temporary online gatherings is a matter of Christian liberty during this unprecedented time. Each church must make its decisions based on its context and convictions. However, church is much more than watching worship leaders and pastors over the internet. Yes, we can listen to the music, and some might even sing along. We can also listen to the word preached, but there is way too much we are missing out on online to call it church. Here are some of them.

1. Fellowship and Accountability

The Bible is clear that iron sharpens iron, and so one man sharpens another. If you have never been intimately involved in a local church, you may not know what I am getting at. It is difficult to put into words, but if you have experienced it, you will immediately understand. If you have attended church virtually for only one or two weeks, I know you are already missing it.

The music and preaching of the word are necessary means of grace in the life of a believer, but there is another thing the Holy Spirit uses just as much as those two things to keep us walking in his ways; I do not want to let my fellow church members down. We have covenanted together to place our lives under the lordship of Christ Jesus, and when we gather, I know we will interact with the scriptures and pray together. When temptations surround me during the week, my mind often imagines what it would be like to look at my brothers and sisters in Christ in the eyes and act like I have been living holy during the week. It is unbearable. I also know that when I do fall, they will be there to point me to the nail-scarred hands to find forgiveness. Online worship misses out on this aspect entirely.

2. Undivided Attention

We need to be honest here; we are easily distracted people. Even in church, the enemy tries to pull our thoughts away from our good and gracious King, but, remotely, on a device with so many notifications ready to alert us to other shiny things, it is almost impossible. We also must admit that we rarely take “corporate” prayer seriously when watching online. You may be better at this than I am, but for me, there is no comparison to my level of engagement when I am at church and when I am sitting in front of a live stream.

3. Encouraging Your Pastor and Other Leaders in the Church

Pastors and church leaders need the corporate nature of worship just as much or more than we do. They face the same temptations we face and need us to be there for them just as much as we need them to be there for us. There are also temptations to despair that pastors face that we laypeople may never know because the enemy is after them. Teaching online is a way to keep ministering during a time like this covid-19 pandemic, but it can quickly steal their strength.

I currently teach a class at the church where I am a member, and since the students were not able to meet this week, I sent out a quick video covering the material in the curriculum. I was glad I was able to do it, and several people responded with appreciation, but I assume, if they are like me, they probably did not spend much time with the video. A few may have watched it all the way through, but most of them probably just clicked on it for a few minutes to see what it was all about and then went on to something else. Please, do not get me wrong; I am not blaming them for anything. I know this is how most people responded to the video because that is what I do with many similar videos. We cannot encourage our pastors and leaders virtually like we can when we gather, and the enemy will tempt them to discouragement. Perhaps we should all email our pastors today to tell them we are thankful for them.

4. Bearing the Burdens of Others

When we gather, we are not only nourished by our fellow believers, but we nourish them as well. They have time to let us know about their praises and their pains, and we can speak the word of God to them. They may already know what the scripture says, and they might have read the verses themselves earlier that week, but when they know that someone else understands and can comfort them because they have been through it too, it is priceless. Though this may happen to a small degree in virtual communities, it does not occur as frequently or as profoundly as when it is face to face.

5. Ordinances

I am sure in all the worship services you have watched online; you have never been served communion by your church leaders. Biblically, two of the most important means of grace are word and sacrament, and the latter is always missing online worship. This point alone to should be enough to convince us that an online service is not church.

6. Putting Our Gifts Into Practice

As believers, God has given all of us spiritual gifts, and most of the gifts, like service, encouragement, helps, and showing mercy, among others, do not happen when the people of the church watch the leaders online.

7. A Taste of Heaven

Finally, corporate worship gives us a small glimpse of heaven. In this fallen world, we may only get that glimpse as through a dark glass, but it is a glimpse none-the-less. Hearing the other voices singing with you when you sing praises to your God, reminds you that you are not alone. To borrow an example from the life of Elijah, God has kept thousands of others who have not bowed the knee to Baal. Someday, all believers will gather in Christ’s presence in heaven. Corporate worship should remind us of this, and that is missed when we are unable to come together to praise his name..

I, for one, am thankful for the technology we can use in these trying days, but the time cannot come soon enough for me when we will all come together and enter his courts with praise.

-D. Eaton

Church and Social Distancing: Not An Issue of Faith Over Fear

To say the decision to cancel church or not because of coronavirus is an issue of faith over fear is uncharitable, or at least unthoughtful. Dealing with covid-19 has us in an unprecedented time, and local congregations must decide how to continue to worship, protect its people, and be good citizens as well. Too often, people speak of this issue as a matter of whether the local church has enough faith, or if they will fail to trust God and let fear control them. Though fear may have played a role in some congregations’ decision to cancel its worship service this weekend, to speak of this issue in this way in general, exposes a failure to think deeply about what we are facing.

It would be just as wrong to say that all churches should opt for virtual services as it would be to say that all churches should gather as usual. Each church has a different context. Some are large, and some are small. Some are in rural settings that are naturally socially distanced, and others are in urban areas. Each church must evaluate what to do based on their context. To assume if a church opts not to gather, they are letting fear rule them, not only disparages our brothers and sisters in Christ; it is patently untrue for most congregations.

For those who say altering a church service due to covid-19 is a lack of faith, it is easy to point out their inconsistency by asking them some questions. Did you cancel your greeting time? Did you provide hand sanitizer for those in attendance? Did you ask the sick to stay home? Did you make any changes to protect your people? If they answer “yes” to any of these questions, simply apply their argument to them and ask why they failed to trust God? Of course, we need to do it in love. We must do it in a way that lets them know we care for them. We do not want to be uncharitable ourselves.

It is not a matter of faith over fear; it is a matter of where each congregation needs to draw the line to protect its people and society as a whole. Christ calls us to love our neighbors, and if it is in the best interest of those around us to keep our distance, it would be unloving to meet in person. Each church needs to make the decision that best fits their situation. If anything is an example of Christian liberty, this should be it. Hopefully, with a little more thought, we will stop speaking of this as a matter of faith over fear out of love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are only doing what they need to do to be wise stewards of what God has entrusted to them.

-D. Eaton

The Role of “Happiness” in Leaving the Faith

It is common these days to hear people who appeared to walk close to the Lord, announce to the world that they are embracing a sinful lifestyle, or that they have doubted their faith and are moving on to other things. Usually, these announcements involve a discussion of their happiness. They will allude to the fact that they were in a time of sorrow, but now they are happy. What should we think about such an announcement? Should we not be glad they are happy? Do we want them to be depressed? What we should think about when we hear these claims is the deceptive nature of sin.

Scripture says that our enemy prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, and much too often, we do not take this warning seriously enough. Now, I do not claim to have insight into the exact reasons why each person would decide to grab on to their lusts and forsake their obedience to the Lord, but there are a few general contours which usually take place in all these cases.

First, it does not happen overnight. Falls of this nature usually progress from what we sometimes consider lesser sins. We are prone to wander, and we must always be on guard. Thoughts enter the mind, and instead of dealing with them, we begin to dwell upon them. Then those thoughts progress into small acts of compromise, and years later, there seems to be no way of reversing the trend. The warning here should be clear, with whatever sin we are dealing, one of the critical battlegrounds, if not the key battleground, is the mind and affections. We must take every thought captive and not wait until they manifest in other ways.

What does this have to do with happiness? Following Jesus disrupts our pleasure in pursuing sin even in our thought life. What we watch on TV, the music we choose to listen to, and what we spend our time looking at online are all free game. For the true Christian, once the Holy Spirit enters our life, a civil war between flesh and spirit begins. This struggle is not easy. For those who merely profess Christianity, it is even worse. Christianity disrupts their desires for sin, but they lack the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives to have any victory or find any joy in it. Talk about a recipe for depression. Though they experience common grace during this time, without a heart changed by the power of God and saving faith in him, failure is inevitable. You cannot subdue the flesh in the power of the flesh.

Second, comes the questioning of God. “Did the Lord really say?” is the question that inevitably comes to mind. During this point, whether consciously or unconsciously, something begins to cause them to put scripture in a place of lesser authority. Unfortunately, what usually takes its place, and causes revision to the clear interpretation of the word of God, is “happiness.” Some make this such a point in their announcements that they will admit that before they walked away, they had to take anti-depressants to cope. However, according to them, the good news is that they are happy now. So why would they bring this up? Though they often do not state it explicitly, it is for the simple reason that they want us to make the same logical conclusion they made. “If I am not happy, something must be wrong with my understanding of God or his word.” Of course, this understanding is typically the biblical understanding Christians have held thought the history of the church.

Third, churches often help lead them down this path. This trend of putting happiness first did not appear out of thin air. It saturates American evangelicalism. All we have to do is listen to Christian music, attend Christian conferences, or even attend the preaching in many churches to hear this message. Many Evangelical teachers and preachers have substituted the true gospel for something a little more palatable to culture, and the shift is subtle. Instead of preaching law and gospel where they tell us the truth that we need to come to Christ because we are sinners deserving of wrath and that the wages of sin is death, what many preach in its place are sorrow and self-esteem. The reason we need to come to Christ, they tell us, is not because we are sinners deserving wrath, but because we feel lonely, things aren’t going right in our life, and because we are unsatisfied at the moment. Jesus is no longer the mediator; he is our therapist. Jesus did not come to save us from our sin and guilt; he came to save us from our sadness. The problem with this is evident when we ask, what happens when a “Christian” becomes unhappy, lonely, or unsatisfied? What is the problem now? They already have Jesus. The issue must be with the way we interpret Jesus. And so it goes.

The problem is that striving against sin, whether in ourselves or culture, is never comfortable or pleasant. Striving against sin can even make us lonely, because some people will reject us for it, and we may also face times of heaviness and great sorrow because of it too.

The book of Hebrews makes this point; it encourages us to press on in our fight against sin. It reminds us that we “have not resisted to bloodshed striving against sin” (Heb. 12:4). The point of this verse is, we must strive against sin even if it gets us killed, which is certainly not a “happy” experience.

Here is what I want to say to those who have given in to their lusts to find “happiness.” Yes, it is hard struggling against sinful desires that war against your soul. It may cause you unhappiness for a time, but you have not yet resisted to bloodshed. It would be better to enter the kingdom of heaven after a long and unpleasant fight than to go to hell on beds of ease. Come home! Repent, find forgiveness in Jesus, and start fighting against sin again, for any temporary happiness you think you now experience will be short-lived. Even though living a life battling with sin may be tough, it cannot be compared to the glory that awaits us in heaven with our Savior.

Sin is deceptive and always looks good at first, but it always promises more than it can deliver. In the end, when you walk away, what you are gaining is the paltry tin of worldly pleasures, and you are giving away the glory of possessing the pearl of great price, Jesus Christ. Even in our darkest nights, he has promised to be with us in the dungeon. He is our light in the darkness, our food when we are hungry, the living water when we are thirsty, and, most importantly, our forgiveness for our sins. Once we understand our sin and forgiveness, we know that anything short of hell is mercy, and, at that moment, we find joy and realize that he does turn our mourning into dancing. In the end, Jesus is our joy, but he will never be that if we do not understand our sin is the real reason we need him, not our sadness. It is here that we begin to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

For anyone who claims to be a Christian but has drifted into sin, I pray, if you will not repent now, that you are a true Christian who will be brought back by the chastening hand of the Lord (Heb. 12:11). The unfortunate thing for many who find themselves in this situation is that they never come back because they are not his, and scripture is clear:

If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. -Hebrews 12:8

The only reason why someone would ultimately and finally fall away from the faith is an unregenerate heart. May we all be aware of the roaring lion and his tactics. May we guard our hearts diligently even when it is painful. I, for one, will not be glad when someone who professed Christ claims to find happiness in his or her sinful lifestyle. Instead, I will weep for them to come home.

-D. Eaton

The Restless Experientialists

In the next two posts I would like to quote J.I. Packer speaking of two different kinds of Christians we find in the church today because he does such a good job describing their key characteristics. They are two sides of a spectrum and both are problematic. My hope is that by looking at these, we might examine ourselves to see if we lean too heavily to one side or the other and find the balance that is found in the word of God.

“Those whom I call restless experientialists are a familiar breed, so much so that observers are sometimes tempted to define evangelicalism in terms of them. Their outlook is one of casual haphazardness and fretful impatience, of grasping after novelties, entertainments, and ‘highs’, and of valuing strong feelings above deep thoughts. They have little taste for solid study, humble self-examination, disciplined meditation, and unspectacular hard work in their callings and their prayers. They conceive the Christian life as one of exciting extraordinary experiences rather than of resolute rational righteousness. They dwell continually on the themes of joy, peace, happiness, satisfaction, and rest of soul with no balancing reference to the divine discontent of Romans 7, the fight of faith of Psalm 73, or the ‘lows’ of psalms 42, 88, and 102. Through their influence the spontaneous jollity of the simple extrovert comes to be equated with healthy Christian living, while saints of less sanguine and more complex temperament get driven almost to distraction because they cannot bubble over in the prescribed manner. In their restlessness these exuberant ones become uncritically credulous, reasoning that the more odd and striking an experience the more divine, supernatural, and spiritual it must be, and they scarcely give the scriptural virtue of steadiness a thought.”

-J.I. Packer – A Quest for Godliness

In the next post we will look at the entrenched intellecualists.

-D. Eaton

Do Not Misjudge a Preacher

It is sad to see how many preachers in our days make it their business to enrich men’s heads with lofty, empty, airy notions, instead of enriching their souls with holy truths.

Fix yourself under that man’s ministry who makes it his business, his work, to enrich the soul, to win the soul, and to build up the soul; not to tickle the ear, or please the fancy. This age is full of such light, vain souls–who dislike everything but what is empty and airy.

Do not judge a minister:
by his voice, nor
by the multitude who follow him, nor
by his affected tone, nor
by his rhetoric and flashes of wit;
but by the holiness, heavenliness, and spiritualness of his teaching!
Many ministers are like empty orators, who have a flood of words, but a drop of matter!

Some preachers affect rhetorical strains; they seek abstrusities and love to hover and soar aloft in dark and cloudy expressions, and so shoot their arrows over their hearers’ heads, instead of bettering their hearers’ hearts.

Mirthful things in a sermon are only for men to gaze upon and admire.

He is the best preacher, not who tickles the ear–but who breaks the heart!

“My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power!” 1 Corinthians 2:4-5

-Thomas Brooks

Top 10 Fight of Faith Posts of 2019

2019 was a great year for the Fight of Faith, and I am thankful to all of you who stopped by the blog. I am also thankful to Tim Challies who featured five of the articles below in his Al La Carte posts. The Fight of Faith readership increased by 410% over 2018. As a final post for the year, here are the top 10 most read Fight of Faith articles for 2019. Keep fighting the good fight of faith.

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10. The Years the Locust has Eaten

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9. The Art of Dying as a Christian

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8. Three Temptations of Weariness

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7. Christian, You Need to Slow Down

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6. In Loving Memory of My Friend, Henry J. Maruyama

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5. Earthly Glory Always Fades

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4. Social Media is Brain Poison

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3. The Reward of Sin

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2. How to Prepare a Sermon: A Layman’s Guide

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1. Singing Lies in Church

Happy New Year!

-D. Eaton

A Communion Nightmare

Something seemed off from the beginning. There were four of us lined up in the back of the church to help serve the Lord’s Supper. Our church is not large, so I was surprised that I did not really know the other three. I recognized them, and I knew they were members of either the youth or college group, but I could not place them.

The music began, and we started walking down the center aisle toward the pastor who was leading the service. We walked passed approximately 100 people sitting on each side of us and reached the table. The pastor proceeded with the service and handed us the elements to distribute. This was all standard fare. There would be two of us for each side of the congregation. I took the plate of bread and started down to the first row on the south side, and my partner was already missing.

I managed to make the first couple rows work by myself, thanks to accommodating church-goers. That is when I looked to the back, and my fellow server was at the last row. He handed all the elements in the trays to them and walked out leaving the congregation on our side of the church to pass around the bread and cups themselves. I proceeded to serve at the front of the church while congregants at the back continued to pass the plates through the pews working their way forward.

By the time I was at the middle of the church, most of the bread was gone, and I saw some people even sharing their own tiny cups. The other two servers did slightly better, but it was all done without reverence. I was livid. Every passion of disgust and anger in by body was turned up to ten.

When I had finished attempting to salvage the situation, and my job was done, I went to look for them. I found them sitting on the counter in the bathroom laughing and clowning around. You can bet that I laid into them with every theological argument for the importance and seriousness of the Lord’s table that has ever been made. It was all at a fever pitch, and their indifference only lengthened the lecture. In the end, I had dispensed the facts just like the elements of communion. Everything I said was true, but my anger had made a mess of it.

After a few minutes of cooling down, I went to find them to apologize for my rage, but I also wanted to reiterate what a blessing the Lord ’s Table is to us as believers. I could only find one of them, and I saw pain in his eyes. It was the pain of longing that comes from wanting to be loved and have someone be proud of him, and he had partially hidden it behind a mask of unfazed rebellion. My heart began to break.

I told him, I was sorry for the anger in my tone, but I still believed every word I had said. He said his grandmother had asked him what had happened, and he told her, “Doug is way too serious to do any good in this church, just like you had said.” I immediately felt a tinge of offense at the thought that his grandmother had said that about me, but I also knew that this was his way of striking back. That is also when the knowledge that his parents had abandoned him came flooding back to me from somewhere in the recesses of my mind.

I knew I had done right and wrong all at the same time, so I launched into my second discourse. I let him know that I realized I had said some hard things to him, and biggest problem is that he did not know me enough to know that I only wanted what is best for him. Hard words rarely ever carry any weight unless you know they are given to you from a heart of love. So, I spent a few minutes getting to know him. It was a rough morning, but when it was all said and done, we had been through something difficult together. All the ice had been broken, and we were able to speak candidly with each other; without masks.

That is when I felt the pillow on the side of my face. My bleary eyes began to open, and I saw the clock reading 2:23 p.m. My Sunday afternoon nap had come to an end. As I lay there enjoying the breeze of the ceiling fan on my skin, still feeling the passion stirring in my soul from the events of the dream, I thought, “Maybe I was a little too focused on the wrong details of communion.”

-D. Eaton

Great Employees are Willing to Lose Their Jobs

What does this have to do with following Jesus? There is a parallel to this principle in the life of the local church.

If you are not willing to lose your job, you are not as good of an employee as you could be. If you are a leader in your organization and you are unwilling make decisions that could place your position in jeopardy, you will make decisions that are detrimental to your institution. I am not talking about being reckless or being manipulative by repeatedly threatening to leave. Those are major shortcomings as well. However, one of the biggest flaws of many workers is that they are more concerned about self-preservation and personal peace when it comes to their employment than what is best for the organization.

When the leaders of an organization begin to protect their positions, the organization has started down the path of a slow death. Self-preservation and personal comfort is where we all tend to begin our careers. Entry level employees usually only have one goal; make the work as easy as possible, get a paycheck, and get out of there, but as we grow, we should move beyond that to become a more responsible member of the organization. We should take ownership to contribute and take responsibility when the institution falters. However, there seems to be only a limited number of people that are able to work in a way that is not driven by self-interest.

Employees who are truly able to transform an organization have come to see the bigger picture, and they understand that the goals of the organization are more important than personal survival, ego, and securing the lightest workload possible. They recognize that they are part of something bigger than themselves. They become willing to take risks that hazard their own employment and personal peace to accomplish their goals. This does not mean that employee satisfaction is not part of the equation, but this is not a contradiction if understood correctly. A place of employment that abuses its employees is setting itself up for failure as well, and a worker that makes great decisions in that area might have to put themselves at risk to protect their colleagues.

Workers like this are often hard to understand because their actions are unconventional. They operate from a moral system rather than a political one. They will often push for change that most people in the organization do not think is necessary because things are working fine, and they do not want the risk or the extra work. The transformational employee, on the other hand, looks beyond those challenges to the greater good. In doing this, they are willing to put in the needed labor, take the heat, and pay the political costs. The bottom line is this, the people who are willing to lose their jobs for the sake of the success of the organization are usually the most valuable members of that institution.

What does this have to do with following Jesus? Besides the fact, as Christians, we should strive to be the best employees we can be, there is a parallel to this principle in the life of the local church. Many local churches, big and small, often exist for self-preservation rather than the propagation of the gospel. They make decisions based on self-interest and personal gratification rather than the glory of God.

It seems that the chief end of many local churches is to exist. Maintaining the building, meeting budgets, and preserving attendance by trying to make sure the congregants have a pleasant experience so they will not leave are what drives the decisions of many church leaders. There is nothing wrong with working for these goals. They are fine as long as those aims do not become more important than the gospel and obeying the word of God.

Buildings, budgets, and pleasant experiences can all play a part in the life of a healthy church, but they are not our main objective as Christians. We are involved in the greatest calling ever; knowing God and seeking his glory. A church that will do this the best is the one that is willing to lose all of these trappings if necessary. We need to look past convention to what is truly essential for success in the kingdom of God.

Rarely is a mega-church, or even a quaint little chapel, able show the power of the gospel to the world like a church banded together by the word of God while being willing to face cultural criticism and the persecution from the world. This was clearly seen in the early church. There is no local congregation that will have a lasting impact for the Kingdom of God that is unwilling to be uncomfortable. Kingdom work is neither glamorous or comfortable. It involves being engaged in the difficult aspects of this world; ministering to the orphan, the widow, and the addict for example.

We are often too quick to bow to the pressure of culture in order to protect ourselves, and we are regularly unwilling to do any difficult work. When you put that in contrast with the fact that the Lord Jesus called us to be willing to die for the faith if necessary, we begin to see just how much self-interest and self-preservation has formed our gatherings.

It is easy to shake our heads at the leaders in churches like these, but if we are congregants who desire a nice experience where nothing is expected of us, we are as much a part of the problem as anyone. We are servants of Christ just as much as the leaders are. Ask yourself, when a fellow believer in your church asks you to do something like helping a shut-in, do you grumble and complain internally? Often, the thought of having to attending a prayer meeting is enough to make a church member recoil in disgust. Please know, if that is us, self-interest has become our god. We are contributing to the slow death of not only our own souls but also of our local church.

May your buildings be beautiful, may your budget be overflowing, and may your gatherings be pleasant, and may you be willing to sacrifice it all for the glory of God if necessary.

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. – Jesus (Luke 9:23)

-D. Eaton

Spiritual Depression: A Cause and Cure

I find almost invariably when people come to me in a state of spiritual depression, that they are depressed because they do not know the faith as they should. They say: “I am such a miserable sinner, you do not know what I have been or what I have done.” Why do they say that to me? They do so because they have never understood what Jesus meant when He said: “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” The very thing they are saying in self-condemnation is the very thing that gives them the right to come to Him and be certain that He will receive them. Where there is a failure to learn and believe these things, faith is weak. So strong faith means to know them.

I am constantly having to say these things. I am constantly having to write them. I had to write a long letter on this very point to a man I had never seen. The poor man was miserable and held in bondage. Why? Because he did not see that Christ is the friend of publicans and sinners and that He came to die for such people. He was not clear about the Person, he was not clear about the work of this blessed Person. His faith was weak and the doubts where there because of that. There are many who go through life miserable and unhappy because thy do not truly understand these things. If only they did understand them they would find that their self-condemnation in itself is an earnest of their repentance and the way to their ultimate release.

In other words, the great antidote to spiritual depression is the knowledge of Biblical doctrine, Christian doctrine. Not having the feelings worked up in meetings, but knowing the principles of the faith, knowing and understanding the doctrines. That is the biblical way, that is Christ’s own way as it is also the way of the apostles.

The antidote to depression is to have a knowledge of him, and you find that in His Word. You must take the trouble to learn it. It is difficult work, but you have to study it and give yourselves to it. The tragedy of the hour, it seems to me, is that people are far too dependent for their happiness upon [experiences]. This has been the trouble for many years in the Christian Church, and that is why so many are miserable.

Their knowledge of the Truth is defective. That, you remember, is what our Lord said to certain people who had suddenly believed on Him. He said: “If you continue in My word then are you My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). Free from doubts or fears, free from depression, free from things that get you down. It is the truth that frees–the truth about Him, in His Person , in His word, in His offices, Christ as he is.

-Martyn Lloyd-Jones – Spiritual Depression – pp 156-157

The Problem with Commonplace Religion

We live in a culture that is saturated with Christian sentiment. Even secularism attempts to use the name of Jesus to get what it wants. This is clearly seen when a political figure who has no fear of God quotes scripture or uses a biblical illustration.

We see it in many of the popular manifestations cultural “Christianity” It is a thin veneer without any substance. It has rejected the word of God as its authority, and it has put self on the throne. This is greatest problem with commonplace religion.

For the man or woman rooted in scripture, it does not take much to see behind the façade. This type of religiosity is covered in references to self. Personal experience, feelings, self-esteem, and self-referential misuses of the words “love” and “justice”, litter its linguistic canon.

They want a utopia, and they think they can can usher it in through political power. What they are looking for is happiness, and the they think they can find it in earthly pleasure. They are looking for glory and they think they can find it in riches and popularity. The problem is that satisfaction will never be theirs because they are looking for it in themselves and in the things of this world.

When Jesus said, take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow me, he was not inviting us to a life of misery. He was calling us out of ourselves to the greatest campaign in which mankind can ever be involved: knowing God. There is no greater glory and there is no greater joy, but we must root our life in his truth. If we aim at anything less than God himself, we have settled for lesser things because there is nothing greater than God.

The problem is that the way to find this glory and joy in God is to do the exact opposite of what you think you should do. It is like being submerged under a waterfall struggling for air. The most natural thing to do is to try to swim to the surface, but you will never get there because the crashing water will keep pushing you under. The right thing to do in that moment is swim down. It is only by swimming down that the water will spit you out down stream. This counter-intuitive nature is the same in the Christian life. If you are looking for true joy, he must increase, and we must decrease.

All the world, including commonplace religion, is swimming up. It is trying to make itself righteous and find its glory in itself, but we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The only hope for us is Jesus who died on the cross for our sins. We must stop trying to justify ourselves. We need to admit our depravity instead of trying to hide it, and come to Him in faith. Only when we bring our sins to him, instead of our good works, will his sacrifice on the cross satisfy the wrath of God for our sins, and will his righteousness be counted as ours. This is the first counter-intuitive, but there are many more that fill the Christian life.

  • It is in our weakness that he becomes strong.
  • In Jesus, the last will become first.
  • The kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit.
  • Love your enemies.
  • It is more blessed to give than receive.
  • Blessed are those who mourn.
  • Lay up treasures in heaven, not on earth.
  • The meek will inherit the earth.
  • Life is more than food and the body more than clothing.
  • Blessed are those who suffer for Christ’s sake.
  • Walk by faith, not by sight.
  • Look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

In the words of Adoniram Judson, “I beg you, not to rest contented with the commonplace religion that is now so prevalent.” It will lead you to fear those who can kill the body and take away your earthly pleasures, and it will tell you to neglect him who can destroy body and soul in hell. Take heed to the words of Jesus, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10:39).

-D. Eaton