Grace That Taught My Heart to Fear

CHAPTER 5- FEAR THE RIGHT THINGS

 Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. ~Matthew 10:28

  

There’s a funny story from the life of Jesus in Mark 4. One day, Jesus and his disciples cross over the Sea of Galilee in a small fishing boat, and during the three-hour tour (cue the Gilligan’s Island theme), Jesus falls asleep in the back of the boat. I guess it had been a long day, and the Creator and Sustainer of the universe needed a nap (actually, spend a moment pondering in wonder at the frail humanity of the Savior). A violent storm whips up out of nowhere—a common occurrence on this particularly large lake, and soon the boat is in danger of sinking. Here’s what the text says:

A great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 

Jesus went on snoozing right through the storm, even as the boat was actively filling with water. (Didn’t he notice he was getting increasingly wet? I guess he really, really needed that nap). The disciples—trained fishermen who had spent their entire life on this lake, by the way—were panicking, and in desperation they woke him up and accused him of not caring about their lives.

Don’t we do that so often? In the midst of crisis, when the storm seems big and the Savior seems small, have you ever said, “Don’t you care about me, God?” That small voice whispers that if God really loved you, he wouldn’t put you through that trial. If you’ve ever been tempted to doubt his goodness in the midst of life’s storm, you’re in familiar company; get in the boat with the rest of the doubting disciples.

In response to their faithless accusations (and rude interruption of his nap), I love Jesus’ response:

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 

With the serenity of absolute sovereignty, Jesus stands up in the tossing boat, probably yawns and stretches, and then calmly tell the storm to knock it off. No theatrics, no sleight of hand or flourishing gesture, no great loud voice of command. He simply says, “Stop,” and the storm stops.

This is breathtaking divine power on full display. Jesus displays absolute authority over the elements. Even the weather obeys his casual command. The One who spoke every molecule of air and water into existence still owns their obedience, and they still listen to his voice. Weather bows to his will.

The disciples, however, are another story. If you had been in the boat with Jesus, what do you think your response would have been? Glad thankfulness that your life had been spared? Rejoicing and whooping and hugging each other? Sober reflection that you had come so close to death? Those would all make sense. But what about sheer terror?

And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?”

In response to Jesus’ calming the storm, the disciples were not happy, or relieved, or thankful. They were scared spitless. They were “filled with great fear,” Mark tells us. The NIV translates it as, “They were terrified.” They had been afraid during the storm, but now that the sun is suddenly shining, they’re terrified. Why?

It’s because these Jewish fishermen know their Old Testaments. They know verses like Psalm 89:8-9:

O Yahweh God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O Yahweh, with your faithfulness all around you? You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.

They know the Scriptures that talk of the Great I Am calming the waves of the sea. They know prophecies that speak of God’s sovereignty over wind and rain. They know that weather only obeys the word of one Person. And so as the sun ripped through the disappearing storm clouds and the wild wind turned to a gentle breeze, they turned with trembling to the One who stood calmly in the back of the boat and realized that this was no ordinary man. “Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?” they whispered fearfully. They had been afraid in the storm, but now they were terrified, because something more frightening than the storm was in the boat with them.

GETTING YOUR FEAR PRIORITIES RIGHT

The disciples learned a valuable lesson that day: fear the right things. In a world full of dangers, toils, and snares, the question is not “Will I be afraid?” but rather, “Will I fear the right things?” We all intuitively understand this to some level: a tiny little spider on a web outside is less frightening than a giant, hairy arachnid crawling across your bed. One you might simply avoid; the other makes you scream like a little girl and run out of the room. Riding a roller coaster is less frightening than skydiving out of a plane. Although both of those things might make you scream like a little girl.

You and I make decisions every day based on calculating risks like these. We hurtle around all day in speeding steel death traps, but try to mitigate the danger by installing air bags and wearing seat belts. We cook our food on open flames inside our flammable houses, but install smoke detectors and fire alarms and buy fire insurance. Every day is full of risks and things to be afraid of, but many of them we calculate away or take steps to avoid or accept as the cost of normal life.

And then there are irrational fears, like the fear of going outside—agoraphobia. Yes, I suppose you could be hit by a meteor when you step outside, or run over when you cross the street, but you and I all know that dealing with those risks by fearfully refusing to leave your house isn’t healthy. Phobias are what happen when a fear—perhaps justified, often unjustified—grows outside the bounds of rationality and starts to control your behavior beyond what reason would dictate.

But what about some other fears that seem rational or normal, but which God warns against? Like anxiety about money? That’s one I’m currently struggling with: how am I going to pay all the bills this month? I’ve crunched the budget and the numbers don’t add up. It took me over an hour to fall asleep the other night because I kept running over budget scenarios in my head, filling up my heart with anxiety about the future. We’d all probably agree that it’s not a good thing to stress about money—and God clearly tells us not to do it—and yet most of us do it anyway.

Or what about what the Bible calls “the fear of man,” the desire to look good in front of others and please people because you worry about what they think of you. Calculating what you say based on what you anticipate their response would be, being consumed with being popular and liked and admired, etc. Everybody does that, right?

Or what about our story of Jesus and his disciples in the storm? After he rebuked the storm, he rebuked his disciples: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” I’ve wondered a lot about that stinging question. I think I would have answered, “Um, Jesus, I was afraid because the boat was sinking. The danger was real: I was going to die.

Jesus, however, seemed to think about it differently. He criticizes their lack of faith, as if to say, “If I’m in the boat, you don’t need to worry about the storm. The fact that you were still worried about the storm means you don’t think I’m big enough to handle it.”

You see, many of the fears and worries that we explain away as normal fall under the same criticism that the disciples faced: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” Our problem is not that those things aren’t big deals; the problem is that we fail to see that God is a much, much bigger deal. The problem with worrying about money is not that I don’t have budget problems; the issue is that I am ignoring God’s clear promises, things like, “My God will supply all of your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19) or “Keep your life free from the love of money, for I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). When I worry about what people think of me and base my behavior on their approval, it’s because I consider their approval to be a bigger deal than God’s approval. Fear of man is what happens when people are big in my heart, and God is small. We forget the clear-cut command implicit in Galatians 1:10: “Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

So how do we combat these misplaced, faithless fears? The incredible answer that the Bible gives is not simply, “Don’t fear.” Rather, the Bible’s answer is, “Fear the right things.” It will turn out, when we start to dig into the Bible’s words, that the solution to anxiety and fear of man and every other faithless fear is to get our fear priorities right, and start fearing God more.

DON’T FEAR WHAT THEY FEAR

In Isaiah chapter 8, which we looked at in the previous chapter, this command to “fear the right things” is laid out explicitly. At this point in history, God’s people were frightened at the prospect of a rumored Assyrian invasion. All the talk in the town was whether or not the Assyrians would attack, and what the king was going to do about it. Rumors and conspiracies and fear filled the air. And this fear was justifiable: the Assyrians were a mighty, bloodthirsty, ruthless empire, and little Judah was a weak provincial kingdom. So we might understand if God was sympathetic to their fears. But he wasn’t. God warned Isaiah not to take part in their faithless rumor-mongering:

Yahweh spoke to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying, “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But Yahweh Almighty, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken. ~Isaiah 8:11-15

 “Don’t be like this people,” God told Isaiah. “They’re consumed with conspiracy theories and terror. But I’ll tell you what should terrorize you: Me.” Are you surprised that God would talk like that? Look again at the text: “Do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But Yahweh Almighty, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.” “Don’t be in dread of the Assyrians; be in dread of me.” That’s a sobering thing for the God of the universe to say. Verses like this are in the Bible in order to blow up our nice, little, safe views of God. You can’t walk very long through the biblical landscape without stepping on a landmine like this.

A good question to ask of this text would be, “Why is God more frightening than the Assyrians?” That’s exactly the question that God answers. “Let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”

In the previous chapter, I said that the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy is found in Jesus, who was the promised Rock of Stumbling and the Cornerstone whose coming caused many in Israel to stumble and fall into destruction. That’s true, but the prophecy also has an immediate warning for the people of Isaiah’s day. God is saying to them, “Don’t fear what the Assyrians can do; fear my judgment, and be in dread of falling into destruction when I judge you.” God is warning Isaiah to have the right fear priorities, to fear most what is most frightening. And for the God of the universe to pronounce judgment on you is truly the most frightening thing in the universe.

THE FEAR OF MAN AND THE FEAR OF GOD

Jesus—the promised Sanctuary and Stone of Offense—picks up on this prophetic pattern in his own words to his disciples and to us. In Matthew 10, Jesus gives some very strange comfort to his fearful disciples. Jesus had just given them—and us—a glorious, dangerous mission:

“Proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay… Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.” 

Jesus commissioned his apostles on a mission of mercy—mercy received and mercy given. “You received mercy freely,” Jesus reminded them. They were the recipients of amazing, undeserved grace. “Now go and give it to others just as freely.” And the same Savior has given us the same mission: to be conduits of free grace, healing, and restoration, heralding the arriving kingdom to a world that needs redemption.

But Jesus also promised that this message of mercy would not be received well by the world: “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves,” he said. “They will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues… and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” The cost of following Jesus in his mission to make mercy known to the ends of the earth will be great. It will cost every Christ-follower some of their security, their comfort, and their dreams. It will cost others their reputation, or their friends, or their jobs. And it will cost some their lives.

Needless to say, the cost of following Jesus is a frightening thing. In your comfortable American lifestyle, this may seem to be a distant concept to you, but for many of your brothers and sisters around the world, that fear is a daily reality. And yet the cost of discipleship is real, regardless of your context: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Genuine discipleship always comes with a cost.

In the face of the high cost of discipleship and mission, Jesus has a strange word of comfort. In verses 26-33, Jesus gives a three-fold argument for fighting fear. It’s the same logic God used with Isaiah. What Jesus says boils down to this: “Fearing God disarms every lesser fear.” His logic can be unpacked into three smaller arguments: the coming great reversal, the reality of hell, and the Father’s absolute sovereignty. We’ll take those arguments one by one so that Jesus’ logic can begin to form a foundation of fearlessness in your life. And while the immediate context of his words is mission, his logic applies more broadly, working to free you from every anxiety and fear in your life.

THE COMING GREAT REVERSAL

After all his sober warnings of persecution, Jesus comforts his disciples by pointing them to a coming great reversal:

“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” ~Matthew 10:26-27

Don’t be afraid, Jesus says, because a great reversal is coming; everything covered will be revealed and everything hidden will be made known. Even though it seems like darkness is winning, dawn is almost here, and the light of justice will soon expose every evil. Every cover-up will be brought out into the light, and every secret sin will be known and seen. Every wrong will be made right, everything sad will come untrue, everything broken will be fixed, every injustice will be punished, every sin judged. And no earthly power will survive that cataclysmic day.

The apostle Peter speaks of this coming great reversal when he writes,

The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. ~2 Peter 3:10

The great day of the Lord, the great reversal, will explode on this world with the omnipotent power of God’s wrath. “The heavens will pass away with a roar” and the sky will be rolled up like a scroll. But when the judgment reaches beyond the natural world to people, the results will be far more devastating: “the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” Every deed written in God’s books of judgment will be revealed, and every person will be called to account. This is not a judgment that you could possibly hide from: “No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 3:13).

In Revelation 6, we are given a clear picture of this great reversal when every deed is exposed and every earthly power crumbles, a judgment that no one can hide from:

The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” ~Revelation 6:14-17

“The great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” all the inhabitants of the earth wail. And note the universal scope of this reversal: every earthly power—“the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful”—cower before the wrath of the Lamb, but this reversal is not limited to them. “And everyone, slave and free, hid themselves.” This day that Jesus speaks of, when every hidden thing is brought into the open and every darkness is exposed, will shatter every soul, and there will be no escape.

Now stop and consider for a moment this extraordinary thought: the horrible reality of looming judgment is what Jesus is using to comfort his disciples! “Have no fear of them, because nothing is covered that will not be revealed,” he says. In other words, “Don’t be afraid, because my omnipotent wrath and omniscient judgment will soon overtake all my enemies.”

The only way that this can be a comforting thought is if we are no longer his enemies. And because of the cross, that’s exactly what has happened to us. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends… I have called you friends” (John 15:13,15). We who deserve to be included in that terrible judgment have been rescued from wrath by the One who bore all our sins on the cross and endured the punishment we deserve. The Lamb who is coming soon to bring wrath first came to take away wrath for all who trust him. Knowing not only that a great reversal is coming, but that we will survive that flood and emerge unscathed, provides great confidence against anxiety and fear.

THE REALITY OF HELL

Jesus continues his argument by building on what he said about the coming great reversal. Now he turns our attention to an even more surprising argument: the reality of hell as an antidote for fear.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. ~Matthew 10:28

 I love this verse. Only Jesus could use hell as an argument against anxiety; he’s cool like that. “Don’t be afraid of people,” Jesus says. “The worst they can do is kill you!” If that sounds like strange comfort, it’s probably because we think of death as the worst possible thing. But Jesus’ argument here pushes an eternal perspective on us—a perspective that, if we truly embrace it, will liberate us from a multitude of fears.

A 17th century preacher, William Gurnall, commented on this verse: “We fear men so much, because we fear God so little. One fear cures another. When man’s terror scares you, turn your thoughts to the wrath of God.” Jesus is calling us here to right-size our views of God, of eternity, and of people, because we’ve got it all backwards. God seems to us to be relatively insignificant and harmless. This life seems very long and most real and most important. And people—their approval or disapproval—seem like a really big deal.

But Jesus is graciously and firmly saying to us, “You’ve got it backwards.” God is massively significant, infinitely valuable, and ferociously holy and glorious. This present life is a vapor, a mist, a breath—and eternity is either endless joy or endless torment. And people’s approval and disapproval is microscopically insignificant in light of these weighty realities. Isaiah 2:22 says it this way:

Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?

The people whose approval you crave and disapproval you fear have exactly one breath with which to affirm or discourage you. The breath that is currently in their lungs is the only one that God has given them, the only one that they’re promised (and for that matter, the breath currently in your lungs is the only one you’ve been promised too). If, in his wisdom and good purposes, God decides to give them another breath, and another… well, he knows what he is doing and he promises to take care of you in the process. What’s the worst they can do to you? Kill you? Okay, so they kill you. If you’re in Christ, that means they lose and you win.

The truth is, death is not the worst possible thing. In fact, for the Christian, death is gain (Philippians 1:21). Compared to the length and breadth of eternity, this life is a fleeting vapor, a mere breath. For the believer, this present life is but a few days of hardship and sacrifice, and then we enter into the everlasting joy of our master and take possession of our inheritance. But conversely, for the unbeliever, this present life is but a few days of transient pleasures and shallow joys before the darkness of everlasting judgment descends. If you’re a believer, the worst moment in this life is the closest you will ever get to hell. But if you’re an unbeliever and persist in your unbelief, the best moment in this life is the closest you will ever get to heaven.

David captures the wisdom of this eternal perspective when he prays in Psalm 39:

O Yahweh, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Surely mankind goes about as a shadow! ~Psalm 39:4-6

Does that sound like a bummer of a prayer to you? “Let me know how fleeting I am!” You might be tempted to think that that’s a recipe for a morose, gloomy life, but Jesus seems to disagree. The eternal perspective of Matthew 10:29 is not a recipe for gloom but for joy, not for depression but for fearlessness. This is the path to freedom.

But the way that Jesus leads us into that fearless joy is surprising. He doesn’t do it by directing our attention to heaven. He does it with a sober warning about hell. “Fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Matthew 25:46 says that hell is “eternal punishment.” 2 Thessalonians elaborates on this punishment: “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” This everlasting destruction, however, doesn’t mean that unbelievers are snuffed out and cease to exist; that would be welcome relief compared to what Revelation 14:11 says: “The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night.” Mark 9:37 says that hell is “unquenchable fire.” In Matthew 13:50, Jesus described hell as “the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Hell is unending torment, and everlasting grief, cut off forever from all that is good or beautiful. There is nothing worse, nothing more terrifying, than this horror.

Jesus’ recipe for fearlessness starts with reorienting your fears around that which is truly frightening. In the light of eternity, the worst that people can do to you is insignificant. What else is there to be afraid of, really?

THE FATHER’S ABSOLUTE SOVEREIGNTY

The third part of Jesus’ argument for fearlessness lays a solid foundation of confidence underneath the coming great reversal and the reality of hell: if the God who executes this kind of judgment loves you and is on your side, nothing should make you afraid. Jesus’ third argument goes like this: what God values most highly is most secure.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. ~Matthew 10:29-31

Jesus draws our attention to the insignificant details of this world: sparrows and hair. Your hair falls out and grows in all the time without you even noticing. Two sparrows, he says, are sold at market for a penny. And yet every one of those sparrows—which are so small and common as to be practically worthless—are each known by God and under his constant sovereign supervision. And every strand of hair on your head is known and numbered by God himself.

Note carefully what Jesus is saying, because this will make all the difference in the world if we get it right. Jesus doesn’t merely say that no sparrow falls to the ground without God’s knowledge. This is not a statement about how God knows the details of every bird’s life, proving the vastness of God’s omniscience. Of course, it’s true that God is aware of every detail in the universe; that’s just not what Jesus is saying here. He’s not saying that God is aware of every detail in the universe; he’s saying that God is in direct, intimate, sovereign control of every detail in the universe.

Not one insignificant sparrow anywhere on the planet ever falls off of any limb “apart from your Father.” He is intimately involved in the life and times and death of every creature in the universe. Just like every detail of every day of your life was written in his book before one of them ever came to pass (Psalm 139:16), so also with the sparrows: every detail of every day of every bird that has ever lived is orchestrated by the sovereign hand of God himself. Deep in the extended reaches of the Amazon rainforest, where no human being has ever set foot and where hundreds of species have lived and died undiscovered for millennia, God is in sovereign control. No egg ever hatches and no bird ever dies “apart from your Father.” He is intimately involved in every detail, every moment, every life, and every death. Nothing is too small, too insignificant, to escape the master plan of his omnipotent control. Even what appears to us as random chaos is orchestrated by his sovereignty; even the dice obey him: “The lot is cast in the lap, but its every decision is from Yahweh” (Proverbs 16:33).

When the Bible speaks of God being sovereign, this is what it means: he holds every molecule together.  Every atom moves because he tells it to.  He holds all power, all authority.  Every electron and animal and person and planet and galaxy and angel and demon is under his omnipotent governance.  His plan encompasses and enfolds all events—every weather, every word, every random act, every evil deed—all are subject to his sovereignty.  He has the authority and power to control all things, and he does so at all times, without exception, for the glory of his name and the good of his people.

If you don’t believe that, if that is not the joy and hope of your life, then your god is too small, and Jesus’ foundation for fearlessness will crumble in your life. The Father that Jesus invites us to trust is a God who sets up and removes kings: “It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me” (Jeremiah 27:5). All political systems and leaders are subject to his ultimate governance.  No law, no ordinance, no election ever falls outside his sovereignty: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of Yahweh; he turns it wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1). He is sovereign over your entire life, and every step that you take: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of Yahweh that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21). “The heart of man plans his way, but Yahweh establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

I am not naïve as to the implications of this truth. History is a conveyor belt of corpses. From the millions who perished in the Holocaust to the twenty children murdered at Sandy Hook elementary school, to suicide, child abuse, loneliness, and heartache, this world is filled with unspeakably horrific evil and suffering. The notion that God could be sovereign over events like these is offensive. And yet the Bible is clear: “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39). “Does disaster come to a city, unless Yahweh has done it?” (Amos 3:6) God does not shy away from offending us. And if we will embrace the offense, we may just discover that what seemed like an ugly doctrine is one of the sweetest, most precious truths in all the Bible.

You see, we have not even begun to comprehend all that this means. The sovereignty of God is unspeakably good news. Jesus says that the same God who reigns over the affairs of kings and sparrows esteems you as greatly precious; in Christ, you are his treasured possession and the apple of his eye. And this sovereign God is not impersonal or immovable; Jesus explicitly tells us that he is our Father. What a comfort to know that the God who orchestrates electrons and elections relates to us as a father relates to his children.

Your entire life, every moment of sweetness and suffering, is held by your Father who loves you, who prizes you above all created things, who has made indescribably wonderful promises to you, and has in himself all the power he needs to fulfill every one of those promises.  Romans 8:28—ALL things work together for good for those who love God—is backed up by a God who controls all things, governs all things, and is strong enough to make every horror and heartache work for the eternal glory of those who love Jesus. I find that amazing. This is assurance in the face of tragedy, a foundation in the earthquake of uncertainty, and comfort in the midst of pain knowing that you are not at the mercy of random chance—you are at the mercy of a merciful and mighty God.

Do you see now how Jesus’ argument works here in Matthew 10? “Don’t be afraid of those who oppose you; if I am for you, who can possibly be against you? They will perish in a moment when my wrath breaks on them, but you are secure in my love forever. So you have nothing to be afraid of.” The reality of a coming great reversal and the horror of hell—a judgment we have been rescued from—makes any opposition we face on the costly road of discipleship bearable; we win in the end.

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31 asks. The answer, of course, is that a lot of things can be against you: people can oppose you, circumstances can weigh you down, and the spiritual forces of evil can array themselves against you. At times it may seem like the entire world is against you. But the point of Romans 8:31 is this: no one can successfully be against you if God is on your side; every opposition is a temporary setback and every trial is turned to everlasting good for those who love God. So at the end of the day, what is there to be afraid of?

The logic of this argument holds for every fear you face, not just persecution. You have been rescued from the coming cataclysm, so every other struggle or fear you will face today pales in comparison with what you’ve been rescued from, and every opposition pales in comparison with the One who is on your side. You experience every trial from the most secure position imaginable: held by the omnipotent hand that has extinguished all judgments against you. Nothing can shake you from that hand of love. “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

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