Is Worrying a Sin?
- Shelby Turner Author
- 2020 27 Jul
The thing about worry is it doesn’t need any help entering into our thoughts. No one has to teach us how to do it. Even when life is at its best, we can find a reason to worry. It comes to us as naturally as taking our next breath. But what does the Bible say about worry? Is it really a sin? How should Christians handle the thoughts of fear that arise in our minds? Is worrying a normal part of life or is it a sin that God asks us to avoid?
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Worry Has a Way of Creeping In
I remember how worry crept into one of the most idyllic days of my life. My husband and I were a few days into our week-long honeymoon stay in Jamaica. We were young and in love and in paradise. It was perfection.
We’d lounge by the pool for a while then throw our towels over our shoulders and wander into the bar and grill where we’d order whatever our hearts desired for lunch. And what else was there to do after our meal but hit the beach? We’d walk a tropical trail to a smooth, sandy beach draped with hammocks where a generous staff waited to meet our every need. Who could find a reason to fret in such a lovely paradise? My husband, that’s who.
I remember he seemed a little off that day. He was distant and disconnected so I asked him if something was wrong. He said that because we had been unable to reach his parents back home earlier that day, he had a nagging feeling that something bad had happened and he was unaware. He couldn’t enjoy the paradise all around us because his head and heart were wrapped up in the unknown.
We took a moment to slip into the clubhouse and shoot his parents an email to null his fears. And by that evening they had replied, all was well. They had simply missed the call. Even in the midst of paradise, worry has a way of creeping into our minds and hearts.
What Does the Bible Say about Worry?
Worry was as relevant a topic in the Old and New Testament as it is today. Inner angst isn’t new, and anxiety isn’t something unique to the current culture. I hope it’s reassuring to you to hear that the Bible has a lot to say about worry. If you have felt the crushing weight of your dread and doubts, you are certainly not alone and by no means out of reach of God’s hand.
Proverbs 12:25 tells a truth many of us have lived, “Anxiety weighs down the heart.” The words “weighs down” in this verse mean not just burdened, but weighed down to the point of being forced to lay down on the ground, unable to move. Maybe you too have felt the paralyzing grip of fear and worry.
The Bible also gives us hope for the way God works in those who worry. Psalm 94:19 says, “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” God brings hope filled encouragement for those consumed by cares and their hearts are made joyful again.
Jesus also spoke about worry in the sermon on the mount in Matthew 6:31-32, "Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”
Jesus says not to worry and then gives us a rock-solid reason to fret less: your heavenly Father knows what you need and if he knows your needs, he will surely take care of you just as he cares for all creation.
Philippians 4:6 also gives us a formula for how to handle worry when it does arise. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
The Bible makes it clear that worry will happen, but we get to choose how we’ll respond to it. We can channel the inner turmoil that worry brings and choose to let it motivate us to present our needs to God.
And then the next verse, Philippians 4:7 tells us what will happen after we present our requests to God. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
It seems the Bible agrees that worry is a difficult issue, while simultaneously telling us not to worry. Is the Bible commanding us to never be afraid or anxious? What if we do feel anxious? Are we breaking a command of the Bible? Does that mean that it’s a sin to worry?
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Is It a Sin to Worry?
The answer is both yes and no. Worry exists on a scale. On the one side of the scale, there’s the fleeting thoughts of “did I forget to take the trash out?” And “how will I survive the morning if we’re out of coffee?” Small worries, small cares – I don’t see any sin here. But on the other side of the scale we see bigger worries that come with deep, intense cycles of thought.
On this side you might find a constant fear that danger is always lurking right around the corner. You could also find a consuming fear of all of the unknowns the future holds or even an overactive imagination that is always dreaming of the ways your relationships may end in abandonment and rejection.
Somewhere along that scale, fear and worry switches from small to sinful. Where exactly does that mark lie? I believe it’s wherever fear displaces God as the center of your heart and mind.
Truthfully, it’s hard for me to even type that sentence because I know that personally, my worries become my focus daily, hourly, even minutely some days. I’ve tried to find a way around calling worry sin, I’ve tried to justify it in every way imaginable. But I can’t. It’s simply true that worry can easily become sinful.
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How Do We Know It Is a Sin to Worry?
I realize that to call one of the most common emotions that humans feel sinful holds a lot of weight. So, let’s break it down a little bit. How exactly do we know worry is a sin? We must first start with defining what makes something sinful. In the original Hebrew and Greek scriptures, the word sin was never directly used. Instead there are as many as fifty terms that describe the many facets of what modern Bible translations call sin.
The Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology does a fantastic job of synthesizing all of the original terms for sin into this description: “The Bible typically describes sin negatively. It is lawlessness, disobedience, impiety, unbelief, distrust, darkness as opposed to light, a falling away as opposed to standing firm, weakness not strength. It is unrighteousness, faithlessness.”
If we hold our worries under this light and begin to assess them, it becomes clear that fears can be sinful. Can you see it?
What will they think if I don’t go to this movie with them? It’s only a little nudity. I’m strong, I’ll be fine.
Worry that keeps us from obediently following God and his word is sin.
I know that God says he will continue working in my life until he finishes the good work he started (Philippians 1:6) but I’ve made so many mistakes. How could he ever fix this?
Worry that leads us to unbelief in God and his word is sin.
There’s no hope for the desperate situation in my life. I’ve tried it all and still my problems remain. I don’t think things can ever change.
Worry that leads to distrust in God is sin.
Worries are such a common occurrence in our minds that it may be hard to know when they’re present and when they turn from innocent thought to sinful. Let the definition of sin above be a checklist for you. What worry is currently at the forefront of your mind? Is it causing any distrust, unbelief, disobedience, falling away, unrighteousness or faithlessness in you? If it is, chances are your worry has become a sin and it’s in need of a face-to-face meeting with the Savior. We’ll talk about this in a moment, but there is great hope to be found when your fear meets the gaze of Jesus!
Worry vs. Anxiety
Sometimes worry becomes more than just thoughts and feelings. It can begin to control every aspect of life physically, mentally and emotionally. When worry becomes chronic and controlling it may be classified as anxiety. Some people have anxiety disorders that need care from trained medical professionals. For these people, hearing that worry is a sin probably isn’t going to be at all helpful. The path to freedom from anxiety when you have a diagnosed anxiety disorder may include medication, therapy, coping strategies and a number of other treatments that a medical professional prescribes.
However, biblical truth also has a vital role in helping someone overcome an anxiety disorder. It’s a piece of the puzzle that will help bring clarity, order and most of all compassion to the hurting soul that daily struggles with crippling anxiety.
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How Do We Stop Sinful Worrying?
Ridding your mind and heart of sinful worry won’t happen overnight. Surrendering fears to the sovereignty of God isn’t a one-time thing. It’s a continual conversation with God through prayer and his word. And the conversation begins by being willing to admit that in some areas, you’ve allowed your fear of the past, present or future to overtake your faithfulness and obedience to God.
Psalm 139:23-24 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” If you’re not sure how to begin the path to freedom from worry, start by praying these words. Ask God to sift through every corner and crevice of your heart and give him permission to lead wayward thoughts of worry back onto his path of life.
And then keep having that conversation. Don’t sweep your fears under a rug in an embarrassed attempt to hide them. Instead, drag them into the light and do just what Philippians 4:6 tells you, make your requests known to God so that his peace (not your wisdom) may guard your heart and mind. There have been numerous times when the cares of my heart are so many that the only way I know to find relief is to list each one and then pray through the list one by one.
And let me just leave you with this one last thought: Jesus has great compassion for your worry, your anxiety and your fears. He doesn’t have a balancing scale in his hands weighing on one side the times you’ve distrusted him and on the other the times you’ve chosen to trust. He knew that worry would plague you. He knew that it would cause you to sin against him. And he has taken that sin upon himself once and for all. Worry may persist but his sacrifice covered it all (Hebrews 9:26).
Therefore, we have access to all the help we need for all the worries that arise. God will continue to have this conversation with us over our worries until the day we die. He will forgive every time! Worry may persist, but God’s forgiveness persists even more.
Doriani, D. (1996). Sin. In Evangelical dictionary of biblical theology (electronic ed., pp. 736–739). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
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Shelby Turner is a stay-at-home-mom, speaker and writer who lives in Kansas City, Missouri. She is all about helping women kick the pursuit of a picture-perfect life to the curb and inspiring them to live a purposeful life instead. She founded The Gathering, a bold, no fluff monthly event that connects women with God in a real way. She’d love for you to follow along with her on Instagram at @shelbyraeturner or connect with her on her website www.shelbyraeturner.com.