I know what it’s like to be blinded by the fear of what others might think of me. If you’ve got human DNA in your cells, I suspect you do too. It’s not a rare problem. We can easily be blinded or even paralyzed by according ourselves the ability to read another person’s mind and know the estimation they’ll form of us — and then let that control what we’ll say or do. This especially can happen when we’re in front of an opportunity to acknowledge Christ and his place in our lives. This can happen when there’s an opportunity for us to be known or seen as a Christian.
When I was 17 years old I had an English assignment due. We were supposed to read a novel and write a report. I’d left it to the last minute. I looked through the list of books and saw George Orwell’s 1984. I’d read that book in Grade 6, so I kind of knew the story-line. But then I remembered that it’d been made into a movie. I’d seen the movie on the shelf at my local video store. So I thought: I’ll just watch the movie, review the plot-line that way, and then write my report. I can get it all done in two or three hours. I went to the video store and bragged to the guy behind the counter about my plan. He then asked me which school I went to. I didn’t want to tell him that I went to a Christian school. I was ashamed of that, so I told him I went to the local public school. He said, “Oh, I went there too. Who’s your English teacher?” I lied again and made up some name. He said, “Oh, I never heard of her before, is she new?” I lied again and just tried my best to get out of there as quickly as I could. I had the fear of man in me something strong. I wanted to be seen as cool and edgy, even by this stranger. I didn’t want to be seen as connected with a Christian school, or anything Christian.
The Bible describes this problem. Just think of the Gospel According to John. There are at least three instances where we see men and women frozen by the fear of man.
The most famous would be in John 3 when Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. True, the text doesn’t actually say that Nicodemus did this because he was afraid, but it’s a legitimate conclusion.
In John 9, the parents of the man born blind who’d been healed by Jesus, hesitated to say anything about Jesus. Why? “…Because they feared the Jews, for the Jews already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be the Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue” (John 9:22). Excommunication hung over their heads. It petrified them and so they didn’t want to come anywhere near being seen as supporters of Jesus, even though he’d healed their son.
Finally, at the end of John 12 we’re told that many of the Jewish authorities believed in Jesus, but hid it. This is the reason: “….for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:42-43). Again, there was a fear of excommunication and social exclusion.
The Bible not only describes the problem, it also addresses it. The gospel tells us of a Saviour who was never blinded or paralyzed by the fear of man. He feared God, but not man. If you believe in Jesus Christ, his obedience is credited to you. The gospel tells us of a Saviour who also died on the cross for the scared witless, those whose sinful hearts give in to foolish fear. That’s a sin for which he paid the penalty too. Through Christ, there’s forgiveness for the fear of man.
Through Christ’s Spirit, there’s also a way to overcome the fear of man. We’re not doomed to be stuck in this rut of fear. Think of 2 Timothy 1:7, “…for God gave us not a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.” With his strength, the Holy Spirit makes believers bold — certainly we see that in the book of Acts. Peter, who not long before had himself been seized by the fear of man, now speaks boldly for the Lord. The Spirit has changed him and gifted him with this boldness. He can do the same for us.
So, if you’re struggling with the fear of man, what can you do? As an essential first step: pray for the Holy Spirit to overcome your fear. Pray for him to fill you and drive out your fear. Ask him to work in your heart so that you’re bold and fearless, especially when given opportunities to confess the name of Christ. Here’s what happens as we do that:
“When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted.” (Psalm 138:3, NIV).