Fear grips people differently than almost anything else. Fear can be all-consuming, life-derailing, and joy-draining. But Christians don’t have to be fearful. In fact, they shouldn’t be fearful. In a time where fear-inducing 24-hour news cycles and secular doomsday prophecies abound, Christians should stand out as people who are very much not afraid. In this article, we will look at five reasons why Christians shouldn’t be fearful.
In the New Testament, “fear” is represented by the word φόβος (phobos) from which we get our English term “phobia” and its derivatives. This word refers to being intimidated, being put to flight, feeling panicked, dreadful, or in terror. It is a visceral, almost instinctual retraction to something that causes dread. In Luke 21:26, fear is connected to foreboding, or the expectation that something terrible is about to happen (you know, the feeling you get when you watch the news most times).
There are a lot of reasons to be afraid right now (the virus, the upcoming election, increasing disunity and violence in our country, etc.). However, here are some important reasons why fear doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) a characteristic of a Christian.
Fear Is (Often) the Antithesis of Faith
In Mark 5:22, Jairus, a synagogue leader came to Jesus so that his daughter could be healed. Jesus agrees to heal the daughter but is detoured on the way to do so by the crowds (Mark 5:24-34). After the commotion, servants from the synagogue leader’s house came to Jairus and told him that his daughter was dead and that he shouldn’t bother Jesus anymore (Mark 5:35). Jesus’ response after overhearing this was, “Do not fear, only believe” (Mark 5:36).
Can you imagine just receiving word that your daughter is dead? Jairus was likely distraught, in shock, and filled with panicky anguish. Jesus’s response to Jairus is a model for us. When our mind is consumed by panicked, whizzing thoughts, we should replace them with something else: faith. Christians should replace their fear with faith. Biblical faith is more than just an intellectual belief in the existence of God. Biblical faith is trust, loyalty, fidelity.
When we have trust in the God sovereign over the universe, fear should melt away. When outcomes seem uncertain and odds seem insurmountable, Christians still trust the God of heaven and earth, and therefore they are not fearful, but faithful. Notice that Jesus says to not fear but to only believe. In other words, Jesus isn’t telling Jairus to replace some of his fear with trust in God, but all of it.
Sometimes we settle for having lives that are 50% fear and 50% faith. Maybe, on a good day, we might say our mindset is 20% fear and 80% faith. But, Jesus says “do not fear, only believe.” Those who have sought Jesus and have placed their trust in him can cling to him and replace their fear with faith.
Because fear is primarily driven by “what if” statements, doubt, and uncertainty, it is often the antithesis of faith. If faith is “the reality of what is hoped for, the evidence of what is not seen” (Heb 11:1), fear is “the supposed reality of what is dreaded, the false evidence of what will probably never happen.” Such is why we can overcome fear by trusting (having faith in) God. This isn’t to say that if we are ever fearful it is because we don’t really believe in God, but I think we should consider what our amount of fear says about how we think about God.
Instead of focusing on what might happen, we should focus on what we—because we trust God—know will happen (Rom 8:29; see Phil 4:8). When we are tempted to fall into the trap of fear, let’s strive to be mindful enough to replace our fear with faith—to not fear, but only believe.
God Values Us & the Lord Is Our Helper
While discussing how his followers would be persecuted, Jesus told them that they can “fear not” because God values them (Matt 10:26-31). Even a sparrow, Jesus says, which is sold for only half a penny in the marketplace, cannot fall to the ground without God’s knowledge and consent. And, God values us infinitely more than sparrows (all the hairs on our head are numbered), so we don’t have to be afraid of those who would seek to harm us. As Jesus’ followers, we can be unafraid because we know that God values us greatly. He knows us well and values us more than we can ever imagine (so much that he was unwilling to spare his Son for us).
The recognition that we are deeply valued by the Creator of the universe should cause us to be bold. The same God who spoke the universe into existence and has all power, wisdom, and knowledge, cares for, values, and watches over us. As a Christian, I am on the same side as the God for whom “nothing is too difficult” (Jer 32:17). When I am fully convinced of this fact, what could possibly cause me to fear? What are election outcomes, civil unrest, viruses, and uncertain economic futures in the presence of the Holy One of Israel?
If God was cold and indifferent—viewing us like ants through a magnifying glass, things would be different. Then, not only would the world be cruel and unloving, but God would be too. If such was the case, on our worst days, all of heaven and earth wouldn’t contain a single ounce of true hope or help. But, God values us immensely. Even if the whole world were against us, God wouldn’t be, and that’s more than enough to overcome whatever comes out way.
Because this is our reality, we should echo with the psalmist: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Ps 118:6; Heb 13:6). God is more than just an onlooker who is concerned, he is a helper who fights with us in the trenches. We don’t have to be afraid because the only wise God with all power and strength and glory values us more than words can tell, and that should give us peace.
Jesus Is Victorious
The identity, hope, and future of the Christian are tied to the person and work of Jesus Christ. We are Christians after all. When the risen Jesus appeared to the apostle John on Patmos, he told John that John could “fear not” because of who he is: “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Rev 1:17-18). There’s a lot of symbolic imagery in the context of this statement, but Jesus’ point is that John can be unafraid because of who Jesus is.
- Jesus is the first and the last. This means that Jesus, as the eternal Son of God, has authority over time.
- Jesus is the living one. As such, Jesus has authority over life. He sustains all life and gives eternal life to those who are his.
- Jesus died but is alive forevermore. Jesus is victorious over death and is the firstfruits of those who will rise from the dead.
- Jesus has the keys to death and Hades. He is victorious over sin and judgment and has the authority over both.
In all of our most common fears, Jesus’ victory and authority grant peace of mind. When you fear something that might take place in the future, remember that Jesus is the first and the last. He is the Lord of time. When you fear something that might affect your life or livelihood, remember that Jesus is the living one who sustains and gives life. He is the Lord of life. When you fear death or seemingly impending death, remember that Jesus has conquered death, as will those who belong to him. When you fear judgment, or what comes after this life, remember that Jesus has all authority over death and Hades and if you are with him you will feel the sting of neither. Jesus is sovereign over that which often makes us afraid.
Christians have so many reasons to not be fearful. But here are a few disclaimers.
1. Not all “fear” is bad
The same word translated “fear” can also mean dee reverence or respect—sometimes translated as “awe” in newer translations. So, there is a good kind of “fear.” The whole duty of every person is to “fear God and keep his commandments” (Eccl 12:13). The newly-established church was characterized by its fear (or awe) that came upon every soul (Acts 2:43). It has been said that if you fear God you will fear nothing else, but if you don’t fear God, then you should fear everything else. This is true.
2. Fearlessness ≠ recklessness
Just because Christians are called to be fearless doesn’t mean they should be reckless. Fearlessness isn’t an excuse to lack common sense or put God to the test. One of the things Satan tempted Jesus with was to put God to the test (Matt 4:5-7). If God was really going to take care of Jesus and Jesus had no reason to be afraid, why didn’t he jump off of the temple? We should trust God and not be fearful, but we shouldn’t walk across a highway blindfolded, never wear a seatbelt, or refuse to wash our hands during a pandemic just to make a point.
3. A Christian’s worst fears can come true, but…
We shouldn’t think that because we are Christians our worst fears will never come true. Most likely, our worst fears will never come true. But even if they did God would still be with you through it and find a way to use it for glorious purposes (Rom 8:18, 28; 2 Cor 1:8-10; 1 Pet 5:10-11). We cannot allow our fears to prevent us from living the life our sovereign God would have us to live.
Is there something making you fearful? Pray about it (Phil 4:6; 1 Pet 5:7), and remember that in Christ, we don’t need to be afraid.