Self-Sermon: Preaching the Gospel to Yourself
A self-sermon is a way to reorient our hearts away from counterfeit gospels and back to the true Gospel. When we find our hearts discouraged or guilty, we need to remind ourselves of the truth about us and our relationship to Christ and His gospel of grace. Self-sermons help us lay down specific lies and pick up what’s true, creating repeated rhythms of repentance and faith.
Below is Martin Luther’s self-sermon. He identifies something that has taken the place of Jesus as his Savior, which for him is religiosity and the moral law. Luther’s substitute for Christ is to rely on himself to be and do good in order to feel right with God. He addresses this pseudo-savior, “O Law,” and tells it to “know its place.” He shows it why it can never replace Jesus by using arguments of the gospel against it. When he gets discouraged, it is because the law is condemning him, and he is not resting in the finished work of Christ for him.
What about you? You may not have the moral law of God as your pseudo-savior, as your false righteousness. Instead, you may have to address “O Career!” or “O you of the opposite sex!” or “O law school!” or whatever else condemns you. In your self-sermon, talk to the thing that sets itself up as your “savior,” and reclaim the place that only Jesus should have in your heart.
The main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self. Am I just trying to be deliberately paradoxical? Far from it. This is the very essence of wisdom in this matter. 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 start talking to you, they bring back the problem of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself, ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul?’ he asks. His soul had been repressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: ‘Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you’. Do you know what I mean? If you do not, you have but little experience.
The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: ‘Why art thou cast down’–what business have you to be disquieted? You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: ‘Hope thou in God’–instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: ‘I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God’.
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures, pp. 20-21
- Where do you need to preach the gospel to your heart? Address your false saviors by name, “O Productivity!” “O Comfort!” “O Career!” “O Marriage!” “O Inadequacy!” or whatever else you seek to save you instead of Jesus. If you need help identifying areas, consider these questions:
What gets you unduly discouraged, afraid, or angry? Why do you think that area has such a grip on you?
Where are you tempted to forget your acceptance and love in Christ, and look to something else to fill, rescue, define, love you, give you peace, etc.?
- Read the examples of self-sermons below.
- Write a self-sermon to combat a false righteousness you’ve named. Identify the lies you hear and combat it with specific truth to counteract them. Use truths that resonate deeply with you.
- “Preach it to yourself” the next time you struggle with those familiar thoughts and emotions. Consider sharing your self-sermon with a friend who can remind you of this truth and pray for you when you struggle to believe it.
“O Law! You would climb up into the kingdom of my conscience, and there reign and condemn me for sin, and would take from me the joy of my heart which I have by faith in Christ, and drive me to desperation, that I might be without hope. You have overstepped your bounds. Know your place! You are a guide for my behavior, but you are not Savior and Lord of my heart. For I am baptized, and through the gospel am called to receive righteousness and eternal life… So trouble me not! For I will not allow you, so intolerable a tyrant and tormentor, to reign in my heart and conscience – for they are the seat and temple of Christ the Son of God, who is the king of righteousness and peace, and my most sweet savior and mediator. He shall keep my conscience joyful and quiet in the sound and pure doctrine of the gospel, through the knowledge of this passive and heavenly righteousness.” Luther
“O Time, you are not the answer to my anxieties. You are finite, but my God is infinite. You are not my master; you are God’s servant for my good. You only offer Chronos, or clock time, but he is the God of Kairos: the right time, the opportune time. There is never enough of you to satisfy my desires, but he gives enough of you to fulfill his desires for me. He always supplies everything I need for life and godliness. You slip away like sand through an hourglass. You crumble in my hands when I try to hold you too tightly. Even when you abound, my mind loses steam, my will stumbles, and my affections wander. I don’t need more of you; I need more of him. His Holy Spirit empowers me to make the best use of these evil days. My Father delights to give me good gifts, including meaningful work and wisdom, Sabbath rest and play. You only point your finger, tap your foot and fan the flames of my fears. I don’t have to play catch-up, because Jesus’s blood covers every one of my squandered prodigal hours. My Father knows knows all the days ordained for me before any one of them comes into being. He knows my frame, and he remembers that I am dust. He does not expect me to do anything without providing what I need to do it. I have freedom either to knock things out now, or to save them for later. He can multiply the fruit of my time like loaves and fishes. He is able to do exceedingly more than I could ask or imagine. He even makes my grace-powered efforts count, crediting me with grace-rewards in eternity. One day by that same grace he will say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” and Time will never push me around me again.
“O Health, get off your pseudo-throne in my life. You don’t own me – Jesus does. You don’t love me – Jesus does. You can’t save me – Jesus can and has and will. You’re so fickle, here one moment and gone the next. Jesus is constant and never changing. You take from me with your insatiable appetite: the joy of my heart, the bounce in my step, and the smile on my face. You try to dampen and extinguish the radiance from me. BUT YOU LOSE! Jesus shines His light in me and through me, pushing away your gloominess in my heart, in my step, on my face and out to others. You may tamper with my happiness but never my joy because my joy is found in Jesus. I have Jesus’ joy, Jesus’ victory, Jesus’ righteousness, and Jesus’ faith to even believe what I’ve just written. You want me to be desperate, hopeless, stuck and alone. BUT YOU LOSE! The communion of saints surrounds me, past and present. Jesus fills me. Hope fills me because my hope is in Jesus, who never abandons me and who has a perfect plan for my life that includes bringing me to completion by His ways and in His good timing, with or without you.
And you know what? I have complete health – spiritual health from faith in Jesus. And that is all I need; I don’t need you! I repeat. I don’t need you! You just make me think I do. Even if I have you, I want you on my terms. You are a slave to me, not I to you. Sure, without you I will physically die but you can’t touch my eternal life, it is secure in Christ. I am secure in Christ! So quit bugging me. My life is not found in you – it is hidden with Jesus forever! So I won’t allow you to determine the outcome of my day, my winter, my years or my life. There is more to me and more to my life than you. You don’t reign in my heart – Jesus does. Your ultimate gift to me is final physical death. Jesus’ gift is eternal life. I choose Jesus, both now and forever.”
“O, Control! Get off the throne of my life. You distort my vision and keep me in bondage. You promise things that you do not deliver, and you rob me of joy, spontaneity, community, freedom, hope, and peace. You are NOT my savior. Jesus is. You cannot deliver me from sin or offer me salvation. Only Jesus can, and He already has. You torment me with lies that you are my means to salvation, that you are the source of true joy, that you are The Way to everlasting life. You are a liar. Get away from me, for you have been with me too long. Take your rightful place among that which draws me away from my one and only true Savior, Jesus. He alone is the true King of my heart–the generous giver and sustainer of life, joy, victory, freedom, hope and peace. He alone can give me these things. You are a fraud, and you only bring discouragement, guilt, fear, anger, despair, and condemnation into my heart. But you cannot condemn me! It is God who justifies. Because I am in Christ Jesus, there is now no condemnation for me. Jesus has written my story and is bringing my life to completion through his perfect ways, which are not bound by your commands or decrees. He alone breathes life, hope, and peace into me. I will no longer allow you to deceive me into believing that you can. Praise be to God that you lose and Jesus wins!”
“O Comfort, you don’t own me. You don’t love me, and you cannot save me. What good do you bring my life? None! Do you bring about lifelong satisfaction? Do you create a grateful heart full of thankfulness? Absolutely, NOT! You take my eyes off Christ and put them on you. You desire that I be lazy and serve myself. You sap the joy out of my life!
Comfort, don’t you see that hoping in my Father is the only true answer when I want to run away from the neediness of others, not you? I cling to His promises when I am tempted to cling to you. I don’t need you when things go wrong. I need Christ. He enlightens my heart to His Truth. I don’t need you when life is hectic, and I feel out of control. He alone provides comfort and peace in the chaos. When I desire you, comfort, I find that I get frustrated with everyone that stands in my way of getting you. I ignore the needs of others. I actually create more chaos when I turn to you. You distort my vision. You fill my thoughts with lies. I see people as obstacles rather than my very own community. I turn to envy rather than love. I can’t see your redemption in my life because I only see disappointments. I don’t have the capacity to point others to You because I can only see myself. You create conflict in relationships. You bring about disunity.
Christ is my comfort. I rest in Him and His power. What can you do for me, comfort? Nothing! You lead me to selfishness. You lead me to false satisfaction. You lead me to shame and fatigue.
Life in Christ gives me hope. Christ makes me thankful. Christ gives me acceptance. He never disappoints. He fills me with Himself. I choose Christ, my Father, the One who called me and adopted me, over you!”