Three Misconceptions about Fear

I’m texting with a friend about some fears she has been struggling with, and my heart is unsettled. Her way of dealing with them? Be brave enough. 

Then I’m listening to a female speaker address her audience regarding their fears, and her encouragement is that we can and should pursue, by God’s power, to become fearless. There’s Jesus for that, she says.

And then my own soul sinks in discouragement as I revisit the same fears––the loss of loved ones, tragedy, getting through a hard day of mothering when energy is depleted––and I wonder, Will I ever get over these fears? Why can’t I seem to shake them? 

Distorted Fear

The above scenarios represent three common ways we deal with fear. Do you resonate with any of them? Whether in the world at large or within evangelical culture, humanity has created some inspiring and ambitious tactics to drive out this very pervasive enemy. Of course we have. Fear is an unwelcome reality; it’s not the way things were meant to be. 

God created us to walk with Him closely, to obey him and enjoy him, and thereby to glorify Him; He made us to fear Him (Gen. 2; Deut. 10:12–13). But we chose our own way, rebelling against Him (Gen. 3), and now, rather than coming to God in holy fear––in worshipful reverence and awe––our sin causes us to hide from Him (Gen. 3:8), and it distorts our fear of the Lord. Sin turned awe of God into terror before Him, reverence into rebellion against Him, and worship of God alone into idolatry. The once-awesome fear of the Lord has become awful to us.

When we no longer fear God as we ought, we fear lesser things too much. 

Three Misconceptions about Fear

How we deal with our fears matters. Yes, we want to fight fear, and we want to return to a right fear of the Lord, but the real question is, are these three ways of thinking about fighting fear helpful and true? Let’s look at them one at a time.

Misconception #1: You can choose fearlessness.

Imagine that you’re drowning in the ocean. You’re flailing in the water and starting to sink into the abyss, with no one and nothing around you to act as a support. Would it be fair to say at this point that you can help yourself? No. You’re helpless, and you need rescue from the outside (Ps. 31:1–2, 14–15).

Yet, the self-help movement says the opposite is true: Look to yourself for rescue. Look within yourself for the help you need. But if you’re struggling in the water, that’s not going to work. You are the problem. You need a solution from the outside.

We can say that bravery and courage are the remedy to fear, like my friend did, but what if we aren’t feeling so brave or so courageous at any given moment? What then? How can we possibly scrounge up enough gusto from weak and weary hearts that are scared silly? Self-help is a powerless method of dealing with our fears. 

Misconception #2: You should pursue fearlessness.

This second theory of fighting fear makes fearlessness the ultimate goal. For the believer, Jesus becomes merely a means to this end, a kind of self-help genie who can help you out of the mess you’re in. Jesus offers freedom from fear, but it’s the freedom we want, not Jesus. Jesus offers us a better life, because He has the power to change the things that make us fearful, but it’s the better life we want, not necessarily Him. Often, we want what Jesus can give us, but not Jesus Himself. This misconception is more subtle than we realize. 

Does the Christian life come with benefits and gifts of grace like the ability to fight fear? Absolutely (Eph. 2:7). Yet Jesus is the true Gift. He’s the One we pursue. He’s the One who created us to know and love and fear Him. So the way to begin fighting our fears is to pursue fearing Jesus as our ultimate aim (Ps. 31:19). As we grow in fearing Him––worshiping him with the reverence and awe his glory deserves––our fears will be put in their place. 

As we pursue the fear of the Lord, we will begin to fear lesser things less.

Misconception #3: You will be fearless.

Third, fighting our fears is a process that tends to happen gradually. Yes, Jesus has completely broken fear’s power, but this does not mean that fear is no longer a problem for those who follow Him (Rom. 7:21). Has Jesus defeated sin and the devil? No doubt. And can Jesus do an astounding and dramatic work in our souls to free us from certain fears? Absolutely. But the issue remains that Christians live in a now-but-not-yet reality, and that, while sin’s power is indeed broken, its presence is ongoing (Rom. 7:24–25). 

Sanctification––transformation into Christlikeness––happens gradually. The expectation that knowing Jesus automatically equals fearlessness is unrealistic, and, therefore, it can be defeating for Christians who can’t seem to overcome their fears.

Fight Your Fears

So, if the above misconceptions aren’t the way to deal with fear, then what’s the right way? When Jesus says, “Fear not” and “Do not be afraid,” He knows full-well that we won’t obey Him perfectly. We will continue to struggle with fear, and we certainly won’t be fearless in this life. But that’s exactly why we need Him. That’s why He came––to do the impossible for us. To give us what we need to obey His commands. To rescue us, to help us know Him, trust Him, treasure Him, glorify Him, fear Him. To give us grace and power to fight our fears. 

The key word here is fight. We return to Jesus again and again––we fight––and in doing so, we learn to keep coming to Him (2 Tim. 4:7). We learn to keep reorienting our minds and hearts, putting fear in its place beneath the feet of our Lord and Savior Jesus. Dependence becomes our posture and prayerfulness, our regular practice. We fight, and we keep fighting by turning and returning to Him: 

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. (Ps. 56:3)

The antidote to fear isn’t self-esteem or fearlessness, but our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who is worthy to be feared. This Jesus dwells within believers by His Spirit, giving us what we need to fight our fears as we continually look to Him. 

Portions of this post were taken from Kristen’s book, Fight Your Fears: Trusting the Character and Promises of God When You Are Afraid.

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