What the Bible Teaches About Fear & Courage

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us many things. One of those things that has stood out to me has been the realization of how many of us are absolutely driven by fear. We all remember how the toilet paper aisle at the grocery store went empty the moment lockdowns became a possibility. And it wasn’t just toilet paper. Whole food aisles went empty as well. And it wasn’t just grocery items. Banks started limiting the amount of cash that could be withdrawn as fears of an impending financial collapse spread like gangrene. Now we must say that a financial collapse could have happened. Being locked in your house with police roaming around putting transgressors in jail could have happened. It’s not that the fears were completely unjustified. But the guttural response to that fear in large swaths of society proved that emotion always trumps reason in the heat of the moment. Furthermore, the grip of fear didn’t just last for the quick moment. Every pastor I know has spent the past year mired in the debate of whether/how to encourage their church members who have based every decision on the fear of catching the virus to come back to gathering with the church for worship. Again, there may have been a very real possibility of catching the virus; that’s not the point here. The thing to note is how often fear is the underlying and fundamental factor in our decision-making process.

The Scriptures are brutally honest about this aspect of our fallen nature. Some of the greatest men and women in the Bible made decisions completely driven by fear. Think of David, who upon realizing that Uriah refused to sleep with his own wife and thus hide David’s adultery, irrationally ordered the man to be killed. That was fear. Or think of the apostle Peter, who when some Jews came to Antioch, reverted to the Old Covenant rituals, hurting the Gentile believers and forcing Paul to oppose him vehemently. That was fear. Yet the Scriptures are also full of the command to not be afraid, to not fear, to be strong and courageous. Just for your trivia knowledge, “Be strong and courageous” is repeated 10 times in the Scriptures, with “Take courage” being used another 5 times. “Fear not” is used 33 times throughout both Testaments of Scripture. And then there are the phrases “Do not fear” and “Do not be afraid.”  In almost every one of these uses, it is either God Himself or a prophet of God speaking. Again, the Bible is very clear that fear is perhaps our most natural response to either an unknown or a difficult situation. And the Bible is equally clear on what our response should be: do not fear, take courage, and be strong. But this still leaves a weak and frail humanity helpless, as we really aren’t equipped with anything in and of ourselves to conquer fear. We can’t just pull up our bootstraps and overcome it.

God of course isn’t surprised by this aspect of our fallen nature. The other striking feature of the commands to take courage and not be afraid, outside of the sheer number of them, is that they are usually accompanied by a promise. Here are a few examples to prove my point.

“Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation.” – Genesis 46:3

“And Joshua said to them, ‘Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous. For thus the Lord will do to all your enemies against whom you fight.’” – Joshua 10:25

“But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.” – Luke 1:13

Even greater than a promise of God to act is a promise of His very presence. Here are just a few examples of that.

“And the Lord appeared to him the same night and said, ‘I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham's sake.’” – Genesis 26:24

“Then David said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.” – 1 Chron 28:20

“But he said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’” – John 6:20

The only solution to living a life filled with fear is faith in the abiding presence and work of God with and for His people. The uncertainties and troubles of life must ultimately pale in comparison to the sovereign and powerful work of God, who by His Spirit actually dwells with us. Christians throughout the centuries have faced the worst of circumstances with this enduring hope, that being united to Christ in His death and resurrection brings with it the understanding that the troubles of this life will fade in the blinding light of eternal glory. And it is not only hope in the future life, but the eternal Savior to whom we are united in this life that brings the courage and strength to carry on in the face of the worst or circumstances. Geerhardus Vos, in a sermon preached at Princeton seminary on January 11, 1903, said, “By laying hold of the unchanging Christ they could bring back into their wavering souls the same all-conquering strength and courage which had been theirs before….He is always accessible, under every condition reliable and therefore the one proper object of faith, the only safe source of confidence because in him alone is that eternal certainty which faith needs to rest upon if it is to be faith at all.”[1]

Dear Christian, when you are tempted to live your life in fear and anxiety, look to your eternal Savior, cling to Him and be renewed day by day as He works within you to conform you to His perfect image.

Keith Kauffman attended University of Maryland (B.S.) and Capital Bible Seminary(M.Div.). Keith currently works at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, working in the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases studying the immune response to Tuberculosis. Keith serves as an elder at Greenbelt Baptist Church.

[1] Geerhardus Vos. Grace and Glory. The Banner of Truth Trust, 2020. p214


Keith Kauffman