Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his book Spiritual Depression, poignantly asserts:
“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you.”
We all have this experience. For some it is nearly debilitating. The weight of guilt from past transgressions or inactions drains the emotional bank account. The result, as Lloyd-Jones says, is “unhappiness”. Discouragement. And whenever discouragement is left untreated, there is always the risk that it metastasizes into full blown depression.
The issue is not that these thoughts are necessarily wrong. We all have regrets of things we have done and of things we have left undone. What is wrong is how these feelings warp our sense of identity, and consequently our emotional health. What is wrong is how these things rob us of our connection with the greater truths of God’s Promises, often making the one “listening” to these mental accusations feel unworthy, and therefore disconnected from God himself.
The answer is not to simply ignore these mental accusations. There is a very real sense that we are “guilty”, and that we are “unworthy” to enjoy God’s presence. As Paul reminds us in Romans 3.23, “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”. John concurs with Paul, reminding us in 1 John 1.8, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” and again in v. 10, “If we say we have not sinned, we make God a liar, and God’s word is not in us.”
The solution to our unhappiness is found in what John writes in between, in v. 9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” In other words, the remedy to our unhappiness begins by owning whatever part of the accusations are true. We own it, then “confess it” to God. (NOTE: However, we must take care to not embrace what is untrue.)
Lloyd-Jones, who was a medical doctor before entering into pastoral ministry, prescribes that we “talk to ourselves” as medicine for our souls. After “confession”, which is talking to God, we are to “talk to ourselves.” We are to remind ourselves of the promises of the gospel, such as the promises of 1 John 1.9, or any of the many similar promises that are laced throughout the Scriptures. These promises are “greater truths” than whatever is true of our guilt; greater because they are God’s truths, God’s promises to those who rest in his grace, through faith in Christ.
What would such a conversation look like? What might we say to “ourselves” when our minds feel flooded with accusation? The video above provides a powerful example. In this video, actor Joseph Fiennes plays Martin Luther in the 2003 biopic, Luther. In the scene, Luther declares:
“So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!”
This is what is called “preaching the gospel to yourself”!
As Luther ostensibly said at another time:
“Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.”