Fear and the Christian
Fear is a natural emotion common to all human beings, and it is neither inherently sinful or godly. Our fears are often connected to the things we love the most. We may fear losing something or someone we love. Or we might fear that we will fail to obtain something we desire. We may fear offending one we love. Or perhaps we feel a reverential fear of something or someone we admire. The cause of our fears is often the love or admiration of some created thing or of God Himself.
Still other fears may not be related to anything you can clearly identify. They may be biological, due to sickness, induced by medication, or in some cases, even related to mental illness. Like all emotions, fear signals something beyond itself. This is why you should listen carefully to your fears. What exactly do you fear? What would make you stop fearing? Your fears will often tell you something about yourself. And they often tell you about what you love.
Christians can feel faithful fear, or anxiety, about things in this world. There is a faithful fear that is nothing other than vigilance. We feel faithful fear when we try to protect or defend against evil or harm. A faithful parent will feel fear when his child runs out into a busy road. That’s vigilance. A faithful believer will feel fear when the sins of another person threaten to harm him or her or someone else. We may also feel faithful fear when we’re trying to discharge our responsibility to others. A faithful businessman will feel a fear that helps to propel him to work hard. Paul said, “Apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor 11:28). Perhaps Paul is speaking of sinful anxiety, but I’m inclined to think he’s speaking of an anxiety of vigilance.
Sometimes, however, Christians have an inordinate fear of losing the things of this world. This is a fear that comes from unbelief. Maybe more precisely, it is a fear that comes from believing too much in the world, from trusting too much in the things of this world to satisfy you at the deepest level. It comes from an excessive love for created things and desiring them too much. An unmarried Christian may live in fear that he or she will never get married. Another may fear not having enough money for a decent living. Others live in fear of deteriorating health, or they’re propelled by fear to have a rigorous health regimen. Some may fear losing status or friends or family. Others may fear what someone else will say to them or do to them. Some fear themselves and what they may or may not do or say.
To this kind of covetous fear, Jesus says, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:32).
Here Christ speaks wonderful words about God Himself to encourage faith in His beloved people and to quiet their sinful fears. Notice a few things about the words of Jesus.
First, Jesus says, “fear not.” Christ isn’t scolding you with these words. He’s not barking out an order, forbidding you to fear, shaking His finger at you, speaking in a stern tone of voice. He’s speaking to you gently, calling you tenderly to “fear not.” He’s saying that there is no reason for you to fear. You don’t have to fear. And then He tells you why.
Second, Jesus numbers you among His “little flock.” You’re not a member of a huge numberless nameless herd of sheep. Rather, Christ’s flock is a little flock. He knows His little flock intimately. He knows the name of each one of His sheep. He knows all of your personality quirks. He knows your likes and dislikes. He knows your sins. He knows your fears. He knows you. You’re part of Christ’s cherished little flock. He bought you with His blood. You don’t have any reason to fear because He knows you and you are His.
Third, Jesus says you have a “Father.” And your Father is a good Father who gives good gifts to His children. He’s a Father who intends to care for, protect, and provide for His children. He’s a Father who gives an eternal inheritance to His children. The Heavenly Father is a big-hearted, open-handed, loving Father who only wants the very best for His children. Here is another reason you don’t have any reason to fear.
Fourth, Jesus says that your Father is also the King. God the Father isn’t just a well-intentioned Father. He is a Father who is also a Sovereign. He has infinite power to deliver on every one of His promises to you. Nothing in heaven or earth can stop Him. His enemies can’t stand in the way. Your enemies are powerless before Him. He will certainly keep you to the end, and He will make certain that you enter into your eternal inheritance.
Do you see how these big truths about God encourage you to trust the Lord and quiet your sinful fears?
Sinful fear comes from trusting too much in creation. It comes from loving and longing for limited created things to satisfy your desires. But created things can be lost, or never obtained in the first place, and that’s where sinful fear comes in.
So, the Bible calls on you to trust Christ as your Shepherd, who will care for you as a beloved sheep in His little flock, who He bought with His own blood. And Christ invites you to look upon God as your good Father and great King, who gives good gifts to all His children. And if you believe that God has given Himself to you, that He will give you every good thing, then you have nothing to fear from any failure to obtain something in this world. You have no reason to fear losing any created thing. Even if you lose everything in this life, or never obtain what you’re seeking here, you have God Himself. You have His kingdom. You have Christ and all of His promises. You have nothing to fear in losing this world. If you’re His, God has given you all. And as you believe Him, your sinful fears will diminish, and you will grow in a reverential fear of God, and you will fear your sin because it displeases Him and disrupts your communion with Him.
God Himself will quiet your sinful fears as you rest in Him more and more. But since your sin can never be eliminated on this side of heaven, your sinful fear will never be completely gone. You shouldn’t expect too much from your heart before you’re glorified. Sinful fears will remain in true believers as long as sin itself remains. But, believer, Christ died for your sins. His blood washes you. His righteousness covers you. And you can learn by the Word and the power of His Spirit within you to grow in faith, one day at a time. And the more you trust God and His promises, the more your fears will be quieted. And you can know that He is with you in your fears as you learn to fight the fight of faith, in the midst of them, until one day, He takes you home to glory.
The Second London Baptist Confession 13.3 speaks of this war in the life of the believer in which holiness is perfected in the fear of God. Sin remains, but we press on from grace to glory.
In which war, although the remaining corruption for a time may much prevail, yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part does overcome; and so the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God, pressing after an heavenly life, in evangelical obedience to all the commands which Christ as Head and King, in his Word has prescribed to them.
10 Rom. 7:23
11 Rom. 6:14
12 Eph. 4:15,16; 2 Cor. 3:18, 7:1
Other Resources on Fear, Anxiety, Worry and the Christian:
Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest by Ed Welch
Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry by Amy Simpson
Anxiety: How God Cares for Stressed People (Conference Audio) by David Powlison and Ed Welch
Here’s a fairly extensive list of resources on fear and worry: Anxiety Resources by David Murray