Worldly Fear vs Godly Fear


Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his first inaugural address to a nation in the throes of economic depression. In this first speech FDR proclaimed, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” From a spiritual perspective, his words are not entirely accurate

There are some fears that are legitimate and necessary.  We might categorize these fears as “godly fear.”

While there are healthy fears, there is a fear that is one of the greatest impediments to improving the human condition. God commands His people over three hundred times to “fear not.” The frequency of the command indicates the far-reaching consequences of a life led by improper fear.

Worldly Fear Fixates on What MIGHT Happen

Consider, for example, the children of Israel. The children of Israel were poised to invade the land of Canaan one year after their exodus from Egypt. But they received an unfavorable report from ten of their twelve spies. 

  • Formidable armies protected this abundant and rich land. 
  • The inhabitants fortified their major cities. 
  • The prospect of victory seemed slim; total annihilation seemed much more likely.  

Israel chose to accept the narrative of the ten spies and their resolve withered in the face of worldly fear.  

If we allow it, worldly fear tells us wild stories about what might be happening now or what might happen in the future.

  • Will I die from a debilitating disease or from cancer or Alzheimer’s?  
  • What will I lose in the future:  my figure, my spouse, my hair, my youth, my mind, my money or job or hobbies or purpose or faith?
  • Will I die alone, penniless, without friends or family to console me?
  • Will I always be unloved and alone?
  • Can I love someone without getting hurt?

Fight Fears with Facts

Facts are the only way to confront and defeat these debilitating stories we tell ourselves. Think back to the children of Israel for a moment. Israel forgot what had taken place within the last year.

  • The plagues
  • The crossing of the Red Sea
  • The manna in the wilderness
  • The terrifying glory of God on Mount Sinai.

Fears about what MIGHT happen lead us to forget how God has been with us in the past. We may have NO reason to wonder about any of these things; and yet, if we allow it, our fears over what MIGHT happen to us can rule our lives to the point of ruin.

Joshua and Caleb, the two spies who did not agree with the other ten, attempted to offer a counter-narrative that hinged on two facts. The land is good. If we are faithful, God will be with us and we will prevail. The children of Israel did not listen to Joshua and Caleb, but their attempt to persuade shows us a way forward:  fears must be met with facts.

Worldly Fear Cowers in Secrecy

When Adam and Eve sinned, how did they respond? They hid from God. Why did they hide from God?  Genesis 3:10,

“So Adam said, ‘I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.’”

Adam’s sin led him to fear, and fear compelled him to hide.

Worldly fear cowers in secrecy. We conceal because we fear what God, or others, might think about our transgressions or our faults or our flaws.  We hide our sins because we fear the sacrifices that may be required to right our wrongs. It hurts to change, so we bury the sin and practice it in secret.  

Fear leads to secrecy and secrecy keeps us from confronting our sin. But secrecy corrupts our souls. Secrecy also strengthens sin. The longer a sin stays secret, the stronger it grows because consequences are not immediate. The greater sin’s hold, the deeper the corruption goes.

In Psalm 32, David describes in poetic language the burden and consequences of hidden sin. 

“When I kept silent, my bones grew old Through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was turned into the drought of summer” (verses 3-4).

Harboring our sin out of worldly fear does not avoid pain, it increases our guilt and shame and thereby increases our suffering. The secrecy rooted in fear only hurts us.

Overcome Fear with Confession

David gives us the solution in Psalm 32:5. 

“I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ And You forgave the iniquity of my sin.”

Confession, not suppression, is how we heal the pain, hurt, and guilt; and confession is how we defeat worldly fear.

Worldly Fear is Inclined to Delay

Adam and Eve did not seek out God to throw themselves on His mercy. When they heard him in the Garden, they attempted to avoid Him. They did not seek out God on their own initiative. It was God who called to Adam, “Where are you?” Adam and Eve delayed confronting their sin until they could avoid it no longer.

In Acts 24, Paul preached Christ to the Roman governor, Felix. Luke tells us in Acts 24:25, 

“Now as (Paul) reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, ‘Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.’”

Paul’s message reached Felix; he was convicted and afraid. But rather than confronting those fears, Felix delayed. Worldly fear urges us to wait for a more convenient day: “I will do this one more time and then tomorrow I will fix it.”  

Since it dwells in the realm of imagination, worldly fear always believes there is more time. We tell ourselves things like: “I’ll binge on porn just one more time; and that will be the last.” “I’ll quit smoking next week when I don’t work as many days.”  We know what we do is either wrong or is harming us or both, and yet we convince ourselves we will have time to fix it later.

A delay might briefly release the grip of fear, but the relief is temporary. With the next sin, fear awakens like a hibernating beast, waiting to be fed.

We Defeat Fear by Acting with Urgency

When the message of Peter convicted his fellow Jews on the day of Pentecost, Luke tells us in Acts 2:41 that three thousand souls were baptized on that DAY. When the Ethiopian eunuch saw water, he wanted to be baptized immediately. Ananias asked Paul, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Paul tells the Corinthians “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

Fear tells us we have more time; the Bible urges us to act and to act quickly.

Worldly Fear Leads to Hopelessness

Worldly fear tells us that we have wandered beyond hope. The possibility for change seems unattainable. Death looms like a specter and our fear of it ensnares, imprisons and enslaves. As sins multiply, life grows ever more complicated.It becomes so complex that we cannot see a way of unraveling all of the twists and knots we have created.

Convinced there is no escape, we become spiritually incapacitated, overwhelmed by a sense of apathy and isolation. “Oh, wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

No matter how bad or worthless or irredeemable we think we are, no one is beyond the grace of God. 

Nineveh was a wicked city on the verge of receiving God’s wrath. But the entire city was given a reprieve when it repented at the preaching of Jonah. 

Manasseh was widely held to be the most wicked king in Judah’s history. And yet when he was punished, he humbled himself and was restored to the throne. 

Before he became a Christian, Paul persecuted the church and, by his own admission, attempted to destroy it. But God had mercy and called him to salvation in Jesus Christ.

No matter how far you think you have fallen, no matter what you have done, you are not beyond the grace of God. God is not willing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance. If you genuinely believe in Jesus and repent – like all of these people I just mentioned – God will receive you.

The future can be brighter and better for you. So don’t listen to the voice of fear. Turn away from the dark path of sin and death and turn toward the narrow way that leads to life. 

Worldly Fear is an Effective Deceiver

All of these facets of worldly fear share this common trait.

Like the children of Israel, worldly fear leads us to fixate on what MIGHT happen rather than remember what God HAS done for us. Fear tells us to keep our sin secret and thereby keep ourselves safe. Worldly fear tells us we will always have time to confront our sins tomorrow.

But all of these are lies in one way or another and the solutions are found in doing the exact opposite. Focus on facts, on what you know, on what you have experienced, rather than on what you imagine MIGHT happen. Confession, not suppression, brings healing. We don’t have all the time in the world; our sins need to be confronted with urgency, not delay. All hope for you is NOT lost; God’s grace is greater than our sins!

Don’t buy into the lies of worldly fear!

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One Comment

  1. […] In a previous article, I explored the concept of worldly fear. Like the children of Israel, worldly fear leads us to fixate on what MIGHT happen rather than remember what God HAS done for us. Fear tells us to keep our sin secret and thereby keep ourselves safe. Worldly fear tells us we will always have time to confront our sins tomorrow. Worldly fear robs us of hope and tells us lies. These are the types of fears the Bible tells us to cast aside. […]

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