Replacing Fear with Faith
For many, fear is a constant part of life. Ignoring fears won’t make them go away. Vicarious experiences of fear through watching a horror movie or attending a haunted house don’t quench the fires of fear. The biblical model for overcoming fear is to replace it with something more powerful.
Adam first felt fear when God visited Eden to see him after he sinned (Gen 3:10). This is the first mention of fear in the Bible. The first recorded feelings of fear relate to Adam’s disobedience. With fear came shame, and shame wreaks havoc on relationships. Adam’s relationships with God and Eve were stained because trust broke down and fear took over. By the time of Noah’s flood, fear had become rampant over the earth. It had become a dominant part of human existence (Gen 9:1-3).
Fear is powerfully controlling
The problem with fear is that it’s a powerfully strong controlling emotion. The fear of what others might think or do to you is equally controlling. It can control what you think of yourself, how you respond to others, how you plan your activities, and many other things. It sets an agenda in your mind that others are out to get you. The fear of others, like all sins, complicates life. Many have self-esteem and self-worth rooted in what others think of them. This is a dangerous thing to do. We feel bad about ourselves because we fear others think poorly of us.
If you don’t think you fear others consider this: imagine singing in the shower with all your heart. You are free to sing, regardless of the quality, because no one can hear you. But, what happens when you are caught at a red light singing unreservedly in the car with the radio blasting and your windows down? Are the people in the car next to you staring and laughing at you? For a brief moment, you are reminded of the fear of what others think of you.
The fear of others is really a fear of being exposed. That is part of why the presence of God after Adam and Eve sinned was so fearful. They had disobeyed God and when he approached them his holiness made them feel exposed (Gen 2;25, 3:7, 10). Abraham’s wife Sarah lied about not laughing because she felt exposed. She was afraid of what her three guests thought of her if she was caught lying (Gen 18:15). This is the fear of being found out or caught in a lie or wicked behavior.
The solution for not letting the fear of others control us is found in how God deals with liars, deceivers, sinners, and people who disobey him. Our predisposition is to hide from God like Adam and Eve because feelings of shame, embarrassment, and being thought of in a bad light are fearful. On top of fearing what others think, the thought of punishment, banishment, being caught doing something embarrassing, or having to face another’s anger or wrath is equally fearful. Oddly, as much as we are controlled by fear, fear rarely arrests bad behavior. We have the notion that though we might get caught, we won’t.
Fear attacks faith
Fear attacks faith in God. We think God is like the people we have grown up with or met in life. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We assume God will meet with us and judge us for doing wrong. He is the kind of God that looks down from heaven and despises our weaknesses. He hates us because we are inconsistent. We fear our bad will outweigh our good and for that reason, God will reject us.
An easy, but an unhelpful solution, is thinking that trying harder to please God will resolve our fear of his wrath. If we rededicate ourselves to Christ, his anger will be appeased. The problem with rededications is that one is never enough. There is a tendency to think you have to rededicate yourself over and over again because the first time wasn’t sincere enough. This is a death trap for faith. Whether you try harder or rededicate yourself multiple time, the fear that God will reject you doesn’t go away. Both of these approaches have no effect upon changing habitual sins or overcoming the fear of exposure. With every attempt to clean up yourself comes more fears of being caught in an inconsistency. This is true in our relationships with others and we impose that fear on ourselves thinking God is like everybody else.
The solution is found by first identifying what controls us. Think of it this way, “What would be your downfall if it was taken away from you?” For Samson, it was his long hair. His self-esteem was connected with his appearance. Yet, his looks didn’t give him enough confidence to trust God. He became a rebellious young man.
He was powerful enough to kill a lion with his bare hands. He attached torches to 300 foxes and destroyed the Philistine’s fields. He slaughtered 1,000 Philistines in battle using the jawbone of a donkey. But he refused to listen to his parents who told him not to marry outside the faith. Then he met Delilah. He confessed to her that the source of his unusual strength was his uncut hair (Jud 16:17). While asleep she shaved his head; he lost his strength and his dignity. Appearance was the source of his strength and when taken away he lost everything.
Imagine how the story would have ended if the Lord had been the source of his strength. What would have happened to Samson if God was someone he couldn’t live without? His life would have turned out very differently. He would have gone down in history as a godly hero rather than a slave of the Philistines.
How does God deal with sinners?
It’s important that we understand how God deals with liars, deceivers, sinners, and those who disobey him. He responses in one of two ways. For those whose hearts are far from him, who are proud, and self-justifying, he brings judgment and wrath to break up the hardness of their hearts (Isa 13:11, Rom 2:5). Pharaoh is a good example of this response. He refused to listen to the Lord and his heart became more stubborn and hardened toward God’s will (Ex 8:15). His obstinacy caused the loss of his own son and eventually the loss of his kingdom. Human pride draws out of God his wrath while humble repentance brings mercy (2 Chron 32:25-26).
Those whose hearts are already broken by guilt, disenfranchisement, discrimination, abuse from others, or by being humbled, receive God’s grace and mercy (Isa 29:19-21). God mocks the proud but gives grace to the humble (Pr 3:34). God esteems the broken-spirited and humbled (Isa 66:2, Mt 5:5, Lk 1:52). Jesus is a good example of this second response from God. Jesus was humbled to the point of an unjust death. He knows what it feels like for others to think less of you than who you actually are (Phil 2:8). And God raised him up as the King of King.
What does all of this have to do with evangelism? In evangelism, we sometimes fear what others think of us. Even worse, the Devil can remind you of your inconsistencies in your faith, making you feel guilty, which in turn makes you think the person you’re sharing Christ’s love with will think you’re a hypocrite. Maybe they will be disappointed with you. Maybe they will reject you and your message. I remember sharing my faith on a street corner in front of a bar one evening. Someone from school saw me and approached me. He made fun of me for being there without a girl. He said he was having more fun than me and despised me for handing out gospel literature. It made me feel foolish and I wished that I hadn’t met someone that I saw at school every day.
The fear of exposure is paralyzing. Someone who thinks their wrongdoings will be exposed closes up. A Christian won’t volunteer to go out with a team and share their faith for fear their inadequacies will be exposed. The good news is that God is not like other people. God treats you and the people we encounter with grace and mercy. Jesus didn’t come to condemn but to save (Jn 3:17-18). He has forgiven us and given us a ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18). We overcome fear by faith in God’s forgiveness. There is nothing to expose in a Christian. God already knows our sins and frailties; he acknowledges them and forgives them. Christians have nothing to hide when they are found in Christ.
We aren’t supposed to share our faith out of obligation, expectation, or fear that God will use our vulnerability to accuse us of disloyalty if we don’t. Evangelism is to be done with a humble spirit that is drawn near to God by his Holy Spirit. Witnessing is testifying of God’s grace and mercy; of his goodness and joy. We are to share honestly and humbly about our experiences with God’s grace. This is so appealing to people that they are often impressed with the power of Christ’s message. Evangelism is not about you or me, but about God redeeming someone else—someone he is calling into his kingdom–someone he loves and died for. God’s Spirit prepares their spirit to hear what you’re going to share. He will be speaking through you. How amazing is that!
Furthermore, God dispenses grace as needed in conversations. The power of your testimony doesn’t come from your winsomeness or intelligence. It comes from sharing truthfully who God in Christ is to you and what Jesus has done for you. When you share your faith, God’s Spirit empowers you and helps you overcome the fear of others (Mk 13:11). When you realize that in evangelism the Spirit is taking control of your mind and heart so you say what he wants you to say, controlling fears vanish and lose their power. God is only asking us to be available and humble ourselves before his mighty hand and to speak without fear of rejection (Dan 10:12). As with Daniel, God responds to your humble prayers for help to overcome your fears.
Don’t fear others. They can’t harm you if your trust is in the Lord (Mt 10:28, Phil 1:27-30). Instead, fear the Lord and express that fear in a positive respectful way by offering to pray for the person listening to your message. A humble response reveals your personal trust in God and communicates that God is trustworthy. If God’s Spirit is calling them to himself they will respond to God’s trustworthiness and you might enjoy leading them to a saving faith in Christ.
Personal Time: Read a number of the Scripture references and consider how powerful the fear of others has been in your life. Can you think of a specific example where the fear of what someone thought of you squelched sharing your faith? In what way is God not like other people? How does knowing that God isn’t like others encourage you to share your faith? The fear of disappointing someone or in being caught acting inconsistently with what you believe is powerfully constricting when it comes to evangelism. How can you exercise your faith so as to grow past this fear?