Rethinking the Bible with Jack Pelham
Episode 46: Who Can Explain the Fear?
DESCRIPTION: Jack asks why there is so much fear that typifies the Christians and their fellowships today, when Romans 8 paints a picture of the Christians being delivered from slavery to fear. It’s a hard-hitting episode, positing a question many will be tempted to ignore.
In this episode, I’ll be reading from a recent blog post of mine at jackpelham.com, and then expounding on it. We’ll get into a large portion of Romans 8, which is frequently quoted, but poorly understood and poorly executed.
So here’s the blog post:
Romans 8:15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
Why do so many Christians today live in fear? Who can explain that? Popular belief says that every Christian, upon coming to Jesus, receives the indwelling Holy Spirit. And the verse above seems adamant that the Holy Spirit used to have some sort of transforming effect on those in whom he lived. It seems that it transformed people from their former slavery to a life of fear into the freedom of a life of confidence, as the to-be-adopted children of God.
Yet when we look around Christian fellowships today, do we not see in them the same fears that are common among the unchurched? I don’t know about you, but where I have lived, I have seen fears like these among believers:
- Emotional “insecurity”
- Fear of pain (emotional or physical)
- Fear of conflict
- Fear of aging and death
- Fear of being rejected by others
- Fear of failure
- Fear of public speaking/singing
- Fear of taking a stand on moral issues
- Fear of telling the truth
- Fear of finding out the truth (on certain matters)
- Fear of standing out
- Fear of change
- Fear of being corrected
- Fear of confessing their sins
- Fear of digging into the Bible / hashing out doctrines
- Fear of overcoming bad personal habits
- Fear of work
- Fear of discomfort (emotional or physical)
I suppose we could go on and on about things like this, but I trust these are enough to paint the general picture of what I’m talking about. I think that our culture is awash in such fears, and that most people are indeed enslaved to such things to some extent. And I’ve been particularly paying attention as I have been teaching for a few years, as well as having participated in countless Bible-related discussions. And I direct a mixed chorus, which serves as a fine example of what I’m talking about. In my chorus, many who like to sing participate, but at least half of them are considerably hampered by fear, and are not emotionally “free” to sing out—to make full use of the voices God gave them—even though they are regularly in the company of several others who have long-since overcome such fears, and sing out regularly.
So, what gives?
And I’ve seen that this slavery can go on for years! And the outstanding (unafraid) people among them don’t generally seem to “rub off” on the scared ones. The scared ones generally stay scared, and will for years. To their credit, they do dare to participate, but to their loss, they do nothing to learn to do what the better singers are doing. Very few will dare to seek out help so that they can “level up”. And that’s a beautiful thing to see when it happens—when someone recognizes they are lacking that spirit of excellence and of overcoming and of courage, so they go out in search of attaining it! But sadly, this is very rare. Indeed, you can challenge the whole group weekly to overcome their fears, and almost never will any scared individual reach out for help. They know, or should know, that they’re not really changing, but they’re just so paralyzed that they are not going to try anything new. They are enslaved by it.
And this doesn’t just happen in chorus; it happens at Pizza Hut. The one stellar server, who has a great time serving, and whose customers love her dearly, stands out like a star shining against the dull backdrop of how the other servers get along with their customers. She has more return customers, gets better tips, has more fun, and is a happier person. But do the dull ones there learn from this? Do they say, “Wow, I want to be like Lilli?” Nope. They are stuck. They are trapped. They are enslaved in being as they are. And it would seem nearly miraculous to find any of them deciding to break free.
So what’s up with that?—because this same thing is going on in millions of churches every week.
And I’m not talking about “bad” people here! I’ve seen this in people have have lots to love. I see it in people who are very smart, who have noteworthy accomplishments in life, who are very kind and fun to be around, and so forth—so it’s not like I’m talking about people who are menaces to society. But they are so not going to overcome their fears. There is no track record of progress—or if there is, it is so slow as to defy observation, except by the most patient and meticulous accountant. That is, except in the tiniest of degrees.
So, what’s going on here?
To Paul, it seemed like a no-brainer that the indwelling Holy Spirit was not like the spirit of fear that had the world under its control. How is it now, then, that these same common human fears seem to have such wide-scale control over believers today?
Where is the spirit of daring and overcoming? Or learning and pushing oneself? Of self-improvement and growth and maturation and discovery? Of emulating Jesus and God? Of the courageous following of Jesus’ example, and the examples of his apostles? Why does that forward-moving philosophy not typify today’s Christian fellowships?
The non-thinker may never stumble across such a question, but as the analytical sort, it’s a question I don’t think I can morally afford to ignore. To me, it’s a question that demands an answer. But alas!—only a courageous people would have the heart to get into this, because we can sense from the beginning that the answer to such a question might indeed be a troubling one. So why not just sweep it under the rug for now, and hope for better times ahead without having had to stop to find out the answer?
I think we’re in a serious crisis. I think that the difference between our modern Christian culture and the Christian culture that was enjoyed by those congregations in the First Century is huge. And I don’t think we can afford to ignore it. I think that a state of emergency exists today, given how much different we are from what they seem to have been like—or at least, when we are so busy believing that we live in the same general spiritual context as them—in the same general circumstances and conditions. If the times haven’t changed, they why aren’t we as courageous as they were? Something’s wrong.
I have some ideas about how best to answer this question, but they’re still in a time of testing, and aren’t ready to be formally published. But I’m not writing this post to insist on the answers; I’m writing to insist on the question! I believe we have a moral obligation to ask the question and to go after an answer. A good answer. Honest. Rational. Responsible.
Sadly, though, while a lot of Christians have opportunity to stumble across this question in the natural business of living out the faith they have, I have seen very few rolling up their sleeves in search for an answer. It’s much easier for them to default to the popular meme culture—to our hearsay culture that readily provides mindless answers of various kinds, that they will never stop to vet. Indeed, the reason for adopting one of those answers is not to get at the truth of the matter (because they will never do the work of confirming whether the answers are true or not). Rather, they latch onto the hearsay in order to escape having to deal with the truth, by pretending to have a true answer already. Ironically, most are afraid to vet such notions, for fear that they might prove to be false.
And this is just another example of us living as slaves to fear, when that does not seem to have been how the First-Century Christians lived.
So you can put yourself to the test here today, to see whether you are a slave to fear or not. You could, for example, share this article on social media, and spread the question around, inviting discussion of this crucial topic. And if you think that’s a good idea, pay attention to whatever happens in your mind between thinking it’s a good idea and actually taking the steps to get it shared.
And I’m not doing this as some manner of marketing ploy. My website is not monetized, and I’m lucky to have more than ten visits on any particular day. Rather, I suggest this as a practical self-test of your own spirit of courage.
Let’s talk about it, Christians!
That’s how my blog article ended. And now let’s dig into Romans 8 some more, because I think it gets a lot of lip service in the churches, but little implementation. Just like with a shy singer in a chorus, who will have zero objections to the notion that it sounds better if singers will sing out, but who will simply not sing out herself, a great many Christians regularly hear about courage and overcoming and growing, and yet have little courage and little growth, and hardly ever overcome anything. They’re living split lives: they own inward intents and acknowledgements, versus their long-term failure to become like Jesus.
So let’s dig into Romans 8:
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i] have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[j]
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.