Question: "What is spiritual sickness?"
Answer: The Bible does not talk about spiritual sickness, except in metaphorical terms. Spiritual sickness can be thought of as an unsoundness of spirit, caused by sin. Just as physical sickness weakens the physical body, spiritual sickness weakens the spirit. Unbelievers are “spiritually sick” because they are separated from the Lord and stand in need of a relationship with Jesus Christ. In fact, they are more than sick; they are dead “in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Believers can also be spiritually sick in the sense that they are living in unconfessed sin or they are failing to pursue personal spiritual growth.
The Bible promotes what is spiritually enriching as opposed to what would cause us to be spiritually sick: “The fear of the LORD leads to life” (Proverbs 19:23). And, “Truly the righteous attain life, but whoever pursues evil finds death” (Proverbs 11:19). “Physical training is of some value,” Paul says, “but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). Godliness, righteousness, and the fear of the Lord are the remedy for spiritual sickness.
Believers in Christ are taught the importance of “wholesome teaching” (Titus 2:1, NLT) and the danger of unhealthy, false teaching (1 Timothy 1:3–7). Paul notes the goal of godly teaching is “love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).
Jesus spoke of sickness in a spiritual context in Matthew 9:9–13. When Jesus ate dinner at the home of a tax collector named Matthew, the Pharisees questioned why He ate with such sinners. Jesus answered, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12–13). In this metaphor, Jesus compares Himself to a doctor who had come to help those who are sick. Matthew was a patient in need of healing. The sickness was sin, and Jesus was the Healer; that is, Jesus can forgive sin and restore the spiritually sick. Those who see themselves as “righteous,” however—those who, like the Pharisees, refuse to acknowledge their spiritual sickness—deny their need of a spiritual Doctor and thus remain in their sin.
Spiritual sickness can be closely related to physical and emotional sickness. In Psalm 32, David writes of the impact his sick spirit had on other areas of his life: “My bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer” (verses 3–4). He also outlines the path to wholeness: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin” (verse 5). And David rejoices in the freedom that spiritual health brings: “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. . . . Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!” (verses 1–2, 11).
God desires us to be spiritually healthy. He wants us to live in His forgiveness, free from the penalty of sin, the power of Satan, and the accusations of a guilty conscience. “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Any spiritual sickness or malaise of the soul has at its root a sin in the heart that should be confessed to the Lord, who promises to forgive (1 John 1:9). The will of God is for us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen” (2 Peter 3:18).