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Justifiable Fear in Life

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Luke 12:1–12

Fears can become cruel masters that control and crush your lives. Faith in the Lord is the key to breaking free of such debilitating fears. Yet, Jesus Himself teaches us there are some things we should, in fact, fear.


Some time ago I did an online search for the word fear—there were over a million results. Much of it concerned fear related to things that are unlikely to happen or will never happen. People today are afraid of the sun running out of heat or the earth running out of water and trees. Those fears are unnecessary because the Bible promises that all four seasons—winter, spring, summer, and fall—are going to continue until the final judgment. That promise was given to Noah back in Genesis 8:22: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”

While there is a lot of unjustified fear today, there are some things we ought to be afraid of. And here in Luke chapter 12, Jesus effectively encourages what we could call justifiable fears. Here is the first one, in principle form: We ought to be afraid of living a lie.

Luke chapter 12 begins this way:

When so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops. (verses 1-3)

He is saying, “You ought to be afraid of living a hypocritical life.” Jesus says that this religious hypocrisy of the Pharisees is like leaven. Leaven is yeast and had become, among the Jews, a symbol of the permeating power of sin. Hypocrisy does to your heart what yeast does to bread dough—it puffs us up in pride.[1] If it is not checked, the yeast of sin will permeate every aspect of thinking and living.

Second, we need to be afraid of forgetting the future. Jesus continues here in verses 4-5:

“Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear; fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!”

Now Jesus knew His disciples would face martyrdom. Almost all the original twelve disciples will be martyred. And I assure you, beloved, it is possible to be afraid of standing for Christ. But Jesus says here, instead of fearing the rejection of people, you should fear instead the rejection of God.

Jesus then moves on to speak some encouraging words to His disciples:

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. . . . Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (verses 6-7)

Sparrows were the least expensive food purchased in the marketplace in these days. They were considered the boniest, cheapest meat you could buy—almost worthless in value.[2]

The Lord is effectively telling His disciples that no matter how worthless they might be in the marketplace of the world, they are precious to God. Beloved, God will never forget you; He will never lose sight of you. You are of great value to Him because you belong to His Son, your Savior.

Jesus also says here in verse 7, “Even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” That’s how comprehensive His awareness of you is. I have read that the average person loses between 50 and 100 hairs a day. For some of us, it is going a lot faster than that! Well, God knows this kind of detail about you—every day, He knows every thing about you. And that includes everything from your past, and everything about your future.

But here is something else we ought to fear in life—number 3: We should be afraid of compromising with our culture.

Jesus continues, adding this:

“Everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” (verses 8-9)

Now Jesus is not saying that if you fail to acknowledge Christ at some moment in life, Jesus is going to reject you and you will not go to heaven after all.

The word Jesus uses here for “acknowledging” Him is the same word for confessing Him. The word in this context means “to say the same thing about Jesus that Jesus says about Himself.”[3]

So, Jesus is speaking of someone who denies that He is the Messiah—someone who eventually comes to some point in his life where he goes along with the culture and says that Jesus was just another prophet or a good teacher but not God the Son, who came to die for our sins, save us from judgment and hell, and take us to heaven. Let me tell you, if you deny these truths, Jesus will deny you.

Jesus is not talking about losing your nerve; He is talking about denying who Jesus is.[4] And that is tantamount to blaspheming the Holy Spirit according to verse 10. Speaking against Jesus can be forgiven if you ask Him, but speaking against the Spirit here describes a lifelong rebellion without repentance. The person committing this unrepentant attitude, refusing to confess Jesus, is sinning against the Spirit of God—whose role is to convict the world of sin. That is a sin that cannot be overlooked. Someone who dies in that condition will not be pardoned.

But if you are an unbeliever today and your conscience is troubled and you are wondering if it is too late for you to believe, let me tell you this: It is not too late because your conscience is troubled. That “troubling” feeling you have is the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Wherever you are right now, let me encourage you to stop and yield to the invitation of the Spirit, to accept Jesus as your Messiah and Lord. 

Now with that, Jesus seems to speak more specifically to His disciples in verses 11-12:

“When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

Now I have heard plenty of preachers misinterpret this text. This verse does not give you an excuse not to study and prepare your lesson or sermon. I agree with the author who said that if the Bible teacher does not know what he is going to say five minutes before he speaks, most people will not remember what he said five minutes after he is finished.[5]

The Lord is referring here to those sudden moments in life you are not expecting—when you are put on the spot with a question from someone at work or school, and all of a sudden you need to respond. You haven’t had time to prepare anything. That is when you simply speak the truth that God brings to your mind, and then you leave the rest to God.

Well, the Lord has addressed a number of fears and warnings about what we ought to be afraid of, but the Lord also provides encouragement for us today. Here are two reminders of what you should not be afraid of.

First, don’t be afraid of getting lost in the crowd. The Lord is committed to shepherding you through life. If He knows how many hairs are on your head, He knows what is going on inside your head too. He knows what you are facing today, and He is not going to lose sight of you.

Second, don’t be afraid of facing difficult times alone. In those surprising, unexpected moments when you have not had time to prepare for that pressure or that emergency, remember you are not walking into it alone.

[1] Warren Wiersbe, Be Compassionate (Victor Books, 1988), 135.

[2] Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Luke (Zondervan, 2012), 321.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Dale Ralph Davis, Luke: The Year of the Lord’s Favor (Christian Focus, 2021), 218.

[5] John Phillips, Exploring the Gospel of Luke (Kregel, 2005), 180.

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