By Tyler Edwards
“Do not be afraid” is a common command in Scripture. Even so, we find ourselves fearing many things, like spiders, snakes, and public speaking. I knew someone who was afraid of fish.
Fear often dictates the decisions we make and the things we do. It is a powerful force that can motivate us toward good or evil. The law exists to establish boundaries for the behaviors of society. We keep the law because we fear the consequences of breaking it.
Proverbs tells us the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Most of us have heard fire-and-brimstone preachers who sell us an angry God to motivate us to adhere to a strict and legalistic religious system. While their method and their understanding of God may be lacking, they have one thing right: fear motivates us to act outside our desires. What are those desires?
One common misconception in our culture is that people are basically good. Who hasn’t heard it said, “He isn’t a Christian, he doesn’t love Jesus, but he’s a good person”? What makes him good—the fact that he doesn’t murder, cheat, or steal? Being a nice person and being a good person are not the same. Just because you like someone doesn’t make her good.
Jesus defined “good” in the Gospels. A wealthy young man came to Jesus and said, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Jesus’ definition of good is God. If you’re not God, you’re not good. So what are we? Evil. Adam’s sin in the garden affected all of us. We have evil inclinations. We harbor evil desires.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom because he is the only reasonable object of fear. God alone has power over our souls. He decides what happens to us for eternity; therefore we should fear him. That doesn’t mean we build a bunker in the backyard and stock up for a post-wrath-of-God holocaust. It means our fear of God should influence our behavior.
Jesus’ final post-resurrection command was for us to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Christians know we are supposed to do this, and yet many don’t. Why? Because of fear. Not fear of God, but fear of people. Doing so would require us to step out of our comfort zone. We struggle because we fear what people will say, what they will do, or what they will think about us more than we fear God.
It seems we have turned God into a purple dinosaur of love who isn’t very intimidating. As a result, our fear of people outranks our fear of God. When forced to choose between our comfort zones and obedience to Christ, we often choose the former. After all, Jesus isn’t scary. Jesus won’t make fun of us. Jesus won’t call us names. He will just love us, tell us it will be OK, give us some hot cocoa and a snuggly blanket. Right?
As a child, I feared my dad. Not because he hit me or threatened me, but because he didn’t need to. My dad is a big guy. Even as a small child I knew he could cause me serious pain if he wanted to. That understanding led me to obey him. If he said something, I listened. If he told me to do something, I did it. Why? I was afraid of what he might do if I didn’t.
As I grew older, I began to fear my dad less and less, but not because he grew weaker. What changed was my understanding. The more I began to see his love, the more I realized that while he could hurt me, he never would hurt me. At this point my motivation for obedience shifted. I didn’t obey him because I was afraid of him; I obeyed him because I loved him.
First John 4:18 tells us that “perfect love drives out fear.” Love replaces fear. When you enter into a mature relationship, the motivator isn’t fear. It’s love. God loves us. He calls us his children. While fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, the love of God is the zenith of wisdom. Fear is the vessel that teaches us obedience until we reach maturity.
Think about your relationship with God in a similar way. At first we may be motivated by fear to love and serve God; but as we grow, our fear is replaced by love. Fear can motivate us to obey even when our love for God is not mature enough to keep us from sin.
Sometimes we struggle with sins of commission—doing what is wrong. At other times we struggle with sins of omission—failing to do what is right.
We fall into sins of commission when we desire or love something more than we desire or love God. We fall into sins of omission when we fear things more than we fear God.
When we are struggling with sin, we need three things.
We need fear. Not just any fear, but a proper fear of God. This is not an immobilizing fear. In fact, the fear of God will give us great courage in this world. When we fear God first and foremost, external forces cannot stop us from following him faithfully.
We need love. As we grow in our relationship with God, our motivation changes. We will stop acting out of fear of punishment and start living to please and glorify God. When Jesus is our first and greatest love, sin will have a hard time burrowing into our lives or leading us astray. The greater our love for Jesus, the harder it will be for sin to pull us from him.
We need the Holy Spirit. Our battle is not against flesh and blood. God does not give us instructions and then sit back to see how well we do. He equips us, trains us, prepares us, and transforms us. It is his work in us that will give us the strength to resist sin.
With these three things working together in your life, you will find your battle against sin much easier.
In order to develop these three areas we need two tools: God’s Word and prayer. The more we study the Word of God and grow in our understanding of him, the more he can work on our heart. In Hosea 4, God notes that his people turned to sin because they lacked knowledge of him. If we don’t know God, we can’t follow God. Ignorance will always lead to sin. Getting to know God will help us grow in proper fear of him and in love with him.
Prayer gives us the opportunity to submit to the will of God. Our purpose in praying is not to change God, but to change us. When we pray, we must ask God for courage to resist our ungodly fears.
Ask God for wisdom in your decision making. Ask for the Holy Spirit to guide, mold, and transform you. Do not fear the things of this world; let your fear of God lead you to obedience, and let your obedience lead you to grow in love so you have nothing left to fear.
Tyler Edwards is a freelance writer in Ponte Vedra, Florida.
Evaluate Your Fear
• Do you consider yourself a fearful person?
• Would others consider you a fearful person?
• Do your fears match with earthly reality?
• What effect do your fears have on your actions?
• Does your response to fear show trust in God?
• How can you learn to handle your fear in a better way?