The most given command in the Bible is to fear not. God knows the tendency of the human heart to fear. To fear others, to fear the situations we face, to fear the future. We can be a fearful people. In many ways this is due to our limits as finite beings, as created beings. We do not know it all. We cannot know it all and, therefore, fear is a natural response to our limits. The problem is fear becomes the enemy of faith. So, God gives us the command “do not fear” over and over in His word and gives us His promises and presence to help us obey this command. I want to look at 4 areas in which we show fear as believers and think about the Gospel remedies for each. The basis for each Gospel answer is the truth “perfect love casts out fear.” 1 John 4:18. There is no more perfect love than the love of Jesus Christ. His love casts out all ungodly fear. We need this love when we fear our past, our present, our future, and others.
Many of us fear our past. We look back at who we used to be or what we used to do and we feel shame and guilt. We feel as if our past disqualifies us from our present. We feel as if God cannot really love us. If other people found us out we would be shunned. The past hangs on our necks like a heavy chain, a burden we cannot unload because we are so tangled. But, there is freedom. Because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ the apostle Paul tells us in Romans 8:1 “ there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The Gospel takes our past and it forgives our sin. The shame and guilt we carry around is ours no longer in Christ. He takes the burden of the past and He gives us His life, His righteousness. There is now no more condemnation. God’s love is greater than our past. His grace covers all of our sin. Fear of the past washes away in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on us in regeneration and renewal. In Christ our past does not define us. At the cross our sin is taken away from us as far as the east is from the west. We do not fear our past because we know the power of the blood of Christ to forgive our sin and to make us new. The love of Christ casts out our fear of the past, it erases our shame and guilt, and it makes us new creations.
It is not just our past able to strike fear in our hearts, but our present situations and trials as well. In the present our fear presents itself in worry and anxiety. This worry and anxiety can be about money, about health, about work, or about our family. It can be about anything we are facing in this moment, today and tomorrow. Our immediate concerns can produce fear in us. This fear keeps us from trusting in God for today’s and tomorrow’s provisions. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount confronts this worry and anxiety head on. In Matthew 6:25-34 He tells us, “do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.” Jesus commands us against anxiety and fear. The power to fight this anxiety and fear is faith in the goodness and provision of God. We fight anxiety by looking around at how God has taken care of His creation all around us and knowing without a shadow of a doubt our Father knows exactly what we need. We seek His kingdom by faith instead of allowing fear to run our hearts today. Our money troubles, our health troubles, our family troubles are nothing compared to our God. Faith must erase our fear. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:6, “ do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Our faith works itself out in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving. Fear of today and tomorrow, fear of the present, is fought with faith through prayer. Fear of today is fought with thankfulness for who God is and what God has done and promised to do. Do not fear today. Do not be anxious about anything today or tomorrow offers.
Another fear paralyzing many people is the fear of the future. In fear of the future I am not talking about tomorrow, I am talking about years and decades down the road, what this world will become, and ultimately this fear plays itself out in a fear of death and the end. We fear our death. We fear where our world is heading. Many of us who are Christians look at the world around us and we feel as if we are losing the future. Things are going downhill very quickly. We fear what it will be like for our children and grandchildren to grow up in this world. But, this fear must not overwhelm us. It must not control us. We must be a people of hope first and foremost. The church will always survive. The church will endure. We know the end of this story. We know where this world is heading. Death will not win the victory. The sting of death will be defeated forever Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15. We do not fear death because eternal life is ours in Jesus. We do not fear the future for our children because we know God will keep His people, will guard His church. We cannot look back into history with rose-colored glasses and think there was a golden age. We must look forward with hope towards the reconciliation of all things in Jesus Christ. Heaven will come down to earth. All of creation will be reconciled along with those in Christ. All sin, all death, all evil will be cast out into hell. We should stand for God’s truth and disciple others to live lives that glorify God into the future, but we must not be paralyzed by fear of death or fear of the future to come. We must be marked by the hope of the Gospel, the hope of reconciliation and renewal.
One last fear I want to think about is the fear of men, or fear of others. This comes in many forms. One way we fear others is by needing their approval. We live to please other people and therefore live in fear of their disapproval. We let others feelings, thoughts, and actions towards us define us. We battle this fear of men by remembering the truth of the love of God and our adoption into the family of God by our faith in Christ. If God is for us who can be against us? If God adopts us, loves us, accepts us in Jesus Christ what does it matter what anyone else says? “We have been given a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry Abba Father!” Romans 8:15. This spirit of adoption casts out the spirit of fear. We do not fear the disapproval of other people. We rest in the approval of our Heavenly Father in Christ. Other people do not ultimately define us and their approval or disapproval cannot change our identity in Jesus.
Another way this fear of man plays itself out is what I simply call a fear of the other. This is a fear of people who think and believe and live differently than we do. We see this most clearly when we ascribe evil motives to all who disagree with us politically or theologically. Just because someone doesn’t believe exactly like you does not mean they are then evil. There is no room for this kind of thought in the life of a believer. This fear leads to paranoia and when we live with this paranoia and fear we cannot love our neighbor as ourselves or seek the common good of all people. When we live with this kind of fear of others we look more like the Pharisees and less like Jesus. All people, whether they look, think, or believe like us are created in the image of God and are loved by God. When fear and paranoia rule our hearts this is easily forgotten. We must fight this fear by continually coming back to the truth of our own brokenness, the truth of the image of God in all people, and the global and sweeping offer of the Gospel. We are just as broken as every other human being. The problem is we think too highly of ourselves and forget we once were rebels opposed to God as well. We must remember the importance of the image of God in all people in order to see them as equal with us before the cross of Christ. The Gospel is not for those who have it all together and believe and think rightly. It is for those who need forgiveness and salvation and therefore it is for all. Fear of others leads us to erect barriers to the Gospel the Bible doesn’t allow. We must fight against this fear. We must get to know those who don’t think or believe or look like us. The Gospel demands it and God has called us to it.
Fear can cripple Christians. We must fight against the fear of the past, the fear of the present, the fear of the future, and the fear of others. We fight against fear with the truth of the Gospel. We fight against fear with the freedom found in the Gospel, with the presence of God that is ours in the Gospel, with the promises of God to reconcile this world, and with the love of God in the truths that we are accepted in Him and the ground is equal at the cross. Perfect love casts out fear. When this love overflows into our hearts it casts out the fears paralyzing us and frees us to love God and love our neighbor. This love frees us to live with hope. The Gospel truth sets us free and when it sets us free we are free indeed.