Anxiety – is it a sin?
I was meeting with a small group of college students recently when this question was asked.
Is it a sin to be anxious or worried?
The question came up because one student was feeling anxious about the future, and then guilty after recently reading Jesus’ statements in Matthew 6:25 and 34;
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
So, is it a sin for Christians to worry? “Generally not,” I responded and here’s why I believe that’s true.
There are times I ought to worry or be anxious. If I’m crossing the road in busy traffic, my angst keeps me alert, vigilant to the danger. Anxiety over some business decisions have kept me from making poor choices. When I worry about the possible consequences of some sin I’m contemplating, worry, or guilt serves me well. Some anxiety is good and helpful and not a sin. In fact this type of worry may be a gift from the Holy Spirit to keep me safe, physically, or spiritually.
However, most of our anxiety isn’t of that nature. We’re generally anxious about our jobs, our finances, our children or upcoming decisions. This kind of anxiety also is not likely a sin, but is quite probably an indicator of sin.
When we worry about these types of things it should tell us two things about ourselves:
What are you afraid to lose?
The first, when we worry, or are anxious it tells both us and God what we really value or are afraid to lose. Obviously, if your child has cancer, it’s no sin to have anxiety over that situation. It’s a natural reaction of a loving parent for this child. Likewise, if you’re about to lose your home in a foreclosure, that too is a very natural thing to be anxious or fearful.
But, most of my worries are not so lofty and haven’t even happened yet. I occasionally worry about criticism, looking foolish, being over-dressed, or under-dressed. I worry about being late for meetings and looking irresponsible. I worry about what my wife will say, what my friends think and how my book will be reviewed or sell. Most of these worries tell me something about myself- they are indicators of a sin problem – most often pride, or envy.
Economists look to certain financial data to determine the health of the economy. They call that data “key economic indicators”. The data is not the source of the problem, but they indicate that there may be underlying problems. So, too with worry.
When I worry, it’s helpful for me to stop and ask the Holy Spirit, “What is wrong with me that I would be afraid?” “What’s the real reason for my anxiety?” Worry is not a sin, but for the mature Christian it’s an invaluable tool for identifying the sin which may be causing the angst.
What do we believe about God?
The second thing worry tells us is about ourselves is what we believe about God. Do we really believe God will meet all our needs? (Although, he may not meet all our wants.) Do we really believe God wants our good and not our harm? (Although Satan can wreak havoc with us on occasion, even serious followers of Jesus.)
That is the point of Jesus teaching in Matthew 6.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:25-33
I have to read these verses often to remind myself to “seek first the kingdom of God” and God will provide all my needs and many of the things I want, simply won’t matter anymore. That’s actually what it means when we use the term, “Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.” The more time we spend being like Jesus, the less time we have to worry about the little things in life that really don’t matter in the scheme of things. Trust me; I don’t have the worry thing licked yet. But at least I know what’s going on in my heart when it’s happening!
Question: So what is the root cause of your private fears?
Following Jesus in Real Life