I’ve never considered myself to be a fearful person (well, aside from those small fears that I can muster up the courage in a moment to overcome). I guess I have always thought myself to be highly independent, a trait that was instilled in me growing up. Unfortunately, this has proven to be both a strength and a cunning weakness. Independence harbors a detachment from the truth that I am actually completely dependent on God. In relation to fear, independence has also created in me a need to either deny fear, or overcome it, in and of my own doing.
Recently, however, I surprisingly discovered that I am actually incredibly afraid, maybe not of the tangible earthly fear-evoking things, but of things unobservable and uncertain. For example, I am horribly afraid of the future and of being abandoned by people. I am afraid of uncertainty, of disappointment.
A few weekends ago, I was blessed to be a part of a training retreat for an upcoming trip to Cambodia. On the last morning we had a time to openly share what the Lord had been pressing upon our hearts. A sweet and devoted woman of the Lord was reflecting on her study of Philippians when she blatantly said, with tears welling up, “We worry because we don’t know God, not really.” If we really knew God’s love for us and his desire for us to see good things, we wouldn’t worry. Her prayer was to seek and know the Lord more. I think the same is true of fear. If we really knew God, we would harbor in us a holy fear rather than a fear that enslaves or a fear of man. If God remains in his right place in our lives, if we recognize his love and its reign, what do we have to fear? Psalm 118:6 says, “The Lord is on my side, I will not fear. What can man do to me?”
So What Is Fear?
There are four categories of fear found in Scripture (according to the New Bible Dictionary). The first is a holy fear. This type of fear enables us to revere God and his authority, leading us to obedience to Him and a denial of that which is in opposition to Him. This is the fear referred to in Psalm 111:10 as the beginning of wisdom. Holy fear is God-given and God-glorifying.
The second type of fear is slavish fear. This fear is a consequence of sin and the Fall. Though this fear is negative, we see it used in Acts 16:29 by the Holy Spirit in conversion. It is felt when there is a rejection of Christ and an expectation of judgment and wrath (Hebrews 10:27, Revelation 21:8).
The third type of fear is the fear of man. This fear occurs when our regard for men is elevated, when we realize their potential and capability or their lack of conviction if they are lost. Slavish fear and the fear of man are cast out by God’s love (1 John 4:18).
Finally, “Fear” is used in Scripture to refer to the object of fear. God is called the “Fear” of Isaac, that which he revered and worshipped. This fear is used when the Israelites are preceded into the promised land by the fear of God and in Job when the fear of God is his confidence.
So there is a fear that can and should exist in us. But there is also a fear that, if we know and follow Christ, is unmerited. There is sinful fear. Knowing this helps shed light on the unwarranted fear, that it might be cast out, and on the fear that honors God in us, that it might be cultivated as we know the Lord and walk with Him.
Where Does Fear Come From?
For me, the root of sinful fear is my unbelief and my pride. When I don’t trust God, allowing fear’s reign in me, I have enthroned myself (in my humanity and therefore in my fear) and given lordship over to myself, contending with God’s supremacy. However, if I would acknowledge God’s holiness and my sinfulness in humility, I would find him and his character, his love, reigning in my life, casting out fear. God is love (1 John 4:8), so his presence, His Spirit unquenched in us, contends with fear and wins. “As far as love prevails, fear ceases” (Matthew Henry’s commentary on 1 John 4:18). We must allow the perfect love of Christ to reside in us and flow through us.
More specifically, in this season of my life, fear seems to be jumbled with insecurity and a lack of self worth, on top of my unbelief and pride. Like a great big ball of mess and yuck centered around untruth. I think there exists in all of us, our own web of lies that we have been fed, and that we have bought into.
Lies that we aren’t worthy of someone or something, so we fear it will never come or even worse, if we get it, we will lose it soon after.
Lies that we are in control, that if we do or say certain things, certain outcomes will come about. So we fear our own failure to do or say the right things.
Lies that anything on this earth can hold our hope. So we hope in the acquisition of the earthly, but fear we will never obtain.
Fill in the blank.
What Does Scripture Say? What Do We Do With Fear?
2 Timothy 1:7, “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” – So we recognize and acknowledge that fear in us is not from God. It is of the world, of the flesh, and of evil.
1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” – We seek Christ’s perfection, through our sanctification by his love. Hebrews 10:14 says, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” If we are continually being sanctified, growing in the likeness of Christ, submitting to Christ, his perfect love is in us.
Isaiah 12:1-2, “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; For the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” – In the midst of fear, we preach to ourselves the Gospel. We remember that God is our salvation, and salvation is all we need. With this, the things we are left to fear are diminished.
I wish I had a better answer, a foolproof plan to eliminate fear and its ugliness from our lives. Ultimately, our contention with fear is won with Christ. And here is what is true, what Christ says to His children who run desperately to Him when overcome by fear.
“Rest in me, my child… I want you to come into my presence joyfully and confidently. You have nothing to fear, for you wear my own righteousness. Gaze into my eyes, and you will see no condemnation, only love and delight in the one I see. Be blessed as my face shines radiantly upon you, giving you peace.” – (John 15:13, Zephaniah 3:17, Numbers 6:25-26)