This was a question I received recently. I wrote a brief reply, and decided to share it here. Without revealing any personal details!
It would be nice to have a simple yes or no to the question, ‘Is worry a sin?’ I think my answer is ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘wrong category’.
Why ‘yes’? Because some worry is wrong.
A great place to see this is Matthew 6:25-34. Jesus’ words here are more than helpful tips, or cognitive skills (though they probably are that). They address loved disciples who struggle with ‘little faith’ (v.30), who need reminding that their Father knows their needs (v.32), and who are tempted to pursue a Gentile worldly-focus (v.32). I suggest that this anxiety issues from following the wrong master (Mat 6:24). That is, some anxiety stems from turning to a substitute god. Perhaps we see that Martha made this anxiety error, while Mary chose the better way (Luke 10:38-42). Therefore the anti-anxiety prescription – or rather the faithful obedience prescription – is to seek first the kingdom of heaven (v.33).
But why also ‘no’? Because the Bible paints some worry as very commendable.
Though Jesus’ death was a unique ministry, his prayerful torment in the Garden of Gethsemane expresses very real human emotion. He was right to be concerned! Paul speaks of his worry for all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:28). These concerns were part of his being an apostle – part of his service of Jesus. He also writes of the anxieties of being married compared with the single-minded anxiety to serve Jesus an unmarried person can have (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). The ‘worries’ of both married and single are good are proper.
What do I mean by ‘wrong category’? I think some worry is neither sin nor obedience, but illness.
We’re increasingly aware of mental health problems, and that’s a good awareness. I understand that ‘anxiety’ is the most common type of mental illness. Of course this covers a multitude of types anxiety. We cannot completely un-couple mental health from our spiritual state – they do relate – but there is a difference. When it comes to help and treatment, I suggest using mental health professionals and not becoming introspective about ‘my faith not fixing the anxiety’. To put it differently, use the therapy or medication as needed, and don’t make Christian faith revolve around mental state. Instead, seek to grow as a whole-of-life disciple (Bible & prayer & church & service) and address the matters of worry as one segment of the larger whole. In dealing with any illness, we must remember that we are defined by being ‘in Christ’, not by being ‘in therapy.’
Finally, and touching all of this, the Bible makes it wonderfully clear that change is possible. God does not condemn his children, but transforms us by his Spirit. This is part of how we read Philippians 4:6. God desires to take away our anxieties. It will be a life-long process, but it will happen, and prayer is one of the key ways to shed the worries. I think God changes us in our sinful worries, in our right worries, and even in our illness worries.
Thanks again for asking,