Updated: Apr 14
If you're experiencing depression or know someone who is, learning how to deal with it in a biblical way is likely of great importance. I want to help you to do just that by providing some simple steps to dealing with and overcoming depression so that you can experience the transforming power of Jesus. I've struggled with depression for much of my adult life, and these steps have helped me to deal effectively, biblically, and successfully with the challenge of depression.
What is an appropriate biblical definition of depression? Asking and answering this question first is important because it helps us to have some common ground and ensure that we are talking about the same thing. When counseling, when someone reports that they are depressed, I'll ask, "When you say you're depressed, what does that look like? How do you know?" Depression can talk various forms. It's important that we are able to address the right symptoms and the right root cause. We can define severe depression as "a permanent spirit of heaviness or gloom that affects, controls, and dominates every area of a person's life, and it's characterized by utter hopelessness."
Simple Steps for Overcoming Depression
1. Get in a right relationship with God.
We obtain the power to overcome sin through a relationship with Jesus Christ. We believe that depression is an affliction of the soul caused by our sin nature, and we need God's grace to renew our hearts and minds. Ephesians 2:12-14 exhorts us to "Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world." Additionally, Ephesians 4:17-24 says,
"Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness."
In Christ, there is the renewed capacity to walk in what the Bible calls "the newness of life" to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This is essential when it comes to overcoming depression.
The Bible is clear that sin needs to be acknowledged, confessed, and repented from. In Psalm 32, David described the effects of unconfessed sin. In it, he says, "When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long…I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide." Unconfessed sin can cause pinned-up guilt and shame, which lead to depression.
Regarding our responses to difficult circumstances, let's look at Philippians 4:4, which says, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say rejoice." Of course, this doesn't mean that we are forcing a smile when things are difficult but that we acknowledge God's sovereignty - that he is ultimately in control and is working things out for our eternal benefit and his glory. James 1:2 says to consider it a great joy when you and I experience trials, for we know that spiritual maturity will be the end result. When we harbor bitterness over our circumstances, we cultivate a heart atmosphere in which depression grows.
We also need to ensure there is biblical thinking. God must not be an "add-on," meaning that God seeks to transform our entire being, including how we think about life - our worldview. The Bible says to be transformed (in action) through renewing our mind (our manner of thought). This involves our expectations. For example, expecting that our lives will be free of difficulty is unbiblical thinking. If we fail to have realistic (meaning biblical expectations), we will experience a lot of disillusionment, which leads to depression.
3. Become committed to community. Much of what holds an individual in depression can be broken by the influence of a group of faithful friends. Close friends can lighten the load of life's responsibilities when we are injured or worn out. They can help us change our heart's narrative when we become stuck in a depressing cycle. The Bible says, "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity."
This role of faithful friends can not be filled by passing acquaintances but by brothers and sisters committed during times of adversity. Faithful friends pray, and faithful friends act. If you do not have a group of 2 or 3 faithful friends, I want to encourage you to make a list of people with whom you can cultivate a close relationship. Then, pray for them and intentionally develop a relationship wherein you can be safe in sharing your struggles and call on them during times of adversity. Depression is a complex issue but overcoming it is possible. Being in right relationship with God, coming to agree with God regarding our circumstances, and being connected in community will help you in the process of overcoming depression.
Ryan A. Sturgis, M.A.
Pastor of Counseling
Capital Baptist Church, Annandale Va.