Is it possible that some fear is good? Join AMBrewster as he unpacks a ton of Bible verses to help Christian parents understand the nature and value of Good Fear.
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“Four Family Loves” series (starts in episode 128)
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Welcome back to our Parenting Fearful Children series.
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Alright, let’s talk good fear.
If nothing else, TLP deeply desires to be counter-cultural in all the right places. That means that we’re not trying to swim upstream just because we like the challenge or we like being different; if we’re being counter-cultural, it’s because we believe that God’s will is running counter to the culture, and we just want to run alongside Him.
It’s for such reasons that we define the words “love” and “friend” and “shame” and “hate” and “good” and “bad” differently than the world does. God’s Word is abundantly clear concerning His thoughts on those subjects and many more. Our responsibility is to know the Word and discover His will.
And the same thing goes for the concept of fear.
Let me tell you, my family just talked about fear for 45 minutes as we drove to Walmart, and it’s so incredibly complicated and — I can say it — scary because we’ve allowed the world to dictate what fear means to us.
So, not only is it frequently wrong, it’s also complicated and confusing because people view it differently. Even if you find two people who will define it the same way, they’ll apply it differently.
Unless, the Bible is your foundation.
So, let’s start by remembering that — philosophically speaking — fear is the emotion that arises from believing something is dangerous.
If you didn’t listen to our last episode, you really need to start there because I’m going to assume a lot of things moving into today’s show.
We also talked about fear being fundamentally a question of trust. What do I trust more? What does your child trust more? You wish your child would trust you that there are no monsters under the bed, but they don’t. They’ve decided that there’s something dangerous under the bed, and it doesn’t matter what you say or do, they just don’t trust you.
That’s what fear is.
So, we have to ask, it is possible for there to be such a thing as “good” fear. Well, just as there is “good shame,” when we look at the Scriptures we see good fear.
And this makes sense without having to try to think to hard. If something is legitimately dangerous, then we could argue that it’s appropriate to be afraid of it.
So, how do we know if something is dangerous?
Well, I believe the answer will be found in Scripture.
“Aaron, let’s be serious. The Bible doesn’t say anything about unsafe driving conditions, e-coli, or poison dart frogs.”
True. But the Bible does give us the theological underpinnings that should guide how we interact with the world.
Now, that last statement is massive and would take a ton of time to unpack. So, hopefully I can prove it to some degree as we work through this material.
God is going to give us all the information and understanding we need to live wisely in this world. Part of living wisely is being discerning enough to determine if something is genuinely dangerous and knowing how to respond.
So, what’s legitimately dangerous? I think we could compile a huge list. Bears, radiation, zombies, and a baby without a diaper are just a few that come to my mind without even having to try hard.
But we don’t want to compile a list of everything dangerous. I’d argue that anything has the potential of being dangerous to someone somewhere. So, what we want to do is discover what are the most dangerous things.
And, you know what? This is going to surprise you. You may not even agree at first. But the single most dangerous thing in the entire cosmos . . . is God.
I love C.S.Lewis’ insightful Mr. Beaver. When asked if the giant lion, Aslan, was safe, Mr. Beaver replied, “Safe? Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
If you or your children choose to pit yourself against God, there is absolutely nothing more dangerous you can do in this entire universe.
Therefore, if fear is an appropriate response for something that is legitimately dangerous, then nothing is to be feared more than God.
“Okay, Aaron, I think I agree with you — especially when it involves unbelievers who have rejected Him. The Bible is clear that they are facing an eternity in Hell if they don’t submit to Him. But should Christians be afraid of God? That doesn’t seem right. That sounds like every false religion that tries to scare their followers into submission.”
That’s a fantastic question.
Let me give you a personal illustration. I’ve been studying the martial arts for nearly thirty years. I have black belts in three different styles. One of them is a 5th degree, master level certification.
Let’s say that someone was dumb enough to break into my house and try to molest my wife. That would be a very dangerous move for him. However, for my wife, she would not be afraid of my presence as the criminal should. She would welcome it. It would bring her joy and peace.
But . . . that’s not to say that my wife doesn’t respect my ability on one side, and on the other — if she were to go crazy and try to kill me — she would have reason to worry about what may happen to her as I defend myself.
It’s the same with God.
The unbeliever should be very afraid. But though the fear may drive the unbeliever to consider their position before God, it will be Christ’s love that draws them into a relationship with Him. Fear overpowers into submission; love invites into relationship.
There are realties on both side that need to resonate. If we hide the scary elements of God, the person to whom we’re witnessing won’t really understand Him. They need to know about His holiness and judgment and righteousness and impossible standards and eternal consequences.
But they also need to understand His infinite love.
But for the Christian, though we need not fear His death-blow, we do need to respect His awesome power and grandeur.
And . . . if we were stupid enough to say, “God, I don’t care what you say. I’m going to do what I want to do,” which is exactly what we’re saying every time we sin . . . then it would be very wise for us to be terrified of the consequences.
As James Weldon Johnson said, “Young man–your arm is too short to box with God.”
So, what does this look like in our kids? How do we parent our kids into good fear? How do we not allow it to become bad fear?
First, we need to establish that the only thing we’re allowed to fear is God Himself.
Now, I know many of you will disagree with that. Just stick with me. Allow me to prove it from Scripture.
The best proof of this fact is the Bible repeatedly commands His people not to fear anything. And then the only thing we’re commanded to fear in all of Scripture is God and the consequences that come from rebelling against Him.
So, we see that there are two sides to this fear. On one side we should fear displeasing Him. And, on the other, there is a legitimate reason to fear the consequences of my attacking Him.
Yes, please understand that I whole-heartedly agree with you that our relationship with God needs to be motivated by far more than just fear. But, my friends, if you don’t fear God . . . you don’t know God.
If you don’t fear God, you’re not obeying Him. You’re living in sin, and you have a lot about which to be afraid.
So, how do you help your child discern whether their fear is good or bad?
We’re going to dive into a ton of Scripture. If you can’t write any of this down, I’ll include every passage in our free episode notes at TruthLoveParent.com.
Here are 8 points that will help you determine if you or your child is experiencing Good Fear:
1. Good Fear causes us to consider consequences.
Now, it’s true that Good Fear and Bad Fear have this in common. There’s obviously more to it than just this, but it is a biblical Truth.
II Chronicles 17:10, “And the fear of the Lord fell upon all the kingdoms of the lands that were around Judah, and they made no war against Jehoshaphat.” They were legitimately concerned of the consequences of making war with God’s people.
II Chronicles 19:7, “Now then, let the fear of the Lord be upon you. Be careful what you do, for there is no injustice with the Lord our God, or partiality or taking bribes.” Here the author warns us that God is just and He won’t be bribed. The obvious idea is that if you disobey Him, consequences will come.
And then there’s Proverbs 1:29-33. “Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, 30 would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, 31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices. 32 For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them; 33 but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” I’ll let that one speak for itself.
If your child is wisely considering the legitimate spiritual consequences of their choices, and if they are choosing to make better choices because they’re afraid of the Primary and/or Secondary Consequences of their sin . . . that’s a good fear to have.
2. Good Fear provides confidence.
Now, before I read the passages, I want you to really sink your teeth into this.
I know that the idea of encouraging fear in our kids might sound super distasteful to you because you imagine a definition of fear that neither I nor the Lord intend.
Good Fear doesn’t produce insecurity. Good Fear produces confidence.
Do you want your child to have confidence? Do you want your kid to have peace? Well, guess what? Good Fear is going to be a necessary ingredient to that.
Isaiah 33:5-6, “The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness, 6 and he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is Zion's treasure.”
You see that? Fear is not a bad thing. That fear was a treasure. It was one of the most prized possessions that brought with it a sense of stability.
And consider Proverbs 14:26, “In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.”
Does your child’s fear produce confidence? If so, it’s probably a good fear.
“I can’t even begin to imagine what that would look like, Aaron.” Yeah, you can. Have you never been a position where there were two dangerous things, and your fear for the one made the other disappear?
This happens in movies when someone is being chased by a guy with a gun, and — for some reason — they run up to the roof of the building. I don’t know why. And then they realize they either have to jump to the pool twenty stories below or be shot . . . they jump.
This looks like your child being anxious about sharing the Gospel with an antagonistic kid at school, but realizing that God’s character is more than enough. On one side, His awesome power is at her disposal, and on the other, His holiness will not ignore if she allows the fear of man to overshadow her fear of the Lord.
Those two realities can give her confidence in being a good testimony.
3. Good Fear drives us to learn, understand, and apply God’s Truth to our lives.
There are so many passages about this. This is the core principle in the “Circle of Learning.”
I’ll include all the verses from Proverbs that teach this, but let me read one from Job and one from Psalms
Job 28:28 reads, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.”
And Psalm 111:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.”
(Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 2:1-5; Proverbs 9:10; Proverbs 15:33)
Does your child’s fear motivate them to know more and be wiser? That’s a good fear!
A good secular example of this is when one of my former students thought he was ready to ski even though he had never done it before and hadn’t yet finished the lesson. Well, about 1/4th of the way down the hill, he was convinced that he needed to learn more about skiing or he was going to kill himself.
After I guided him safely to the bottom of the hill, he not only went back to the lesson, he stayed on the bunny hill for extra practice before heading back up to the top.
The fear of the situation helped him see what he should have seen earlier. That’s a valuable fear.
4. Good fear produces Christ-likeness.
Our most recent Father’s Day episode was called the “Isaiah 11 Father.” One of the character traits of Christ that we studied was that Jesus, the second person of the Godhead also feared the Lord.
Now, don’t let that one bake your noodle too much. Just listen . . .
Speaking of the Messiah in chapter 11, verses 2-3, Isaiah says, “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear.”
If your child’s fear is the same fear that Jesus experienced . . . that is a wonderful fear! Encourage that kind of fear!
Following very closely on the heels of that is . . .
5. Good Fear motivates righteous living.
Psalm 19:9 speaks to our purity, “The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever.”
Psalm 34:11-14 addresses the impact it has on our communication: “Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. 12 What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? 13 Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.
14 Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”
Proverbs 15:16 is all about contentment: “Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it.”
And Proverbs 16:6, “Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it.”
And — in the category of General Righteousness — we have Proverbs 8:13, “The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.”
If your child’s fear is motivating them to live as God would have them live, that’s a good fear.
Now, I hope you’ve noticed that this list is building from the most obvious to the most difficult. It has to.
If we don’t have a holy fear of consequences, we’ll never have confidence knowing our life choices are safe.
If we don’t do that, we’ll never be motivated to learn what God has to say. Our own opinions and feelings will be enough.
As we encounter Scripture, our fear of God should then start to produce Christ-likeness in us and manifest itself in holy living.
That maturing fear will eventually lead us to the place where . . .
6. Good Fear persuades us to admonish others.
II Chronicles 19:9, “And he charged them: ‘Thus you shall do in the fear of the Lord, in faithfulness, and with your whole heart:’”
Because Jehoshaphat feared God, he had no problem warning others to do the same.
Now, we’ve looked entirely at Old Testament verses. The phrase “fear of the Lord” only shows up twice in the whole New Testament, and they’re both tied to the idea that fearing God will motivate us to share the Gospel, correct, rebuke, reprove, admonish, and teach.
Acts 9:31 says, “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.”
And II Corinthians 5:11 tells us, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.”
If your child is sharing the Gospel because he’s afraid for his peer’s eternal destiny . . . that is an extremely mature fear.
And that leads us to the next manifestation of Good Fear . . .
7. The Fear of the Lord motivates us to do hard things.
II Chronicles 14:14 is a unique verse. It says, “And they attacked all the cities around Gerar, for the fear of the Lord was upon them. They plundered all the cities, for there was much plunder in them. 15 And they struck down the tents of those who had livestock and carried away sheep in abundance and camels. Then they returned to Jerusalem.”
War is a dangerous thing. But disobeying God is more dangerous. The people feared the Lord, and that fear prompted them to do something which was going to be very uncomfortable.
Sharing the Gospel and remaining pure and being able to say “No” to sin are hard things for anyone to do . . . let alone for young people.
But if your child’s fear of God and the consequences of displeasing Him empower them to flee evil, that is a fear worth engendering.
And lastly . . .
8. The Fear of the Lord produces Spiritual Success.
Proverbs 10:27, “The fear of the Lord prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be short.”
Proverbs 14:27, “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.”
Proverbs 19:23, “The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm.”
Proverbs 22:4, “The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.”
And Proverbs 23:17-18 tells us, “Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day. 18 Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.”
Now, please understand that this is not some health and wealth Gospel. My stance on New Testament blessing has been clearly elucidated in previous episodes.
What we can know for certain is that the fear of the Lord will always produce spiritual life and spiritual success and spiritual riches. Even if it ends with our martyrdom, God’s promises will be fulfilled in us.
Fear is a good fear when it’s a godly fear.
We should teach our children to have a visceral, emotional dread of all things evil and wicked.
I’m not talking about an irrational fear that leaves them catatonic and results in them not doing anything. I’m talking about a genuine horror that they might actually harm the One Who sacrificed everything to love us before we ever loved Him.
I hope it would not only scare us . . . it would disgust us worse than a gratuitously gory movie.
The consequences of living a life detached from God are petrifying. The Christian need not fear it if they submit to God’s will, but the reality is true nonetheless.
I’m going to try to wrap this up real quick, so let me say a few concluding things before answering the question, “What does this look like practically?
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And don’t miss our next episode when we discuss parenting our children through Bad Fear.
Okay, let’s put a practical end on this.
Let’s say your elementary schooler looks concerned after school. You engage him in conversation and discover that he’s grappling with the fact that he saw another kid cheat. He thinks he should tell the teacher, but he’s concerned about the fallout.
I would encourage you to draw out the Christ-honoring fears in order to help the Bad Fear diminish.
Start by asking him about the Bad Fear. He’ll probably be afraid of being considered a snitch or getting bullied if anyone found out.
But then draw his mind to the Good Fear. Ask something like, “And what makes you think that you should say anything to the teacher in the first place?
Have that conversation. Let it marinate. Don’t rush it. Allow him to grapple with right and wrong. Let the idea of someone “getting away with sin” not sit easy with him. What would his parents or teachers expect of him? Draw him to consider the role God would have him play in this scenario.
If he’s still not certain, provide him accountability and assistance necessary to overcome the hurdle. Help him come up with a plan of informing the teacher without the other child finding out.
Of course, I would also log it in the back of my mind that — in the future — my son is going to have to mature to the place where he’s willing to actually confront the boy about his sin.
Your child is still thinking too much about himself. He’s too worried about his own discomfort than the fact that his classmate is sinning against his Creator.
So, there’s still a good mix of Good Fear and Bad.
But we’ll talk about how to address the Bad Fear next time.
For, now, draw your children back to Truth that will flame the Fear of the Lord.
And next time we’ll deal with the other side of the coin.
I’m looking forward to it.
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