Your friends are about to do something that you know is wrong, but you don’t want to seem like the goody two-shoes who always spoils their fun so you stay quiet. Your co-worker is going through a really hard time and you know that she needs Christ, but you’re afraid it would be awkward if you tried bringing Jesus into the conversation so you try to just make her laugh and feel better. You make choices based on what people in your life think rather than on what you know God wants for you. You have been asked to give a devotional, but you are afraid of saying something dumb in front of everyone so you make excuses to avoid accepting the request.
While it looks different for different people, the fear of man is a struggle that most of us face. In fact, even if you don’t find yourself in one of the above scenarios, I would venture to guess that every person who reads this article has at some time or another struggled with fearing man more than God. It is easy to think that the fear of man isn’t such a big deal. But we need to understand that it is not just a bad habit. Rather, it is a serious issue that has sobering implications.
In the book of Proverbs, Solomon warns us that “the fear of man lays a snare.”1 When an animal steps into a snare, it is held in bondage, unable to free itself from the noose that has suddenly tightened around it. In a similar way, fearing other people and living to please them holds us in bondage.
Our fears often control our actions, and the fear of man is no different. It holds us back from doing all God wants us to do, saying all God wants us to say, and being all God wants us to be. And sometimes fear of man causes us to do, say, and be things that do not honor God.
The thing is, when we are more concerned about pleasing other people than we are about pleasing God, we end up giving greater respect and honor to other people than to the One who made us, saved us, and sustains us. We have made people our idol.
With people as our idol, we start looking to them for our identity. We end up constantly striving for approval and acceptance from other people. We want them to like us, to think highly of us, to approve of who we are and what we do.
If think we are gaining this approval and acceptance from others, we feel like we’re doing pretty good. But have you ever been in that place and still felt like it wasn’t quite enough? Like something was still missing? Often underneath the momentary pleasure we find in being liked by others, we know that it is just a matter of time until someone makes a negative comment or clearly wants to spend time with another friend and suddenly our whole identity crumbles.
Basing our identity on what others think is exhausting. But God offers another way. And God’s way is a way of freedom.
The verse I mentioned earlier from Proverbs does not end with warning us of the bondage of the fear of man. It goes on to tell us how to avoid this snare: “whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.”1 Sounds simple, doesn’t it? On paper it sounds almost too simple, but let’s not deny that with our human nature still alive and kicking within us, it truly is a struggle. However, we must also realize that by God’s grace overcoming the fear of man is completely possible.
It is important to realize that there is no magic, three-step formula for overcoming the fear of man. This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of the ways to overcome the fear of man, but here are a few key things that I have found helpful:
- Believe what God has said about the new identity He has given us in Christ. This is the antidote to putting our identity in what others think. God has put so much into His Word about our identity in Christ. The next time you feel overcome by the fear of man, try studying all that God’s Word says about who we are in Christ. One of my favorite identity passages to get you started is Ephesians 1. This passage tells us that in Christ we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing, chosen, adopted through Jesus, redeemed, forgiven, promised an inheritance, and “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.”2 It is important for us to understand that not only is God the One who has given us a new identity, but He is also the only One who can give us the power to live out of that identity.
- Consider the warnings Scripture gives us about fearing man more than God. It is important for us to realize that the fear of man has some serious implications. Isaiah 51:12-13 and Galatians 1:10 are good places to start in considering the gravity of the fear of man.
- Seek a relationship with God where He is bigger to us than people are. Consider Matthew 10:28 which challenges us to fear the One who determines our eternal destiny rather than the ones who can only kill our earthly body. Growing in the fear of the Lord and in understanding His love for us breaks the bondage of living according to what others think. If you want to read more on this topic, a book by Ed Welch called When People are Big and God is Small is a helpful resource.
Ultimately, it is only our Heavenly Father working through the Holy Spirit who can fully change us from people who live in bondage of the fear of man to people who live in freedom in Christ. Sometimes that is something He does almost instantaneously and sometimes that is a process.
Let’s be honest: at times the process of overcoming is hard. It means letting the walls fall down that keep others from truly seeing who we are. It means being willing to step out and risk everything for the sake of following the One who will never let us down. It means being willing to look foolish for the sake of following the King of Kings. It means living with abandon.
But in the end, the struggle will be worth it. So let’s seek to know God better until He is bigger to us than other people, until we fear Him above all else, until we experience the joy of freedom in Him!
|Ranita Reitz currently resides in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Northern Virginia. She has a burden for seeing young women find freedom in Christ as they learn to trust in His promises and apply the principles of God’s Word to everyday life. Some of the things she enjoys most are connecting with people, reading, baking, taking pictures of God’s beautiful creation, and traveling to new places.|
- Proverbs 29:25 The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Wheaton, Il.: Crossway Bibles, 2001. Web. Web: Accessed Mar. 2017.
- Ephesians 1:13 The Holy Bible, Holman Christian Standard Bible. Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Bible Publishers, 2011. Print.