If you have never realized your guilt or guiltiness before God you will never have joy in Christ. It is impossible.
So says Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his book Spiritual Depression: It's Causes and It's Cure. I have heard his name often in certain circles, but I can't say that I've read too much of his work. After reading this book, I can now say that I am smitten. His writing is especially insightful. It cuts straight to the heart and I find it very readable.
The second chapter discusses the person who has had a Christian upbringing, always goes to church, and yet is remarkably miserable. This person sees the joy that new believers have and says, "I wish I had been living their kind of life so that I could also have their marvelous experience." Lloyd-Jones exposes the truth underlying this statement. This person does not believe that they are as much a sinner as the other person. I think you would be hard pressed to find a person who admits to thinking this even though deep down this is what they feel in their heart. The devastating result is that the joy of Christ's particular salvation for them is greatly diminished or non existent.
How do I know if this type of self-righteous thinking has crept into my own heart? Here is the test according to Lloyd-Jones:
'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself' (Mark 12:30,31). Forget all about drunkards and their like, forget all the people you read about in the press at the present time. Here is the test for you and me: Are you loving God with all your being? If you are not,...you are a sinner of the deepest dye, whether you know it and feel it or not. (p.30)
And here is another test:
John 17:3: 'This is life eternal to know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent'. So the test we apply to ourselves is that. Not, 'Have I done this or that?' My test is a positive one: 'Do I know God? Is Jesus Christ real to me?' I am not asking whether you know things about Him but do you know God, are you enjoying God, is God the centre of your life, the soul of your being, the source of your greatest joy?...You and I are meant to be like that, and if we are not like that, it is sin. (p. 31)
We need to stop thinking about particular sins and comparing ourselves to others. "What determines whether we are sinners is not what we have done, but our relationship to God." (p.34) Jesus Christ is our righteousness. He is the only one who can truly deal with our sin. It is incredibly freeing to look to Him for help and salvation.
Salvation is all in Christ, and unless you feel yourself shut up to Christ with everything else having failed, your are not a Christian, and it is not surprising that you are not happy. (p.32)
Our natural inclination may be to try to save ourselves, but it gets extremely tiring, especially when we realize that it is impossible. Having to constantly prove yourself to God, others and yourself is a wearying task that inherently leads to depression when we fail. As Lloyd-Jones says,
What you need is not to make resolutions to live a better life, to start fasting and sweating and praying. No! you just begin to say: 'I rest my faith on Him alone who died for my transgressions to atone.' (p.35)Here is where I've found true, lasting, life changing joy.