Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Category: Sanctification

Is Anxiety Really Sin?

“Stress” is not a biblical word. “Worry” and “anxiety” are. And they are sins.

That’s the thought that started a conversation the other day. Can we actually say that something like anxiety is sin? What makes it a sin? Isn’t it just a weakness to be delivered from? Or, rather, shouldn’t we conceive of it as a mental illness?

There are a few different ways that we could go about answering. Let’s try beginning with the commands of Jesus himself.

It’s a Command

The command “Do not be anxious” is repeated several times by Jesus in Matthew 6 (Matt 6.25, 27, 31, 34) and it is repeated again in Matt 10.19.

While those commands deal with specific situations, the underlying reality at play is that if Jesus commands people to “not be anxious” we know that (1) it’s not just a chemical imbalance or a mental disorder, and, (2) there are at least some ways in which anxiety is a sin, simply because Jesus commands against it.

Jesus’s Theology of Anxiety & Trust

When Jesus commands people to not be anxious in Matthew 6 and 10, he is charging them not to be anxious about specific things: food, clothes, length of life, what happens tomorrow, and giving a defence for yourself when suffering because of the gospel. I think it’s safe to say, those are some of our most basic needs. By arguing from the most basic and elemental things, he is making the case that we ought not to worry in general.

In other words, if you shouldn’t worry about the most elemental things necessary for life, then what should you worry for? Nothing.

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How Could I Sin?

A prayer for growth in holiness:

Father, how could I sin?

Having seen your hatred for sin and your love for righteousness, how could I sin?

I have seen the fullness of your just anger borne by Christ for me. How could I be speak angrily to others?

I have seen your patience with me through decades of rebellion. How could I be impatient with others?

I have seen how you work the evil of others for good. How could I be bitter?

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Some Practical Tips for Fighting Temptation

 Learning from Those Who’ve Failed

The first few chapters of the Bible give us good insight into the ways that sin & temptation work. Adam and Eve fail. Their children and their grandchildren after them fail. How was it that sin worked to bring them down and what can we learn?

Here are just a couple practical suggestions for fighting temptation as gleaned from Genesis 3-4.

1. Get Outside Perspective

The power of temptation is bound up in the moment. In the rush of debate, Eve didn’t pause to consider the ramifications of questioning God’s words. She didn’t ask Adam, ‘Hey what did God actually say anyway?’ Still less did she think to herself, ‘Maybe we should ask God for some clarity on why we can’t have the fruit from this tree.’ But part of the lure of the temptation to sin is the seductive voice that says, ‘You determine right & wrong for yourself. You make your own laws.’

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How to Love More

Last night in our small group we were talking about the ever-present problem in the Christian life of not being affected enough by the truth that we know. It’s the gap between knowing the gospel of grace and feeling the grace of the gospel. We want to be humbled by the gospel. We want to love God more. But how do we do that?

This got me thinking about a post I put up here about 4 years ago and so I decided to repost it.

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Wise Words from James

Even though we’ve moved on to chapter 5 in our study on James at GFC, I’m still marvelling at many of the things my Lord has been teaching me from his word.

Preaching big passages like I’ve had to do is great for seeing the big picture and covering more of God’s word, but it necessarily means that there are lots of stones left unturned in each passage. Particularly, I’ve been thinking through James’s promise in chapter 4: ‘Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.’

One thing that amazed me the other night as I sat and thought this through is the similarity between this saying and that declaration of Jesus that the one who is forgiven most loves most. On the surface, they don’t seem that connected, but I think there is a profound connection.

Our Desire is to Love

Every Christian wants to know how to love God more. The first and greatest commandment we have is this: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.’ The reason why we still sin, why we become discouraged, or why we fall back into old patterns of living is because our love for God falls short of our love for ourselves.

Our Enemy Wants to Hinder Our Love

The devil is our enemy. His greatest goal is to stop us from achieving our greatest goal, which is love for God, resulting in joy in God. We want to love God, but he’ll do anything to stop that. Every Christian wants to love God more; but how do you practically increase your love for God?

James connects resisting the devil’s work with drawing near to God. In response to our drawing near to God, God draws near to us. What kind of drawing near does James have in mind? He clarifies for us in the next couple of sentences, where he describes radical repentance, open confession of sin and sinfulness, and proper humility. In other words, draw near to God in humility, repentance, and brokenness, acknowledging the greatness of your sin.

Connect the Dots

We can begin to connect the dots here a little with Jesus’ saying. We will love God more if we acknowledge more readily the reality of what we’ve been forgiven. But our enemy will have none of that–which is why we need to resist him. How do you resist Satan? By confessing your sins and drawing near to God.

It is the work of Satan to get you to think little of your sins. He desires that you not confess specific sins, that you not be heart-broken over the ways you’ve denied God. He wants you to just ignore sin in your life and not confess to brothers and sisters. The smaller you think your sin is, the less your love for God will grow, and the happier your enemy will be. ‘He who is forgiven little, loves little.’

If your love for God has grown cold, you can probably draw a straight line back to your lack of confession of sin in your own heart, to God, and to others. When you don’t realize what you’ve been forgiven, you don’t love.

How do you grow to love more? Draw near to God in repentance. Acknowledge how horrible and ugly your sin is, and be specific in your confession. What at the things you have rejected him for? What are the things you’ve loved more than him? What are the lies you’ve believed instead of his truth? Confess to him that you deserve death and hell. The more you draw near to him, the worse you’ll see your sin is, the more you’ll see how much you’ve been forgiven and the more you’ll love — which will overflow into a life of God-glorifying joy in obedience.

The War Within

No one has understood sin and the sin nature like the Puritans, particularly when it comes to the ongoing necessity (and struggles) of putting that sin nature to death. Here are a few gems from the Soli Deo Gloria republication (Morgan, PA, 1995) of Obadiah Sedgwick‘s (1600-1658) The Anatomy of Secret Sins.

Let a man set up any sin in delightful contemplation and meditation, that same inward acting of his sin, either actually casts him upon the outward adventures, or invites them. This is the least that it does. It strangely ripens his natural inclination; and, besides that, it prepares him for a temptation that suits that way. Satan shall not need to tempt him much who has already tempted himself: and he who will work sin in his heart, a weak occasion will draw it out into his life. Thirty pieces of silver will prevail with a covetous Judas, who already had gold as his master in his heart. (15)

[God] gives singular charge against secret sins. Why? Because He cannot endure any to be hypocritical. The man is to God what his inside is; if you work wickedness in your heart, God will destroy you. Plaster your visible part with all sorts of pious expressions, if yet you can set up a form of sinning within, you are notable hypocrites. (18-19)

Beloved, the main battle of a Christian is not in the open field. His quarrels are mostly within and his enemies are in his own breast. When he has re-formed an ill life, yet it shall cost him infinitely much more to reform an ill heart. He may receive so much power from grace at the beginning, as in a short time, to draw off from most of the former gross acts of sinning, but it will be a work all of his days to get a thorough conquest of secret corruptions. (22)

Satan does not stir a naked eye, but a filthy heart to look through that sinful window. He does not come to the hand and say ‘Steal,’ but first to the heart, which will quickly command the hand. He does not say immediately to the tongue, ‘Swear and blaspheme,’ but the heart, which can easily command that hellish language into the tongue. If you should pluck out your eyes and never see any object to excite your unclean heart, yet you may still be as filthy a person as before. Your own corrupt heart and Satan would incline you so. And though you never had a foot to go, or a hand to stir, yet you might be as much a thief as Judas. (23-24)

If you could get another heart, you would look with another eye. The only way to make temptations lose their force is to decline occasions and to cleanse the inward parts. (24)

For some awesome excerpts from John Owen’s classic work on the mortificaiton of sin, click here.

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