When grace gets a hold of a people, it does remarkable, unexplainable things in us. Grace confiscates peace, and instills peace. Grace levels fear, and grace kindles fear. Grace rips away comfort, and grace produces comfort.
The first followers of Jesus experienced emotional miracles like these every day. They risked their lives and were ready to lose all they had for the sake of Christ. They gladly gave up everything (Acts 2:45), had so much to fear (Acts 9:1), and yet persevered and even multiplied. The church actually grew while it was under attack. Luke writes, “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied” (Acts 9:31).
One of the great evidences that the gospel has taken root — in a city, or a church, or a heart — is this coming together of seemingly conflicting emotions and experiences: fearless and fearful, uncomfortable and comforted. We set ourselves apart in the world by facing the hardest, darkest realities without fear, and by embracing trials with unshakeable comfort and joy.
Wrong Kind of Fear
“Christian comfort is not the absence of suffering, but the presence of hope and joy deeper than any of our pain.”
Does the kind of fear and comfort above describe your church and your own heart? Unfortunately, life in a fallen world often incites the wrong kind of fear and curbs the kind of fear we need most. We fear God far less than we should, and a lot of other things far more. Instead of fearing the all-powerful, all-knowing, perfectly just Judge of the universe, we fear little things like change and rejection.
One kind of fear surrenders all other fear and follows Jesus (2 Timothy 1:6–7). Another kind of fear hears what Jesus promises and demands, and runs hard away from him. One kind of fear holds everything else loosely because we know that one day we will own it all forever (1 Corinthians 3:21–23). Another kind of fear holds everything a little tighter, trying to build at least a slice of heaven here.
Wrong Kind of Comfort
We are prone to fear the wrong things, and to crave the wrong kind of comfort. Modern life multiplies comforts, and yet we lack categories for comfort in suffering, or loss, or persecution — the kind of supernatural comfort carrying believers through the book of Acts.
Has there ever been a more comfortable era for Christians in the history of the world than life today in many places around the world? Jesus warned the wealthy and comfortable of his day, “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation” (Luke 6:24) — same word as Acts 9:31. You have received your comfort.
How comfortable are we and the Christians in our lives? Does our comfort look more American — wealthy, domestic, and entertaining — or more Christian — humble, spiritual, and durable? Is our comfort the kind that is purchased with money, or the kind produced by the Holy Spirit?
Right Kind of Fear
“Christian, you have no reason to fear anything that is frightening, and every reason to fear God more than ever.”
The wrong kind of fear drains our lives of faith and meaning. The right kind of fear brings hope and fills us with purpose and happiness. As the early church fearlessly stepped out and invited hostile neighbors to follow Jesus, they did so with great fear (Acts 9:31; 5:11). They lived these unexplainable verses in Isaiah:
Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary. (Isaiah 8:12–14)
When we come to God through Jesus, we stop fearing rejection, death, and judgment (1 John 4:18), but we never lose a holy fear for the one who rescues us from fear. Christian fear does not mean anxiety about today or eternity, but persistent awe and wonder before God (Acts 2:43), heightened seriousness about sin against him (1 Peter 1:15–17), and relentless passion for his glory (Acts 19:17).
Right Kind of Comfort
How does a church experience comfort when its members are being thrown in jail, and even murdered? By finding comfort in something other than our circumstances. Have you ever been able to say, “I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy” (2 Corinthians 7:4)? “Afflicted at every turn” (2 Corinthians 7:5), but still filled with comfort and overflowing with joy. That is a wonder the world cannot explain.
Being a Christian in those first days of the church was anything but comfortable, but Christian comfort has never been on fuller display. As they suffered for the sake of Jesus’s name, they worshiped,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction. . . . For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. (2 Corinthians 1:3–5)
“Any comfort you feel in this world is a mirage, but the comfort you feel in God’s mercy will never fail you.”
Comfort in these verses clearly is not dependent on physical health, or financial security, or what we call “quality of life.” It’s so much more reliable and satisfying than any of those things. Christian comfort does not mean the absence of suffering, but the presence of hope and joy stronger than any suffering we might experience in this life. Nothing can threaten or diminish the comfort we find in Jesus (2 Thessalonians 2:16).
So, if you are in Christ, you have no reason to fear anything that is frightening in this world (1 Peter 3:6), and every reason to fear God more than ever — not because of what he might do to you, but simply because his strength, holiness, justice, and worth are so far beyond us. Beware of comfort in this life, and seek comfort with all your might — by the power of the Holy Spirit. The relative comfort we feel in the modern world is a mirage ready to expire, but the comfort we feel in God’s mercy will never, ever fail us.