Anxiety and depression affect all kinds of people, regardless of spiritual development and maturity. The Bible helps us see that faith can flourish even amid fear or anguish. Yet there’s a tension here: following Christ doesn’t prevent us from struggling, but we’re called to struggle differently than those who don’t follow Christ.
One way we become different is by meditating on God’s Word: drawing out its implications, being curious about what we read, and concretely connecting Scripture to our life circumstances. Our struggles are certainly impacted by various social, biological, psychological, and spiritual factors, so seeking advice from a medical doctor may be an important part of the process. But Paul reminds us in Romans 12:2 that our thought life has a substantial ability to effect change. He encourages us to be transformed by the “renewing” of our minds. But how does that renewal happen?
Acknowledge and Remember
Reading the Bible doesn’t guarantee an absence of fear, hopelessness, despair, or worry. That’s not the transformation promised to us. Instead, the gospel compels us to grow increasingly like Christ—even if our circumstances or suffering don’t change. Thus the real evidence of spiritual maturity isn’t found in the absence of mental health struggles but instead in how we respond to them. The author of Lamentations gives us a helpful model:
My soul continually remembers [my affliction]
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end. (Lam. 3:20–22)
We can acknowledge the depth of our suffering while also choosing to remember God’s character and promises. As we do this, God’s living and active Word (Heb. 4:12) works within us, helping us orient our hearts around him. Scripture offers many hopeful truths we can call to mind. Here are four that have helped me and those I counsel.
The real evidence of spiritual maturity isn’t found in the absence of mental health struggles but instead in how we respond to them.
1. We’re not alone.
In my stress and anxiety, I often feel isolated and alone. I have to figure this out, and it’s on my shoulders to bear this burden. But right in the middle of this difficulty, I can find hope in Christ’s promise to remain with me in everything (Matt. 28:20).
This promise can feel trite in moments of suffering, but we have to remember its significance in Christian theology. The entire biblical narrative is grappling with the question of how a holy God can remain present among sinful people. Mending the broken relationship between God and humanity matters so much to God that he sent his son to suffer and die. God’s presence with me means I’m never truly alone, regardless of how I feel. He brought heaven to earth to ensure this reality.
2. We’re united to Christ.
When we identify with Christ, we must reflect on him as our replacement. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Consider this for a moment: through faith, Christ becomes our righteousness! Depression and anxiety can discourage us and compel us to form an identity around our fear or hopelessness. I can easily forget that sin is my biggest problem and Christ has already redeemed me from its power. Since God already did this, how can I not also trust him with my other struggles (Rom. 8:32)?
The gospel encourages me to live with a new reality: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Christ invites us to identify with him through our suffering. In Christ, we find the strength to face the challenges each day brings.
3. We’re part of a greater redemptive story.
The biblical narrative shows us how to view our trials and suffering. My fears matter deeply to God, but they’re not the whole story. In fact, the challenges I’ve faced have revealed how inclined I am toward self-reliance. God is planning something much bigger than just fixing the problem as I see it. Instead, he’s using my trials to change me (Rom. 8:28–29).
Romans 8 is one of my favorite chapters in the whole Bible because it reminds me that even the fallenness of all creation can’t destroy God’s purposes and plan to use everything for good. That doesn’t mean life for Christ-followers will be easy, but it does mean that trials and suffering have purpose. God is forever committed to his glory and our growth in Christlikeness. Nothing is wasted.
4. We have the hope of eternity.
The apostle Paul reminds us in his letter to the Corinthians, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17–18).
We might be tempted to think that Paul is diminishing the pain and difficulty of suffering, but Paul isn’t inexperienced with suffering. He was whipped, shipwrecked, sleepless, hungry, and surrounded by danger on every side (2 Cor. 11:24–28). Furthermore, he experienced so much pressure that he “despaired of life itself” (2 Cor. 1:8–9). So when Paul says our affliction is “momentary,” he’s not speaking as one who suffered for only a moment.
Rather, Paul comes to this conclusion by drawing his mind toward the eternal. He calls his suffering “light” and “momentary” because it cannot compare with the eternal “weight of glory” prepared for those who know and follow Christ. My hope isn’t in the absence of stress, fear, or despair; rather, my hope is in the future glory awaiting me through Christ, regardless of how my circumstances end or how I emotionally respond to them.
My hope isn’t in the absence of stress, fear, or despair; my hope is in the future glory awaiting me through Christ.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that renewing our minds occurs best in relationships with other people. The very next set of verses after Paul describes renewing our minds emphasizes the importance of the body of Christ (Rom. 12:3–8). Learning to draw out truths from Scripture and connect them to your particular circumstances takes time and practice. Discussing these things with another mature believer or a biblical counselor may be a great step toward making those connections more salient.