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CBT Luther style

Luther has said:

“The Holy Spirit knows that a thing has only such meaning and value for a man as he assigns to it in his thoughts.”

The lens through which we view our experiences of the world are all important.  Suffering could either be a catastrophic blow or the opportunity to know Christ and fellowship more deeply in His sufferings.  My sins could cause a ‘spiritual sulk’ and extended dry-ness or a deeper appreciation of the blood of Christ and His cleansing.  It all depends on the meaning I assign to these things in my thoughts.

CBT is not so good at showing how these thoughts flow from our hearts (Mark 7:21).  But Luther knows how to preach to the heart such that our perspective is shaped by the gospel word.  And in his Galatians commentary, Luther puts this idea into practice.  Not only is the truth of the gospel proclaimed but the Christian is exhorted to speak this truth again and again into the deepest recesses of the heart.   When the truth of the gospel shapes our thinking more fully, then we will be able to stand up against the devil’s accusations.

Click here for extracts from Luther’s Galatians where he shows us how to preach to ourselves.

Here's just one example from Galatians 1:4:

You will readily grant that Christ gave Himself for the sins of Peter, Paul, and others who were worthy of such grace. But feeling low, you find it hard to believe that Christ gave Himself for your sins. Our feelings shy at a personal application of the pronoun “our,” and we refuse to have anything to do with God until we have made ourselves worthy by good deeds.

This attitude springs from a false conception of sin, the conception that sin is a small matter, easily taken care of by good works; that we must present ourselves unto God with a good conscience; that we must feel no sin before we may feel that Christ was given for our sins. This attitude is universal and particularly developed in those who consider themselves better than others. Such readily confess that they are frequent sinners, but they regard their sins as of no such importance that they cannot easily be dissolved by some good action, or that they may not appear before the tribunal of Christ and demand the reward of eternal life for their righteousness. Meantime they pretend great humility and acknowledge a certain degree of sinfulness for which they soulfully join in the publican’s prayer, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” But the real significance and comfort of the words “for our sins” is lost upon them. The genius of Christianity takes the words of Paul “who gave himself for our sins” as true and efficacious. We are not to look upon our sins as insignificant trifles. On the other hand, we are not to regard them as so terrible that we must despair. Learn to believe that Christ was given, not for picayune and imaginary transgressions, but for  mountainous sins; not for one or two, but for all; not for sins that can be discarded, but for sins that are stubbornly ingrained. Practice this knowledge and fortify yourself against despair, particularly in the last hour, when the memory of past sins assails the conscience. Say with confidence: “Christ, the Son of God, was given not for the righteous, but for sinners. If I had no sin I should not need Christ. No, Satan, you cannot delude me into thinking I am holy. The truth is, I am all sin. My sins are not imaginary transgressions, but sins against the first table, unbelief, doubt, despair, contempt, hatred, ignorance of God, ingratitude towards Him, misuse of His name, neglect of His Word, etc.; and sins against the second table, dishonor of parents, disobedience of government, coveting of another’s possessions, etc. Granted that I have not committed murder, adultery, theft, and similar sins in deed, nevertheless I have committed them in the heart, and therefore I am a transgressor of all the commandments of God.

“Because my transgressions are multiplied and my own efforts at self-justification rather a hindrance than a furtherance, therefore Christ the Son of God gave Himself into death for my sins.” To believe this is to have eternal life.

Let us equip ourselves against the accusations of Satan with this and similar passages of Holy Scripture. If he says, “Thou shalt be damned,” you tell him: “No, for I fly to Christ who gave Himself for my sins. In accusing me of being a damnable sinner, you are cutting your own throat, Satan. You are reminding me of God’s fatherly goodness toward me, that He so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. In calling me a sinner, Satan, you really comfort me above measure.” With such heavenly cunning we are to meet the devil’s craft and put from us the memory of sin.


7 thoughts on “CBT Luther style

  1. michaeleriksson

    CBT is indeed in many ways just a re-invention and elaboration of what the ancient teachers and philosophers (in particular, the stoics) already knew. Generally, there is more wisdom and insight into human nature to be learned from the wise men of yore than from a degree in psychology.

  2. Otepoti

    "The silly conscience must be educated to this. Talk to your conscience. Say: “Sister, you are now in jail all right. But you don’t have to stay there forever. It is written that we are ‘shut up unto faith which should afterwards be revealed.’ Christ will lead you to freedom. Do not despair like Cain, Saul, or Judas. They might have gone free if they had called Christ to their aid. Just take it easy, Sister Conscience. It’s good for you to be locked up for a while. It will teach you to appreciate Christ.” (3:23)"


  3. Otepoti

    But the anthromorphizing of the conscience as a female voice is interesting.

    I think my conscience has a male persona. Or possibly, it's a cricket.

  4. theoldadam

    Reminds me of the most recent 'Luther' movie where Marty is preaching a sermon and says"when the devil accusses you of being a sinner, say to him...yeah, that's right, I am...what of it!? I have a Savior in Christ Jesus!

  5. Heather

    I appreciate that M. Luther appears to have understood that "sinner" doesn't simply describe what we do, but rather, what we are in comparison to God. The ability to be able to recognize sinful action and it's source mercifully reveals our desperate need for godly discipline and Christ's righteous covering.

    Don't know a lot about Luther, other than a brief biographical sketch I recently read. But it is interesting to me how the Lord first brought Luther quite dramatically to the end of himself and then picked him up out of the sea of despair in which he was drowning.

    I think my conscience has a male persona. Or possibly, it’s a cricket.


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