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Is Worry A Sin? Answers from the Life of Jesus

Is worry a sin? Here we explore this question by looking at the life of Jesus for answers.

Anxiety workbook for kids

You just need more faith.

Worry shows you don’t trust God.

You just need to control your mind better.

These are just some of the things you might hear people in the church say when it comes to the topic of anxiety and worry. Anxiety is on the rise, both in and outside of the church. What are we to make of this? Are believers sinning when they worry? Let’s look at what worry is and what the life and words of Jesus teach us about worry.

What is worry?

Worry is simply a cognitive process that involves thoughts about a feared or unknown future. When we think about an upcoming event that we are excited about, we call that daydreaming. When we think about an upcoming event that is scary or unknown, we call that worry.

Worry can be productive or unproductive. Productive worry is the kind of worry that helps you get projects done on time for your boss. Productive worry may motivate you to meet deadlines or make a good impression. This type worry motivates you to work harder, stay a bit later, and do your very best. Productive worry creates an action plan and leads you to make changes. If I am worried about what I am going to make for dinner, but then check the fridge, seek out a recipe, and set a time to start making it, that was productive worry. Once actions are taken or a plan is set in motion, this type of worry stops.

Unproductive worry, on the other hand, does not generate action steps, has no resolution, and does not create change. Unproductive worry makes people feel stuck and helpless. Those two feelings are perceived as threats to your brain so it will keep trying to find a way out. Worry is your brain’s attempt to “think your way out” of an unsolvable situation. Unproductive worry can lead to high levels of stress and symptoms of anxiety.

Anxiety is an emotion that we feel in our bodies. It includes sensations such as sweaty palms, dry mouth, and rapid heart rate. These all have a biological function which is to prepare our body to fight or flee from the threat.

Worry takes place in the mind and anxiety shows up in the body. Anxiety symptoms can pop up without any real reason. And if we ascribe threat or danger to these body signals, worry is born and anxiety symptoms will increase. Worry is a symptom of anxiety and anxiety can be a result of persistent worry. They are connected.

What Jesus says about worry

Jesus himself says “do not worry” (or a version of that) in a few different places in Scripture:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

“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 life not more than food, and the body more than clothes?” Matthew 6:25

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34

Is Jesus saying we are sinning if we worry? I don’t hear that reflected in His language in these passages. These exhortations by Jesus are not a command in the same way the 10 Commandments are. I think they are words of encouragement, straight from the heart of Christ.

Jesus knew what it was like to live in this fallen world. He knew we would have trouble here (John 16:33) and that trouble would lead to worry. Jesus’ heart of compassion for us is what is on display here. He wants us to remember who He is, who His Father is and that we can take heart that He has overcome this worry-filled world. We will worry, but we don’t have to stay mired in it. We can experience worry and anxiety AND know that He cares for us, and offers us His peace.

In an interview with biblical parent coach, BJ Meurer of Jesus Help Me Parent, and I talked about worry in kids and we addressed this topic of worry as a sin.

Did Jesus worry?

Jesus had a whole host of emotions. He felt sad when His friend died (John 11:35). He felt angry when people disrespected His Father’s house (Matthew 21:12-17). He felt compassion when he observed all the suffering people (Matthew 9:36). He felt joy when His disciples returned from their missions trip (Luke 10:21).

And in the Garden of Gethsemane, he felt anxiety, worry and fear. We learn from Luke (the physician) that Jesus’ sweat was like drops of blood. Some scholars have thought that to be hyperbole. But there is a medical explanation. Under intense anguish, there is a biological process that can cause people to sweat blood. The cross was not a feared future for Jesus. It was known. As God, He knew what every whip would feel like, every nail through His flesh. He was experiencing an intense threat response and even asked His Father for another way.

Would any of us be so bold to say to Jesus in those moments, “Don’t worry about it! Trust God’s plan for your life! He’s got this!” I think not. He was in anguish. And that anxiety, worry, and dread He experienced was not sin.

And you are not sinning if you experience any of those things either.

Can worry become a sin?

The worried thoughts that pop into your head or the feeling of constriction in your throat that arises when you are anxious are not sins.

But can they become so?

Sins are things that separate us from God. Unchecked, worry can lead to sinful behaviors. This, I believe, is what Jesus is warning us about in the Scriptures above. We will worry. We will feel anxiety, but it is not God’s best for us to stay there. When we feed them, give them full reign, sinful behavior can be a result.

For example, if you are worried about getting a bad grade and then cheat on your test to earn a higher score, that worry has led to sin. If you feel anxious about an upcoming move and you drink to drunkenness in order to cope, anxiety has given birth to sin. If you are worried about your friend’s choices and proceed to yell at her and degrade her for what she is doing, that worry has led to sin.

You can have the thought. You don’t have to buy the thought. You can feel the anxiety, but you don’t have to act on it. We always have choice – it may not feel like it, but we do.

We can think of worry and anxiety as an opportunity for a choice. We can experience them and then choose behaviors that take us towards the people and things that are important to us, or we can choose “away moves” – those behaviors that might decrease the uncomfortable experience temporarily, but take us away from our values and God’s calling on our life.

(Image credit: The ACT matrix)

It is in this pause, this space of choice, that God wants to minister to your heart. He wants to meet you at that “choice point” and speak to your heart -remind you that you are loved, that He has a plan, and that He will give you what you need for the next moment.

Jesus faced a choice point in the Garden. He struggled with his anguish. He cried out to God. He asked for another way. And then He submitted to the will of His Father. Angels came to minister to Him and He got up and made the most powerful “towards move” in history.

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:6-11.

If your child is struggling with worry, check out my worry workbook for Christian kids. It’s full of strategies to help children understand and overcome anxiety.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for treatment from a qualified mental health professional. Cornerstones for Parents is not liable for any advice, tips, techniques, and recommendations the reader chooses to implement.

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About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed clinical social worker who offers individual therapy to women and moms in Connecticut. She is the author of More Than a Conqueror, A Christian Kid's Guide to Winning the War on Worry. Cornerstones for Parents is the place she combines some of the things she is most passionate about: God's word, parenting and mental health.

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