It is a fact that we humans have God-given fears that He has built into each of us. Those fears play a very important role: they protect us and preserve life. For instance, having a healthy fear of lions, scorpions, and diseases that can infect us, serve to protect us. These healthy fears help us to avoid those things because they can result in sickness or death.
We teach our children to fear fire because of the consequences of being burned, but we also don’t want them to live in terror of fire. We want them to have a healthy respect for fire and avoid it; based on the facts of the known consequences of playing with fire. We teach them to be careful with knives, so they don’t hurt themselves or others. Some fears are very healthy and are God-given because they help people protect themselves from hurt and from death.
It is all too easy, however, for a healthy fear to become an unhealthy fear and for people to live in the tyranny of anxiety, stress, and terror. Fear is then no longer a healthy thing, but becomes twisted from what God originally intended as an emotion that would protect us, into something that rules over us and terrorises. Healthy God-given fears can become a tool of terror in the hands of God’s enemy. It can be a debilitating and powerful emotion. We can very easily become consumed by fear and live in fear of many things. Fear itself is not wrong, but being dominated and ruled by fear is to live in tyranny.
Fear has been part of the human experience since the very beginning of time. A fear of death was (and is) a valid fear that God Himself instilled in His creation as a protection mechanism. He warned Adam and Eve not to eat any fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or they would die (Gen. 2:17). That fear of death was intended to keep them safe and protect them from evil. He did not want them to live bound by fear and death, but to live trusting Him; He wanted them to live freely in His Kingdom where He ruled their lives by love, rather than living in feardom where they were ruled by fear.
A fear of death is a valid fear and it is very likely that Jesus Himself experienced this fear when He knew what He had to suffer on the Cross. In the garden of Gethsemane He begged God to release Him from what He knew He had to go through. He experienced all of that on our behalf (see Heb. 2:17-18) and He knows our tendency to be fearful.
Right throughout the Bible, again and again God says, “Don’t be afraid!” not because it is a sin to be afraid, but because He loves us – deeply and truly – and He doesn’t want us to live in fear or to be fearful people! He knows how naturally fearful we are and the good news is that He has done all that is necessary to deliver and rescue us from living in fear: “Since we, God’s children, are human beings – made of flesh and blood – He became flesh and blood too by being born in human form; for only as a human being could He die and in dying break the power of the devil who had the power of death. Only in that way could He deliver those who through fear of death have been living all their lives as slaves to constant dread.” (Heb. 2:14,15).
That is such amazing, good news, and is something we often need to remind ourselves of! Our loving Father does not want us to be slaves to fear, or to live in dread, or to be fearful; He wants to set us free from a life lived in fear of death. HE is our Deliverance and our Saviour from ourselves and from our fears!
The antidote to fear is trust: to trust God regardless of circumstances, regardless of whether man can be trusted. It just doesn’t matter whether people, governments or leaders are trustworthy or not when you trust in God regardless! This trust brings God’s peace and joy flooding in, but His peace is not something known in our heads where we say, “Yes, of course I have God’s peace!” no, it must be our reality. This must be something He has done deep in our hearts so that we experience peace in real life no matter what is going on around us! This peace is not mere words, but is our actual, real experience.
If ever there was a message that we need to be spreading in the world today, it is the very good news that we can live in and experience the peace, love, and joy of God that knowing Him and trusting Him brings! What a gift we have in the good news of Christ in us! And what a gift He Himself is to us and to this world, “I leave the gift of peace with you – My peace. Not the kind of fragile peace given by the world, but My perfect peace. Don’t yield to fear or be troubled in your hearts – instead, be courageous!” (John 14:27).
In a world living in fear and turmoil today, this message is vital as many are wondering who to trust and who to believe. We simply need to look for and hear Christ, not to look or listen to anything or anyone else, not to trust anyone else, not even ourselves – but to trust only Him and stand on what the Scriptures say.
I have found it helpful whenever hearing or reading things these days to focus on Christ and His message in the Scriptures, to just pause and consider the following:
- Are these people sharing good news, or bad news? (Phil. 1:27)
- Are they attracting and drawing people to Christ, or turning people away from Him and focussing on a man or movement? (Acts 20:30)
- Are they speaking the truth, or is it hearsay, rumours and lies? (2 Tim. 4:2-4)
- Do they exude faith and contentment or fear and distrust? (1 Tim. 6:4-6)
- Do they exhort you to trust God no matter what, or do they sow suspicion and doubt? (James 1:6-8)
- Do their words bring peace, gratefulness and joy, or do they generate division, controversy and discord? (2 Tim. 2:23,24)
- Do their words inspire hope and mercy, or are their messages full of doom and gloom? (Rom. 5:1-5)
- Are they illuminating those around them with Light from above, or are they spreading darkness? (Matt. 5:16)
- Are their words full of thankfulness, trust and faith, or full of complaints, criticism and grumbling? (Jude 1:16)
- Are they exhibiting Love, or are they exhibiting hatred? (Matt. 5:43-44)
- Is their behaviour honourable, glorifying to God and attractive to unbelievers or is their conduct reprehensible, glorying in what is evil? (1 Pet. 2:11-12)
- Are their words full of Life, or do they have the stench of death about them? (2 Cor. 2:15-17)
- Are they evangelistic about Jesus Christ and the reality of Him in their life, or are they evangelistic about their own opinions of things related to this world? (Matt. 23:15)
- Do they have the attitude of a victorious overcomer, or a victim mentality thinking the world is out to get them? (1 John 4:4)
- Do they encourage people to look only to Christ, and to hear only Him, or do they encourage people to look to “prophets” and “signs” and “dreams” and “current events” and “experts” and “social media”? (Matt. 12:39)
- Are they reliable witnesses of what is true, verifiable and factual, or do they repeat rumours, gossip and lies? (2 Cor. 12:20)
- Are they selfless, considerate and kind in their behaviour and words, or are they selfish and unkind, making false accusations, even of people they do not personally know? (2 Tim. 3:1-5)
- Are they patiently enduring hardship and suffering, or are they advertising their grievances and grumbling about them to anyone who will listen? (1 Pet. 2:18-21)
- Does what they say result in signs of what is from the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, kindness, meekness, faithfulness, and self-control, or do they stir up discord, anger, resentment, fear, paranoia, suspicion, distrust and rebellion? (Gal. 5:22-23)
- Do they respect and obey the laws of their government, or do they protest and rebel against them? (Rom. 13:1-6)
- Are they offering positive, helpful words to others, or are they dispensing negativity and scandal? (Lev. 19:16)
- Are they joyfully accepting their lot in life or do they share one grievance after another? (James 1:2-3)
- Is their focus on heavenly spiritual things, or on earthly natural things? (1 Cor. 15:48-49)
It is not difficult to see what the fruit of people’s words are and to see whether that fruit produces what is heavenly or earthly, encapsulated in these verses:
“Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about. In everything you do, stay away from complaining and arguing so that no one can speak a word of blame against you. You are to live clean, innocent lives as children of God in a dark world full of people who are crooked and stubborn. Shine out among them like beacon lights, holding out to them the Word of Life. Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs, and don’t forget to thank Him for His answers. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will keep your thoughts and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:6-8, 2:14-16).
Why are we naturally such fearful people though? And why can fear so easily overwhelm and control us? It all goes back to the beginning….
What was the very first failure (or sin) of human beings? It was suspicion: “Has God really said???” (Gen. 3:1) Instead of trusting God and listening only to Him, Adam and Eve chose to entertain a suspicion based on a fear that God was holding out on them, that they were missing out on some secret knowledge (of good and evil). And the next step was accepting a lie. Suspicion and doubt led them to reject Truth and accept a lie: “You won’t die, you’ll become wise!” (Gen. 3:4). That lie led them to a very dark place of unbelief, pride, distrust and rejecting God’s way; and believing lies has exactly the same consequences today.
Adam and Eve had done what God very specifically told them not to do and so they brought about the very thing that fear was intended to protect them from: death – separation from God who had been their Life. And then we have the first record of someone being really afraid; Adam said, “I heard Your voice in the garden and was afraid because I was naked, so I hid myself.” (Gen. 3:10). Their choice had catastrophic consequences.
Fear was now part of their lives in a bad way – not as a good thing that would protect them, but as a bad thing that would terrorise and fill them with dread and would separate them from God. They had not been afraid of God before this, they had completely trusted Him. Now unbelief, doubt, fear and distrust had entered their hearts.
The enemy’s work was done. And we live with the consequences to this day: suspicion, lies, rebellion, distrust and unbelief are the hallmarks of his work. He is called the father of lies. Liars, those who pass on lies and things that are not true, are included in the same category as murderers in the Bible; I have already written about this in the article, Being True.
To live in fear, or anxiety, or worry, is an awful way to live and is so unnecessary because Jesus Christ came to free us from that tortured way of life! He wants us to rest in Him, to have faith in Him, to trust Him completely, to just relax and revel in His love for us. The way He does this perhaps seems back to front, because… we must die. That is the only way to conquer the fear of death!
It has been said that you cannot kill or hurt a dead man; it is also true that a dead man can no longer be ruled by a fear of death because he has already gone through death!
And I am not talking about a physical death, but being crucified with Christ spiritually, and being raised to new Life in Him, and staying and living in Him continually! This is a Biblical principle laid out in John 12:24-25 and Luke 9:23-25. As Paul put it, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). And because of our new Life, we choose to lay down our lives for one another,
John 3:16 is a well-known and oft-quoted verse, 1 John 3:16 needs to be equally as well-known: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” That is very practical. It means not getting up in arms and demanding our “rights” and “freedoms”, but recognising the enormous privilege of showing this world that God loves them so much, that His love causes us to lay down our lives, our “rights”, our “freedoms” for them, just as He did. “No one has greater love than to lay down his own life for his friends” (John 15:13). We then become walking, living examples and witnesses of God’s love and peace, and that is incredibly attractive to a dying, suffering, fearful world! It is what they need to see and hear, so that they desire to know our God and be set free to know true freedom!
Paul wrote: “In this freedom Christ has made us free and completely liberated us; stand fast then, and do not be hampered and held ensnared and submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). What is “this freedom” that Paul refers to? The context makes it very clear, the next verse says: “Notice, it is I, Paul, who tells you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no profit (advantage, avail) to you”. The context is freedom from religion and its rules: “You observe particular days and months and seasons and years! I am alarmed, lest I have labored among and over you to no purpose and in vain. Brethren, I beg of you, become as I am: free from the bondage of Jewish ritualism and ordinances” (Gal. 4:10-12 AMP). And he goes on to make it even clearer: “For you, brethren, were indeed called to freedom; only do not let your freedom be an incentive to your flesh and an opportunity or excuse for selfishness, but through love you should serve one another” (Gal. 5:14).
Freedom, in the Bible, is not freedom to do what you want, or freedom from the rules of governments on this earth, or something that we even have a right to! The Bible is just so clear on this: “Submit and place yourselves under the authority of human governments to please the Lord… You are free from the law (of Jewish ritualism and ordinances) but that doesn’t mean you are free to do wrong. Live as those who are free to do only God’s will at all times. Show respect for everyone. Love Christians everywhere. Fear God and honor the government” (1 Pet. 2:13,16-17).
What is the freedom spoken about in the Bible? It is freedom from self; experiencing a new life in and with Christ: “We know that our old self [our human nature without the Holy Spirit] was nailed to the cross with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin. For the person who has died [with Christ] has been freed from [the power of] sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live together with Him” (Rom. 6:6-8 AMP).
We are here for HIM, not for ourselves, our lives are His and He wants us to be shining beacons of hope, trust, and joy in a world that is full of despair, fear and darkness! As Paul said, “Whether we live or die, it must be for God, rather than for ourselves. Whether we live or die, it must be for the Lord. Alive or dead, we still belong to the Lord” (Rom. 14:7,8). YES!!!
We have had to face death several times in our family, I know what it feels like to be ruled by fear and to know panic and anxiety. It is not a nice thing. I also know what it feels like to be set free from fear and to live in faith and trust! Jesus came to bring us freedom from living a life ruled by fear, He wants us to be ruled by Him, to be ruled by Love!
Unfortunately, religious people can be some of the most fearful, superstitious people and are very susceptible to being manipulated and controlled by fear. Instead of encouraging others to trust God, they encourage people to be afraid of all sorts of things, including the enemy himself, the “last days”, the mark of the beast, end times, etc.. How absolutely diabolical this is! We have certainly seen the devastating results of these people’s fears in our society during this global pandemic. It is very sad to see. These ones who claim to know God are fine examples not of people who trust God, but of people who are afraid of so many things that they have flung wide the door to deception and delusion! And they spread their evil fears to others, making other people afraid too.
They say that misery loves company, but fear demands company for validity and purpose! It seems these people have more trust in the enemy of God and what he may do, than trust in God Himself and what He already has done for them! A valid and healthy fear of a known virus is one thing, but spreading fears about things that are not even verifiable and are just hearsay is quite another.
Actively spreading information that is not true and that is based in fear destroys peace, destroys truth, destroys joy, and destroys God’s work in people’s hearts. Its focus is not on what is pure and lovely, but on quite the opposite. And we are told what to do when we come across such things:
“Avoid all empty (vain, useless, idle) talk, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness. And their teaching will eat its way like cancer or spread like gangrene. Run from all these evil things, and work instead at what is right and good, learning to trust Him and love others and to be patient and gentle. Run from anything that gives you evil thoughts… but stay close to anything that makes you want to do right. Have faith and love, and enjoy the companionship of those who love the Lord and have pure hearts. Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish arguments, which only upset people and make them angry. Refuse and avoid irreverent legends (profane and impure and godless fictions, mere grandmothers’ tales) and silly myths, and express your disapproval of them” (2 Tim. 2:16,17, 1 Tim. 6:11, 2 Tim. 2:22, 1 Tim. 4:7).
God uses fear for His purposes in order to save and protect us, whereas the enemy uses fear to destroy and cause people to be fearful of all sorts of things, causing people to live in bondage to fear.
Fear is mentioned frequently in the Bible. The fear of God is also mentioned, but I’m not dealing with that in this article as I have already addressed that here: “Fear, but not as we’ve known it“. It is very interesting that most modern translations of the Bible have actually removed the word ‘fear’ from many verses. The word in the original Greek for fear is “phobos”, and is where we get our word phobia from. Sometimes the word is removed completely or replaced with “nicer” words like alarm, respect, or reverence. It makes me wonder whether many today are afraid of fear itself!
Here are just a few examples of where the word “fear” is used. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn – conflicts on the outside, fears within” (2 Cor. 7:5). “I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). Paul had fears within? And he was in fear and trembling? Yes, that is what he said! In fact, according to Paul, godly sorrow actually produces fear: “See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing…” (2 Cor. 7:11). Clearly they were not afraid of fear! He advised Timothy, “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear” (1 Tim. 5:20). “His affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were all obedient, receiving him with fear and trembling” (2 Cor. 7:15).
Obviously there is a fear that is legitimate, however, as with anything of God, His enemy seeks to twist something good into something bad, and to use all he can against God. So what are we to do when we are afraid? Perhaps the question should be: where do we turn when we are afraid? In my experience, if we turn to others we may find our fears are not relieved, instead they can be intensified, but if we always turn to God, He is faithful and sure to bring peace and even joy into very difficult situations. And that is truly amazing and out of this world!
2 Timothy 1:7 is quoted often: “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and sound mind”. However, this verse doesn’t even contain the Greek word for “fear”. In that verse the word translated as “fear” is not “phobos”, it is the word “deilia” which means cowardice and timidity. Reading it in its context it is talking about not being a coward in sharing what God has done and not being timid about suffering for the sake of the gospel! However, that is not how most people use that verse. Modern translations have done a good job at remedying it, but people still tend to quote the KJV mistranslation of it. As one translation puts it: “God didn’t give us a cowardly spirit but a spirit of power, love, and good judgment so never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord or be ashamed of me, his prisoner. Instead, by God’s power, join me in suffering for the sake of the Good News.”
The opposite of a spirit of cowardice and timidity is a spirit of boldness and bravery. Be brave, be strong, for the Lord your God is with you! But oh, how often He needs to reassure us of that, and how often we do need to hear it! We are naturally such fearful, timid beings, I just love the fact that He came to save us from ourselves, from our fears, and from our timidity! He really is all we need: replacing our fears with trust, our anxieties with peace, and our timidity with bravery. What an absolutely awesome Father we have! Let’s be those who honour and reflect the character of our Father by being walking, living examples of His goodness, strength, and love for all to see!
“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have perfect peace. In the world you have tribulation and distress and suffering, but be courageous, be confident, be undaunted, be filled with joy; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).