Reading the above title may sound odd to some readers. How is the Christian gospel relevant to mental illness? Is not the gospel a truth-claim that is relevant only for matters of spirituality and religion? How does the gospel of Jesus give hope to those suffering from mental illness? This short article seeks to answer two questions that demonstrate the relevance of the gospel of Jesus to matters of mental health. First, what is the gospel, and second, how does the gospel help those struggling with mental illness?
What Is the Gospel?
The English word gospel simply means “good news.” This is no ordinary news—but what makes this news “good”? Let me unpack the gospel story as presented in the Christian Bible.
Creation and Fall
God, who is holy, created everything out of nothing for his own glory (Genesis 1:2; 1 John 1:5; Revelation 4:11). This includes man, whom God created after his own image (Genesis. 1:26-28). Man, however, sinned against God, and the consequence is death (Romans 5:12; 6:23). God’s holy wrath is revealed against all sinners, who in their ungodliness and wickedness suppress God’s truth (Romans 1:18). Man’s ultimate problem is sin and death.
Redemption and Restoration
Enter the gospel, the good news. In his great love, God sent Jesus to save his people from their sins. Jesus, who is fully God and fully man, lived a righteous life and died on a cross, absorbing God’s wrath in place of those who would believe in him (John 1:12; Romans 3:21-26; 5:12-21; 2 Corinthians 5:21). On the third day, he resurrected from the dead, demonstrating God’s acceptance of his sacrifice (Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:20-22). This is why the gospel is called the gospel of Jesus because it is the good news about Jesus’ death and resurrection for the salvation of mankind from God’s wrath. The response to the good news is repentance and faith. In light of the death and resurrection of Jesus, God calls everyone to repent of their sins and to trust in Jesus alone to save them (Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21; Romans 10:9-10).
The story does not end in the cross and resurrection; it continues until Jesus comes back again to reverse the curse—the cause of all this pain—and completely make all things new. While Jesus is already making all things new today, his work will finally be completed when he comes back. On that day, there will be no pain, no sadness, no sin. For when we see him, we shall be like him.
How Does the Gospel Help Those with Mental Illness?
Make no mistake. Believing the gospel does not mysteriously overcome all issues of mental illness at once. The gospel of Jesus is not a “health and wealth gospel.” Rather, it’s a gospel that meets all of one’s spiritual needs through a relationship with the Christ who died and rose again. Those who believe the gospel make Jesus their superior treasure and satisfying comfort for life and death.
Hybrid of Medical and Spiritual Problems
Most cases diagnosed as mental illness are a hybrid of medical and spiritual problems. While medical problems certainly need medical solutions, spiritual problems necessitate spiritual help. Those who struggle with mental health fight battles against fear, loneliness, depression, perfectionism, unbelief, guilt, self-righteousness, hopelessness, helplessness, shame, suffering, stress, pain, sorrow, loss, or despair. These are more than physical problems; these are spiritual issues. While other coping mechanisms for mental health are helpful and have their own place, the gospel offers so much more. It attacks mental illness with hope-filled and freedom-giving gospel truths beyond the superficial symptoms and down to the core spiritual issues of mental illness.
Here are a few examples of what this looks like. The hallucinations of schizophrenia may be physical, yet the guilt that is often associated with it is clearly spiritual. But here is the good news of the gospel: Jesus took all the guilt of those who would believe in him (Romans 8:1). The death and resurrection of Jesus offer full forgiveness for all sins to those who would believe.
Similarly, the gospel message for those who are overwhelmed with shame is this: Jesus took the most shameful thing about us when he died on the cross so that we can be free from all shame. The gospel tells the believer who worries about being judged by others that God has already declared us justified in Christ, who else will dare condemn us (Romans 8:33-34)? The gospel gives hope to those who feel rejected by declaring them accepted by God in Christ (Ephesians 1:6). The gospel tells us that we cannot be perfect on our own, but Jesus lived a perfect life for us so we can make choices to please God only through Jesus. The gospel tells us that our ultimate identity is found in Christ—this is what defines us.
All Spiritual Needs Are Met through Jesus
Since the problems associated with mental illness are more than just medical issues but are rooted in spiritual needs, there is hope because all spiritual needs are met through Jesus. Someone suffering from depression as a side-effect of hyperthyroidism or another physical condition must also be helped to find hope and joy in Christ. Those suffering from purely physical problems need spiritual care too because they also need true hope through their suffering. The gospel does not guarantee that mental issues will be removed in this lifetime. Jesus cares about your problems, but his purpose is to rescue you from the worst of them–sin and death–which will eventually free you from all physical problems (cf. Romans 8:18-25). The gospel that saves us from sin is the gospel that gives fullness of joy (John 15:11) and inexplicable peace (Philippians 4:7) right now even through the midst of suffering.
To those who believe the gospel, Jesus is more than enough to help you with all your spiritual needs. The gospel is not only for an eternal life after death; it gives true, satisfying life here and now. Jesus said, “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). The gospel is the ultimate source of stabilizing hope and lasting joy.
Helpful Resources for Further Study:
- Jerry Bridges, The Gospel for Real Life: Turn to the Liberating Power of the Cross…Everyday
- Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel?
- Heath Lambert, The Gospel and Mental Illness
- C.J. Mahaney, Living the Cross-Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing
- Ed Welch, Blame It on the Brain? Distinguishing Chemical Imbalances, Brain Disorders, and Disobedience