Ever notice that people are addicted to fear? Spiders, rats, snakes, bugs, zombies, politicians, killer viruses, falling, terrorists, and the list is long and varied. An entire industry exists in the form of thrill rides designed to scare the riders. Scary movies tend to dominate at the box office. Halloween is based on spooky stuff and has become a top revenue generating holiday. Did you ever sit around with your friends in the dark and tell scary stories? Ever been home alone and start thinking about scary stories or movies you watched and freak yourself out? Humans collectively have developed fears of every known and unknown entity in the universe. Fear is one of our basic emotions and it influences decision-making. A healthy amount of fear keeps us from doing dangerous things. Too much fear causes us to make irrational decisions. Much has been written about the physiological and psychological effects of fear. Without fear it is possible humans would have gone extinct.
I am not qualified to give a full view of this subject but I can give some insights from scripture. To begin with it should be recognized that there are different types of fear. The rush a person feels from a thrill ride is not the same as the concern one has from a bad Doctor’s report. The feeling of tension a person feels when facing punishment is not the same as the fight or flight reaction when someone jumps out of the closet and hollers boo. The following is four types of fear and some scriptural application.
I. THE FEAR OF THE LORD
Psalm 19:9 (NIV) The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous.
Psalm 111:10 (NIV) The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.
The fear that is referenced in these verses is not the adrenaline fueled reaction we get from a roller coaster. “The fear of the Lord” is an Old Testament expression meaning reverential trust, including the hatred of evil. To “fear rulers” is in a similar vein, that is we are to respect their authority. God is not scary even in His mysterious ways. The kind of fear one might feel in a life threatening situation is because of a lack of trust. The fear one can feel about the Lord is a complete trust, leaning in to His presence instead of running away from it. Notice the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom not knowledge. True wisdom comes from a firm foundation of truth not from fallible human understanding. Placing trust in God provides a foundation from which a person can build values, base life decisions, and find security in times of trouble. Sin is simply not submitting to the will of God. Not trusting in the Lord places us in danger of His wrath and that is something to be greatly feared.
Another type of fear is insecurity. 2 Timothy 1:7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy during a time of great persecution of the Church. 2 Timothy was probably Paul’s last letter. Nero was the emperor and history teaches us that Jews and Christians, thought to be an extension of the Jewish faith, suffered greatly for their beliefs. We are witnessing a similar type of persecution as the IS militants are systematically torturing and killing those who refuse to follow their way of thinking. Insecurity is not a sin but it can cause sinful behavior such as denying Christ when threatened.
Anyone that has faced the challenge of public speaking knows the feeling of uncertainty. Some have likened preaching to “dying a little bit while being naked”, and that when speaking in a friendly environment. Paul was encouraging Timothy that even in times of persecution God already provided him the ability to stand proud and talk loud about his faith and the gospel message. There are many kinds of insecurity but those who embrace the gifts of the Holy Spirit can face them boldly.
I can think of nothing that reduces a person more to a sense of foreboding than the dread of having to face punishment. The temptation to hide the action that resulted in discipline can be very great. A child might lie about writing on a wall. An adult may edit paperwork to cover a mistake. A criminal may try to hide from authority. The fear of punishment is universal, even pets try to hide when facing correction from their owner.
There is a punishment that is eternal; the Bible refers to it as hell. The description of hell as a place of eternal torment beyond human imagination causes some to declare it does not exist. The fear of facing such a punishment should lead people to Christ instead, out of selfish desire, most choose to close their eyes and say “hell is just a fairy tale”. Deep in the heart of humans is the truth that a spirit world exists and with it a place of damnation also exists. Hell has many descriptions including a lake of fire, a place of utter darkness, a place of constant torment. All the descriptions shows that hell is a place of eternal separation from God. One reference in scripture to hell is Revelation 20:15 (NIV) Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. This verse gives us a clue how to avoid eternal punishment and that is have your name written in the book of life. The only way to have your name written in the book of life is through Jesus Christ.
IV. THE UNKNOWN
The fear of change is remarkably strong. Letting go of what has become a security blanket in life causes a person anxiety. Leaving a job involuntarily, moving to a new location, the loss of a close friend are just a few examples of change that brings stress. Death is listed as a top fear of the average person and at its root is the fear of the unknown. Even a well-studied theologian only has a vague idea of what awaits on the other side of life. Both eternal reward and eternal punishment is not completely defined in the Bible yet that is our only options when this life ends. Jesus challenged a rich man in Mark 10:17-22 (NIV) As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. I suggest it was not the mans wealth that prevented him from being a follower of Jesus it was his fear of change and the unknown. Holding on to material possessions or knowledge as a source of security prevents a person from embracing Christ.
VI. THE FUTURE
Facing the future tends to bring uncertainty. There are two ways to face the future; blindly by believing the only existence is the here and now, or with a faith that says “I don’t know what the future holds but I put my trust in the Lord.” This is a decision that every person makes. At some point in life everyone decides, either consciously or not, to accept or reject a creator God. Some scripture to help you understand that decision are as follows;
- Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Humans are created with freewill and that allows us to submit to or reject the authority of God. Sin is simply going against the will of God thereby breaking our relationship with Him. Every person has in some way or another sinned.
- Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life. To pay for sin death is required. As a gift, by grace and received by faith, God provided a way to have eternal life. That way is through His son Jesus.
- Acts 3:19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord. Repent means to turn around, in other words walk away from your sins. When a person truly repents of sin God forgives them.
- John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. Believe in Christ and receive everlasting life. It really is that simple. Do not be mistaken there is not other way to heaven but through Jesus Christ.
You can decide to not believe in hell or assume it is a scare tactic for religious purposes or you can choose to accept the Bible as truth. If you are ready to “fear the Lord”, find security, avoid deserved punishment, boldly face the unknown, and know your future is secure right now is the perfect time. A prayer you can use as a guide if you are sincere is; “Lord I know I have sinned against you and need your forgiveness. Please forgive all my sins. I accept the free gift of eternal life in heaven you gave through your son Jesus Christ. I ask Jesus to come into my heart to live and guide me. I choose to make you Lord of my life in all I do. Amen.”
If you have just prayed that prayer with all honesty welcome to the family of God. If you are still undecided then know it is not too late to make that decision……. until you take your last breath.
Rev. Burt Schwab