When Fear Is a Gospel Thing

by Craig Dyer

(Editor’s note: This is the 2nd in a 10-part series on how our theology informs our evangelism.)

Craig Dyer, Christian martyrdom, two tasks of the Christian, the mind and heart of the ChristianI write in the wake of the suicide bomb attacks in Brussels, Belgium, and Lahore, Pakistan. Nations mourn and brace themselves. Security levels are raised alongside global fears. What can protect us from those who are prepared to die in order to kill? But the words of Jesus in Luke 12:4-5 have the power to disarm even the terrorist.

I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!

Jesus isn’t denying the tragedies that v. 4 speaks of nor diminishes the responsibility of the perpetrators of these atrocities. Nevertheless, His perspective on death sets a significant limit on the impact it can have on those who belong to Him. Those who threaten to kill His friends (for being His friends) are robbed of their power. They can do no more than kill the body, which is not the end of existence.

Globally, millions of believers have lived under the threat of execution for evangelising. That is the biblical norm. More so, the witness of millions is being silenced through their fear of social exclusion. We all know that temptation to sit quiet and avoid the flack. And that failure has potentially serious implications (see Luke 12:8-9). So Jesus prescribes some strong medicine in v. 5 as an antidote to this debilitating fear of man.

It is the liberating fear of God.

Significantly, Jesus tells us in v. 5 that we should fear God so that He can tell us in v. 7 that we are not to be afraid, because we are known and precious to Him. So we are not to be afraid of God because He is some cantankerous, unpredictable, unloving force. Rather, we are to fear Him rationally as we remember His absolute control of everyone and everything.

We are to make His truth, glory, kingdom, and Son our priority. Then, the fear of people and how their negative reaction may affect us is cut down to size by the infinite power of God.

The Lord Jesus Himself is our example on this as well as our instructor. In John 19:10-11, we see Him practicing what He preaches:

So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.

Why would Jesus fear Pilate, who can’t take a breath without God’s permission? Jesus is simply applying the truth about His Father. And that’s what we see Peter and John doing in Acts 5 as they refuse to be silenced by the threats of the Jewish Council, who warned them not to speak of Jesus again: “But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’”

The rationale behind this principle is then unpacked. Here is what this God that they fear more than man is like: “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins (Acts 5:30-31).

So to fear Him rather than men is a ‘no-brainer’ for the Apostles. And the result is evangelism: “And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him” (Acts 5:32).

We’re kidding ourselves if we imagine that come the day of martyrdom we will take our stand, while in the day of mild mocking we keep our seats. The way to get back on our feet and share the gospel with those around us lovingly, joyfully, and confidently is to fight the fear of man with the fear of God.

As Paul wrote, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Cor. 5:11).

Craig-Dyer2Craig Dyer (@CraigDyer1)is training director at Christianity Explored Ministries and associate pastor at Harper Church, Glasgow, Scotland. Convinced of the power of God’s word to change lives, he summarizes his work as “equipping hundreds to train thousands to rescue millions.”