Why So Many are Depressed in SBC Churches, part 1- Martyn Lloyd-Jones Speaks on the Spirit of Bondage

March 6, 2009

I have already this week made one post concerning the contents of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ great book Spiritual Depression: It’s Causes and Cure and over the next couple of posts I want to give two more excerpts which I think are especially pertinent in light of recent topics we have covered here.

The first passage I want to quote deals with people who are Christians yet continue to be depressed by the spirit of bondage (Romans 8.15, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear . . . “).  We have spoken of this recently in the posts relating to Matt Chandler’s recent message at the FBC Jacknsoville Pastors’ Conference and Mark Driscoll’s definition of the worldliness of tradition.  The spirit of bondage in many SBC churches is characterized by a fear of updating oneself, of stepping into contemporary ideas and movements, thinking that God is only in the olden ways and that abandoning them will in effect be abandoning Him.  Speaking on the spirit of bondage, here is what Dr. Lloyd-Jones has to say:

The ‘spirit of bondage’ always brings with it and in its train, a spirit of fear. . . .  

Well, in what sense does this produce a spirit of fear?  In the first place, it tends to produce a wrong fear of God. . . .  [People under this] regard God as a taskmaster, they regard Him as Someone who is constantly watching to discover faults and blemishes in them, and to punish them accordingly.  Others think of God only as a stern Law-giver far away in the distance. . . .

Then another way in which this spirit of fear manifests itself is that they tend to be afraid in a wrong way of the power of the devil. . . .  [W]e must not be subject to a craven fear of the devil.  [Some] people are, because they are aware of his power.  they are spiritually-minded people– this is a peculiar temptation to some of the best people– and they see this mighty power, the power of the devil set against them, and they are afraid.

Then they are equally afraid of the sin which is within themselves.  They spend their time in denouncing themselves and in talking about the blackness and darkness of their own hearts. . . . 

In other words I can sum it up like this, the spirit of fear which results from the spirit of bondage in this type of Christian is ultimately a fear of themselves and a fear of failure. [pp.167-169]

Do you agree?  Do you see where many churches are full of people who, for one reason or another have become afraid of failure and afraid of themselves, to the point where they erect extrabiblical moral standards, that in keeping them makes them feel strong?  When people feel threatened our natural response is to reassue ourselves of our strength and worthiness.  I propose that in the SBC many of us are guilty of trying to regain face in this matter by taking stands on things like rock music, or Sunday morning attire, or which companies to boycott, which puff us up for doing, but never fully address the spirit of bondage and spirit of fear which we have succomb to.  What then does Dr. Lloyd-Jones suggest we do instead?

What is the antidote to this condition?  The Apostle [Paul] gives an outline in this magnificent statement [i.e. Romans 8.15-17].  What is the answer?  It is that we must realize the truth concerning the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Christian.

That is the message, and that, according to the Apostle, works out in two ways.  The first is that as I confront this mighty, glorious task of denying myself and taking up the cross and following the Lord Jesus Christ I realize that I am to walk through this world as He walked.  As I realize that I have been born again and fashioned by God according to the image of His dear Son, and as I begin to ask: ‘Who am I ever to live so?  How can I ever hope to do that?’– here is the answer, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, the truth that the Holy Spirit dwells within us. . . .  

[Now] to the second principle– the presence of the Holy Spirit in us reminds us of our relationship to God. . . .  How does it do so?  Well, it enables us to see that our object in living the Christian life is not simply to attain a certain standard, but is rather to please God because He is our Father– ‘the spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba, Father.’  The slave was not allowed to say ‘Abba’ and that slave spirit does not regard God as Father.  He has not realized that He is Father, he regards Him still as a Judge who condemns.  But that is wrong.  As Christian people we must learn to appropriate by faith the fact that God is our Father. [pp.169-170,172]

“The object in living the Christian life is not simply to attaina certain standars, but it is rather to please God because He is our Father.”  Wow.  I fear that we left off trying to please God long ago in many of our churches and attaining a standard is all we strive for anymore.  And even this standard is short-sighted, it is not enough.  We allow ourselves to compromise on things like church attendance and tithing and yet create new standard for judgment so that we can counterbalance the places where we would rather just fail.  

“We must learn to appropriate by faith the fact that God is our Father.”  He is not only our Judge any longer.  If we are truly saved then we have been truly justified, and God is now our Father.  This does not mean there are no longer things we must be obedient towards– our earthly fathers always have had expectations for us as children– but what it means is that we must learn to be obedient through the power of the Spirit that has been given to us, and knowing of the fact that our obedience is now judged by grace, not by our own righteousness.  We must no longer act like employees and start to act like sons and daughters, or else we will never know anything of the joys of the Christian life and will be perpetually depressed; a most miserable misunderstanding of our standing with God.