My New Year's Resolution Is To Be More Fearful
Updated: Jan 4, 2022
Recognizing the severity of my sin against a holy God.
Yes, you read that correctly. My New Year’s resolution is to be more fearful. But is that a good resolution? Aren’t resolutions supposed to be more positive, like setting reading or exercise goals? Being more fearful feels like a step in the wrong direction.
There is no doubt that our culture stigmatizes fear. Fear is cowardly and weak. Our heroes are fear-less, boldly confronting enemies and dangers with a noble disregard for their own life and limb. Another might point out that fear is morally suspect. We often hate what we fear, like a group of people who are different from us. This is unjust and wrong.
As Christians, we might also point to all the passages in Scripture which condemn fear. In Isaiah, God exhorts his people to “fear not, for I am with you” (Isa. 41:8-10). And our Lord Jesus Christ, before he was arrested and put to death, told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Jn. 14:27).
The early church fathers also note the courage of Christians, and their lack of fear at the prospect of death. In his treatise, On the Incarnation, St. Athanasius remarks that it is exactly this absence of fear which best proves the validity of the Christian faith:
“A very strong proof of this destruction of death and its conquest by the cross is supplied by a present fact, namely this. All the disciples of Christ despise death; they take the offensive against it and, instead of fearing it, by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ trample on it as on something dead.”
So, with such strong condemnations of fear, it seems I need to change my resolution.
Well, perhaps I can just add a couple words. My New Year’s resolution is to be more fearful of the Lord.
Yes, the Bible repeatedly exhorts the people of God to not fear the mysteries of the future because nothing can overcome our Lord. God is sovereign, and he is working all things according to his good purposes (Rom. 8:28).
And St. Athanasius and the early Christian martyrs were right to mock death. They were simply practicing what Paul preaches in 1 Corinthians 15:55: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
But Scripture also speaks of a fear which is righteous. Indeed, fear is the appropriate response to the perfectly holy King of the Universe, especially when our smallest sin is nothing less than cosmic treason against him.
Proverbs tells us “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7). To admit our own sin against God’s perfect ways and need for a savior is not wrong but the very essence of wisdom. The prophet Isaiah, a holy man by our standards, cried out in fear before the LORD of hosts because of his own uncleanness (Isa. 6:5).
It is true that we have an assurance of salvation based not on our own merit but on the death and resurrection of Jesus. We no longer need to fear sin, death, or the devil for Christ has already dealt to them the deathblow on the cross. But as we await Christ’s Second Coming, the consummation of the Kingdom of God, and the final victory over our spiritual enemies, we dare not be filled with arrogance or underestimate the offense of our sin.
The Corinthian church had complete assurance of Christ’s salvific work on the cross. So much so that they erred in thinking their sin was of no consequence and actually disregarded God’s precepts regarding sexual purity. The Apostle Paul had to remind them that they were bought with a terrible price: the blood of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 6:19). To flout God’s law was not only foolish, it was to make a mockery of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. How terrifying.
In an introduction to a collection of sermons on The Sermon on the Mount, Martin Lloyd-Jones lamented that the virtue of God-fearing has fallen out of style. To fear God suggests God is not really loving or a friend. As Christians, we reject this false assumption.
To fear God does not somehow limit our capacity to love him or draw close to him. In fact, his holiness, his loving condescension to us in the person of Jesus, and his willingness to die on a cross for our sins, is the very reason we love him and desire to draw near to him.
My hope and prayer is that 2022 is a year when many Christians do just that. But it starts with being more fearful.
Robert Hasler is Director of Communications and co-host of The Will & Rob Show.