Is Being Afraid Sinful?
Emotions are natural to man, and it can seem like they are so instinctive that people feel they have no control over them. One of the most powerful emotions is fear; it can cause intense physical and psychological responses through adrenaline, and control someone’s behavior. For people who believe in a naturalistic worldview, without God or with a limited, hands-off god, fear is a useful evolutionary tool to help species survive.
But what is the Biblical perspective? Is fear a tool for survival? Is it a sin that must be condemned?
It is neither.
Rather, when examining the Scriptures, it becomes clear that fear is a natural emotion born from living in a dangerous and fallen world; left unchecked and unsanctified by the Holy Spirit, just like any emotion, it can turn into a dangerous state of mind that can lead to doubting God, to an inability to move forward in life, or to sin. When a Christian allows the Holy Spirit to work in their life, they can learn to depend on God and develop a stronger walk. Fear can then be refined to wise caution, or they can overcome it entirely.
What Is Fear?
Fear is, at its most basic form, a biological and psychological response to stimuli. The response is usually motivated by adrenaline. It is an impulse to want to avoid something because of the ramifications of interacting with or experiencing that thing. Some fears are logical and rational from a human perspective because they can lead to death or serious bodily injury, like poisonous spiders, falling from a great height, or being hit by a car. Other fears are less rational but have a basis in humans protecting themselves, such as a fear of speaking in public rooted in a fear of being embarrassed, fear of losing a loved one to illness or an accident, or other similar interactions that would lead to emotional, psychological, or spiritual damage.
Everyone experiences fear, but some people experience it to greater degrees than others, which can manifest in a phobia, which is an intense fear of something that can be crippling or debilitating in someone’s life, as well as causing anxiety. These fears can include fear of open spaces, fear of a specific color, or a fear of certain kinds of food. When unchecked, this kind of fear becomes all-consuming, causing someone to focus on avoiding their fears all the time, rather than living their life.
Is It Wise to Be Afraid of Some Things?
When considering the nature of fear, it can seem logical, even wise, to be afraid of things. These things can help protect a person from different kinds of harm. However, the Bible warns against being motivated by fear,
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
Instead, Scripture encourages people who have a relationship with God to have peace knowing that God is in control, and that whatever happens, God has each person in His hand.
People cannot necessarily control their initial moments of fear, but they can control what they do with that fear. Rather than being motivated by fear, God wants people to cast their fears and cares upon Him.
There are things in this world that can cause harm, and it is wise to avoid those things. However, the Bible encourages believers to do so out of wisdom, prudence, and trusting God for protection, rather than out of fear.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!” (Psalm 111:10).
When the Bible talks about fearing the Lord, it does not mean the same thing as anxiety and an aversion to engagement. Instead it refers to respect, giving awe and deference. Understanding that context, this Psalm encourages people to put God in His rightful place, and to gain wisdom from Him, which will grant someone the ability to avoid the things they fear. While this does not mean people will never experience bad things or be injured, it does mean these fears should not be the focus of someone’s life.
For people who experience phobias and anxiety, they can take comfort knowing that it is not a sin to experience anxiety or a fear that would fall under a clinical diagnosis. This world has fallen, meaning people will experience psychological trauma, disorders, or even just heightened fears. God encourages people to come to Him, and to let Him bear that burden with them. It is not a sin to experience fear, but what someone does with the fear they experience can help draw them closer to God, or make their relationship with Him weaker.
Why Is There No Fear in Death?
Most fears are rooted in trying to avoid injured pride, which is a death of one’s ego and self, or to avoid pain and death. The Lord Jesus understood this state of the human condition, but warned anyone who would listen,
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
Everyone is going to die; it is pointless to live in fear of that moment and not live a full life that is honoring to God by trying to avoid it. However, one can accept it and live a life that is wise and in obedience to the Lord.
The greater concern is about what will happen to the soul when someone dies, because those who do not repent of their sins and put their faith in God will have to give an account of their life, including their sins against Him before His throne. No one who has not trusted in the redeeming death and resurrection of Jesus Christ will have been able to atone for their sins, and will be condemned for all eternity to hell and eternal separation from God. If someone does accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, their sins are forgiven in full, and they can spend eternity in Heaven with God.
For those who have that faith and hope, they do not need to fear death, or what comes after it, because they are sealed by the Holy Spirit, and have a relationship with the living God, who has granted them eternal life.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Bible Verses about Fear
There are many verses to comfort and encourage people experiencing fear; here are 10 verses for times of fear and anxiety.
Psalm 23:4 - “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
Psalm 27:1-3 - “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.
Psalm 34:4 - “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.”
Psalm 56:1-4 - “Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me; my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?”
Proverbs 12:25 - “Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.”
Luke 12:6-7 - “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
John 14:27 - “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
2 Timothy 1:7 - “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
Philippians 4:6-7 - “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
1 Peter 5:6-7 - “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
For people who know the Lord who are experiencing fear, it is okay to feel it, accept that is what is being felt, and take it to the Lord. Run to Him anytime the fear sets in and begins to become the focus of your heart and mind. Leave your fear at the cross; it may have to be a daily act, but your walk with the Lord will be strengthened by it, and the Holy Spirit will help you bear it, maybe even overcome it.
Sometimes God allows fear to remain in someone’s life to be a thorn in their flesh so they are dependent on Him. But ultimately, we can take comfort knowing that one day, in Heaven, we will be free from that anxiety and fear for all eternity.
If you do not know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and are struggling with fear, go to Jesus. He died on the cross to pay the price for your sins, and rose again in three days, conquering death. The Bible says, “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame’” (Romans 10:9-11).
In Christ, there is no fear, and there will be no fear in Heaven with Him for all eternity.
Jeremiah, David. Slaying the Giants in Your Life. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009.
Reeves, Michael. What Does it Mean to Fear the Lord? Wheaton: Crossway, 2020.
Walvoord, John F. and Roy B. Zuck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Old Testament and New Testament. United States of America: Victor Books, 1987.
Wilmington, H.L. Wilmington’s Guide to the Bible. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1981.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Sam Thoman
Bethany Verrett is a freelance writer who uses her passion for God, reading, and writing to glorify God. She and her husband have lived all over the country serving their Lord and Savior in ministry. She has a blog on graceandgrowing.com.