We mentioned before that many believers today are driven by fear—especially in very theologically conservative groups. This includes the fear of God, the fear of hell, the fear of making a mistake, the fear of being wrong, and the fear of being rejected by God and the church.
Fortunately for me, and many other formerly-fearful believers, we have learned that these fears are misguided; they spring from serious misunderstandings about the character of God; and a proper understanding of God causes them to evaporate.
There is No Need to Fear God
Many believers think God is harsh and vindictive—always ready to catch us and punish us when we mess up. But Jesus tells us a different story–that God loves us deeply. And Jesus demonstrates God’s love for us in his own teaching and example. So there is no need to be in fear of God as we discussed more fully last time.
There is No Need to Fear Hell
Those who think God is easily angered, harsh, and vindictive also think God punishes us in eternal burning hell if we don’t make the grade. Who wants to risk that? I certainly don’t. But the Bible does not teach such a thing; rather, some believers have collected a number of unrelated passages and forced them together to create a place of eternal conscious torture featuring fire, darkness, and gnashing teeth.
The passages themselves do not support this understanding. Some Bibles translate three different words as ‘hell’. The first two are ‘Sheol’ in the Old Testament, which simply means death or the grave, and ‘Hades’ in the New Testament, which means the same thing; no punishment is implied in either case.
The third term sometimes translated ‘hell’ (as in the KJV) is ‘Gehenna‘, an Old Testament image Jesus sometimes uses; but it does NOT indicate eternal torment in burning fire. Another problem with the idea of eternal punishment in ‘hell’ is that it is contrary to the character of the Father who loves us so deeply.
If you have a fear of ‘hell’, or know someone who does, you might check out our resources on hell page. There is no need to fear hell.
There is No Need to Fear Making a Mistake
Because they think God is easily upset with us when we mess up, many believers are insecure in their relationship with God and think that if they violate any of God’s ‘rules’ God might send them to burning ‘hell’ forever, as mentioned above. Their response to this fear is legalism: trying to discover all God’s rules and making sure not to cross them. In practice most of these groups have general lists of ‘sins’ they teach that God will punish us for.
These believers see God as very picky and thin-skinned. Anything can set him off so that we are always in danger. This idea of sin is usually coupled with the harmful belief that God sent Jesus to die on the cross in our place to pay for our ‘sins’. These two beliefs re-enforce each other and are both sadly misguided. Jesus was killed because he confronted Jewish and Roman society. Significant things did happen at Jesus’ death, but by far the most important is that he rose from the dead and established eternal life for us.
As we follow Jesus we should follow his teaching and example, but we all make mistakes. However, they are not fatal to our relationship with God. In fact, we will continue to grow as followers of Jesus until our last breath. There is no need to fear making a mistake.
There is No Need to Fear Being Wrong
Because they think God is picky and thin-skinned, many believers fear they might be wrong about some religious doctrine and be punished forever for it. Detailed doctrinal beliefs are considered essential, and woe to the person who strays from them! Believers are warned to never doubt the beliefs they have been taught or they will be led astray from the true faith and burn in hell.
But Jesus did not load us down with detailed doctrines we must believe and defend; his emphasis was on loving God and people and living in the kingdom of God. Of course, we want to be as accurate as we can about such matters but there is no need to fear being wrong on doctrine; we are all mistaken about something.
There is No Need to Fear being Ostracized by God
Finally, because they think God is easily angered and focuses on religious rules and ‘correct’ beliefs, many believers fear that they will mess up in some way and that God and the church will ostracize them; and they don’t want to be alienated from God and the church.
But let me say this strongly: the Father loves each us and wishes to heal us of our brokenness and bring us peace, love, and reconciliation; the Father is not interested in abandoning us when we mess up. There is no need to fear being ostracized by God.
Now being ostracized by the church is another matter; if we change the way we follow Jesus, the local church might very well disfellowship us. That is on them, not on us; and there is little we can do about it. However, other churches are ready to embrace us as we follow Jesus together.
Let me leave you with a saying of Jesus from John 14:
My peace I give you…Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
So follow Jesus and do not be afraid about anything.
Articles in this series: Do Not Fear
Dealing with the Fear of Doubt and of Questioning Religious Beliefs We have been Taught
Believers Should Never Have a Fear of God
5 Great Fears Believers Should Never Have
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