The Only Thing We Have to Fear

The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied. (Proverbs 19:23)

Franklin D. Roosevelt coined one of America’s iconic maxims in his first inaugural address: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It’s not true.

Roosevelt was trying to quell the national panic of financial crisis, urging Americans not to succumb to “unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts.” It is true that irrational fear must be resisted. But it’s not true that fear is the only thing we need to fear.   

In fact, fear itself is not wrong. God actually designed us to be fearers. Fear is a faith-revealer. What we fear reveals what we trust. It’s a strong response to a perceived threat commanding us to protect our hope. In that way it governs our behaviors.

That means fear really isn’t our problem. If we fear the wrong things it’s because our faith is in the wrong things.

There’s the real issue for you and me. We have a lot of fears because we have a lot of unbelief.

Every time we are sinfully fearful — fearful of something God tells us not to fear — it is a moment of unbelief exposure. It is a place in the kingdom of our souls that has not yet been conquered; not yet fully under the rule of Jesus Christ.

Israel’s conquering the Promised Land is God’s metaphor for us in fighting unbelief. In the face of Canaan’s fortified cities and giants the Israelites were told:

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

They were called to face their fears because it would train them to put their trust in the right Hope. “It is the Lord your God you shall fear” (Deuteronomy 6:13). Learning to fear the One Right Thing would free them from the tyranny of fearing a myriad of wrong things. The same is true for us.

Today, if the Lord has you facing fortified cities and giants of unbelief and you find yourself fearful, hear his words and be encouraged to press on:

  • “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).
  • “The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28).
  • “Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack” (Psalm 34:9)!
  • Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God… He will come and save you” (Isaiah 35:4).
  • He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32)?
  • For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
  • “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
  • “Do not fear, only believe” (Mark 5:36).

There is only One Thing we have to fear, and it is not fear. It is the Lord. Through fear he will teach us faith.