Obeying God is scary business.
Let’s look at some different types of fear before we get into God’s Word. There’s terrified fear – the kind you’d feel if someone held a gun to your head. There’s a fear that’s more of a dread – like when you know a tornado is headed straight to your house or a loved one is about to die. There’s also the anxious fear, which we’ll call worry and talk about next week. And then there’s also the healthy fear of the Lord, which we won’t touch on today either. The kind of fear we are going to discuss today is the fear that comes when we come face to face with the truth of Scripture, with something God is telling us to do, and we are scared to death to obey.
I spent a while wondering what the difference was between fear and worry. Those words are often used interchangeably, but they’re definitely different concepts. The conclusion I came to is that worry is an active response to fear, while fear itself often leaves us paralyzed. So next week we’ll dive into the concept of obedience when we’re worried. But today we’re going to talk about being afraid to obey what God is telling you to do.
Have you heard it said that the phrase “Do Not Fear” is found exactly 365 times in Scripture, one for every day of the year? Well, I did a little research and found that that’s not true. You can’t believe everything you read on the internet, can you? The good news is that we don’t need to read it 365 times in order for it to be a trustworthy saying. God definitely does not want us to be afraid.
When I started searching for the phrase “Do Not Fear” in Scripture, I was amazed to find that most of the time, when those words are spoken, it isn’t because the hearer is scared. The words “Do Not Fear” are spoken because the message is going to require obedience in potentially scary circumstances.
Old Testament Examples:
Deuteronomy 1:21 –Moses speaking to the Israelites when sending out spies to the Promised Land: See, the Lord your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
1 Chronicles 22:13 – King David charging his son, Solomon, to rebuild the temple: Then you will have success if you are careful to observe the decrees and laws that the Lord gave Moses for Israel. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged.
Isaiah 43:1-2 – God’s words for Israel: But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
Haggai 2:4-5 – The Lord speaking to the people through the prophet Haggai: Be strong…This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’
Obeying God is scary business. When we get serious about following God in obedience, fear often creeps in. The enemy is too big. The task is too great. The path is too threatening. It will take too long. I am too weak. I am too afraid. And God says, “Do not be afraid!”
New Testament Examples:
1 Peter 3:14 – Peter gives instructions to believers faced with suffering for the gospel: But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats[a]; do not be frightened.”
Revelation 2:10 – God’s words to the church in Smyrna: Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
But these words come straight from Jesus:
Matthew 10:28 – Jesus sending out the disciples as sheep among wolves: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.
Luke 5:10 – Jesus speaks to Simon Peter while in the fishing boat: Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”
Following Jesus in Two Worlds:
As we studied 1 & 2 Peter last semester, we saw that Christ-followers in the early church were faced with the reality of suffering for Christ. Choosing to follow Jesus most likely meant that they would face persecution in their lifetime. As 2016 American Christians, choosing to follow Christ rarely means putting our lives on the line. But if we are serious about really following Jesus, the road isn’t going to be easy. In fact, there are some scary prospects we must face.
Unfortunately, the modern American church has perpetuated the idea that you can “become a Christian” and all the while look exactly the same as you’ve always looked, act the same as you’ve always acted, while only changing your “beliefs” about God and at most changing your schedule.
Take this as an example: Audrey is a good person. She’s head of the PTA at her kids’ elementary school. She smiles at everyone she comes across and is genuinely just a very nice lady. She bakes cookies for the Fire Department and volunteers tutoring underprivileged kids. One day, Audrey’s friend tells her about Jesus and Audrey realizes that she needs Him. She understands her sin (mostly gossip and white lies) and she sees her need for a Savior. She becomes a Christian and is baptized. Her husband supports her just like he would with anything else she decided to do. She adds church on Sunday morning and a weekly Bible study to her list of things to do, but other than that, her life is pretty much the same. She now believes in God and is taking baby steps to grow in him, but other than that, she keeps living just as she always has.
Let’s contrast that with a New Testament believer in 34 AD. Reema is a good person. She does all of her chores and is friendly with all of the village women. She loves her husband and her children and she is well respected in her community. One day Reema’s friend tells her about Jesus. Everything comes together in her mind: all the prophecies, stories, rumors, Scriptures. She decides to follow Jesus. Her husband is upset with her because he doesn’t understand this new loyalty in Reema’s life. She tries to honor him, all the while knowing that her true loyalty is now with Jesus. Most of the other people in Reema’s village don’t understand the rumors about Jesus. They look at her like she’s a little crazy. Reema also knows that if word gets out that she is a Christ follower, she could face verbal abuse, beatings, and she could even be put to death. She wants to live for him anyway, so she boldly tells her friends and family about the change in her life, even though it could mean persecution and death.
If the only evidence of your decision to follow Jesus is your beliefs or your schedule, you probably won’t be afraid of anything. But if you’ve decided that your answer to anything He asks of you is “Yes, Lord”, you need to hear the words “Do not fear” because following Jesus in obedience is scary business!
Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit
The good news of course is that we are never asked to face this scary world alone. As Christ-followers, we have special power through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. When God tells us to obey, He doesn’t require us to do it on our own. He knows that we are weak, imperfect people – He created us to need Him!
Check out John 14:15-27 from the Message Bible.
If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you. I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can’t take him in because it doesn’t have eyes to see him, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you!
18–20 “I will not leave you orphaned. I’m coming back. In just a little while the world will no longer see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to come alive. At that moment you will know absolutely that I’m in my Father, and you’re in me, and I’m in you.
21 “The person who knows my commandments and keeps them, that’s who loves me. And the person who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and make myself plain to him.”
22 Judas (not Iscariot) said, “Master, why is it that you are about to make yourself plain to us but not to the world?”
23–24 “Because a loveless world,” said Jesus, “is a sightless world. If anyone loves me, he will carefully keep my word and my Father will love him—we’ll move right into the neighborhood! Not loving me means not keeping my words. The message you are hearing isn’t mine. It’s the message of the Father who sent me.
25–27 “I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset.
Don’t be distraught.
Jesus tells us that we don’t have to be upset, distraught or afraid. We’re not alone! He has given us the Holy Spirit to be our Comforter and Friend. I learned something that was new to me this weekend at Alto Frio. It came from Galatians 5:22-23, which is definitely not a new passage to me, but the speaker at our Ladies Retreat said something that put the fruit of the spirit in an entirely new light. First, let’s read it.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.Galatians 5:22-23
I’ve always looked at this verse as a list of qualities I would exhibit if I were being obedient to the Spirit. While that’s not an untrue statement, there’s more to it than that. As a believer, I have the Holy Spirit inside of me. Because He is inside me, I have all of those fruits inside me already. I don’t have to wait for joy; I just have to reach down and pick it up. I don’t have to pray for patience; I just have to use the patience inside me already. And the key to all of this is that it’s not my patience and it’s not my joy. There’s a reason God called it the fruit of the Spirit – It is the fruit of the Spirit, not the fruit of Me!
Sometimes fear leaves us paralyzed, unable to move because of uncertainty. The only way for the believer to escape the paralysis that fear sometimes brings is to live by the Spirit and access the fruit of the Spirit inside of her.
In the ESV, John 14:23 says,
Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him…
What a beautiful thing – We love Him, so we do what He says. He loves us and the Holy Spirit comes to reside with us. When we do what He says because we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we bear the fruit of the Spirit, which brings Him glory. When trials and suffering come our way, we can stand and bring glory to God. When persecution comes, we can be faithful. When He asks us to do something we never thought possible, we can confidently answer “Yes, Lord” and obey Him!
So what if God asks you to do something scary? Is your answer already “Yes, Lord”?
What if God calls you to leave your church to plant a church in another area?
What if he calls you to sell the house you love?
What if he asks you to give up the dreams you have for your children so that He can use them in a different way?
What if God asks you to leave your job?
What if God asks you to head up a new ministry or teach a new class or open your home to a friend?
What if God asks you to do prison ministry or homeless ministry?
What if God asks you to share the Gospel with your neighbor?
What if he allows you to face a situation where you have to speak up for what is right and true?
God calls us in 1 Peter 2:11 to live as aliens and strangers in this world. If you find yourself looking a lot like the world, having no reason to be afraid because of what He is asking you to do, consider that you may not be obeying the commands of Scripture.
Obeying God is scary business.