Depression and the devil

I am teaching a seminary course on Law and Gospel. In preparation for that I am rereading C. F. W. Walther’s Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel. This is my fifth time reading the book, yet this is the first time I recall Martin Luther’s comment on 1 John 3:8. Here is the Scripture text for the last part of the verse:

The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. (NAS)

I have taught for many years that Jesus’ work was to overcome the effects of sin entering the world. That includes five items:

1. Forgive and restore a right relationship between God and humans (2 Corinthians 5:19-21)

2. Forgive and restore a person with regard to conscience (1 Peter 3:21)

3. Bring about reconciliation to others (Ephesians 4:32; Matthew 18:15-20)

4. Overcome the sinful separation of humans and creation (Romans 8:18-25)

5. Defeat the devil and all his works and ways (1 John 3:8)

Luther taught this. But then in this particular quote, Luther narrows the last item to depression as the greatest work of the devil:

Therefore, please do not turn away from the one who is coming to comfort you, to announce the will of God to you, and who hates and condemns your desperation and depression as a trial of Satan. Do not by any means allow the devil to portray Christ to you differently than what He really is. Believe Scripture, which testifies that “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Your depression is the work of the devil, which Christ wants to destroy, if you will only let Him. You have had your fill of anguish. You have sorrowed enough. You have exceeded your penance. (Therefore, do not refuse my consolation, let me help you…) (Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel, CPH, 2010, p. 122).

While Luther does not offer every answer about depression, it is interesting that he identifies it as the work of the devil. In my worst days of depression, it certainly felt that way to me.

And how much more powerful it is to read, hear, memorize these words:

The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. (NAS)

Yes, this is true consolation.


Author: exegete77

disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher, and theologian

3 thoughts on “Depression and the devil”

    1. I think this is a case where each person is impacted differently—and at different times. Obviously the first four times I read the book, it didn’t register. Those previous times, was I reading during my time of depression? Perhaps, I can’t remember. And at my lowest points I couldn’t “hear” this kind of statement at all, just by reading on my own. For some reason this time the message stuck out to me, in a very helpful way.


  1. I agree with what you’ve written, Richard. I John 3:8 is indeed what Jesus accomplished on the cross for us. Regarding depression or any other malady, entering into Jesus’ victory is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as He takes all of Christ’s victory and manifests it in our lives. (John 16:14)


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