I read the Bible with a very simple principle in mind: God never wastes words. If God says something, shows his character, gives a command, or speaks a word of comfort, we need it. Whatever is in the Bible is included on purpose.
One phrase that is repeated many times in the Bible is, “Fear not.” If you have read the accounts of the birth of Jesus you will remember that, when the announcement was made, the angel of the Lord began with, “Fear not.” We can assume that anytime an angel shows up and starts talking to a person, some kind of fear or shock will be the result.
“Fear not” is spoken at other times in the Bible. Abraham, the children of Israel on their way out of Egypt, King David, and the disciples of Jesus also heard these words.
God never wastes words. He tells the people in the Bible – and through them he tells us – not to fear. Why? Because we fear. Everyone fears something. Fear is part of the human experience.
What kind of fear is God talking about when he tells us not to have it? Does he mean that we should switch off the “fight or flight” instinct we experience when faced with a threat? Probably not. That instinct will stop us before we step in front of an oncoming car, and speeds us up when being chased by a dog.
Does the Lord expect us to have a change in our basic personality type if we are naturally inclined to over-analyze, be cautious, and have a greater level of concern than others do? This is tricky territory, but it seems safe to say that we are what we are in our personality; God will certainly meet us where we are and help us to grow in Christ-likeness, but we will always have our basic personality. And, we should not attribute levels of spirituality to certain types of personality.
So, what kind of fear are we not to have? A closer look at the “fear not” exhortations in the Bible shows us that, while the instincts and personalities of the people hearing these words are certainly present, the deeper issue is their relationship to God. The Lord is speaking to these people in relationship to himself, not to themselves. He is telling them not to be afraid of him. God, in grace, reveals himself to these people, calls them into relationship with himself, and includes them in his plans for the world. His presence in the lives of these people comes with promises, purpose, and the assurance of being his people.
This assurance is the reason we can live before God without fear. Being at peace with God rather than being afraid before him comes through knowing that our sins are forgiven, and that we are reconciled to him. The realities of forgiveness and reconciliation are rooted in the cross of Christ where Jesus hung between God and humanity, bearing the condemnation of our sin in his body. By grace, through faith, we do not fear. When we trust in Christ and enter life with him, we have reason for peace to replace our fear.
This Sunday at Grace, we will begin an Advent sermon series leading up to Christmas Eve where we will hear the angel of the Lord announce, “Fear not.”