Fear is a normal emotion that we all experience to one degree or another. There is such a thing as a "good fear." Good fear is what Scripture refers to as "the fear of the Lord." The fear of the Lord is a healthy reverence and respect for God that impacts our desire to glorify and obey Him. We want to experience that kind of fear or reverence. It's beneficial, and we can't truly grow wise without it.
But there's an unhealthy form of fear as well. Unhealthy fear takes the form of insecurity and willful ignorance. Unhealthy fear exists when we believe that circumstances are out of control and we're reasonably certain there's a good chance things won't be working out in our favor. Maybe you're afraid of someone who has the capacity to harm you. Or maybe you fear experiencing circumstances that resemble painful events from your past. Maybe you're living in fear right now because you aren't confident about what's in store for your future.
One of the greatest fears humanity wrestles with is the fear of death, but one of the greatest joys we experience as those who trust in Christ is the removal of that fear. That fear can't be held over our heads in the same way it once was because Christ defeated death when He rose from the grave. His victory is our victory. His outlook is now our outlook.
If you've been living in fear, I'd encourage you to ask the Lord to reveal to you what may be feeding that fear. Truthfully, you don't need to live in fear any longer. And if you've noticed a sense of fear starting to re-emerge in your life, Romans 8:12-17 is a great passage to review and take to heart all over again. This portion of God's word shows us why we don't need to fall back into fear, and how we can begin living now that we've been made alive in Christ.
I. Live like you know you're truly alive
Have you ever gone through a season when you felt like you were a little bit down and discouraged, but you weren't exactly sure why that was the case? I remember noticing that about myself in my mid-20's when I was living in Northeast Pennsylvania. At first, I didn't pick up on the pattern, but after a few years, it became clear to me that my emotions were being impacted by the season of the year. During the Winter months, I didn't really feel well. But when nicer weather returned, I felt energized and happier.
Weather, circumstances, relationships, and health concerns can certainly impact our emotions, but the good news is that we have been blessed with an abundant life in Christ that supersedes the things that can sometimes have a drag on us emotionally. In Christ, by the Holy Spirit, we've been made truly alive with life everlasting, and we're encouraged to live like people who know we're truly alive.
In this portion of Scripture, Paul begins speaking about our obligations, and he tells us that we are not obligated to obey the passions of our old sinful nature. We aren't debtors to the flesh who are obligated to live like our flesh is calling the shots in our lives. In fact, he tells us that those who live according to the dictates of their old nature show that they haven't yet experienced true life. They show that they're still facing each day in a state of spiritual death, even though the offer of new life in Christ is right before them.
If you have come to know Christ, you don't need to continue to live like you're spiritually dead. In fact, on the contrary, we're being encouraged to utilize the power of the Holy Spirit to put to death the manner of living that our old nature embraced, so we can fully experience the kind of life we've been recreated by God to experience.
So what does it look like to truly experience this new life? How can we live like we're truly alive? Let me point out a few things we're told in Scripture that give us a picture of what this looks like.
1. Live as Jesus lived
"Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did." -1 John 2:6, NLT
2. Nail your old passions to the cross
"Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there." -Galatians 5:24, NLT
3. Stop saying "no" to God
"Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing." -Psalm 143:10, NLT
4. See everything and everyone from God's perspective
"that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints," -Ephesians 1:17-18
Live like you know you're truly alive. If you have come to know Christ, you don't need to retreat to the deadness of a life lived without Him. He has made you new, and through Him, you've been made an indispensable part of God's family.
II. Be confident of your standing in God's family
When I was in high school, I found a place to get my haircut that I really liked. The woman who used to cut my hair did a great job. She was also very conversational and used to tell me all sorts of things about her life and family. At one point, she told me the story of a time when her father needed a medical procedure that was going to require the donation of an organ. The doctor asked if he thought anyone in his family might be willing to help since the odds of finding a genetic match would be highest from that pool of people. The woman who cut my hair enthusiastically volunteered, which sounded great until she remembered that she had been adopted by her father, so the genetic match wasn't going to work.
I always appreciated hearing that story, however, because it demonstrated the depth of their love as a family. She was confident that her father loved her, and she certainly loved her father as well. I believe God wants us to be confident of our standing in His family as well, and this Scripture makes that very clear.
In this passage, we're told that those who are led by the Spirit are sons of God. The Holy Spirit doesn't live within those who aren't part of God's family. The moment we receive the gift of salvation through faith in Jesus, we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and He leads us, counsels us, and comforts us. This is one of the great benefits of being part of God's family. We're blessed with His help and presence through the Holy Spirit who lives within us.
But one thing we didn't receive through Christ is a spirit of fear. In Christ, we've been set free to live as children of God, which also means we are no longer slaves to fear or unrighteousness. Many of the people we know in this world are unfortunately still living as spiritual and emotional slaves, but those who receive Christ have been set free from that kind of slavery. We've been graciously adopted into the family of God, and He calls us His sons. We aren't distant relatives of God, we're his very children.
One of the greatest blessings I've been allowed to experience in my life is the blessing of hearing four people call me "Dad." It made me so happy to hear my children first call me that when they were little, and I'm still grateful to hear it now. And that's what this Scripture is trying to tell us we can call our Heavenly Father. He's our "Abba" or "Daddy." Through Jesus, we're given the privilege to live in that kind of relationship with Him. We're given that kind of access to Him.
Do you live with a confident knowledge that you're part of God's family? One of the detriments that you're likely to experience in this world if you aren't regularly reading God's word and engaging Him in prayer, is a forgetfulness of the fact that you're part of His family. But when His word is fresh in your mind, and you're seeking Him in prayer each day, it becomes more instinctual to remain confident of your standing in God's family. In a related way, it also becomes easier to maintain hope toward the future while you're in the midst of seasons of suffering.
III. When you suffer, keep looking forward to the future
Recently, I learned that two elderly people that I have come to know are in the hospital recovering from painful injuries related to falling. They're clearly suffering in the physical sense, and I have been remembering them in prayer, but there's a form of suffering that isn't necessarily physical in nature. And if you openly profess your love for Christ, you're likely to experience this kind of suffering over the course of your life.
During the course of his life, Paul came to know Christ, then he labored to make Christ known to others. In the midst of the culture he lived in, he was frequently mistreated and ostracized. Several times, he was imprisoned, then eventually he was executed. I think we can consider Paul a credible witness when it comes to the subject of suffering.
I hope we desire to be as committed to living out our faith in Christ as Paul was, but if that's the case, we need to be aware of the fact that a decision like that comes at a cost. Just as Christ willingly suffered for us, we too may be called upon to suffer as we bear His name. Would you be willing to suffer shame, banishment, imprisonment, or even death for bearing the name of Christ? Paul said that as fellow heirs with Christ, we shouldn't expect to be glorified with Christ if we aren't willing to suffer for Him now. Christ even advised us to expect suffering.
But when we suffer like this, we need to do so with an eye toward the future. Scripture teaches us that we are children of God which makes us heirs of His kingdom. He intends to glorify and reward His true children in ways that far exceed the greatest of riches our minds could imagine. The knowledge of this truth should give us a sense of hopeful comfort in the midst of the suffering we endure for the name of Christ.
Likewise, the word of God reminds us that we don't need to fear suffering because it's only for a season. "So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while" (1 Peter 1:6, NLT).
All that to say, we don't need to fall back into a life of fear. The Lord invites us to live like we know we're truly alive, remain confident in our standing in His family, and keep looking forward to the future even in the midst of any suffering we make experience for a short while right now.
© John Stange, 2019