Choosing a Higher Fear: How You Can Live Free from Fear’s Control

Excerpt from Fearless: Free in Christ in an Age of Anxiety by Rachel Starr Thomson, Carolyn Currey, and Mercy Hope

When we say that you can live fearless, what comes to mind?

There’s a good chance you picture a daredevil, an adrenaline junkie scaling cliffs or jumping off skyscrapers with the slogan “YOLO” emblazoned on his back. Our culture equates fearlessness with recklessness.

We don’t share this definition.

While we salute those who greet life with zeal and are willing to take risks, the world’s view of fearlessness too often tilts toward a self-destructive way of being that ironically is often driven by fear—of relationship, intimacy, boredom, or the need to honestly confront oneself.

Remember that the Bible equates living free of the “spirit of fear” with operating in love, power, and a sound mind. Self-destructive behaviors do not include any of these things.

Rather, the kind of fearlessness we are talking about is freedom from the control and dominance of fear.

Fear is not neutral. It’s not harmless. It’s not just a feeling. Fear actually seeks control over your life.

Fear and God are competing for the same place in your life. They both want lordship.

So how do we make sure fear doesn’t get the throne? How do we make sure that fear doesn’t win?

It’s counterintuitive, but the best way to make sure fear does not rule our lives is to cultivate a special kind of fear. What the Bible calls “the fear of God” is the highest form of natural fear.

It is the one truly appropriate and healthy fear. And it is what sets you free from fear of anything and everything else.

The Fear that Is Love

Israel’s wilderness era was a time when they regularly and dramatically encountered the presence of God. God’s presence could be terrifying. When God came down on Mount Sinai, Scripture tells us there was “thick darkness,” lightning, the sound of trumpets, and earthquakes. On more than one occasion, when Israel sinned, the presence of God broke out in the form of a consuming fire that brought destruction within the camp.

Israel knew God as the One who had delivered them from Egypt in a staggering display of power over life and death, and as the One who demanded holiness (“set-apartness”) and obedience from his people.

This lifestyle of close encounters with the presence of God provoked two very different reactions from the people. Interestingly, we would call both reactions “fear.”

Early on, the nation as a whole rejected God’s invitation to purify themselves and come into his presence. They wanted Moses to go into God’s presence for them, both hearing from and speaking to God on their behalf.

Over time they made it evident that their “fear of God” was rooted in distrust and unbelief.

Joshua’s response was very different. In Exodus 33, we read that when Moses would go into the tent of meeting to meet with God and speak to him “face to face, just as a man speaks with his friend,” Joshua would accompany him.

Then, even after Moses had left, Joshua continued to linger inside the tent. He hungered for the presence of God.

Joshua loved, honored, and respected God more than anything or anyone else. He trembled at God’s presence, reverencing him and treating him with awe. He understood that God was jealous for Israel in the same way a husband is jealous for his wife, desiring Israel’s full loyalty and love.

While the rest of Israel refused to encounter God any more than necessary, Joshua actively sought God’s presence. Their fear of God was cowardice; his was love.

Godly Fear

Fear of God goes hand in hand with love.

We can see this dynamic at work anytime we love something that is in some sense greater, wilder, or more powerful than we are. People who love the wilderness, for example, also fear it.

In the same way, people who love God most also tremble in his presence. There is literally a weight and a fire to the presence and glory of God, and it is terrifying—but in a way that makes us more alive.

This kind of fear sets boundaries around our lives.

But by doing so it also sets us free.

This is what the God-given instinct of fear is meant to be. It is the opposite of the low, perverted form of fear we battle, the ungodly fear that seeks to cripple our lives and keep us subservient to lesser gods.

Unpacking the Fear of the Lord

It can be challenging for us to think about a kind of fear that goes hand-in-hand with love, but that is what the Bible means when it talks about fear of the Lord.

Fear of the Lord reverences and honors God for who he is actually is. This means recognizing how great, wild, and “other” he is: he isn’t us, he isn’t human, he could snuff us all out with a thought. But it also means recognizing and revering his character as he has revealed it: he is faithful, he is compassionate, he is the Giver of life.

This double-sided coin explains why the Bible so consistently links fearing God to loving and trusting him.

“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 10:12:, NKJV)

“Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his mercy.” (Psalm 33:18)

“You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD; he is their help and their shield.” (Psalm 115:11)

Practically speaking, fearing the Lord means living in total loyalty and devotion to him. We can also call this “holiness,” a topic we’ll explore more deeply in another chapter.

Thankfully, God doesn’t expect faith to develop in a vacuum. He always gives reasons for it: his promises, his actions, the revelation of his character in his Word, his gifts to each one of us (starting with the gift of life!), his behavior in history.

Our choice is to respond to those reasons with faith or with unbelief. God offers us a revelation of himself as trustworthy. It’s our choice to believe that or not.

The prophet Samuel encouraged the people of his day, “Only fear the LORD, and serve him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things he has done for you” (1 Samuel 12:24, NKJV).

The more that you walk with the Lord, the more you understand that you have reasons for confidence in him.

On the other hand, if we choose unbelief and resistance to God, fearing other things more than we fear the Lord, we will tend to interpret everything he does through a lens of unbelief. Like the Israelites, we will develop a belief that God is out to get us, and nothing he does will convince us otherwise.



The above is an excerpt from FEARLESS: FREE IN CHRIST IN AN AGE OF ANXIETY. We, the co-authors, are on a mission to give away 10,000 digital copies of this book absolutely free. You can pick up your copy at this link.



Photo at top by Arnold Exconde on Unsplash



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