To fear or not to fear? That is the question. Does the Bible command us to be afraid or encourage us to be courageous? The answer is not as easy as you might think. Several passages speak against fear. For example, 1 John 4:17 says “perfect love casts out fear.” Paul told Timothy that God has not given us “a spirit of fear.” (2 Tim 1:7) And Jesus told the disciples: “Fear not little flock, for it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)
So how do we reconcile these admonitions against fear with something like Hebrews 4:1 that says: “Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it.” (Hebrews 4:1) The ultimate answer to this potentially tough question is rooted in how you view Scripture as a whole. For example, if you have a low regard for the Bible you might simply say both passages are wrong. Or you might say one is wrong and one is right; thus proving an apparent contradiction. But this is to take the easy way out. Trashing the Bible is not hard for an unbeliever to do. But proving the Bible legitimately deserves to be trashed is impossible to do. So let us reconcile these passages in such a way that gives justice to the text and makes sense to the renewed mind (Rom. 12:2).
First of all, each passage that uses the word “fear” would have to be examined in context. What is it that we are told to fear or not fear? Depending upon the context the answers could vary. A flippant approach that treats every passage exactly alike just because it uses the word “fear” is certain to lead to erroneous conclusions.
Secondly, the Bible repeatedly exhorts us to have a reverential awe, or fear of the Lord (Prov. 9:10). He's not depicted as a harmless kitten, He is depicted as a bold Lion (Rev. 5:5). So to say “let us fear” is a perfectly normal reaction toward God. Furthermore, some of those being addressed in the book of Hebrews might not even be genuine believers. Some of them professed to be Christians, but apparently their lifestyle said otherwise. There had been repeated warnings through the book of Hebrews to “take heed” (Heb. 3:12) and to not “harden your heart” against God's truth (Heb. 3:7).
If you are “in Christ” then you have no one to fear except for God. If you are not “in Christ” then you have much to fear, even though you might not realize it. But to try and mix those two categories is utterly terrifying. To think yourself to be a believer, when in fact you are not --- THIS is to be feared. And this is what the author of Hebrews is referring to. Failing to enter the rest that Christ provides, while a promise of it still remains. Indeed, this should be feared.
In order to live a courageous Christian life, you must first genuinely be a Christian. The Bible warns the unbeliever of the perils of rejecting Christ. Repent or perish! (Luke 13:5) The Bible also exhorts the professing believer to examine their life (2 Cor. 13:5) and make their “calling and election sure” (2 Pet. 1:10). If you refuse to follow the Scriptural counsel on these matters then you have much to fear. If you heed the Biblical warnings and find that the evidence leads to your knowing and loving Jesus then you have much to be joyful about. And this great joy is rooted in a reverent fear that believers have for their Lord, Savior, Judge, and King. Fear the Lord! Then rejoice and relax that because of Him, you need not ever fear anyone else.
(NOTE: For a more in depth, audio treatment of this subject; listen to my recent sermon entitled "Entering His Rest" --- found here).