There’s this old story about a notorious criminal who is finally captured. He appears before the king to be brought to justice and the king presents him with two options, the man could either be hung by the gallows or choose what was behind an imposing, iron-clad door nearby. The criminal chooses the gallows, fearing that much worse must lay in wait behind the door. With the decision made, the sentence is pronounced and then the criminal asks the king what lay behind the door. “Freedom,” the king replies.
Often, fear of the unknown can be more debilitating than the actual threats that face us. We, like the criminal, can fall prey to the power of fear that binds up lives, rendering us immobile. I recently heard that fear, frequently described as anxiety in modern speak, is one of the primary reasons that people seek counseling, medication and all manner of help. I don’t blame them. It can be fearful when we feel that the future holds uncertain outcomes beyond our power to influence change.
The first usage of the word fear in scripture is actually a positive one. This surprised me.
So God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.[a] 2 And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. (Gen. 9:1, 2)
After God reaffirms the mandate to humanity to be fruitful and fill the earth, He tells them that they were to be a source of fear to all the beasts and birds and fish etc. More importantly, the Lord affirms to Noah and his sons that they were to be the masters over the created order. Their dominion, their sphere of authority, would produce fear in these beasts. Fear was to follow authority.
Fear in connected to authority. When one is under authority, like the beasts under Noah, there is a healthy fear that is established. Not all fear is bad. For instance, scripture speaks often of the fear of the Lord. But that subject is beyond the length of this article.
However, the root of fear may be bound up in this issue of authority. Check out what Paul says in Romans chapter 8:
14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. (Rom. 8:14-16)
Our starting place is this, “the spirit of bondage to fear.” “Fallen humanity begins with fear; it’s our natural state. The starting line for every person is bondage to fear. Why? Because we are not under the authority of God, we are under the authority of sin and death, we are serving a false god, therefore we are riddled with fear.
That’s both saddening and encouraging. It is encouraging to me because it means that I am not alone in my fear; I’m not the foregone basket case of despairing anxiety, and neither are you. The unredeemed are holed up with all the rest sailing on a ship named fear. Thankfully, that spirit of bondage is exactly what Christ has delivered us from. He has the power, and has exerted that power, to break us from the chains of fear delivering us into His glorious family. Through Christ our spirit of fear is exchanged for the Spirit of Adoption – here, we gain a new father, we gain a new master: Abba. We have a new identity and a new name. No longer under the authority of fear, we as children of God are under the authority of the Father.
Ok, so the reality is established that believers are not under the authority of fear, but of the Father. But why do I still struggle with feelings of fear?
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. (1 Jn. 4:18)
John gives us insight into the quelling of fears. He notes that fear involves torment. To unlock a heart from fear requires perfect love. Note the quality here. Perfect love. This isn’t just any old love. It’s certainly not power or control or anything else. It’s only the love the Father can give. He is the source of this perfect, fear-obliterating love. We also see that there is a process involved to overcoming fear. It doesn’t happen immediately like the old advice tells us, “Just face your fears.”
Fear is rebutted as the believer gains confidence in their Father. Our source of authority is changed from bondage to the Father; from fear to freedom. As we believe that the Father is our life-giver our fear of death subsides. As we believe that our Father is our provider the fears of lack subside. As we believe that the Father is our judge our fear of condemnation flees. The quality of the love that the Father currently bestows upon is perfect; we still battle fear because we see and experience that love imperfectly.
A key to overcoming fear is to experience the Father in a deeper way. As we grow in the knowledge of God the grip of fear begins to loosen its hold upon our lives. Walking in freedom from fear is available for everyone in Christ. May the Lord grant us revelation of who He is and who we are in Him.