Temptation and Struggles Are Not Sin
[Paul and Barnabus] strengthen[ed] the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the
Yesterday we looked at various notable saints in the Bible who suffered from crippling, and sometimes paralyzing, depression. Now we’re going to look at a few examples of God’s choice servants who have likewise suffered in this manner. It may surprise you to learn that Martin Luther was among those who’ve struggled with depression.
The great hymn we all love to sing, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, was penned by the great sixteenth-century reformer, Martin Luther (1483-1546)—during his darkest days of depression. It was a testimony to God’s power to lift him out of the prison of his soul, back to hope and strength.
As a devoted pastor, he sought to bring spiritual counsel to struggling souls. His compassion for those souls shines in numerous places, including his sermons, lectures, Bible commentaries and table talks.3
Besides observing mental difficulties in others, Luther had a greater reason to affirm their reality—he also endured many periods of depression. He described his personal experience in varied terms: melancholy, heaviness, and depression; dejection of spirit, downcast, sad, and downhearted. He suffered this way for much of his life and often revealed these struggles in his works. Luther evidently did not think it a shameful problem to be hidden.
Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), who lit the fires of the nineteenth-century revival movement, struggled so severely with depression that he was forced to be absent from his pulpit for two to three months a year. In 1866 he told his congregation: “I am the subject of depressions of spirit so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to.” Those words were spoken in a sermon by Spurgeon whose marvelous ministry in
Dr. John Henry Jowett (1864-1923) pastored leading churches, preached to huge congregations, and wrote books that were best-sellers. In a message he confessed: “You seem to imagine that I have no ups and downs, but just a level and lofty stretch of spiritual attainment with unbroken joy and equanimity. By no means! I am often perfectly wretched and everything appears most murky.” Yet Dr. Jowett was often called in his day: “The Greatest Preacher in the English-speaking World!”
I could go on and on through the “Who’s Who” of ministry and find countless other testimonies that say the same. The point is this: Spirit-filled Christians can experience emotional problems. Some godly believers, especially those of certain temperaments, will always struggle with feeling “down.”
As we look back on history, we can conclude that many of these saints suffered because of physical conditions that prompted depression. One Christian medical doctor, who has spent his lifetime helping people, writes this:
Consider this thought experiment. Give me the most saintly person you know. If I were to administer certain medications of the right dosage, such as thyroid hormone, or insulin, I could virtually guarantee that I could make this saint anxious with at least one of these agents. Would such chemically induced anxiety be explained as a spiritual sin? What if the person’s own body had an abnormal amount of thyroid hormone or insulin and produced nervousness?4
We as believers should never condone willful sin, but we must learn to accept that some fellow believers may suffer from emotional symptoms that are not the result of unconfessed sin. It is possible to feel horrible, and be in great emotional anguish, and still be obedient to the Lord.
Consider what godly Job cried out in the midst of his suffering: “For sighing comes to me instead of food; my groans pour out like water. My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and they come to an end without hope. I despise my life. Surely, O God, you have worn me out; you have devastated my entire household. But if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him. And now my life ebbs away; days of suffering grip me. Night pierces my bones; my gnawing pains never rest. I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer ” (Job 3:24; 7:6, 16; 16:7; 23:8; 30:16-17, 20; NIV).
Notice that in spite of Job’s depression, the Bible says, In all this Job did not sin (1:22 NIV). Moreover, God reproved his friends for accusing him of sin and for their failure to speak rightly concerning His servant (see 42:7-8). We must never forget: Death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21). So when we notice that a sister or brother in Christ is struggling with depression, we must be careful to not be judgmental but to be an encourager instead!
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