Living Free From Fear!
Our Hearts are Called to be at Peace
God calls us as the body of Christ, to be at peace.
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace”.(Colossians 3:15)
In fact God tells us not only to seek peace but to actively pursue it.
“Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their cry”.(Psalm 34:14 & 15)
Yet Jesus also tells us in the Gospels that He did not come to the earth to bring peace, but a sword.
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter–in–law against her mother–in–law ~ a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it”.(Matthew 10:34–39)
Friendship With the World is Enmity With Christ
So why do we face this seeming contradiction? Being called by God to pursue peace, yet Christ states He did not come to bring peace to the world but a sword?
The key to understanding this is by looking at what is taking place in our hearts. Colossians 3 above says that the peace of Christ is to rule in our hearts. Psalm 34 above says that as Christians we are to turn away from evil and to seek to live righteous lives. But, that very desire to live a righteous life in an unrighteous world that does not believe in or acknowledge Christ, will cause us to live at enmity with (hostile to, or to dislike) the values of this world. We must passionately love people, but we cannot agree with unrighteous living or compromise the ways of Christ. If there is any double–mindedness in our hearts about this; rather than choosing friendship with, or the affirmation of the world and its values, we humble our hearts acknowledging our need for God’s help. In doing this we submit ourselves completely to God in repentance, who will then cleanse our hearts from all compromise. We trust that as we do this first, we can then resist the devil’s enticements; and as we violently resist him, the devil must flee.
There is no peace for our hearts when we choose the world.
“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the Spirit He caused to live in us envies intensely? But He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double–minded” .(James 4:4–8)
Jesus warned that Christians who obey Him would be hated by the world. We will be hated because we do not live by the values or traditions of this world, and for this reason, many will suffer persecution, even from within the church.
Despite the opposition we may face, we are called to let the very nature and peace of God rule in our hearts.
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed My teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of My Name, for they do not know the One who sent Me” .(John 15:18–21)
Jesus encourages us to take heart because He has already overcome (conquered, defeated, triumphed and prevailed over) the values of this world. Those who give up things of value in this life to serve Christ will gain much, much, more and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first in this life, will be last in eternity.
“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world”.(John 16:33)
“And everyone who has left houses, or brothers or sisters, or father or mother, or children, or fields, for My sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” .(Matthew 19:29 & 30)
The Approval of Man is Opposition to God
It is a very natural human desire to esteem the approval or affection of those we love, or those that we connect with in everyday life. This could mean our friends; work colleagues; parents; husband or wife; brothers and sisters; church family; bosses; pastors; school teachers and even government authorities. Yet, by its very nature, the Christian life we are required to live, many times will cause us to have to forfeit the approval of others, in order to walk in obedience to Christ. Even other Christians at times will not understand or agree with the decisions we make. But to truly follow Christ means forsaking all else, setting aside the priorities and opinions of others in order to be obedient to Christ. If there is one thing that will distract us from the purposes of God and side track us into performing the works of our own flesh instead of the works of the Lord, it is the fear of man. The Apostle John tells us that in order to choose what is of eternal value, we must refuse the temporary things the world has to offer. This includes the love of worldly values and the approval of man.
Until our hearts are set on choosing Christ, there will always be a struggle.
“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever”.(1 John 2:15–17)
Christ’s Attitude Opposes the World
Jesus Christ modelled a life of servanthood and sacrifice – the very opposite of the values of the world. Paul instructs us we are to have the same mind as that of Christ:
“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like–minded (with Christ), having the same love (as Christ), being one in spirit and purpose (as Christ). Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”.(Philippians 2:1–11)
Jesus consistently showed that He was no respecter of persons. He was not interested in being seen with those people normally esteemed by others, but He chose to associate instead with Samaritans (who the Jews did not normally associate with), as well as sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes.
Jesus is a lover of people regardless of who they are. The book of James says,
“My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the Kingdom He promised those who love Him? But you have insulted the poor” (James 2:1–6).
Jesus consistently turned the values of the time He lived in – and the pre–conceived ideas of the religious rulers around Him – completely upside down. He consistently chose the poor, the weak, the sinful and the sick through which to show Himself powerful. And He still does that today!! God is not impressed with our intellect; our education; how we dress; our wealth; our marital state; the ministry we serve in; or anything else the world calls success.
- Many of those whom the world esteems (values or holds in high regard) have already been rejected by God.
- God looks at the heart of man.
“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”.(1 Samuel 16:7)
The Pharisee Spirit
Jesus constantly spoke against the prideful spirit that was operating through the Pharisees, whom He called hypocrites. Their desire was to be noticed, and to be seen as righteous before men. They practised good works in order to be seen by men, to obtain the approval of men. Christ told His disciples to be wary of this and not to follow in their example. Jesus exposed three main areas where the Pharisees sought for men’s approval: In their giving and righteous acts toward others; in their prayers; and in their suffering or self–sacrifice.
Righteous acts performed before others are motivated or triggered by a hope for reward.
God tells us, that our heavenly Father, Who sees what we do in secret, will reward us!
“Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, Who sees what is done in secret, will reward you”.(Matthew 6:1–4)
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, Who is unseen. Then your Father, Who sees what is done in secret, will reward you”.(Matthew 6:5 & 6)
“When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, Who is unseen; and your Father, Who sees what is done in secret, will reward you”.(Matthew 6:16–18)
Jesus consistently upset the Jewish leaders, Pharisees and rulers of His day, because He did not follow convention! Neither did He bow to their opinions, or follow after their ways. Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites. The Pharisees were so focused on the outward appearance of righteousness that they neglected the heart of Christ’s message – justice; mercy; faithfulness; and repentance from sin and self–righteous works.
The Pharisee spirit misses the most important things!
“Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former”.(Matthew 23:23)
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self–indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness”.(Matthew 23:25–28)
We Must Choose the Way of Faith
The Apostle Paul described the reasons he could put confidence in himself if he chose to.
“If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless”.(Philippians 3:4–6)
Paul had the choice to look to his own works and credentials and to have the approval of men, or to look to the grace of God and allow himself to be established in Him – but he could not have both. In order to gain Christ, the Apostle Paul joyfully considered his own efforts as rubbish, in order to be found in Him (Christ). Paul accepted by faith that righteousness came only through Him (Christ).
“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith”.(Philippians 3:7–9)
“Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith”.(Romans 3:27)
The Spirit of Adoption Draws us Near to God
The Pharisee spirit is a religious spirit motivated by fear.
God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of adoption, based in the love of God that He gives to us when we receive Him and are received by Him. Our knowing we are adopted and are heirs of God with Christ – means we do not need to fear suffering!
Suffering is a pre–requisite (necessary or essential) in order to share in God’s glory.
“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co–heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory”.(Romans 8:15–17)
When we know we are loved by our Heavenly Father, we do not have to strive in order to please Him. When we feel pulled in the direction of choosing or pleasing the world – we need to pray for a deeper revelation of the Father’s love within us because the craving of our sinful nature and the boasting of what we have and do does not come from being secure in the Father’s love.
“If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in Him. For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:15 & 16).
Someone who knows they are loved by God does not strive to please any man.
Many people have not experienced the love of a father, perhaps because through death; divorce; desertion; or the busyness of life; their father has not been there. Many others have not experienced the love or approval of a father, perhaps because he was unable to properly express his love or approval.
Despite our own experience, we must learn to look to God, not man.
We know we are approved of and accepted by God solely by the blood of Jesus Christ His Son. It pleased our Heavenly Father to draw us to Himself through Christ so that He could save us; cleanse us; adopt us and call us His own. It is not God’s will that any should be Fatherless, but all are called to repentance and life in Him and are free to draw near to Him. When Christians stand far off from God the Father, they stand far off from their brothers and sisters in Christ as well, because our family bond comes only through Him.
Again, Jesus said of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees:
“Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honour at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the market–places and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’ But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and He is in Heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ”.(Matthew 23:5–10)
Jesus is not saying here that we are not to acknowledge or honour our earthly father’s, or that we are not to receive teaching from others; rather He is saying that no one, regardless of his or her role, is to stand before, or in the place of God our Heavenly Father, or in the place of Christ. Rabbi means Master (or Christ). We are to treat no man as Master other than Christ! Ultimately all that we have – and all that we are – comes from God our Father, through the blood of Christ and nothing is to take His place. Immediately after saying these words Jesus stressed our need to humble ourselves before one another in order to serve one another – a concept that was so foreign to the Pharisees.
- We cannot truly serve others, when something or someone else (including ourselves) is enthroned in Christ’s place.
- We humble ourselves before Christ first, then to one another.
“The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted”.(Matthew 23:11 & 12)
God’s Reward is with Him
Jesus said, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with Me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done”
So what does God reward? Nothing that God rewards is based upon our own merits. But only what has been submitted to God.
God rewards our faith.
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” .(Hebrews 11:6)
God rewards both the receiving of prophets and righteous men, and even small acts of love and service to His disciples.
“Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is My disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward”.(Matthew 10:41 & 42)
God rewards us when we are hated by men for choosing Him.
“Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets”.(Luke 6:22 & 23)
God rewards us when we love our enemies.
“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked”.(Luke 6:35)
God rewards our confidence.
“So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded”.(Hebrews 10:35)
God rewards us for our labour that follows His purposes.
“The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labour”.(1 Corinthians 3:8)
- What is done for man to see will not pass the test.
- God rewards us for work that passes the test!
“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward”.(1 Corinthians 3:11–14)
God also rewards those who sow righteousness (Proverbs 11:18); those who are kind to the poor (Proverbs 19:17); and those who meet the practical needs of their enemies (Proverbs 25:21 & 22).
The Battle is Real
We are in a spiritual battle in this life. It is a battle against principalities and powers that for the most part remain unseen, but which are very, very real! Although we may not see them with our physical eyes, we see the way they manifest (or show themselves) in our own and in other’s lives. It is a battle between spiritual life and spiritual death. We hold up the life that is in Christ as a standard against the works of darkness.
“When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him”.(Isaiah 59:19, KJV)
God has already given us the victory through the Cross of Christ and He has equipped us with everything we need in order to win.
“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ”.(2 Corinthians 10:3–5)
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the Gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of Salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints”.(Ephesians 6:10–18)
“To Him Who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen”.(Jude:24 & 25)