Obtaining and enjoying the assurance of one’s salvation is something that alludes many Christians. Get past all the spiritual jargon and start asking some difficult questions, and you might find that a lack of assurance, whether it occurs occasionally or frequently, is a feeling that dogs many sincere Christians. Continue reading “Self-Examination, Obedience, and Assurance”
The following is a response to an email I received a while ago. A dear brother contacted me and asked me if I could expand on an entry I had posted. Specifically, he wanted to know if and how the Lord had helped me make progress in dealing with unhealthy introspective tendencies and spiritual depression. Below is the letter with a few slight edits for clarity.
Thank you again for your email. An inclination toward severe introspection and spiritual depression is something that has affected me since early in my Christian life, and I still find myself battling introspective tendencies and spiritual depression.
When I first came to Christ, I noticed immediately that I tended toward a severe examination of my inner-life—my motives, my affections for God and for others, my faith in Christ, my holiness. Far from bringing me peace and assurance in my relationship with Christ, this propensity to question every inner-working of my heart instead brought much doubt, confusion and, inevitably, depression. Continue reading “Battling Spiritual Depression: A Letter to a Friend”
Prior to becoming a Christian, I cared little about my inner life. I “filled my cup,” as it were, with all kinds of lust and greed and did not regard the reality that these sins were waging war with my soul (I Peter 2:11). When I became a Christian, the Lord cleansed my heart from much sin and graciously opened my eyes to see and enjoy the beauty of holiness. Soon after my conversion, however, I became fixed on my inner person to the point where I was actually choking the life out of my soul. I was becoming relentlessly introspective.
I suppose this concern over my spiritual life had a noble intent to begin with: I wanted to be holy and pure and pleasing to God. This good intention, however, soon turned into a morbid obsession with every thought and intent of my heart. I began to see how this severe preoccupation my soul was causing more harm than good, but I did not know how to bring relief because I took very seriously the command to examine myself (II Corinthians 13:5). Nonetheless, my relentless concern for my inner holiness was not providing me with any lasting peace and joy (which made me even more concerned and introspective!); rather, it was hindering fellowship with God and assurance of salvation that I desperately needed.
Martin Lloyd-Jones, however, by his wise counsel helped me to recognize that although healthy self-examination is certainly necessary in the Chrisitian life, a bent toward morbid introspection can tend to have more negative results. Therefore, it is good for us to properly recognize introspection so that we might avoid it. Lloyd-Jones instructs,
I suggest that we cross the line from self-examination to introspection when, in a sense, we do nothing but examine ourselves, and when such self-examination becomes the main and cheif end of our life. We are meant to examine ourselves periodically, but if we are always doing it, always, as it were, putting our soul on a plate and dissecting it, that is introspection. And if we are always talking to people about ourselves and our problems and troubles, and if we are forever going to them with that kind of frown upon our face saying: I am in great difficulty–it probably means that we are all the time centered upon ourselves. That is introspection, and that in turn leads to the condition known as morbidity. (Spiritual Depression, 17)
Notice that Lloyd-Jones observes that our bent toward introspection probably means ‘that we are are all the time centered upon ourselves.’ Severe introspection, while fooling us that it is the result of a passionate pursuit of holiness, may actually be the fruit of self-centeredness. Certainly, we need to be about examining ourselves, but it must not become the ‘main and cheif end of our life’ so that we are constantly absorbed in self. May the Lord help us to balance our pursuit of inner holiness with a healthy understanding of the ills of self-centered introspection.