“There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18, ESV)
At the time of this writing, many people in the United States are fearful about the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. They’re anxious about what America will look like after November 8. The polls show a very high unfavorable rating for both major party presidential candidates, so no matter who wins the presidency, many people will continue to experience fear. They will have trepidations regarding national security, financial solvency, racial divisions, and a host of other ghastly things that go “bump in the night.”
All believers have a responsibility to reach out to the fearful, offering them spiritual weapons to cast out fear. By fear, I refer to the imagining of a future that is either dangerous or painful, presenting challenges that are difficult to meet or avoid. The Bible teaches that we’re part of the priesthood of all believers (1 Pet. 2:9), so people of faith must be prepared to arm themselves and others against fear. As you think about various weapons, remember that the most effective ones will be spiritual. The apostle Paul puts it this way in 2 Corinthians 10:4: “We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments.”
Through sharing, teaching, preaching, and living biblical truths, believers can empower others to cast away fear. In Romans 10:14–15, 17, Paul asks, “How can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? ... So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.” Believers can become God’s hands and feet and voice on earth to help people deal with fear. But what can we say to help people cast out fear?
Four Truths to Cast Out Fear
First, we need to remind people that fear does not come from God. As 2 Timothy 1:7 tells us, “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” The Bible informs us that every good and perfect gift comes from God (see James 1:17). At its best, fear is an imperfect gift.
A second truth that will help us cast out fear is that God is always with us. As David declares, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Ps. 23:4, ESV). In Hebrews 13:5, God promises never to leave us or forsake us: “For God has said, ‘I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.’” God’s presence in our lives should be a reminder that we encounter no challenge alone. As Jesus instructs his followers in Matthew 28:20: “Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Third, the divine presence of God is with us to help. Hebrews 13:6 puts it this way: “We can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?’” It is empowering and encouraging news that God is more than a passive presence, that he is our Helper. He is not a dispassionate observer as people grapple with frightening things, but he remains an ever-present help for all of our troubles. He tells us in Psalm 50:15, “Call on me when you are in trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory.” God also tells us how he will help us. Philippians 4:19 says, “This same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” This is an amazing promise. It reminds me that if something is missing in my life, God will eventually supply it, or else I really don’t need it.
A fourth truth to remember is that God commands us to live anxiety-free lives. Philippians 4:6 puts it this way: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” God would not command us to do something that he hasn’t enabled us to do. The Bible challenges us to have no anxiety about anything. This means that, by God’s grace, it can be accomplished.
Because God bears our burdens, we can obey his command to be free from fear and anxiety. In 1 Peter 5:6, we find these words: “Humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.” We can therefore come boldly before the throne of grace (see Heb. 4:16) to receive mercy and help during our times of need, casting all our cares upon the omnipotence of the one who loves us better than we love ourselves. It is critical that we do this, because the burdens that weigh us down will not weary God. Proverbs 12:25 says, “Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up.”
Four Action Steps to Cast Out Fear
First, we should trust God to direct our lives. Proverbs 3:5–6 puts it this way: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” This wonderful passage provides a blueprint for conquering fear. It reminds us that when we passionately trust God—leaning not on our own understanding, but seeking his will in all we do—he will direct our paths. The guidance of God will come to us like a spiritual GPS—a godly positioning system. Like the GPS we use to navigate in our vehicles, God will guide us and will even overlook our mistakes as new routes are calculated. We can conquer fear by trusting God to direct our lives in a similar way, for his word is “a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path” (Ps. 119:105).
Second, we should be willing to allow God to become our ally. Romans 8:26–28 says, “The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”
Imagine the great advantage that these promises afford. We do not even have to pray for ourselves, for the Holy Spirit is willing to articulate to heaven the deepest longings of our hearts. And no matter what season of life we may be going through, in everything God is at work for our good. We do not have to be intimidated by the Goliaths of life, for “this is the Lord’s battle” (see 1 Sam. 17:47).
Third, we will permit God’s perfect love to immunize us against fear. We see this in 1 John 4:18 (ESV): “Perfect love casts out fear.” This is a critical key to confronting and vanquishing our fears; we must embrace perfect love.
Perfect love casts out fear by solidifying our relationship with God. As 1 John 4:7–8 puts it, “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” When we know God, our love for him crowds out fear, destroys trepidation, and enables us to live in a “condemnation-free zone” (see Rom. 8:1). We do not dread being punished by an angry God, for he has demonstrated his love for us with the gift of eternal life (see John 3:16). As we better understand the true nature of God’s unconditional and perfect love, fear disappears.
Perfect love immunizes us against fear by solidifying our relationship with one another. First John 4:11–12 describes this experience: “Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.” Galatians 5:14 says that when we love our neighbors as ourselves, we fulfill God’s entire law.
Finally, we should cast out fear by making God the foundation of all our hope. The psalmist declares, “Teach me how to live, O Lord. Lead me along the right path, for my enemies are waiting for me. … Yet I am confident that I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living. Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord” (Ps. 27:11, 13–14).
Later, the psalmist questions himself and gives an answer to his own queries: “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God!” (Psalm 42:5-6). There is no need for our souls to be cast down with fear when we make God the foundation of all our hopes.
God Is Trustworthy
When we place our hope in God, we depend on the power that guides the galaxies. William Cullen Bryant, looking up and watching waterfowl migrate south, penned these lyrical lines to remind us that we can place our hope in the unfolding of God’s loving providence: “He who, from zone to zone, guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight, in the long way that I must tread alone, will lead my steps aright.” What a marvelous declaration that the God who guides nature is the one in whom we have placed our hope.
Martin Luther, the 16th-century German reformer, captured the notion of placing our hope in God during fearful times with his powerful hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Luther’s lyrics illuminate the darkness of fear and inspire us to be more than conquerors no matter who is the head of any government:
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
So, remember who you are as a person of faith. Find your spiritual identity in these words from 1 Peter 2:9: “You are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” Wow! Whether you hold the title of an ordained minister or not, you can still teach people to cast off fear with God’s perfect love. You can teach them to trust God to direct their lives, to make God their ally, to embrace perfect love as immunization against fear, and to make God the foundation of their hope, because no fear exists in love.
All Scripture quoted from the New Living Translation unless otherwise noted.
Barry C. Black is the chaplain of the United States Senate. Prior to that, he served in the U.S. Navy for more than 27 years, ending his career as the chief of Navy chaplains. His book Nothing to Fear publishes in February 2017.