Thursday, March 19, 2015

Resisting the Fear of Man in Times of Cultural Change


More and more, believers are facing the choice to remain faithful to the Lord or to bow to cultural change.  The sweeping success of the homosexual agenda is perhaps the most poignant example that it is becoming more difficult to live conspicuously godly lives in the midst of a decadent culture.  It is not only Christian bakers who are being put out of business for declining to do homosexual weddings, but even military chaplains are being removed from service for their conviction on the issue.  
This pressure to concede to cultural change has led many professing believers to voice support for homosexual marriage.  There are evangelical churches all over the country that are accommodating this movement.
What is at the heart of the decision to concede?  The Bible calls it fear of man.  It is the inordinate desire to please people, the fear of the loss of man’s approval.  It is a powerful force and can lead us to do blatantly sinful things.
There is a great lesson for us in the story of king Saul in 1 Samuel 15 regarding the power of the fear of man.  The Lord called Saul to strike the Amalekites.  He gave him very detailed, unambiguous instructions: “Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey” (1 Sam 15:3).  There’s really no way to misunderstand what the Lord wanted Saul to do:  Kill absolutely everything that breathes among the Amalekites.  If Saul was going to disobey, it would not be because of a lack of clarity regarding what was expected of him.
Usually, when we allow the fear of man to guide us, it is not that we are unsure what the Bible would have us to do.  Consider again the issue of homosexuality.  The Bible is perfectly clear; there is no ambiguity (Gen 19:4-11; Lev 18:22, 20:13; Jdg19:22-26; Rom 1:26-27; 1 Cor 6:9-10; 1 Tim 1:8-11).  Homosexual activity, like all other sin, is ungodly and deserving of God’s eternal wrath (1 Cor 6:9-10).  And, as with all other sin, the only hope for freedom from it and its penalty is the salvation that comes only through faith in Jesus Christ (1 Cor 6:11).  Like Saul, if we concede on this issue, it will not be because God has been unclear.
Saul knew exactly what God commanded, yet, he did not obey.  He defeated the Amalekites, but took their king alive and kept the best of all the livestock.  And he found numerous ways to justify himself, saying: (1) he obeyed in the sense that he defeated the Amalekites, and devoted most to destruction (1 Sam 15:13, 15, 20); (2) it was the people who took the best of the livestock (15:15, 21); (3) the livestock were kept for the purpose of offering sacrifices to Yahweh (15:15, 21). 
The fear of man does this.  It leads us to disregard what God has written in the Word and to even find seemingly good reasons to have done it.  You’ll not find one professing believer who has changed position on the issue of homosexual marriage without assembling reasons to justify it, and many of those reasons are derived from illegitimate, out-of-context uses of Scripture. 
Saul may have tried to convince himself that his deeds were noble – especially the part about offering sacrifices to Yahweh.  Yet, after being pressed by Samuel, Saul finally admitted, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice (1Sam 15:24).  Saul’s fear of man had overridden his fear of God. 
The fear of man has a tendency to do that.  Saul already had experienced the consequences of not following Yahweh’s instructions to the letter.  Back in ch14, he presumptuously offered a burnt offering even though it was only lawful for priests to offer sacrifices (Num 18:7).  As a result, Saul was told that the kingdom would not pass to his son, but that “the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart” (1 Sam 13:14).  After such a great loss, you would think that Saul would be careful to do all that God commanded him in the future.  You would think that the fear of God would override all impulses to go his own way.
But such is the power of the fear of man.  It overrides the fear of God.  The consequences of disappointing men or of losing their approval are stronger than the fear of disobeying God.  This in spite of the fact that man can only kill the body; his power is nothing compared to the One who has the power to destroy soul and body in hell (Matt 10:28; Luke 12:4-5).  The fear of man dulls us to the reality of ignoring God’s Word.
In Saul’s case, it meant that God rejected Saul as king over Israel and removed His Spirit from Him (1 Sam 15:26; 16:14).  For us, if we are believers, it will result in temporal chastening by the Father (Heb 12:6-11).  For the nominal believer, it results in the revelation that one does not really know the Lord and is therefore dead in his sins (John 12:42-43).
The growth of our fear of man is a slow process, but it is nurtured by two things: an unhealthy preoccupation with the things and thoughts of the world; and a neglect of the things and thoughts of God, as recorded in Scripture.  It has a hypnotizing effect that can blind us to the fact that it is happening at all.  This blindness can only be broken by returning to the Word and saturating our minds with it.
The Lord Jesus bought us that we might no longer live for ourselves, but for Him who died for us and was raised (2 Cor 5:14-15).  He warned us that the world would hate us (John 15:18-19; 1 John 3:13).  We need to not only resign ourselves to this, but also rejoice that we might be counted worthy to suffer for our association with Him (Acts 5:40-42).  For it has been granted to us not only to believe, but also to suffer for His sake (Phil1:29).  We must allow the Word of God to determine our course on cultural issues and decide now, before we are persecuted, that when persecution comes we’ll be faithful.

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