If death is the robber of all material possessions; fear is the robber of all spiritual joys.
Fear has many faces and every Christian can expect to be affected by a number of them. Fear in its milder expressions may be manifested in shyness, timidity, apprehension, concern, anxiety, insecurity, worry or hesitancy. It may take on more violent forms: terror, horror, dread, panic, frenzy, alarm or fright.
The general term “phobias” includes a great number of illogical fears. There are literally hundreds of these. A phobia exists when a person is under constant apprehension about meeting some common, everyday experience that should not bother him at all. It could be going to the dentist, flying in a plane, driving in a car, meeting someone new, and on and on. Many of these have scientific names such as hydrophobia, the fear of water; claustrophobia, the fear of tight places; agoraphobia, the fear of a broad expanse that is barren with no protective covering; ailurophobia, the fear of cats; plus scores of others.
Franklin Roosevelt, former president of the United States, in one of his well-known speeches said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Fear of fear is very serious and often results in nervous disorders.
One deeply rooted fear invariably spawns countless other fears and each gains strength from the other until the whole world seems to close in on the unwilling victim.
Most Christians are ashamed of their fear patterns and have secret guilt feelings about them. They believe that if they were living for the Lord they would not be afraid of anything in life or death. They have read such verses as 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us the spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” Or 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” Or Deuteronomy 31:6: “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the One who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.”
Why then, if these verses are true, are Christians afraid? Why does not receiving the Lord Jesus Christ and becoming a new creature in Him automatically abolish all sensation of fear?
The answer is extremely simple and yet often overlooked.
When a person is born into this world, he is born into an environment of hostility. There are those who believe babies are born with instinctive fears, such as darkness, falling, or being left alone. This may be true, but it is certainly true that fear quickly develops and as life goes on, fears are added with new experiences.
Psychologists and psychiatrists have attempted to instill into their patients a carefree, guilt free, fear free attitude toward life, but they can only partially succeed. Often temporary fears are removed by knowledge of the problem, but underneath the surface these fears are ready to be reactivated.
The Scriptures give us a backdrop for understanding why fear exists – even in the lives of many Christians. When a person receives the Lord Jesus Christ as his personal Savior, he does not lose his identity with this world. The sin nature is not reformed; it is killed with Christ on Calvary. Thus it becomes dead as far as God is concerned. But the natural man is still very much alive to the world and reacts to its surroundings. The act of receiving Christ as one’s personal Savior does not mean the flesh nature is obliterated.
The step of placing one’s faith in Christ brings a birth from above; a new creation enters into the body. This new creation is described in Ephesians 4:23-24, “And that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” It is also described in Colossians 3 :9-10, “… since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.”
This new nature is conceived by the Holy Spirit. It is born of God and it cannot sin, so it cannot become afraid. “We know that no one who is born of God sins” (1 Jn. 5:18a). “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (1 Jn. 3:9). This corresponds with the truth that the new creation that comes by receiving Christ as Savior is created in the very image of God and thus cannot do evil.
In no way, however, does this affect the basic characteristics of the old nature. Again, it is true God views the old man as crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6), but the old man, as Paul puts it, is still wretched and is subject to fear.
A paradox is thus set up within the believer. He becomes two people at the same time; the old man sold under sin, and the new man created in the image of his Creator. Conflict between these two natures thus becomes the pattern of the believer’s life. “For the flesh sets it desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal. 5:17). Fear takes over the body and weakens the Christian’s position when the new nature is not developed nor fed properly.
It might be said that an alert Christian can be totally tranquil in his new nature and yet fearful in his old nature. If upon occasion you discover this, then you will see the truth of Romans 7:17, “So now, no longer am I [my new nature] the one doing it, but sin [my old sinful self] which indwells me.”
Let us look at 2 Timothy 1:7 again. God has given us a new birth, a new creation, the new man, so we will be able to look at life with a sound mind. In other words, He has given us the ability to know ourselves and the weaknesses of our old natures. This spiritual man is not subject to fear. This knowledge, in turn, allows us to view our old natures for just what they are: dead, wretched, depraved, and often times afraid. Paul says of the old nature that, “…but I see a different law in the members [the law of my old nature] of my body … making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom. 7:23). The old nature is like a monkey on our back, constantly trying to exert his self-centered feelings against the new nature.
The Christian thus is to view fear from the new nature’s focal point; a harassment, but nothing to get upset about.
Someone has divided the innumerable fears into six basic categories. All fears, from the mildest forms to the most violent ones, fit into this structure. The first three deal with mental attitudes, while the last three are related to the physical aspects of life. Every Christian, sooner or later, may face these fears:
1) The fear of poverty. This involves the desire for total security when it comes to material things. How many Christian men have married their jobs to the neglect of their wives and children for the sake of making more money? How many Christian women have gone to work to get more material belongings? How many Christians have failed to teach Sunday school, or to sing in the choir, or take other positions within the structure of God’s Word because of the love of money and the fear of not having it?
They do this in spite of God’s promise to the new nature in Philippians 4:19, “And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
This does not mean, of course, that the believer should cease to work. The Lord makes that clear in 1 Thessalonians 4:11. It does mean that the Christian’s new nature, conditioned by the knowledge of what God has said, will not be concerned about the fear of poverty.
2) The fear of criticism. The old nature is very proud. It wants to be accepted by everybody to gain its own desires. The old nature can’t stand criticism.
The new nature’s attitude toward criticism is described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:3, 4, “But to me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the One who examines me is the Lord.”
3) The fear of the loss of love. The old nature is driven passionately and relentlessly in its effort to give love, and to a greater extent to get love. Its pursuit takes on hideous forms. Jealousy rages if love is threatened. The world is crazed with exploiting various aspects of love. Articles and books are written on how to achieve one’s desires. Some magazines are devoted entirely to giving lonely and unloved people an opportunity to read of the love of others and so to experience it vicariously.
At best all the activities of the old nature to obtain love are spent for a temporary acquirement, for all love on a human level comes to an end and death is the final robber of those who loved us and those whom we love.
The new nature’s view of love, on the other hand, is permanent. On the human level, the highest quality of love one Christian can give another is spiritual love. While death may temporarily set aside love by separation, it is an eternal thing, for in heaven it will continue forever.
There is a level of love experienced by the new nature that goes beyond this. It is the love of the Lord for the believer. One of the requirements of love on any plane is its ability to accept others for just what they are – without fault-finding, without criticism, without asking anything in return. This is the kind of love the Lord gives the believer. He tells us He loved us while we were yet sinners and that Christ died for us as a result of this love. To allow one’s new nature to grow and develop under the warmth of the Lord’s love is to become a well-balanced person with a self-respect and an awesome concern for others on the human plane.
What the Lord said to Israel through Jeremiah, He says to us:
“The Lord appeared to him from afar, saying, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have drawn you with lovingkindness” (Jer. 31:3).
4) The fear of illness. The old nature views all illness with apprehension, for even a minor illness produces discomfort and pain. One doctor declared that not only do illnesses produce fear, but fear produces illnesses. “I would suppose,” he went on, “that seventy-five percent of my patients come to me because of some illness produced by nerves. While some of these situations are unavoidable, I think that most of these problems could be avoided if people would learn to relax and enjoy life instead of worrying constantly about problems that seldom materialize.”
There are illnesses, of course, that have nothing to do with nervous tensions. Paul quite apparently had this experience, and in 2 Corinthians 12 he records that he prayed three times about a certain infirmity. There was no change in the illness; it persisted, but the Lord spoke to Paul as He does to us and said, “My grace is sufficient for you; for power is perfected in weakness.” This explanation satisfied Paul, and he said, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses” (2 Cor. 12:9-10). It takes a well fed new nature to make this statement.
This was Paul’s evaluation of his illness from his new nature’s point of view. His illness, instead of being a burden, became a blessing. The old nature views illness as a threat to comfort, to production and an interference to fleshly desires. Paul, in his new nature, knew, as we must learn, illness is by God’s permissive will, and while the circumstances may surprise us, God is not surprised nor is He ever mistaken about permitting such things to come to the Christian. The Christian’s new nature must be abandoned to God to accept what comes, for in so doing the Lord is honored and the believer’s faith is strengthened.
After all, is not illness a sign of the temporary aspect of this life? While death is an enemy, it is a conquered enemy. Paul said, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain … and (to) be with Christ, for that is very much better” (Phil. 1:21, 23).
5) The fear of old age. The old nature looks at old age as a period of time when productiveness is gone. Old age viewed from simply the human side of things is enough to strike fear and terror to any intelligent person. What could be worse than being shuttled among sons and daughters who no longer need parents? What could be worse than being banished to a small room in an institution to wait for the end? What could be worse than forced retirement for the man who originally established a firm and engineered its growth?
From the new nature’s point of view, old age, like illness, is an indication that the Christian is drawing close to the time when he will be in the presence of Christ. If an older Christian is indoctrinated thoroughly by what God has told him through the years, he will recognize God is making no mistake in permitting him to stay on earth, for as the Lord told Joshua, “You are very old, but there is much more I have for you to do.”
Older Christians ought to welcome this period of time. The young need the experienced testimony of their new natures. Prayer surely ought to occupy much of the older believer’s time. Letters of encouragement to missionaries, to the hospitalized, to the young in service, to Christian radio broadcasts should occupy their days. A sense of being a part in God’s program should be enjoyed. Paul not only called himself aged, but he was also a prisoner. He did not surrender to his circumstances. He had no fear in his new nature, and he was a soul winner up to the end.
6) The fear of death.We have already suggested that illness and old age are preludes to death. If Christ does not return, death is the route home to be with the Lord. Death is always a unique experience for each Christian. It is an adventure no one else can share.
The old nature views death as the robber of all material things and so it is. Death breaks earthly ties. Loved ones are separated, home is left, friends are severed by it. Death, for the old nature, is true death, for the Christian’s old nature does not exist beyond this point. (That alone ought to take away much of the pangs of death.)
The new nature’s viewpoint of death reaches a glorious climax. “We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).
The new nature recognizes that death once was his enemy but no longer is, for it believes, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? (1 Cor. 15:55-57).
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