Recently I read a really good sermon. It was preached at Westminster Chapel in the 1960’s in London by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It was part of a series entitled ‘Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure’. In this series, Lloyd-Jones identifies why many Christians do not experience the joy of the Lord. The text for this particular sermon was Romans 3:28, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law”. In it, Lloyd-Jones makes the claim that one reason why Christians are not as joyful as they should be is because they do not understand the doctrine of justification.
So, how about you? Do you experience the joy of the Lord in your life? Do you know what it is to experience joy that is “inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8)? No? It may be that you don’t fully understand the doctrine of justification.
The first point that Lloyd-Jones makes in his sermon is that we must be clear about our own sinfulness. He points out that we do not think that we are all that sinful because we compare ourselves with other people. We forget that what God requires of us is revealed in his law and is summed up in the commands to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbour as ourselves (Deut. 6:5; Lev 19:18). If we have failed to do that perfectly, we are sinners.
What about you? Do you realise how sinful you are? Do you realise that you do not deserve God’s grace but rather his wrath? Well, compare yourself with the perfect standard of God’s law. Have you ever failed to love God with all your being or your neighbour as yourself? If we’re honest we will acknowledge that the question should be, ‘Have I ever truly loved God with all my being and my neighbour as myself?’
Lloyd-Jones’ second point concerns the way of salvation in Christ. First, Jesus has perfectly kept the law. This is what Paul refers to when he speaks of the ‘righteousness of God’ in Romans (Rom 3:21). Second, God put Jesus forward as a “propitiation” (Rom 3:25). That means that when Jesus died on the cross God was punishing him for our sins. Therefore when a person realises their sinfulness, confesses their sins and looks to Christ alone for salvation Christ’s death is counted as their judgement and God gives to them the perfect righteousness of Christ. They are declared to be righteous (justified) on the basis of Christ’s righteousness and blessed with all the blessings that a righteous person deserves. Such a person has given up trying to be good enough to be saved and trusts in Christ who was good enough.
They can now sing:
“The terrors of law and of God
With me can have nothing to do,
My Saviour’s obedience and blood
Hide all my transgressions from view.”
So, if you are not experiencing the joy of the Lord it may be because you don’t yet fully understand justification. What’s the remedy? Compare yourself with God’s law so that you will know your own sinfulness. Give up trying to earn salvation and trust in Christ alone who perfectly obeyed the law and bore the punishment for all your sins. If you do God will impute to you Christ’s perfect righteousness and you will be judged and approved (justified) on that basis.
Matt Cole is in his third year of ministry training at PTC and attends Somerville Presbyterian Church