“Fight the good fight of faith, take hold of the eternal life to which you were called…” (1 Timothy 6:12)
I have heard this scripture sometimes used as motivating counsel for people struggling with depression, anxiety and other life challenges. The premise is that life is a constant “spiritual battle” and we need to stay alert and motivated so “the enemy” doesn’t destroy our lives. Other times, I’ve heard this used to “fight” for new breakthroughs in your life.
There may be some value in those thoughts, but if you are living with depression, anxiety or any other mental health stressors here are a couple of different angles to help understand what it means to “fight the good fight.”
1. Spiritual fighting creates more weakness and exhaustion.
The context of this counsel (fight to keep the enemy at bay or personal breakthrough) can subtly associate depression and anxiety related stressors as a sign of defeat and loosing to “the enemy” (devil, demonic forces). Then, I have seen this lead people to wrestle with judgmental introspection, or examining from others, on why they’re losing “the fight.” The questions point to, “How’s your time with the Lord?” or “How’s your prayer life?” or “Is there anything in your life you need to get right with God?”. In the end, it’s a spiritual disciplines problem and the blame is on the person not “fighting” or not doing enough of to “break off” the depression or anxiety. It implies … “You do your part and God will do His.”
Faith is not motivated by behavior, it’s actually inspired by belonging.
Clinical research shows that people living with depression and/or anxiety have an overactive amygdala, which this overactivity disrupts the brain ability to process process thoughts and balance moods. This means the threat center in their brain is in constant fight, flight, or freeze mode. The counsel to keep “fighting the good fight” is re-triggering the amygdala to stay in high alert mode and self-interpreted as … “you’re not safe until you do ‘x, y, and z,’ and then God will relieve these burdens.” Thus, the depression or anxiety continues making faith more frustrating and exhausting.
For someone struggling with depression, anxiety, and other challenges is that this mindset (fight to keep the enemy at bay or personal breakthrough) leans more to “behavior before belonging,” as opposed to a healthier view of “belonging before behavior.” So, they are fighting with all their spiritual disciplines (behavior) as best they can to see a breaking off of the enemy’s attack and personal breakthrough (belonging). All this because their symptoms are associated as a frail faith and losing to the “attack of the enemy.” The problem comes when the depression, anxiety or other symptoms don’t go away in days, weeks, or even after a month. The questions are now, “I’m doing everything I can … Where is God … Why is God silent … Why is He not helping me?”. It triggers more depression and anxiety. Exhaustion sets in. Then, they want to give up on God.
A couple of years ago someone drove two hours to meet in person. This person explained they had done everything spiritually and going through all the professional care, some progress, but the symptoms remained. Then, they were counseled that it was a mere spiritual resolve and needed deliverance. They broke down and said, “I’m ready to give up on Jesus.” This person had been wrestling for months, but honestly we only discussed this for 10-20 minutes and they decided to “keep the faith,” with a new way of seeing Jesus in the journey. I didn’t have a magic formula, it was more that no one ever helped them personally question the spiritual formula given (above) and maybe try a new lens of grace and love. This person went on to become one of our amazing Living Grace Group facilitators … even still having symptoms (but at a less degree than before)!
2. Fight from secure rest vs. Fighting to achieve more freedom.
The context of this scripture (1 Timothy 6:12) is not a position of a mental or emotional failure or because you are weak, rather the apostle Paul is reminding us of our permanent security so you do not have to follow after the patterns of this world (or the lies about ourselves and wrong spiritual formulas).
“It’s not a ‘works’ fight, it’s a ‘focus’ fight.”
Paul is reminding us we have a WHOLE new identity (not of weakness) and because of this we can “fight” to stay focused on the eternal security we already have … even in depression, anxiety, or any other challenge. It’s not a works fight, it’s a focus fight. Because a great focus always leads to new ways of living, not vice versa!
Paul follows up saying “fight the good fight” by saying “take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.” This means your true identity and grace in Christ is already within reach … for any journey, condition, or circumstance. So, “fight the good fight” really means …
Don’t give up or give into anything contrary to what Christ has already fulfilled in you! Despite the condition (depression, anxiety, or other challenges) take hold of (focus on what you do have) and rest in your new creation reality!
Let’s review some scriptures just to highlight who we really are.
— Your breakthrough in Christ has already been fulfilled … Jesus already made a breakthrough once and for all, we are completely new and lacking in nothing, and no longer need to strive for more of God’s blessings or more spiritual breakthroughs. We are living out and growing from our new wholeness in Christ (Romans 6:10-11; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 1:3 and 2:14; 1 Peter 3:18).
— The wholeness and oneness with God is fulfilled, there is never any distance or separation … Jesus is at rest with us and we are at rest with Him; we are complete and have oneness in Him; He has already made us secure over-comers through faith; resting in our eternal security; no more striving to achieve more faith and freedom (Romans 5:1-2; Ephesians 2:13-18 Galatians 2:20; Colossians 1:27; Hebrews 4:11; 1 John 5:3).
— His grace works within us for our benefit (Growth) … We rest in knowing He is guiding us by grace and working in us toward His good advantage, will, and pleasure; no need to strain ourselves to get more grace or blessings (Romans 8:28, 32; Philippians 2:13).
— “I’m satisfied with you” … Christ is already our security as the author, perfecter, and finisher of faith and our lives … He cares for us through all of our afflictions and trials; no need to achieve or impress Him to be free from our painful circumstances (Philippians 1:6; Hebrews 12:2).
This is what we “take hold of” and rest in through the ups and downs of depression, anxiety, etc. God has given Himself for our journey — our weaknesses — a grace sufficient for every part of life that feels like a thorn. If God said He will be with us … I think He means it. Depression, anxiety, or other similar challenges is not a sign of God’s absents, it’s just the toils of this life, but we have one greater in us than in the world, working toward our advantage, good things (pleasure).
Jesus fought the good fight in secure rest, not insecure tests … for more works!
In the story of Jesus in the wilderness, the devil tempted Jesus by questioning His identity in relation to his pain or pride. If you notice, the questions were related to testing Jesus identity in order to create fear, prove Himself, and even give up His identity for earthly glories.
The devil tempted Jesus saying … “If you are the Son of God, then … (an action to prove His identity/Himself).” Jesus “fought the good fight” by resting in the Truth of who He was and secure relationship to the Father, not testing or proving it with works. Jesus responded with the Truth, “It is written you shall not put the Lord God to the test.”
Interesting, Jesus didn’t do anything except stand in the Truth of who He was and the devil departed and Jesus returned out of the wilderness in great power (Matthew 4 / Luke 4).
Life Hurts and So Does Mental Stress … So How Do We Endure in Rest?
When you get a cold, it affects your daily life, makes you feel miserable, slows you down, but it doesn’t affect who you are. You know it’s a condition and it takes simple rest, healthy options, and time to get better. Mental health difficulties are not comparable, or even on the same pain level, to a cold but the same principles can be applied:
a) Endure the hardship and fight the good fight by ACCEPTING how depression, anxiety, or any other mental health challenges affect you. Accepting it doesn’t mean spiritual failure or that depression/anxiety or other disorders are your identity (failing faith), it means that it is a condition affecting you. You need ways to rest, healthy tools, and time to improve. Christ is in you and He is not distant from you in this journey. His satisfied love is in you, with you, for you, and a constant grace to energize your every step. You are enough…and that’s what it means to lack nothing in Christ!
“The Word of God (Jesus) is holding you more than you are trying to hold Him!”
b) Fight the good fight (resting in) knowing that the Truth (listed above) is holding you more than you are trying to hold it (Colossians 1:17). With this new secure perspective, your prayers or Bible reading doesn’t have to be about striving to achieve more blessings or a spiritual breakthrough. Instead, it can be a healthy discovery of your beautiful fellowship you already have with God!
Whether the depression, anxiety, or other challenges come and go, “Fight the good fight” by not giving up or giving in to any perspective contrary to what Christ has already fulfilled and given you … a full inheritance of life and a deep love from the Father that will never cast you away (John 6:37; 10:10; 16:27).
What do you think about “Fighting the good fight?”