Living with Fear and Following Jesus

fearFear can be absolutely crippling. Dan Wickert tells the story of a counselee he had years ago who was so afraid of contracting AIDS that she couldn’t even sit on her own toilet seat (Counseling the Hard Cases,119). I have counseled others who were afraid to leave their apartment, afraid to go to church, and one young lady who was afraid to cross bridges for fear that she would jump off of them. Fear can be irrational, overwhelming, and utterly debilitating. Living with fear, then, will make it extremely difficult to follow Jesus.

It is, of course, not easy for any of us to follow Jesus. The woman who struggles with same-sex attraction, the man who overeats, the woman who gets angry, all these and more find that following Jesus is challenging. It is not for nothing that Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). Taking up crosses signifies just how hard it is. But if I were to focus simply on fear, I can appreciate the unique challenges fear presents to obedience to Christ.

Following Christ is risky. I am commanded to love Jesus more than I love my family (Matt. 10:37). I am commanded to love Jesus more than I love my comfort and safety (Matt. 16:25). I am commanded to let go of bitterness and hatred (Matt. 5:44), to resist the temptation to love money (Heb. 13:5), and to be conscious of the devil’s attacks (1 Peter 5:8). We are commanded to fight against sin in our own hearts and lives (Col. 3:5), which is a terribly hard thing to do. We are told that we will be hated by many (Matt. 10:22), and betrayed by those we love (Matt. 10:21-22). Perhaps most terrifying of all we are commanded not to be terrified, not to worry (Matt. 6:25-34). This is so scary for some of us because while our anxiety is awful, it is also some how comforting. Yet, Jesus commands us, despite all these other commands and warnings, do not fear! Following Christ is sometimes scary.

If I am ruled by fear then I cannot follow Christ. I cannot go where he would lead me, count my life as forfeit, nor take up my cross. I cannot die to self. I cannot love others (1 John 4:18). When fear rules us it takes the place of God. Fear says, “you can’t do that, what will others say.” But God says, “Serve me, not man” (Gal. 1:10). Fear says, “Don’t go there, it’s dangerous.” God says, “I will watch over you even in the darkest places” (Psalm 23:4). Fear says, “You’re going to fail.” God says, “My grace can handle your failures” (1 John 1:9). Fear says, “I am not strong enough.” God says, “I am” (2 Cor. 12:10). Fear says, “I might suffer.” God says, “I can use even that for your good” (Rom. 8:28). The question each anxious Christian must ask themselves is this: who will I believe? Fear or God? You can’t follow Christ while you submit to fear (2 Tim. 1:7). Who will you listen to?

Fear shrinks our world. All we can see in that moment of anxiety is the potential problem, threat, or loss. All we can see in that moment of anxiety is the anxiety. Fear causes us to lose sight of the big picture. We miss God, we overlook His power and control and presence. To battle fear I need to be able to pull up and see my present circumstance, or potential worry in light of God’s larger plan. I need to see that even the realization of my worst fear is within God’s control. The gospel helps me to grasp this, because in the gospel God takes what is evil – the murder of His son – and uses it to accomplish His ultimate plan – the redemption of sinners. To follow this Christ means to accept the reality of suffering, but it also means to accept the goodness of God within that suffering.

The gospel robs fear of its power! There is nothing that happens in the life of a believer that is not part of God’s good design and under His sovereign control (Rom. 8:28). There is nothing that can separate me from His love (Rom. 8:31-39), nor anything that can cause me to abandon my hope in Him (Rom. 5:1-5). Fear, where is your sting? Fear, where is your victory? It is swallowed up in the victory of God! You cannot be ruled by fear and follow Christ. But if you will follow Christ, even in small incremental steps, fear will lose its grip on you.

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