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Member Mailbag – While reading your article, one comment jumped out at me. You said, “For perspective sake, it takes a lifetime to work through the fear of man issues. Truthfully, we won’t be completely free from this sin until we meet Jesus. But you can mature through this sin problem. In my experience, it takes about one year of intentional one-to-one care; about five years of “normal care” and the rest of your life doing self-care while teaching others what you have learned.”
I believe this to be true. But it doesn’t seem the local church is addressing this issue? My church is a gospel-centered, bible-based, and with sound teaching. But I would also say the majority of the members have ongoing fear of man issues. Like the examples you provided, the gospel is more theoretical than practical. Experiences define identity. We are gospel impotent. I become overwhelmed, thinking about the resources that some need for one-on-one care for a year. Is this typical in the churches today?
Some people may not be familiar with this biblical term, the fear of man (Proverbs 29:25). Our culture does not use it. They prefer peer-pressure, insecurity, or codependency, which are fine but not as precise as biblical language. The Bible also talks about the fear of man along the lines of shame, which is an inherent awkwardness that implies there is something wrong with us.
There is a host of biblical categories that feed our fear of man (insecurities). E.g., guilt, anxiety, fear, worry, shame, criticism, harshness, unkindness, abuse (physical and verbal), manipulation, timidity, shyness, and mocking.
Any of these operate to stir-up our pre-existing, Adam-given, internal shame. It is important to remember this is part of what it means to be born in Adam. After Adam sinned, there was a constellation of sin issues that became ours, e.g., shame, fear, and guilt, to name three of them. This human condition is universal.
God created all people equally, and we’re depraved entirely, though everyone is not affected by sin similarly. Every person does not struggle the same way with fear of man, and every person is not insecure around everyone they meet. Fear of man works out differently with different people and different circumstances.
For example, if a girl’s dad sexually or verbally abused her, she will more than likely struggle with some male relationships. If a young boy was regularly put down by his father, there is a good chance he will compensate for his insecurities by becoming an overachiever. Some of the most successful people you will meet mask their insecurities with bravado.
Fear of man is an Adamic problem that can only be cured by the gospel, which is the person and work of Jesus Christ, effectually transforming a person over a long period. This critical problem is where your more vital questions regarding the church come into play.
The reason we will struggle with fear of man to varying degrees is that we will never be completely free from the curse of Adam. This truth means that on this side of heaven, there will not be perfect sanctification in anyone.
This perspective should not be discouraging for anyone who believes in and practicalizes the gospel. God can change us, and He is changing us. We are not like those who are without hope. We have unlimited confidence because the Father is our Lord, the Savior is our Redeemer, and the Spirit is our Guide.
But there is a rub. When you bring 200, 500, or 1000 people together on any given Sunday for a local church meeting, you are bringing people together who struggle with fear of man. You say to think about this problem can be overwhelming. If I look at this problem too long, I will be overwhelmed too, and frustrated (sinful anger).
It’s imperative that while you’re looking at the problem, you’re spending more time looking at the Savior. A good rule-of-thumb is for every look you take at sin (or problems), you should take ten looks at the Savior. Someone said,
When I look too intently at my sin, I get discouraged. When I don’t look at it enough, I discourage others. Lord, help me to keep away from both extremes.
Some people ignore sin by pretending it does not exist, which is a recipe for dysfunctional relationships. Other folks are sin-centered, which is depressing. The best answer is honesty with yourself and the Bible, which should keep us focused on Christ as we humbly address our problems with sin and each other.
The more substantial part of your question is a church question: why isn’t the church addressing this issue? I would say this is one of the biggest problems in our local churches.
If we are afraid to be honest with each other, our best relationships can hardly go beyond superficial. There will always be exceptions to this “rule.” But for the most part, the church as a whole will sputter along with causal or semi-pretending relationships, which will never get into the real muck of their lives.
I would not frame the solution as a resource problem, though I can see how you could interpret my statement that way. We do not need more resources. Resources are a modern-day solution to problems, but this is not how things used to be.
An overrated question is, “Do you have a book for _______?” We don’t need another book for our problems. Jesus was not passing out books, and He did not start a Bible study for overcoming the fear of man.
We can over-complicate our lives with books, Bible studies, men’s meetings, and more conferences. When it is all said and done, the only thing you need is honesty with each other. That is how it begins.
What if you think about your question this way? What if you cast two big visions and implemented them in your local church, which I believe could change the culture of the local church regarding fear of man?
“Fear not” is the most often repeated appeal in the Bible, though you will find it worded in different ways. The Bible deals with the sin of fear more than any other transgression. The reason for this is apparent: fear is the practical opposite of faith.
You cannot have sound faith if you are afraid. Being afraid, anxious, worrying, or whatever form of fear you want to use is hostile to our confidence in God. Unbelief leads to fear. When Adam chose to disbelieve (anti-faith), becoming fearful was the next thing to happen to him, which was in the form of biblical shame.
Adam’s problem is ours: we are afraid, which is why we have a gospel. Christ desires to abolish our fears by placing our faith in Him alone. But when a person becomes born a second time (John 3:7), he begins living in a dualistic construct that competes to captivate his mind: fear v. faith; Adam v. Christ; light v. darkness.
This matter is why we must teach others about our faith nemesis. Fear can be spiritually debilitating. We must be honest with each other. It’s not a matter of more resources, but clarity (teaching) and greater honesty (application).
This problem is not as complicated as some may think. We have to choose whether we want to be a community of Christlike disciple-makers or a group of isolated and individualized men and women hiding behind our fig leaves. One of our members chimed in on this question in our community forum. He added this perceptive insight:
Our culture (even within the church) has become so individualized that soul care can be almost impossible. In my limited experience, individualism permeates the church. The entire new covenant ethic is that of family, one another, and our inter-relatedness. Yet, what we see in practice is the opposite. It seems Christians would rather pay fees to a non-Christian “expert” than develop relationships in the local church. I believe part of the root of this problem is the emphasis on the individual rather than the body.
Our member is teaching us, and he’s a pastor. We need this kind of equipping because it’s part of the solution. Preaching, small groups, men’s groups, retreats, and one-to-one interactions need to isolate and highlight this problem.
The more we bring it to our minds, the apter we will begin to pursue contexts and relationships where we can be open and honest with each other. This kind of response to teaching, equipping, and instruction is the second half of the solution: create settings that can apply the teaching.
Typically, I spend two years teaching these ideas to my small group. My community is like every other Christian small group in a church. It’s a group of people who are timid to varying degrees about letting others know who they are.
Each person in our group, including me, comes to every meeting with fig leaves covering their shame. There is a part of all of us that draws back from being found out—from being exposed. Adam said it best,
And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. 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 3:7-10).
Note the “fear language” and concepts in this passage. Adam is our representative. He is who all of us are. We are a fearful lot, hiding behind our fig leaves, hoping God and others won’t discover who we are.
Then we become Christians and start living in this “Adam/Christ tension” of hoping to reveal ourselves, but yet afraid that it will happen. It’s private torture of the mind, which can cause us to do weird things.
The course of action I referenced in the “flea article” talked about a process of care, but it did not expand on the comment that stuck out to you. Allow me to explain more here.
If a person is struggling with fear of man, he needs someone to disciple him. Someone needs to come alongside him, in different contexts, to help him work through this sin problem. I suggested a year.
For one year, while doing small group life, going to the movies, going out to dinner, meeting one-to-one for breakfast, hanging at the house, and other types of relational venues and events, the discipler should be able to build a bridge to speak into the person’s life.
After about a year of discipleship, the discipler will have poured many good ideas into his friend, to where the friend can begin to relax and address this problem personally and practically. The discipler continues the relationship mostly through encouragement.
In time, the disciple should also become a discipler. He begins to care for others in a similar way in which he has received care (2 Timothy 2:2). All the while, the church is teaching how the gospel settles and solves his fears. The (1) steady teaching is running in the background of your (2) discipleship care.
There are no needed resources, only a vision and practice for care. The leaders cast the concept, and the people run with it. This strategy does not add anything to anyone’s plate, nothing more than what they are already doing, e.g., parties, small groups, movies, dinners, and shopping.
The preacher is preaching. The small group leaders are leading. People are going to the movies and out to dinner. Folks are gathering around the pool in the summer and going to Christmas parties in the winter.
The critical question then becomes, “Now that I have the vision and understand the problem, will I be intentional with the people that I regularly hang out with on a week to week basis?” Most times, this kind of relational intentionality only requires five minutes or less chatting about a person’s struggle with the fear of man. The rest of the time together can be about the movie, the party, or the barbecue.
The real problem you are raising is not so much about fear of man, as it is a gospel breakdown of the mind: has the gospel influenced me enough to where I have an other-centered default? See Matthew 22:36-40; Philippians 2:3-4.
People know they are insecure. The real problem is their affection for the gospel—the person and work of Christ—is so minimal that they are not motivated to face their fears by seeking help or by coming alongside others to help them. The Bible calls this lukewarm Christianity.
It’s like having a part-time job. Christ is not my main job, but something I do on the side. If the gospel were truly affecting folks the way it could, we would not be asking these questions.
The people would be eager for change, and their fears would not get in the way. You see this in Acts 2:42-47, where the people didn’t need resources but were living out a more profound love for Jesus Christ, the gospel. When this kind of affection happens, they won’t mind getting into people’s business or allowing others to get into theirs. The gospel is God’s best answer for the fear of man.
If I wanted others to think highly of me, I would conceal the fact that a shameful slaughter of the perfect son of God was required that I might be saved. But when I stand at the foot of the Cross and am seen by others under the light of that Cross, I am left uncomfortably exposed before their eyes. Indeed, the most humiliating gossip that could ever be whispered about me is blared from Golgotha’s hill; and my self-righteous reputation is left in ruins in the wake of its revelations. With the worst facts about me thus exposed to the view of others, I find myself feeling that I truly have nothing left to hide. – The Gospel Primer