Many Christians today are aware that the desire for man’s praise is wrong, but seldom are we aware of just how much of a hindrance the actual fear of man is. In reality, this is one of the greatest hindrances to our obedience to God.
Yet there is another trouble today: man is quick to accept basic truths but then tries to use them to his own end. For example, man can see the need for raising our children rightly, or he can see meaning in suffering. Both of these things are true in the beginning of their essence, yet man corrupts these ideas with a lie. With the first, man may take the basic truth of the importance in how we raise our children to an extreme. He sets up an entire idealism of how to live in control over the evil in others, or what source to blame for bringing forth evil, all in order to deny the truth of God reveals by His Word, rather than submit to it. Or with the example of finding meaning in suffering, man tries to take this truth yet without God. And because of this he fails to realize that he has severed himself from the Author of meaning, and that without Him there is no true meaning. In its absence man assigns whatever “meaning” he wishes his suffering to accumulate to.
Man does the same exact thing with the truth of turning away from the fear of man. He takes a basic truth and corrupts it. He does this by putting himself as “god” in the center of his life and tries to use this basic truth to justify it. He uses it to scorn his fellow man, to have contempt over him, and he uses it to make himself as god, rather than bow to the one true God. Rather than putting off the fear of man so that he might rightly serve God, he seeks to put it off only so that he might further indulge himself.
I. Exchanging One Master for Another
Today man says, “to not to care what people think”, but this is a corruption of what putting off the fear of man actually is. Firstly, fallen man does not say he shouldn’t fear man but should fear God, or even that he must put off the fear of man in order to rightly fear God instead. No, he says that he shouldn’t fear man because he should “deserve” to set up himself as “god”. This is not a removal of fear for the sake of obedience to God, but only for obeying themselves. Secondly, to say that not fearing man is essentially the same as “not caring what people think” is a great mistake, for in this man does not stand upon the necessary responsibility to discern between what is true and what is not. Rather, he simply throws out anything he doesn’t like; this is his filter, his means of “discernment”. This person no longer bears a responsibility to the truth, to walk in it; they only live in what they desire and what pleases them. They pay zero mind to what pleases God and in fact they only grow more bold in this: they put off what “people think” only as a means of seeking greater lengths of self-pleasing in defiance against what is pleasing to God. In addition to this, the idea of merely casting out all the opinions of others, with no mind to distinguish between persons, is some of the greatest contempt and conceit against our fellow man. It is simply to set ourselves as the opinion upon all things and to see ourselves as more than all others.
At the root of this issue is that while man claims to cast off the opinions of man, he is actually using this as a means to cast off the Word of God. He thinks to deny God's Word by dressing it up as "man's word", failing to apprehend that God has chosen to teach, rebuke, and command man through man. This is God's chosen vessel, and man thinks he can hide his sin by merely terming God's Word as man's opinion. They deny God's Word on the basis of it being man's word so they can go and live under... man's word, their own word. Such suppress the truth of God's word by their unrighteousness.
What is often complicated in this is that as we see that it is arrogant to not hold ourselves open in some degree to the opinions of others we fail to realize the necessary truth of ensuring that we are only open to God, and that which is the working of God’s grace in others. Often we follow the foolish notion that we should be open to any negative opinion about ourselves, that this is humble. But we have to be careful both in positive and negative opinions from others about ourselves, for both can breed wrong things within us. As we go about realizing how foolish it is to shut out all other people’s opinions and seek to walk in humility, there is still never an obligation to hold ourselves open to the foolishness or sin in man. Our aim must only be to hold ourselves open to the truth of God and that which is truly of God through His people. Oversimplifying this point can lead us to real harm from others and to cause real harm to others.
II. Exchanging Fear for Pride
We are in great need of learning to turn away from the fear of man. But in doing so we have to be warned away from the great sins of pride and contempt that stir in our hearts against God and man. It is a great evil to try to use such commands meant for holy ends for wicked sins. The right heart in learning to walk away from the fear of man is one that does so out of love for the Lord. It is out of a desire to turn away from the mind of the world (James 4:4), toward the mind of Christ (Rom 12:2). It is to put off the world with its ways that we might serve Christ in fullness and boldness, being unashamed of His Gospel. May we absolutely seek this, but may we only seek the loss of the fear of man for this reason.
Another complication to this is that many people “respect” people’s opinions too much, to such a degree that they disrespect God for them. Many people don’t put off the fear of man because they feel a greater sense of obligation to fear man than to fear God. They allow man’s opinion to rule them rather than having Christ rule them. To their eyes, this is respecting all people, but this is to deny our duty to Christ and to join with the world against Him (James 4:4). This attitude is not one that rightly respects God or man, it is one that actually lives within the fear of man, rather than rightly putting it off. They have not put the fear of man off or in its right place, they have embraced it and made it into a perverse morality of “acceptance”. They have begun to worship the world rather than worship Christ.
On one hand we are to not to attempt to put the fear of man off for contempt against our fellow man, and on the other we are commanded to put off the fear of man, the ideas of man, in order that we might be true to Christ. We do not cast off man’s opinions out of love for self, yet we do cast them off out of love for God. We must do this rightly, otherwise any counterfeit of it is corruption.
III. The Total Turning
It seems today that with every truth the church begins to teach, we have to also teach what these truths don’t actually mean. How absurd that we have to clarify that love is meant to be defined by God, or that grace abounding is not meant to be a denial of sin being rebuked and cast off, or that any lesson for power is so that we might live for God and not ourselves, yet that is exactly what each person in ministry today must do. People are dangerously approaching the holy of holies with greedy hands, mad with sin, and imagining they can take such holy things to use for their evil selves rather than for a holy God. They should read the account of King Uzziah and should fear:“But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the Lord his God and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the Lord who were men of valor, and they withstood King Uzziah and said to him, ‘It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Go out of the sanctuary, for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the Lord God.’ Then Uzziah was angry. Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the Lord, by the altar of incense. And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous in his forehead! And they rushed him out quickly, and he himself hurried to go out, because the Lord had struck him.” (2 Chron 26:16-20).
It is a dangerous thing to approach God with such presumptions, and the church's ministers are in great need of acting like these faithful priests and ensuring that people do not take the holy things of God with such proud and willful hands.
At the end of the day the person who grabs hold of “putting off the fear of man” with greedy eyes and selfish heart is only a person who imagines they are freed from this. In reality they are still entirely enslaved to it. With one hand they walk in wicked conceit, and with the other they’re still completely a slave to that from which they boast of being free. No human desires to live ruled by fear, but every human wishes to rule himself, and the moment we turn from the first to serve the second we only deepen our sin and deception.
We must turn from sin to God. The serving of self is central to all sin, and it is this at our core that must be contended with. To turn from any external thing without the whole being changed, or without the root changed, is only a false salvation. It is the same as going in to cut out cancer yet only taking the cells that are easily accessible to the surgeon. If he was not thorough, and sure to cut out the whole cancer, down to the last cell, it would only regrow and spread. Similarly but far more profoundly, if we do not rightly correct our sin, dealing with it in the light of what it actually is, then it means little to nothing. If we only concerned ourselves over the fear of man so as to remedy it by turning to a greater self-indulgence, then we’ve only minimized one disease by gaining another. It is not cured but suppressed, and our sins are only added to.
We must do the real work of removing sins correctly, according to the light of God’s Word (1 John 1:7). A small example of this is that many people overcome suffering not by the light of truth, but by pride. They overcome where people have wronged them or where life has been difficult by becoming secretly conceited over others. This is surely not God’s answer to our pain yet it is the quickest remedy that is taken up today. Even in deepest pain, we have to ensure that our healing and answers are in line with God’s truth!
IV. Fear of God
The church today is in great need of being free from the fear of man. But this is an area that we must be strictly warned to walk in correctly, for today there is a very popular counterfeit and it does great evil and harm. We must be careful to walk in all things correctly, not taking them at the surface, but ensuring that the spirit and heart in these things are truly the will of God and not the will of man: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:2)
Let us be free from the fear of man that we might rightly obey and fear God. Let us be free from the false opinions of man so that we might live in the joy of the truth. And let us be free of the fear of man so that we might rightly love both God and man. Let this freedom drive us to humility and lowliness, and never pride. Indeed, if we find ourselves to be high minded about what we think we have, it is most likely that we are only further enslaved to our pride and contempt, imagining these evil things to give us our freedom.
“The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.”
Two Sides to the Fear of Man
How Pride Keeps Us Just as Enslaved as Fear
I. Exchanging One Master for Another
II. Exchanging Fear for Pride
III. The Total Turning
IV. Fear of God