If it doesn't really matter what they think of you, the possibilities are endless.
Have you ever had one of those, I really don't like myself moments?
I'm not talking about the times we wish we were six inches taller so that we could play in the NBA, or six inches smaller so that we didn't have to shop at a men's store called "Big & Tall." I'm talking about the times when we come face to face with our sin and are simply disgusted.
I had one of those times recently.
Several months ago I had a scooter stolen from my front porch by a drunk girl. The cops caught her pushing the scooter up the street at one in the morning, which isn't a typical sight in our podunk, one-horse (or scooter) town. I'm not sure how she was planning on using the scooter since she didn't have the keys, but that didn't seem to cross her mind in her moment of kleptomania.
I was subpoenaed by local authorities to come and testify against the girl in court. There was just one slight problem: I was planning on dropping the charges. My hope was that in dropping the charges I would get a chance to tell the scooter thief about King Jesus, who died for drunken thieves like her and for church kids like me.
The night before the trial I noticed that something wasn't quite right. I felt nervous. Really nervous. Not about dropping the charges or talking to grim-faced district attorneys or appearing before a judge, but about talking to the girl who stole my scooter.
To be quite honest, the thought of sharing the gospel with her made me very uncomfortable, which was pretty silly considering that she was the one who walked off with my property. She should be the one shaking in her gym shoes, not me. I was proving yet again that I was a member of "The Freak Out Club."
Welcome to the Club
Perhaps you're a member of "The Freak Out Club" as well, and you don't even know it. Here are some questions to help you determine if you're indeed a member:
- Do the words "scared," "terrified" or "I'd rather have blood taken with a large needle" come to mind when you think about sharing the gospel?
- Do you ever find yourself longing for the wholehearted approval of others and willing to do just about anything to get it?
- Are you ever hesitant to challenge a fellow Christian because you're afraid he or she might not respond very well?
- Do you ever get nervous about sharing in a group setting because you're afraid you might say something that will make you look like an amoebic moron with a single digit IQ?
- Is it hard for you to say "no" to people, even when you have a legitimate reason?
- Do you ever apply the words "co-dependency," "people pleaser" or "peer pressure" to yourself?
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions then you may very well be a fellow member of "The Freak Out Club," a club made up of all people throughout the world who struggle with what the Bible calls "the fear of man."
Requirements For Membership
Biblically speaking, the fear of man can be defined as being willing to sin to obtain the approval of others. I sin in the fear of man when I refuse to share the gospel with a co-worker because I'm afraid she's going to think I'm some kind of religious weirdo that performs goat sacrifices in his backyard. I sin in the fear of man when I don't challenge a Christian friend who's involved in a romantic relationship with an unbeliever. I sin in the fear of man any time that I seek to please people more than God.
In Mark 14:66-68 we see a prime example of the fear of man at work in a person. Jesus has just been arrested and the disciples have scattered like roaches caught in a spotlight. One of Jesus' disciples named Peter, who just hours before had proudly boasted that he would never desert Jesus, is now furtively following Jesus, hoping to observe the action without being observed himself. Everything is going according to plan until he runs into a lowly servant girl.
And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, "You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus." But he denied it, saying, "I neither know nor understand what you mean."
You know the rest of the story. Big Bad Peter denies Jesus two more times. It turns out Peter wasn't so brave after all. In fact, he was a lot like me. An unassuming servant girl is all it takes to make Peter quiver in his sandals.
All of this brings us to the million dollar question: How do I put to death this sinful anxiety? How do I kill the fear of man? In Luke chapter 12:4-7 Jesus gives us the answer. He says:
I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!
At first glance this may seem like a strange passage to reference when talking about the fear of man. One minute it's talking about those who kill the body, the next it's talking about being flung into the fiery depths of hell. But let's look a little deeper. Within these verses is a glorious, fear-killing truth.
Be Afraid, Very Afraid
Jesus was very aware that some of his disciples would be hurt and even killed as a result of following him. He knew that frenzied mobs, and brutal beatings, and boiling oil awaited those who claimed the name of "Jesus." He knew that they would be afraid and even tempted to desert the cause of Christ. And so he tells them not to fear other people, who can only kill the body, but to fear God, who has all physical and spiritual authority. Jesus is telling them to displace their fear of man with a reverent fear of God.
Ponder for a moment the greatness of God. He has existed from eternity past and will continue to exist for all time. He spoke the universe into existence, birthing massive galaxies with a word. He holds the universe together by his mighty word. The planets maintain their intricate dance, rain falls on the earth, and my heart continues to beat because of the sustaining power of God. All people were created by Him, and He rules over all people. And if we've trusted in Christ as our Savior, God embraces us as sons and daughters. He alone is worthy of all worship, praise, honor, reverence and obedience.
Now consider the comparative insignificance of humanity. Our lives are like a breath of wind, passing in a few short years. We're physically weak, unable to survive more than a few days without food and water. Sleep, like food, is an utter necessity. Without it we turn into bumbling, babbling idiots.
Truly grasping the greatness of God and the littleness of us humans compels me to obey God instead of other people. What's the worst a person could do to me? Mock me? Reject me? Think I'm a complete idiot? Even physically hurt me depending on the circumstances? All these things are possible.
But, in light of the greatness and goodness of God, does it really matter what people think of me? Does it really matter if someone gets offended at me when I try to tell them about Jesus? Does it matter if a Christian friend is offended when I gently point out an area of sin in their life? Is it really important for everyone to think that I'm a smart, intelligent, funny guy?
Not in the least.
What matters most is honoring the One who created me and redeemed me with the blood of his precious Son. A sinful craving for the approval of others is displaced by a passion for pleasing God.
Free From the Fear
So practically speaking, how do I break free from the fear of man? By growing in my knowledge of God's greatness and cultivating a holy reverence for Him. I need to study and ponder passages like Isaiah 6:1-7, where Isaiah sees the glory of God with his eyes and is utterly undone. I need to read books that open my eyes to the greatness, glory and goodness of God, like R.C. Sproul's The Holiness of God and J.I. Packer's Knowing God. Above all, I desperately need to pray. The simple truth is that I can't overcome the fear of man on my own strength. I need God to change my heart so that it seeks His approval more than the approval of those around me.
The End of the Story
When all was said and done, I didn't have much of a chance to share the gospel with the scooter thief. It turns out that district attorney's aren't real big fans of "victims" hanging out with "perpetrators" in the courtroom context. But I did manage to get in a few words, telling the girl that I wanted to show mercy because God has shown me a lot of mercy. I gave her my contact info and told her that if I could help in any way to let me know. It was a victory for me. A minor one, yes, but still a victory. One that's brought me one step closer to forfeiting my membership in "The Freak Out Club."
Copyright 2008 Stephen Altrogge. All rights reserved.