I have struggled with anxiety longer than I really know. It's like anxiety unpacked its bags one day and decided it was going to reside in my heart and mind. Sometimes I can pinpoint what fear is causing my anxiety to grow, but other times it comes like a wave over me, and I'm left choking under its waters.
Being a Christian who struggles with anxiety has fed many lies in my mind. I have felt as if my faith was deficient because of my anxiety–that maybe I wasn't doing enough in my relationship with the Lord, and this was the result. I would compare myself to other believers which led me to believe that I was less of a Christian for struggling in this way.
Recently, I was scrolling on Facebook when I came across a status that read, "Anxiety and Jesus can't abide together." While I don't know the full intention of this status or the breadth of what this friend was trying to communicate, I believe that this message could have harmful implications if taken the wrong way.
Anxiety is difficult as there are both mental and spiritual realities involved. Personal sin can result in anxiety, but not every instance of anxiety is due to sin in one's life. For those with anxiety, reading this status can make them feel like they can't have a relationship with Christ while also struggling with anxiety. On the other hand, if they read this status and think that following Christ means there will be no ounce of suffering, they can easily tread into the waters of prosperity gospel. So, rather than being defeated or misled by this status, let us unpack what it truly means to abide with Christ in our anxiety.
Abiding in the Vine
To remain, or abide, with Christ means to have a personal relationship with Him. Through Christ's work on the cross, we are united to Him, we belong to Him, and He belongs to us. This union with Christ secures us to Him. While our salvation keeps us secure in Him, Christ calls us to abide in Him further through a daily walk of deep intimacy with Him. The language of abiding in Christ comes from John 15. In this passage, Jesus compares Himself to a vine, and believers to the branches. He says:
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:1-5 ESV)
If we skip over the first part of this verse and jump right to abiding with Christ, we miss a crucial element of our relationship with Jesus. Through the work of atonement on the cross, those who trust in Jesus are cleansed by His blood. Our sins are washed away, and we are forgiven–blameless and pure in the eyes of God. But while the penalty of our sin is gone, the presence of sin remains.
While there are multiple reasons for the presence of anxiety, the ultimate reason for it is the result of living in a fallen world. Perfect union and fellowship with the Lord once resulted in a mind free from anxiety. But the entrance of sin from the fall brought with it deep and dark suffering. Anxiety, depression, and other forms of mental and spiritual struggles are present and won't be eradicated until the day Christ returns. Because we still live in a fallen world, we battle the effects of sin. While there are testimonies of believers who have said that the Lord has done a work in their lives to remove anxiety and other suffering, others, like Charles Spurgeon, suffered their entire lives. In either situation, no one believer is better than the other. The one who has been freed from anxiety and depression is not cleaner in the eyes of Christ than the believer who is still struggling. By the grace of Jesus, even in our earthly sins and struggles, we remain clean. When God sees me, He doesn't see the monstrous face of anxiety but the gracious face of Jesus.
Not on Our Own
An important part of this passage is the statement, "you can do nothing without me." When anxiety rises in my heart, Christ reminds me that there is nothing I can do in my own strength to rid it. Just like I can't do anything in my own power to make myself clean, I cannot fight against the struggle of anxiety without the power of Christ. In Romans, Paul speaks of his battle with desiring to do good while also struggling with sin. He writes:
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:18-25)
Paul's struggle was against sin, but it also speaks to the struggle against the effects of sin. My fallen mind reels back and forth between resting in the faithfulness of the Lord and choking under the weight of anxiety. This mental battle causes me to cry out, "I cannot carry out what is good!" And to this, Jesus replies, "No, you cannot. You can do nothing without me." There is great freedom in surrendering to the fact that we cannot fight the battle against sin in this life without Jesus. Jesus has already declared victory over sin; He has delivered us from our sin and continues to deliver us now. This victory gives me hope as He delivers me from every anxious thought and will one day deliver me fully by transforming my mind to be freed from anxiety forever. But as I await that day, I continue to rest in the One who fights for me.
John 15 also teaches that we cannot produce fruit without the help of Jesus. This means that even with the presence of suffering, Christ's power enables us to produce the fruit of love, joy, and peace in our lives. Anxiety may seemingly choke the growth of fruit at times, but because we belong to the Vine, the abiding power of Christ causes life to break through. He will prune the areas of our life that are keeping us from spiritual growth and will give us the power to bear fruit.
A Secure Position
With Christ, our position on the vine means we have a great God who will fight off the thorns of sin that seek to wrap around His branches. This intimate position we have on the vine isn't due to anything we do but is possible because of what He has done. Unity with Christ means He welcomes us and delights in us, no matter what our sufferings may be. Because of the grace of Jesus, my anxiety doesn't change my position with Him. I may struggle with anxiety, but I'm ultimately in Christ. So, when the lies of the enemy whisper that I don't belong to Him because of my struggles, I can fight back with the truth that I am forever secured to the Vine. Experiencing times of anxiety doesn't mean I've fallen off the Vine; rather, it should remind me to cling to the Vine ever more tightly. Because I belong to the Vine, I don't have to allow anxiety to overwhelm me; I can rest in the peace that comes from abiding with my Savior. Even with the presence of anxiety, the presence of Christ rules stronger.