Fear: The False Guide

Fear leads to confusion, error, misdirection, and defeat in our lives. This article takes a look at episodes of fear in the lives of biblical characters and identifies roots of fear common in the lives of many people today.

Prideful self-determination will always lead to shame. And shame will always lead to fear.

Fear caused Adam and Eve to hide from God’s presence after they sinned: He [Adam] answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (Genesis 3:10).


Fear of punishment compels a man to point the finger of blame toward anywhere but self.

Fear persuaded Adam to suggest that God and Eve were at fault for his sin. God said, “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”  And Adam replied, “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it” (Genesis 3:12).


Fear stands directly in front of us, obscuring our view of personal responsibility.

Fear caused Cain to have great concern regarding his own impending punishment, but no regret for the brother he had just murdered (Genesis 4:13-14).


Fear entices us to manipulate relationships toward dishonesty.

Fear constrained Abram to ask his wife Sarai to lie to the Egyptians by telling them she was his sister but omitting that she was Abram’s wife! She was very beautiful and he was afraid the Egyptians would kill him in order to have Sarai for themselves (Genesis 12:11-13).


Fear invites us to sacrifice the integrity of our loved ones.

Still fearful, Abram even allowed Sarai to be taken as Pharaoh’s wife: So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife?…” Genesis 12:18-19)


Fear entices us to turn away from God and trust only ourselves.

Fear caused Lot to resist the direction of the angels who were telling him he would be safe in the mountains. He insisted on going to a small town called Zoar, instead. Then, soon after, fear led Lot to flee the town and live in a cave (Genesis 19:18-30).


There is no sin too lowly to commit, when one’s fear of man is stronger than one’s trust in God.

Fear compelled Abraham to lie about his wife Sarah, a second time. He said Sarah was his sister. This was a half-truth. She was his half sister and she was his wife. So, Abimelech king of Gerar took Sarah for his wife! (Genesis 20:1-11)


Ungodly behavior in response to fear may be a lesson we inadvertently
teach our children.

Fear led Isaac to lie about his wife Rebekah in the same way and for the same reason fear had led his father Abraham to lie about his wife Sarah: So Abimelech summoned Isaac and said, “She is really your wife! Why did you say, ‘she is my sister?’ ” Isaac answered him, “Because I thought I might lose my life on account of her.” Then Abimelech said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the men might well have slept with your wife” Genesis 26:9-10).


Fear of personal inadequacy in the face of a commission from God is effectually a lack of belief in the adequacy of God.

Fear persuaded Moses to doubt God’s ability to enhance his speaking ability, so that Moses would be able to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. God said to Moses: “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10) But, after Moses was given several miraculous signs with which to convince Pharaoh, Moses replied, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.” Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses… (Exodus 4:13,14)


Fear blinds the heart to faith, but gratitude reminds us of God’s faithfulness.

Fear led the Israelites in the desert to cry out in complaint whenever hardship seemed to be approaching: “But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, ‘Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?’ ” (Exodus 17:3) (Exodus 14:11-12; 15:22-24; 16:2-3).


Pride of position increases fear of rejection, leading even godly men to support the latest, popular, yet decadent, inclination of the masses. 
(Consider many of today’s politicians)

Fear induced Aaron to succumb to the demands of the Israelites to fashion idols for them to worship in Moses’ extended absence (Exodus 32:1, 21-24).


Fear of failure creates an anxiety from which despair and faithlessness are born.

Fear convinced Moses to prefer death, rather than be seen as a failure. Moses said to God: “If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now – if I have found favor in your eyes – and do not let me face my own ruin” (Numbers 11:15).


Unbelief always results in the increase of fear and the decrease of blessing.

Fear of death and defeat caused the Israelites to refuse to enter the Promised Land. Ignoring all of God’s previous miracles of provision and safety, some of the men who explored the Promised Land said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are”  (Numbers 13:31).


The one who fears will never enter His rest. 
But when we trust in God we will find rest in our inheritance.

As Israel prepared to enter the Promised Land, the Lord commanded Joshua, “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give to them. Be strong and very courageous” (Joshua 1:6-7). Speaking of the Israelites, who, forty years before were afraid to enter the promised land to claim their inheritance because of their unbelief, God pledged, “So I declared on oath in my anger, They shall never enter my rest” (Psalm 95:11).


Faced with the possibility of losing the power and pleasure that accompany 
a position of authority, fear can give license to great evil.

…Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed…and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he learned from the Magi (Matthew 2:1-16).


With great enthusiasm we may declare our allegiance to Christ.

But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die for you, I will never disown you’” (Matthew 26:35).

But where there is fear; with equal fervor we may declare that we do not know Him.

He (Peter) denied it again with an oath: “I don’t know the man!” (Matthew 26:72)


Roots of Fear

Fear, motivated by guilt is the inevitable result of deliberate acts of rebellion by created beings against a perfectly holy God. The infinite magnitude of God’s holiness provokes an appropriate reaction of fearfulness in the souls of sinful men. Because of the unrepentant sinful nature of much of humanity, fear is prevalent throughout our society today. And yet, scripture tells us that this fear of punishment can be overcome:
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment  -1 John 4:18

But, if God’s perfect love has touched our hearts through the forgiveness of our sins, there is no longer any reason to harbor a fear of punishment.


Unresolved Shame Contributes to Fear

Even when we have received forgiveness of our sins from God, sometimes a person may experience an underlying, but persistent, fear of impending punishment or disaster, unrelated to specific or current ungodly behavior. These kinds of fears most often originate from shame-based beliefs we form about ourselves as children. Eventually, these shame-based beliefs can produce inordinate levels of anxiety and become strongholds of fear as we mature.

As children, we have all had the occasion to feel guilty after doing something wrong. But when, as adults, we seem unable to leave the guilt from past sin behind us, it may be that we have come to believe that we did not really deserve forgiveness.
This lie usually develops when we are in a relationship in which a parent or significant person in our lives refuses, or appears to refuse to forgive us for an offense they believe we have committed. Or, it could be that our parents or siblings were abusive and blaming, or not supportive and we interpreted this to mean that we were unworthy, unacceptable, or unlovable. Or perhaps we were wild and crazy kids (like the author) and had to endure exceptional amounts of corrective discipline. Whatever our particular history, a fear of punishment may not be based entirely on present circumstances. Fear can emanate from past shame-based self-condemnation that relentlessly points an accusatory finger at self.


Thoughts and Patterns

Childhood perceptions of unremitted personal guilt can evolve over time into an ongoing attitude of shame. This persistent attitude of shame can evoke an underlying, yet pervasive, sense of unworthiness as an adult. From the root of unresolved  feelings of guilt, an unhealthy weed of fear can grow up in our lives. This fear can, on a daily basis, cause the adult person considerable anxiety. Fear-based judgments and doubts often arise from deep within the heart, provoking such thoughts as these:

“What’s going to happen if they realize I’m not really competent to do this job?”
“Why didn’t the pastor say ‘ Hi’ to me today in church?”
“My wife looks like she might be mad about something. I’ve got to be ready to defend myself.”
“They didn’t ask me to participate. They must think I’m not good enough!”
“If I don’t give him what he wants, he’ll leave me.”

These kinds of thoughts represent a common pattern from which we may be able to discern a progressive model of dysfunctional developments that have evolved historically within the soul:

1st   –  Unresolved feelings of guilt.
2nd  –  A pervasive attitude of shame.
3rd   –  An underlying fear of personal unworthiness.
4th  –  Judgments and doubts about self, others, and God.
5th  –  Strongholds of fear.

Feelings of guilt can have a justifiable origin if there is current sin that is not confessed and repented of in our lives. But, apart from this, if we have received Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, and thus, have been forgiven of all our sins, scripture declares,

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…
-Romans 8:1


Childhood Perceptions

Strongholds of fear in our lives also frequently arise from inaccurate childhood perceptions that have developed into false beliefs. Sometimes children’s perceptions are accurate, but, more often, their perspective is hindered by a lack of information and experience.
When I was a young boy, I saw a mother cow giving birth to a calf in a barn. At the time, the cow seemed to me to be as large as an elephant. It was scary to me. Years later, as we drove by a pasture with mature cows grazing, I asked, “How come all these cows are so small!?” After being informed that the cows were a normal size, I asked, “Then how come that cow I saw giving birth in the barn was so huge? ” I was told, “That cow wasn’t so huge, you were so little!” Although this made sense to me immediately, I still had difficulty believing this explanation because my memory was based on an exceptionally vivid experience.
In a similar way, we react to circumstances today by relying upon either a conscious or subconscious referencing of perceptions from past experiences. These past experiences did not need to be exceptionally vivid in order to impact our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors today. They could also have been repetitive, rather than particularly memorable, since repetitive events shape our perspective just as well as dramatic experiences.
Whether we have precise memories or relatively vague recollections of past events, it is frequently our original perceptions that have the most substantial influence, both positively and negatively in us today. If, for whatever reason, we do not translate our original childhood perceptions into a grace-based Christian perspective as we become adults, we may grow to believe fear-based lies about the world, other people, God, and ourselves.


Christ has Eliminated our Guilt

God’s word assures us, as Christians, that there is no longer any reason to live in fear of punishment. If there are strongholds of fear in our lives, it may be the result of shame-based lies that are hidden deeply within our souls but are still influencing us. To understand and effectively reject the roots from which these lies have grown up, we must depend on the Holy Spirit. Only God can direct us to an accurate discernment of the truth:

“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth”

-John 16:13

And an accurate discernment of the lies:

“Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment…”
-John 16:7-8

Continuing to believe shame-based lies about our personal acceptability is actually an affront to the sacrifice Jesus made by dying on the cross for our sins. Christ’s sacrifice entirely eliminates our responsibility of guilt before God for our sins. Punishment is no longer necessary for anyone who receives, by faith, Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice for the forgiveness of their sins.
With the counsel of the Holy Spirit and by our willing cooperation through forgiveness, repentance, and surrender to God’s will, we can apprehend the necessary grace to escape the bondage of worldly lies imprisoning our souls in cages of fear.
Fear melts away before the warmth of the light of God’s grace. God’s grace, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can shine into the darkness, dispelling the lies, so that the love of God might come to reside where the darkness of fear once dwelt. We experience this love as we look to the cross and truly believe that Jesus has already suffered the ultimate punishment for our sins.

As His work of love is being completed within us, we have this promise and exhortation from the Lord:


“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you all things

and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
Peace I leave with you;
my peace I give you.

I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled
do not be afraid.”

John 14: 26-27


Copyright © 2000 by R. Thomas Brass
All rights reserved.