Fear not

When God says, “Fear not,” are those words a command or a promise? I would like to answer, “Both,” or, “It depends upon the context,” or, “Why do you want to know?” This question is not easily answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”

“Fear not” as a command from God relates to the first commandment—have no other gods—and the greatest commandment—love the Lord your God with all your heart and strength and soul and mind. We are to fear the Lord above all else. When something frightens us, we are to turn to the Lord for strength. When we remain in fear and do not draw strength from the Lord, we are allowing an obstacle to stand between us and God, and any such obstacle is sin.

Yet God gave us the emotion of fear for a reason. The surge of energy that accompanies fear gives us power to run away from danger or power to stand and fight danger. Courage does not mean a lack of fear; courage means doing the right thing in spite of fear. Many people enjoy the feeling of fear, which is why they ride roller coasters or watch horror movies. Other people are plagued by ongoing feelings of fear and anxiety, prompting them to take medicines and undergo therapy to escape those feelings. Telling either group of people that fear is a sin against God would be misguided and inappropriate.

“Fear not” as a promise from God relates to his love, his mercy, and his power. When God tells us not to fear, he is promising us that we have no reason to fear. God is stronger than all our enemies. He has already defeated all our enemies. The devil, the sinful world, the sinful nature we still possess, and death which results from sin: they have all lost to Christ, and he shares his victory with us.

A person who uses fear as an excuse not to obey God should be told that God commands us not to fear. We should love God more than anything else, we should trust God more than anything else, and we should fear God more than anything else. Fear of danger is no reason to disobey God. God says, “Take courage and do not fear, for I will never leave you or forsake you.”

A person who suffers from phobias or from generalized anxiety should not be told that God commands us not to fear. Adding guilt to that person’s troubles will not help that person—adding guilt is likely to move that person toward despair. That person instead needs to be told that “fear not” is a promise. He or she will not be punished for being fearful, but God will provide a way to endure the fear and to cling to God’s victory in spite of the fear. Fear itself can be frightening, and that creates a vicious spiral that only worsens when guilt is added to fear. The remedy for fear is faith, and faith comes only from the comforting promises of God’s Word. We have a reason not to fear, but that reason is not the command of God. Our reason not to fear encompasses the grace of God, the love of God, and the victory of God. J.

8 thoughts on “Fear not

  1. It’s hard to talk about such things to two different groups of people, isn’t it? I actually empathize with Pastors because I suspect half their congregations are wracked by guilt and shame that doesn’t even belong to them, while the other half ought to be ashamed of themselves. 🙂

    So, fear of God is a tricky thing indeed, because we aren’t talking about “scary” as if the stove is too hot. We are speaking of how our heavenly Father is scary enough, big and powerful enough, to keep all the bad things at bay so we will be safe. Half the people need to be told that indeed, the stove is hot and you should not be mocking God. The other half of the people just hear the words “fear of God” and simply run from Him in a panic.

    Sin is another challenging idea, because should we feel guilty for sin? Yes, when we are cursing someone out or setting fire to their mailbox or something. By the sin that was a handed to us by others? No, that is guilt and shame that does not even belong to us. But it’s still sin because it keeps us separate from God, because it harms us, because it keeps us from living up to our full potential.

    I used to also believe “fear not” was a promise and so I stayed trapped in fear, flying, snakes, mean people, conflict, fires, germs, etc, etc. It wasn’t until I recognized all those “fear nots” as a commandment that I started to break free. Yes, I actually felt guilty for being so anxious. God said He did not give us a spirit of fear. Christ went to the cross despising the shame on our behalf. So neither shame nor fear belong to us, they are tools of the enemy and we can find healing for both.

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    • Your last paragraph is the opposite of my experience. Thinking that “fear not” was a commandment, I blamed myself for all my fears and felt that I was drifting farther from God. Realizing that “fear not” can also be a promise, I felt my fears conquered and relieved. Shame and fear as tools of the enemy–exactly! The enemy manages to make us worry about how much we worry, afraid of our fear, and guilty about being tempted even when we have resisted temptation. J.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, God deals with all of us as individuals, so if that is where God has lead you, than that is just the right place for you to be. So long as we know that God’s desire for us is to be free of shame and fear, it’s all good. Sadly, there are some who don’t get that, some who think fear and shame are somehow Godly.

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  2. Really interesting thoughts, and I appreciate your compassionate grace to people who suffer from anxiety and such related maladies. Have you ever read John Bunyan’s classic, Pilgrim’s Progress? There is a character in there named Fearful. Great analogy in that character!

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    • Yes, I have read Pilgrim’s Progress, and I remember Fearful. Of course Bunyan wrote long before our modern understanding of anxiety, depression, and other symptoms of illness. But sometimes the earlier writers are clearer in their perceptions of human emotion than today’s writers. J.

      Liked by 1 person

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