Christians face numerous personal issues throughout their lives in this fallen world. Spiritual, emotional, physiological, and material life issues frequently occupy the minds and hearts of believers. The theological truth of Scripture speaks to every aspect of a believer’s life. Accordingly, Christians must seek to understand how Scripture applies to many of the complex issues of life. Some of the life issues that Christians may face include anger, anxiety, apostasy, loss of assurance of salvation, backsliding, bitterness, death, depression, doubt, fear, grief, guilt, legalism, money and stewardship, oaths and vows, pride, providence, retirement, shame, suffering, and suicide.
Life in this fallen world is fraught with hardships, trials, and burdens that weigh heavily on the hearts of believers. The Bible teaches that Adam brought all of the sin and miseries of life into the fallen world when he disobeyed God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism explains the effects of the fall when it states, “All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all the miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever” (Q&A 19). While we recognize that Christ has come into the world to atone for our sins and to make all things new, we also recognize that between His first and second comings we will have to deal with many difficult and burdensome life issues.
All the miseries of life are due to Adam’s sin (Gen. 3:17–18; Rom. 5:12–21; 8:19–23). Adam was the federal head of humanity. His disobedience brought the curse on all his descendants. Some of the miseries of life, however, owe to personal sin (1 Cor. 11:29–30; James 5:15). God calls professing believers to self-examination so that they might discern whether they are living in unrepentant sin (1 Cor. 11:28; 2 Cor. 13:5). In love, God disciplines believers for particular sins (Heb. 12:5–13). However, there is not always a direct correlation between personal sin and suffering. Scripture warns us against drawing the conclusion that others are suffering on account of personal sin (Job 16:2; John 9:1–3).
Many of the life issues Christians wrestle with originate internally. Anger, anxiety, assurance, bitterness, depression, doubt, fear, grief, guilt, legalism, pride, and shame are all matters that begin in a person’s inner life. Some are sinful responses to providential situations and circumstances. Others—such as clinical depression—may be mental or physiological. Due to the complexity of the relationship between our bodies and our spirits—and the impact of having a fallen body—great wisdom and caution are needed in addressing internal matters. Believers may be struggling with internal issues stemming from mental illness, and may be in need of the common grace of medicine.
Nevertheless, in Scripture, God has “granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3). The Bible speaks clearly to the issues of anxiety, depression, doubt, and fear—tracing their origins and giving us spiritual remedies. Anxiety leaves people with the unsettled sense of the loss of control. Proverbs 12:25 says, “Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.” The Apostle Paul set out the remedy for anxiety when he told the members of the church in Philippi: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6–7). The Scriptures also speak to how the gospel deals with a believer’s doubts, guilt, shame, assurance of salvation, pride, legalism, and bitterness. The gospel is ultimately the answer to all the burdens that fill the believer’s mind (Matt. 11:28–30; 1 John 1:9)—giving hope and renewal in the place of spiritual depression and despair.
Many life issues concern issues of stewardship. For instance, believers care about how to manage their time, money, and resources to the glory of God. Christians often ask legitmate questions about their possessions. The Bible reveals a great deal about how to possess and use material goods to the glory of God. Scripture guides us in matters related to stewardship and giving as well as in building wealth and retirement. Additionally, believers need the guidance of God’s Word on the propriety of contracts and on making and keeping oaths and vows. God calls His people to apply biblical principles to every life situation they face.
Outwardly, sin creates misery all around us. It affects our environment, ourselves, and our relationships. God cursed the ground and all other creatures because of humanity’s sin (Gen. 3:17–18). The earth, as it were, groans under our feet because God subjected it to futility because of us. It ‘longs’ for the day when God will liberate it from sin’s curse at Christ’s return (Rom. 8:19–23). This is why mankind always seems to have trouble harmonizing with our environment. Many evils come to our bodies in the form of disease, illness, old age, and other infirmities. We often suffer evil to our good names, whether through our own fault or through false accusations. Our finances fluctuate, our houses are damaged in storms, we lose jobs, and we face uncertain futures. Our marriages and relationships with our children and neighbors can become strained. Human beings become enemies to one another because humanity is at enmity with God (Rom. 8:7).
Spiritual depression is real and can be acute. We ask how a person of faith could experience such spiritual lows, but whatever provokes it does not take away from its reality. Our faith is not a constant action. It is mobile. It vacillates. We move from faith to faith, and in between we may have periods of doubt when we cry, ‘Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief.’ We may also think that the dark night of the soul is something completely incompatible with the fruit of the Spirit, not only that of faith but also that of joy. Once the Holy Spirit has flooded our hearts with a joy unspeakable, how can there be room in that chamber for such darkness? It is important for us to make a distinction between the spiritual fruit of joy and the cultural concept of happiness. A Christian can have joy in his heart while there is still spiritual depression in his head. The joy that we have sustains us through these dark nights and is not quenched by spiritual depression. The joy of the Christian is one that survives all downturns in life.
The way we grieve is different because the hope we possess is different. Our hope is not in ourselves. We would fail just as our first father failed, sinning against his Father, bringing grief and shame not only to himself but to the entire human race. For in Adam we all sinned, and in Adam we all died (Rom. 5:12). As a result, we suffer with grief every day of our lives—grief over the loss of others, over the sin of others, and over the sin within us. However, our grief cannot even begin to be compared to the grief of the one who knew no sin. The Man of Sorrows became acquainted with grief (Isa. 53:3) so that He might bear our grief and carry away our sorrows (v. 4). All this was done so that we might know our heavenly Father who loved us and gave His only-begotten Son, laying on Him the iniquity of us all, so that we might live eternally coram Deo, before His face, loving Him and enjoying Him forever. The first man sinned and grieved only for himself, but the second Man knew no sin yet grieved for us so that we would not grieve forever.