In his 1933 inaugural address, Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Those words apply as well today as they did at the height of the Great Depression. It seems that from every side we are being bombarded with a message of fear by people who wish to manipulate our fears to advance their agenda.
Fear Is All Around Us
Take, for instance, the recent tragic terrorist shooting in Orlando. In the hours, not days, after the attack, various groups tried to capitalize on the fear that it struck in the hearts of Americans. Democratic lawmakers seized the opportunity to lobby for gun control. The LGBT movement blamed the “culture of hate” on Christians in America. Similarly, Donald Trump has preyed on deep-rooted fears of terrorism and displacement to advance an agenda of populist nationalism.
Sometimes, the fear-mongering strikes even closer to home. Recently, the internet was unmerciful to the mother who watched her toddler flung around by a massive gorilla and the father who lost his child to the jaws of a stalking alligator. Although such occurrences are rare, people take advantage of these situations to self-righteously shame others in order to promote agendas like “animal rights” or “better parenting”. As a result, many mothers live constantly in the fear of what will happen if they lose sight of their child for one second, or if something unexpected happens.
Fear Is Dangerous
This culture of fear-mongering is harmful and debilitating. Physiologically, fear causes the brain to short-circuit. The brain interprets events that happen in a state of fear negatively, often triggering strong defensive reactions. Over the long term, fear and anxiety cause chronic cardiovascular damage and gastrointestinal problems like ulcers.
Fear is a powerful force. That’s why so many people, from conservatives to liberals, manipulate people’s fears. Fear is not conducive to making good, well-thought decisions. For example, instead of being allowed to use judgment and principle to make legislative decision, often lawmakers are placed under enormous pressure by special interest groups who engender fear, often by the spreading misinformation.
Fear Denies the Gospel
For the Christian, fear is especially insidious. 1 John 4:18 says that “fear has to do with punishment.” In other words, a Christian who is overcome by fear is not resting in God’s love or “perfected in love.” Instead, they are still tormented by the thought of punishment. Although they are “accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:6), they have not found security in Christ, but live in fear of exposure and shaming. This is not a gospel-centered mindset!
Brothers and sisters, we must make every effort to combat this culture of fear in our homes, churches, and our own minds. Fortunately, we are not on our own in this fight against fear mongering. 2 Timothy 1:7 provides us with three gospel-centered, Spirit-empowered strategies to fight fear.
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
– 2 Tim. 1:7 ESV
Notice that these three weapons: power, love, and self control, are part of the arsenal that each of us has been given as part of the indwelling and empowering of the Holy Spirit. They are ready and available to those who are walking in the Spirit.
Fight Fear With Power
What is the power this verse refers to and how does it help us fight fear? Think about what fear is. In essence it is relinquishing power to someone or something else. Fear does not happen unless we recognize something outside of ourselves to have power over us. The Christian, however, recognizes that He has an internal source of power that is greater than anything without: “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). This power is not our own, but comes from He who lives within us. As Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). With this understanding, we recognize that we are protected from harm and we can accomplish whatever God calls us to through His strength (Philippians 4:13).
Fight Fear With Love
Back in 1 John 4:18, we read that “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” No matter what tactics the fear-mongers use, love is still more powerful than fear. That’s because true love prioritizes the needs of others over protecting self. Christ loved us enough to overcome the dread He faced in the Garden of Gethsemane and sacrifice His life for us. In turn, we must allow our love for others to overcome our fears. We cannot lock ourselves in a primarily defensive posture against Muslims, Hispanics, or homosexuals. We must certainly take a stand for truth, but the loving spirit in which we do should be undeniable.
Fight Fear With Self-Control
When faced with fear-mongering, our automatic tendency is to react defensively. This is almost never a good thing, whether our reaction is public, on social media, or in private. The only way to guard against a knee-jerk reaction to fear is self control. Self control is not something you can pull out as a quick antidote, however. It must be developed and practiced over time. We must develop the habit of thinking first, no matter how much we are tempted to react emotionally. Although fear usually presents itself as a crisis, you will usually find that after a thoughtful pause, the situation is not as urgent as you first thought.
Fear Can Be Defeated
John Bunyan, in Pilgrim’s Progress, deals with the concept of fear throughout Christian’s journey to the Celestial City, particularly in the epic battle against Apollyon and in his depiction of another pilgrim, Mr. Fearing. Mr. Fearing allowed his fears to paralyze him and “stumbled at every straw that any body cast in his way.” Mercifully, special guardians encouraged him and even the “enemies here had now a special check from our Lord, and a command not to meddle until Mr. Fearing had passed over”. Bunyan tenderly portrays the help that God gives to those who struggle with fear. Perhaps this is because fear was one of Bunyan’s greatest personal struggles as well. In his autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Bunyan shows us how to use the gospel to fight fear:
“Begin at the beginning of Genesis, and read to the end of the Revelations, and see if you can find, that there were ever any that trusted in the Lord, and were confounded. ”
“It was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse; for my righteousness was Jesus Christ Himself, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.”
So be encouraged! Christ, who would not crush a bruised reed, gently leads those who struggle with fear. Through His grace, He provides us with power, love, and self control to fight the monsters of fear around us.