Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Irma writes in to ask: “Pastor John, is discouragement a sin?”

It all depends on what we experience discouragement is for Irma and for me. Let’s make some distinc-tions between the sin-kind of discouragement and the non-sin-kind. I think it is helpful to compare dis-couragement to something like anger and irritation and sorrow for our sin, because I think all of those are possible without sin, and they are quickly converted into sin and the question is: What is the differ-ence?

So the Bible says: Be angry, but do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. And then it says in James: Be slow to anger. The anger of man does not work the righteousness of God. So anger is danger-ous. If you go to bed with it, if you come to it too quickly, if you stay with it too long, it is going to rot on you. And same thing with irritation. I always wondered about this, because it says in Acts 17 that Paul was irritated in his soul when he saw the idolatry. And, according to 1 Corinthians 13, love is not irritated. And it is the same word. And even though the word easily irritated is stuck in in the transla-tions it just says irritated. So there is irritation that love doesn’t do, and there is irritation that love does experience. There is a holy irritation that can pass quickly into sinful irritation. Same way with sorrow. It is right to feel remorse and sorrow when we sin, but if that sorrow starts to paralyze us, if it doesn’t willingly bow and receive grace, it is going to become a deadly and ungodly sorrow.

So those analogies help me when I come back now to discouragement and I say: It is right to be sad-dened and disappointed and disheartened by the sin in our lives, or the failures of other lives we see, or the sins that our family members or our church, or our pastor is committing. We see it and our hearts sink. We are sad. At this point I think that is a kind of discouragement, and yet I don’t think it is wrong to feel that way.

What did Jesus feel in Mark 9 when he said, “Oh, faithless generation? How long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” What was he just feeling when he felt? It seems like irritated, a holy irritation at the faithlessness of his disciples, a kind of a holy frustration that his efforts to bring them to faith is taking so long. That’s not sin in Jesus. It is not an expression of delight. He somehow is discouraged with the way they are.

So when we see faithlessness in others or in ourselves, we ought to disapprove. We ought to feel dis-heartened at failures of love and we ought to feel remorse at our sin and ache from a lostness of others. And the big question is: What is the or when does the good kind become the bad kind? And here are the things, I think, Irma should watch for. Watch for discouragement starting to turn into self-pity. Watch for discouragement starting to paralyze you and keep us from doing what we should. Watch for the threat to the abiding contentment that you have in God, so that you can’t say sorrowful yet always re-joicing. If that always rejoicing starts to be defeated by your discouragement, discouragement has got into the sinful category. When it leads us to doubt God’s goodness or his wisdom or his power, it has passed over into the sinful part. When it stamps our lives so that we are not outgoing and loving toward people anymore, we are just moping, feeling sorry for ourselves, and we are so preoccupied with our own discouragements we can’t love people anymore, we know our discouragement has become sin.

Thank you Pastor John. And thank you for listening to this podcast. Please email your questions to us at askpastorjohn AT desiringgod DOT org. At desiringgod DOT org you will find thousands of free books, articles, sermons, and other resources from John Piper. … I’m your host, Tony Reinke. Thanks for listening.