Is your fear sinful . . . or actually pleasing to God?

When Helena Knowlton of Confusion to Clarity first began talking to me about fear in the cult she came out of, I knew I wanted to write about fear. But since I wanted to have a better grasp of the concept, I spent time studying fear in the Bible. (This study covers only the New Testament. I want to do the Old Testament eventually, to cover all the excellent Scriptures there.)

So, it may not come as a surprise, but there’s more than one kind of fear.

And . . . it may not come as a surprise, but it’s important, when we read the Bible, to understand which type of fear God is talking about in each passage.

After all, when someone says, “Don’t be afraid,” does that mean of everything and everyone for every reason? (When someone says, “Be afraid” . . . same question.)

I found that the New Testament describes a few basic types of fear. Three kinds of fear are necessary and good (meaning they please God).

But there are  times when fear is unnecessary and potentially harmful. (Does that mean they’re sins? I would say not necessarily, but that’s something to look at when we get there.)

When is fear for sure necessary and good?

1. When it’s fear for physical safety in the face of a genuine threat that motivates you to take essential action.

This is part of the body’s warning system, which when the brain is healthy (undamaged by trauma, or healed from it), can be regulated by the mind/heart that is submitted to God. Though it’s only one of the six kinds of fear described in the Bible, it’s the kind people think about most often when they think of the word. It’s the kind described and validated in Gavin deBecker’s excellent book The Gift of Fear.

As a Scriptural example, Matthew 2:19-23 says,

But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.

But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee.

Joseph was exercising the healthy God-given gift of fear to make a wise choice to stay away from Judea where a wicked king wanted to kill the babies.

In my blog post Don’t be a martyr, but do suffer in your marriage to an angry husband (and other “Biblical counseling”), I said this:

Some of the bravest women I know are women who have come out of abusive homes. They had to face their fears—all of them fears of real dangers, not imagined dangers, but things that could really happen, perhaps had even been threatened—and do almost impossibly hard things, often because their love for their children was greater than their fears. Even in spite of their fears, they did trust God as they moved forward. I would never accuse them of sin for being afraid in a situation such as this.

These women’s fear is not sin any more than was Joseph’s wise fear of Herod that kept him from going to Judea. I wrote about Joseph’s wise fear in the blog post Joseph wasn’t afraid of “rebellion, the sin like witchcraft.”

Distinguishing what is a “genuine threat” and distinguishing what is the right action to take—all of these are decisions that wise Christians should help each other with, rather than simply telling each other to stop being afraid.

2. When it’s fear of God

All Christians know we’re supposed to fear God. But it’s more than just “respect,” although that’s important. The Scriptures make clear that fear of God combines something along the lines of (1) an open-mouthed wonder at the glory of God with (2) a sense of being willing to fall on one’s face at His majesty (and always living with this sense). So I call this one “awe/reverence fear.”

Two Scriptures represent this well, Revelation 14:6-7 and Revelation 15:3-4.

Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

This fear of God is commanded of all people, but Christians are the ones who rejoice to fear Him now, in this life, living with the constant sense of awe and reverence at His presence, knowing He is always present.

As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 7:1,

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

And Mary said in Luke 1:49-50,

For he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

When we live with an awe/reverence fear of God, it will help us have the right perspective on all of life. It will even help us in knowing what to do when wicked ones want to harm the innocent.

3. When it’s fear for the eternal souls of others

This one took me by surprise—I wasn’t expecting to find it. But the Scriptures show that when we love God and love others, a proper fear for eternal souls around us will bring us to our knees in prayer for them and give us a longing to spread the good news of the gospel with them. Here are some examples:

For I am jealous over you with the jealousy of God, for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to the Christ. But I fear that as the serpent deceived Eve through his craftiness, so your senses should be corrupted in some way, and ye should fall from the simplicity that is in the Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:2-3)

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. (Galatians 4:8-11)

Both of those are from Paul, who agonized in prayer for the souls of the spiritually desperate people around him.

Notice, though, that Paul was not experiencing any fear that the Corinthians or the Galatians were “falling away” from obeying earthly authority.

In fact, it was pretty much the opposite.

He feared they were in danger of turning back to the law and the earthly law-proclaimers in order to live their Christians lives. He feared that they were “falling away” from “the simplicity that is in Jesus Christ,” which the perceived earthly authorities wanted to trap them back into.

If a person is coming out of an authority-driven cult (and what other kind of cult is there?), he can experience a healthy and good fear for the souls of those  who are still in it, fear that will motivate him to action. It is for fear for those souls that he, like Paul, will want to expose the evil and show people caught in the cult that this is not the heart of God.


All of these are valid reasons to experience what the Bible calls “fear,” and all of them are part of living a God-directed Christian life.

The fears that are unnecessary and potentially harmful . . . well, I’ll talk about those tomorrow.

But I just want to emphasize that feeling fear does not necessarily mean you’re sinning or turning away from God. Common sense would tell you that some kinds of fear are right and good, and the Scriptures tell us the same.

More coming tomorrow.

The good news about Biblical bitterness (a short talk)

In March I was privileged to speak at the Awaken Network’s conference on abuse. My topic was Biblical bitterness, showing how in the Bible “bitterness” refers to one who has been poisoned and is grieving, and “bitterness” also refers to one who is doing the poisoning. Both are called “bitter,” but only one is sinful.

Megan Cox of Give Her Wings (with whom I also did a recent interview on this subject) said, “This is such good news.” Finding out that the Scriptures teach something different from the heavy burden of guilt and shame that church people often lay on the backs of the oppressed—well, that really is good news.

You can view that talk here:

To All the Christian Friends I Could Not Keep (guest post by Ryan Ashton)

Inspired by Andre Henry’s powerful post “To All the White Friends I Couldn’t Keep,” I wrote about the impact of losing friendships in the Christian community. 

All of us have a journey that brought us to where we are today. Many of us left a wake of blood and tears, people we had to leave behind, or who left us. I want you to think for a moment about each of those people. If there was one person you could have back—if abuse and mistreatment were not a factor—who would it be?

This is written to those in my life. Continue reading “To All the Christian Friends I Could Not Keep (guest post by Ryan Ashton)”

Those “renegade bloggers” in the Christian Post

It was all the way last Monday when this Christian Post article (which you can see here) was posted, which is light years in the world of blogging, but I’ve always been light years behind, so here we are.

The article is worth reading in its entirety as a good example of the accusations used by those who tell us not to accuse. (FWIW, I don’t believe in name calling unless it’s warranted, like what Jesus did to the Pharisees.) Greg Gordon, the author of the article in question, makes accusations like these:

Like feeding fresh bloody fish to a group of swarming sharks, the frenzy ensues as web links are made and a new viral news article is born at the great expense of the character of a Christian leader as well as the testimony of Christ.

We never pray or fast for these individuals, we simply feed on their demise for our daily entertainment.

These bloggers consider themselves judge, jury, and executioner at the same time.

Continue reading “Those “renegade bloggers” in the Christian Post”

That forgiveness talk at Harvest Bible Chapel

Do you ever feel, when you watch a movie, that there was an underlying reason for it, maybe a bit of propaganda, so to speak, that it wanted to promote? It may be only a small part of the movie, but it makes a profound impact. (An example that come readily to mind is a 1944 drama about the life of Woodrow Wilson, the purpose of which seemed to me to focus on the death of Wilson’s dream, the League of Nations, in order to push American viewers to become more willing to enter the United Nations.)

I could be wrong, but that’s the way I felt when I listened to this sermon by Michael Vanlaningham from March 31stat Harvest Bible Chapel in the Chicago area. It seemed to me that the underlying reason, the bit of propaganda, began at about minute 25 when he began to focus on forgiveness.  Continue reading “That forgiveness talk at Harvest Bible Chapel”

Because it’s appropriate for a victim to name her offender

Before I began to work regularly on untwisting Scriptures at this blog, Here’s the Joy, I was regularly doing that over at BJUGrace. That was the blog some friends and I set up to discuss the GRACE report on Bob Jones University and serve as a platform for abuse survivors who wanted to speak. (It was also where I first began, in 2014, to expose false teachings and show what the Bible teaches instead.) Continue reading “Because it’s appropriate for a victim to name her offender”

You should come to church to “give” and not to “get”

Years ago when we were visiting a large and well-endowed fundamentalist church here in Greenville, South Carolina, the Sunday school teacher went on a bit of a tirade about how wrong it was to come to church to “get.”

“You’re only supposed to come to church to GIVE,” he rebuked us. He went on to express his disgust with people who come to church wanting something, Continue reading “You should come to church to “give” and not to “get””