Sunday, November 15, 2015

Fear

We’re still looking at sin and its consequences. Last week I told you that guilt is not the only consequence of sin. There is also shame. And the Gospel deals with the shame of failure that comes as a result of sin. This week we look at a third consequence of sin: fear.
Listen again to Moses’ account of what happened.
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” Genesis 3.8-10
Adam is afraid. And why? He hears God coming. How sad! What once was a source of joy - walking through the Garden with the Creator - has now become something to fear. This is a result of sin. It’s this sense of fear that we’re going to look at.

Let’s start with some defining characteristics of fear. There are a couple of ingredients that make up fear. First, a person thinks that something bad is going to happen to him. By itself that doesn’t lead to fear. Another ingredient is needed. Something bad is going to happen and there is nothing that he can do about it. Fear is about a sense of powerless in the face of some threat.

Adam was afraid. And what was Adam afraid of? What was the threat? He was afraid of God. Remember what God had told Adam.
… of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.
God was clear. If he ate the fruit something bad would happen to him. He would die. There’s the threat. Adam ate, so he was afraid. He knew that the threat was real. He also knew that he had no power to avoid it. There was nothing that he could do about it.

Fast forward to today. Nothing has changed. People still find themselves in situations where they are sure that something bad is going to happen to them. And they still have that sense that there is nothing that they can do about it. People still fear. They feel their powerlessness in the face of a threat.

But that doesn’t mean that they don’t try to do something.

What did Adam do when heard God? He hid. He thought that if he hid, maybe he could put off or maybe even avoid the threat. Did his hiding help? No. The promised threat still became a reality. Hiding never works. The threat may not actually become a reality. There are things people do to hide from it. But it’s always there, lurking, waiting. And you can’t help but feel that. That takes its toll. Hiding never works.

There are other ways that people try to respond. Some try to cover over their fear. They don’t hide themselves from the fear but rather try to hide the fear from themselves. Their thought is that if they don’t think about the fear it won’t affect them. And there are many ways to do this. So, you have people who overeat, overspend, overplay, overwork. Being busy in these sorts of things keeps them distracted from what made them afraid. They are trying to cover over the threat in order to ignore the fear. But it doesn’t disappear. It’s still there. It’s still waiting. And one day it will just show up, quite unexpected, and overwhelm them. And people will wonder, ‘Where did that come from?’

Then there is always the tried and true response: panic. Some show their panic by doing all sorts of crazy things. But there are others who show their panic by doing nothing. They are frozen by their fear. This is where many are offered medications that are supposed to help. They do deaden the sense of fear. And sometimes that’s an important place to start. But medication can never deal with the source of the fear itself: the threat and the sense that you are powerless to do anything about it.

So, in different ways we are just like Adam. We sense a threat and we know that there is nothing that we can do about it. So, we hide, we cover over, we panic. But none of these really work.

What is needed is the ability to respond to these fears in a way that actually works. And that’s all about having the power to do something about that threat.

This is where the Gospel shows up. The Gospel has come to deal with sin and all of its consequences. So, when there is guilt, the Gospel provides innocence. When there is shame, the Gospel provides honor. When there is fear the Gospel provides power, the power to deal with whatever it is that threatens you.

So, how does this work? How is it that you will have the power to deal with the threat so that there is nothing to fear? How does the Gospel do this?

This is where we need to think about the ministry of the Spirit. The presence of the Spirit is a fruit of the Cross. Jesus said,
And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.
The ‘promise of the Father’ is the Spirit, and He came to clothe those first disciples - and us - with power. Paul wrote,
God gave us a Spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
The Spirit’s power is granted to you so that you don’t have to be afraid. The presence of the Spirit with you makes it possible for you to face whatever threat there might be and to overcome it. You have the power to do that.

And what does that look like? Experiencing this power is a process. It starts small. Something threatens harm. It could be about your money, your health, the people you love. It could be about anything. But whatever it is, you feel the temptation to fear. But believing Jesus’ promise, you pray that the Spirit would give you what you need to face this threat without giving in to your fears. You pray that the Spirit will give you the power you need.

Sometimes the Spirit will respond by removing the threat entirely. The problem disappears. But there are plenty of times when the problem remains and the Spirit tells you, ‘Trust Me in this. I’ll get you through it.’ And maybe haltingly at first, you do trust Him. He gives you the power to trust Him. And having done that you find that He gets you through it. You learn that He is trustworthy. And this kind of thing happens again and again. And each time you see more clearly that He is trustworthy. And that helps you to trust Him more the next time. You’re learning how to believe the Gospel in those threatening situations. The Spirit gives you the power to do that.

As the process continues you find that there is change. What used to send you flying off the nearest cliff in fear no longer does that. You are coming to understand more clearly that even if the harm occurs, it will not undo you. The Spirit knows what He is doing with your life. So, bit by bit you come to see that there really is nothing to fear. You are being given power to deal with your fears.

Seeing the Gospel in terms of these three problems – guilt, shame, fear – gives you great resources when it comes to dealing with the results of sin in your life, when it comes to enjoying more of the freedom that the Gospel offers.

When there is guilt, believe the Gospel. Because of the Gospel your guilt can be removed and replaced with the perfect innocence of Jesus.

When there is shame believe the Gospel. Because of the Gospel your shame will be replaced with honor. It will be covered by Jesus so that as far as the Father is concerned you are beloved and well-pleasing.

When there is fear, when something threatens you and you feel powerless believe the Gospel and see the Spirit give you whatever you need to respond with trust and not with fear.

So, because of the Gospel, the various consequences of sin are dealt with. Guilt is forgiven, shame is removed and fear is overpowered. 

Here are resources in the Gospel so that you can deal with these consequences of sin. But the first step in making use of them is to understand the nature of the problem that confronts you. Is it guilt, shame or fear? Identify that first. And that’s just a matter of understanding yourself. Guilt, shame or fear. And then believe the aspect of the Gospel that applies.

All of this also makes a difference when you speak about the Gospel to someone who isn’t a Christian. What we are used to, what we have been taught, is to explain the Gospel in terms of guilt. But our culture has changed. You need to recognize that many these days do not have any sense of guilt. It’s not something that has been developed in them. They are guilty, but they don’t feel it. There are, however, many who have a very developed sense of shame, of being a failure. And there are others who are so very fearful. So, instead of trying to talk about how Jesus died to remove guilt, you just might connect better by talking about how Jesus deals with shame or fear.

To do that you need to understand some things. Who is this person that you are talking to? What are the themes of his or her life that come up in your conversations? Are they themes of guilt? Or is it shame? Or maybe it’s fear? Listen for what is behind their words. Pray for insight to understand your friends and colleagues. All three consequences are true of them, but they may only sense one. That’s the door that you need to enter so that you can help that person see what Jesus has done. And as you do this, speak out of your own experience of being freed from guilt or shame or fear. People are not interested in ‘religious truth’. But they will listen to your story. So, look at your own life in terms of these three, and be prepared to speak out of your own experience of Jesus’ rescue from all three.

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