“Be afraid! Be very afraid!” This is a message that is gaining more and more prominence in our world. It is a message that we hear regarding the changes in our world and culture. It is promoted as a reason to fear those who are different from us or who see the world in a different way. It is used as a threat by many to convince others to behave or believe in certain ways lest they face the brutal vengeance of an angry God. It is used by politicians to bolster their platforms by churches to stand in opposition to things they believe are contrary to God, by parents trying to protect their children, and by those in authority in order to legitimize their prominence and position.
Fear is also a prominent theme in scripture. In the positive sense, it is used in perspective when the people of God are called to “fear the Lord.” Yet, “fear” in this case has less to do with being afraid of God and more to do with highly respecting God. The understanding of being afraid of God necessarily relates to the reality that separation from God is something no human would ever desire or want. It is a reality that legitimately should make us reasonably fearful just in the same sense that one would not walk into catastrophic danger without being afraid. In reality, the fear of such danger is generally enough to protect us from doing stupid and deadly things.
True fear of the Lord has little to do with being afraid of God’s wrath. Rather, fear of the Lord has everything to do with embracing God’s love with unwavering awe, respect, and humility before the ONE who created us, who loves us enough to die for our sins, and absolutely does not want us to live in fear.
God provided the means for us to rise above, and completely transcend our fear. The fourth chapter of First John illustrates this concept in explicit terms. God’s call for humanity is to love as God loves. We are to uphold one another in that love and, living in that love, have the power to transcend all fear.
Where there is God’s love, there is no fear. Where there is fear, it is the result of failure to live in, and act out of, God’s love. This is a tremendous challenge facing the church and our modern culture today. As leaders, preachers, and social media pontificators cast nets of fear, they are not acting out of God’s love. Rather, they are acting out of a lack of genuine love.
The nature and expression of that love is another serious problem for the church as many fail to understand the broad nature of living in God’s love. We must recall that it was out of love that Jesus condemned some of the most religiously rigorous of his day “brood of vipers” and drove the moneychangers out of the Temple. Out of his love, Jesus recognized that strong language and actions were necessary to break the stronghold of fear so many had over God’s people.
As people of Christ, it is not enough to simply proclaim God’s love and try to treat everybody nicely while denouncing fear. God’s people must also stand in resolute defiance against the forces of evil that would seek to undermine God’s love with messages of fear, hatred, division and bitterness. We are to be messengers of love—even tough love—and rise above the sin of fear!