This post is a distillation of a seminar session I taught at most recent Grace Advance Mid-Atlantic equipping conference. It is always good to be reminded of how faith trumps fear and anxiety. But given the events of this past weekend in Texas, as we head to worship this Sunday, this is a timely reminder for everyone, myself included. Faith is the antidote to fear and anxiety
All people – believers as well as unbelievers – experience anxiety, frustration, heartache, and disappointment. Some suffer intense physical pain and catastrophic tragedies. But that which should distinguish the suffering of believers from unbelievers is the confidence that our suffering is under the control of an all-powerful and all-loving God; our suffering has meaning and purpose in God’s eternal plan and He brings or allows to come into our lives only that which is for His glory and our good. – Jerry Bridges
What is Faith?
Faith is not fatalism or blind confidence that everything will “work out.” It is an active trust in God, that He will do what He has said He will do. There are three key components to this kind of active faith, knowledge, ascent and trust. In other words you have to know what the Bible says, you have to believe what the Bible believe says is true and you have to have full confidence that what it says reflects the reality in and of your life.
The most basic element of faith is knowledge, in order to have an active faith, robust enough to guide you through difficult times you must know what the Bible says particularly about the nature of the Christian life and God’s care for his people.
The Christian Life
One of the most pernicious lies told to God’s people is the Christian life is supposed to be a trouble free easy life. This lie is often told in terms of the benefits of “coming to Christ. Often believers are taught that the conditions of their life will be safe and better if they trust Christ. This error is not new and it is often taught in very subtle ways.
Consider the words of this “classic” song of the faith first published in 1887:
Safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
But this claim is counter to what the Bible says:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds. – James 1:2
In the world you will have tribulation. – John 16:33
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. – 1 Peter 4:12
The Christian life is not a life free from trouble. In fact, scripture promises that trials will come and admonishes that we should not be surprised when they do. Why this is vital to understand is because if the message that the Christian life is to be a trouble-free life has been internalized (even subconsciously) when difficulties or trials come our tendency is to think that things are out of control. And when we feel things are out of control, that is when fear and anxiety creep into our hearts and lives. But the opposite is true, when trials come into our life it is evidence that everything is unfolding according to God’s plan.
Count it all joy, my brothers] when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. – James 1:2-4
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by Him. For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. – Hebrews 5b-11 (cf Prov 3:11-12)
The presence of trials and difficulties in our life is not evidence that things are out of control, the Bible is clear that trials and difficulties are to be expected in the Christian life and that God works in the life of His people through trials.
God’s Care For His People
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. – Luke 12:6-7
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. – Psalm 23:1
He will not let your foot be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. – Psalm 123:3
God is aware of the plight of His people, and they are constantly under His care and protection.
Not only must the biblical data be known and understood it must be believed; it must be viewed as true. This is the view Scripture has itself and the view of Scripture expressed by Jesus and the authors of Scripture.
The law of the Lord is perfect. – Psalm 19:7
Scripture cannot be broken. – John 10:35 (Jesus)
All Scripture is breathed out by God. – 1 Timothy 3:16
And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed… – 2 Peter 1:19
Because Scripture has clearly spoken on its own veracity, it is incumbent on those who are God’s people to believe what it says. A distrust of Scripture is a heart issue not a head issue, it is a heart issue. But even here there is grace. You can always pray and cry out what the father of the possessed boy did in Mark 9:24, “I believe, help my unbelief.”
Knowing what the Bible says and believing what the Bible says is true is not enough. You must also trust in what it says. Webster defines trust as assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something. Spiritual speaking, the one who trusts in Christ places himself in the custody of Christ for both life and death. The believer relies on the Lord’s counsel and entrusts himself for time (this life) and eternity (salvation) to His guardianship.
Trust not only knows what the Bible says, and believes it is true, it relies on it. It counts on the word of God and what is said about God in His word to affect their lives.
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” – John 14:1
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. – Romans 15:3
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make straight your paths. – Proverbs 3:5-6
And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also He said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” – Revelation 21:5
True faith know what the Bible says, believes that it is true and lives in light of that truth in such a way as it relies on the truth of Scripture in daily life.
“Faith is knowledge passing into conviction and it is conviction passing into conviction.”
What is Fear?
According to Webster’s fear is “a :an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger b (1) :an instance of this emotion (2) :a state marked by this emotion 2:anxious concern.”
There are three key components of fear made apparent in this definition.
- It is an emotion.
- It is a strong emotion
- It is tied to anticipation
What does the Bible say about fear?
Fear has no place in the Christian life.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. – 1 John 4:18
He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear, what can man do to me?” – Hebrews 13:5b-6
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” – Romans 8:15
The absence of fear is not based on the absence or expected absence of adverse circumstances in our lives, it is rooted in our relationship to and with God. Our relationship with God is as His beloved. And because we are loved by God we are not subject to punishment and because we are not subject to divine punishment, there is no reason to fear. Because He will never leave or forsake you, He is a constant help to you. And there is nothing that any human can do to apart from His will. And you can never be separated from the love of God (Rom 8:38-39).
Our relationship to God is familial. We have been adopted into the household of God. God the Father is your father with all of the privileges that come with being the child of the King. And our father gives good gifts.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! – Matthew 7:7-11
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. – James 1:5-8
This doesn’t mean that God will always prevent what you are afraid of, but it does mean regardless of what situation you face He will equip you with the wisdom you need for the trial, and so there is nothing to fear.
What is Anxiety?
There are three key components of anxiety identified in this definition:
- It is a feeling
- It is tied to anticipation
- It can be a chronic state
What does the Bible say about anxiety?
It is utterly unnecessary!
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? – Matthew 6:35-27
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. – Matthew 11:28-29
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. – John 14:27
An anxiety free life is rooted in our identity in Christ. Psalm 103 says to bless the LORD and to not forget His benefits and in addition to all of the things listed in Psalm 103, one of the benefits of a relationship with God through Christ is the giving of peace that leads to an anxiety free life.
The common thread between fear and anxiety
Fear and anxiety are both rooted in anticipation of adverse circumstances in the future. And this anticipation belies a belief that the future is undecided or out of control. But Scripture is absolutely clear, the future is fixed and under the control of God.
I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose. – Isaiah 46:9b-10
And God’s sovereignty extends to all areas of life.
God is sovereign over people and their actions
The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. – Proverbs 21:1
God is sovereign over governments.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. – Romans 13:1-2
God is Sovereign Over Nature, including weather and natural disasters.
He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter His lightning. They turn around and around by His guidance, to accomplish all that He commands them on the face of the habitable world. Whether for correction or for His land or for love, He causes it to happen. – Job 37:11-13
Fear and anxiety are emotions, and emotions are not the arbiter of what is true. And these emotions arise out of uncertainty about the future, but the future is not uncertain, it is entirely in the firm control of God. And as His people we can and should rest in that, knowing that He is in control and that He has given us peace and rest in Christ.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. – 1 Peter 5:6-7
Trusting God Even When Life Hurts by Jerry Bridges
Anxious for Nothing by John MacArthur
When People Are Big and God Is Small by Ed Welch
 Trusting God: Even when life hurts. Jerry Bridges. NavPress, 1988 (2008 edition). Pp31-32
 Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth ed. Mayhue & MacArthur. Crossway, 2017. P596
 Biblical Doctrine p 599
 Redemption Accomplished and Applied. John Murray. Eerdmans 1955 (2015 edition) p1 11.