There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. - 1 John 4:18
When all the biblical knowledge in the world fails to produce peace and faith, how do we escape the grip of fear? What is the secret to trusting God and believing His word is true for us?
For more than three decades, I battled body image and a daily compulsion to lose weight. Failed intentions, plans, and resolutions made self-hatred my familiar friend. Then a single, profound epiphany broke the dam of disappointment and left me crumpled on my office oriental. Sobs wracked my body and saline drenched my cheeks as I faced the painful truth that I did not believe I could possibly be loved by God.
Oh, I believed it for you! I grew up going to church, so my head was full of the facts of scripture. God is, in fact, love, and He does, in fact, love, but my life of defeat-on-repeat convinced me it could not possibly be true for me.
Not knowing what else to do, I confessed my unbelief to God. I had to turn to Him because if I could fix what was wrong with me, I would have done so a long time ago. I told Him I did not see how He could possibly love me and agreed with His assessment: my unbelief was sin against Him.
The Root of Fear
I asked God to reveal the root of my doubt, and He did. It was fear of losing the love and affection of this world. It plagued me. As long as I lived for the fickle, fleeting adoration of people, fear remained my constant companion. In my mind, what I thought about my body defined my worth and secured a place of value with others. It made me noticeable and desirable, and that’s all I ever wanted. I just looked in the wrong place to get it.
I discovered that the root of all fear is unbelief because, listen, if we really believe God—who He is, what He says, and His perfect love that makes us His and keeps us—we have no reason to fear. Further, at the root of unbelief is a lie. We are believing something else that is not the truth of God, and that is driving our thinking and actions. It really is this simple, even if it’s hard.
As I kept my eyes and mind fixed on the love of God, scriptures about His love started making their way from head to heart, like 1 John 4:18, which says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” The New King James Version says, “fear involves torment.”
Fear tormented me, because deep down, regardless of my head knowledge of scripture, I was convinced I deserved punishment every time I failed God (which was and still can be a lot). That’s what fear does. It imprisons, then stands guard and tortures us. But distress is not from God, because fear has to do with punishment. No doubt our sin deserves it. That part is actually true. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23, emphasis mine), but the devil will leave out the most important part of the story. He tells enough of the truth to veil his lies and only slightly twists truth so we don’t recognize his dishonesty. Then he drips inaccuracies into our heads like torture until his lies become the beliefs by which we live.
We need to recognize this tactic of the enemy and counteract it with truth.
The part of Romans 6:23 the devil likes to leave out is this: “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God is a “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” Psalm 86:15. He sent His one and only Son, Jesus, to suffer the punishment our sin deserves. John explains, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” 1 John 4:10.
Jesus is our instead. Instead of dying for our sins, which is what we deserve, He did. There is nothing more to do. It is perfect love. Complete.
This is the perfect love that casts out all fear and delivers us from the torment of sin. Believing God’s perfect love is the key to kicking fear.
When we believe God, the devil loses his power to torment or punish us with fear.
As a Christian, how do you kick fear? If believing God’s perfect love is the essential, what is the key to believing? Here are “Seven Steps to Boot Fear with Belief.”
Seven Steps to Boot Fear with Belief
1. Turn your face to God and ask Him for help.
If I look to myself to understand, figure out, fix, or overcome anything in my own might, I am setting myself up for disappointment. Listen to your self-talk, especially the phrase, “If I could just…” This usually signals a self-reliant focus, not God-oriented faith. Set your eyes to God and His word. A fixed gaze adjusts our ways.
2. Ask God to reveal the root of your fear.
Make time to ask hard questions, and then listen as God answers. What do you believe is punishable in you or others? Do you believe God’s forgiveness is complete? Is there something you love and want more than God? Is fear a symptom of idolatry, something you’re scared you may not get or might lose?
3. Confess it to God.
Admit your answers to God. Agree with what He exposes as sin, and then stand firm on the words of 1 John 1:9, which says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (NIV). Sobbing on my office floor, I prayed, Lord, I don’t see how You could possibly love me. Please forgive my unbelief and fill me with Your love. Help me to believe You love me.
4. Confess it to a trusted sister in Christ, so you can pray for each other and be healed.
James 5:16 instructs and assures, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (NIV). If anyone asked me how they could pray for me, I confessed my unbelief and asked them to pray.
5. Pray scripture.
Ephesians 3:16-21 became my prayer and request. I took God’s word and made it the cry of my heart and lips. I prayed it until it became my belief, personalizing it like this:
Lord, grant me, according to the riches of Your glory, to be strengthened with might through Your Spirit in my inner man, that Christ may dwell in my heart through faith; that I, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height — to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that I may be filled with all Your fullness.
If scripture doesn’t immediately come to mind, ask God for the exact verse He knows you need. He may drop one in your heart right away, or He may take His heavenly highlighter to a particular scripture as you read the Bible or listen to teaching. Other times, we need to hunt the truth through a keyword search or through the help of a friend, teacher, or pastor who can share their knowledge of God’s word with you.
6. Spend time soaking in Perfect Love.
This is the part I used to skip. I am a Type-A doer, so to sit and simply spend time resting in the presence of God used to be excruciatingly hard for me. I had to develop the discipline of being still, and I have learned, this is when truth travels from head to heart where it changes what I believe, and therefore, what I do. We can know what we believe by what we do.
Many times, it is when I sit and soak that I experience God’s love—He literally overwhelms me and fills me with His fullness in a supernaturally tangible way. Even as He exposes the hard truth of lies and sin, it is with a tenderness that ushers in healing, hope, and help. What this looks like in my day is setting aside time to read the Bible and pray before I do anything else (well, other than brew a cup of coffee). I often journal to help keep my mind engaged and attentive to God and what I want to pour out to Him. I may get on my knees or my face and talk to God. A lot of the time, I pray through the index cards in my SIMPLE Prayer binder, which includes scriptures God is using to retrain and redirect my thinking and beliefs.
7. Repeat from whichever step is appropriate at the time.
Is there an area of your life where fear is a constant or pesky companion, like you just can’t shake it? Do you have head knowledge that needs to become heart belief? Which step is your first step?
The work God promises to finish in us is the finished work of the Cross, so it’s already complete. Perfect. Just like His perfect love that casts out all fear. We are set free in Christ at the moment of our salvation, but we may spend a lifetime learning how to walk in that freedom. It can take time to cut new paths of thought that are based on the truth of God’s word. Stick with it. It’s worth it.
That day on my office floor, I stopped running from the truth that I believed lies. For the first time in my memory, I saw myself with compassion instead of hatred or self-pity. God’s word is true for me, but it’s also true for you. I experienced God’s perfect love, and it changed everything. It will for you, too.
How do you kick fear? Let us know in the comments below.