How you can have freedom from fear

Ritch Sandford

Pastor, The Mission Church

  • Discipleship & spiritual formation

As Independence Day approaches, the American mind is once again drawn to the virtue of freedom. But this year (more than many others, I suspect), people are aching for greater freedom than mere national liberty — even if they don’t know it yet.

We all long for freedom from fear.

As a believer, I acknowledge the universal sinfulness of mankind — that we are all sinners by nature and by choice. I know that we are born into the bondage of sin —  whose wage is death — and there is nothing in our faithless flesh that is pleasing to God.

Therefore, I expect that the people of this world will display all the unrighteous fruit of self-loving folly and — unless restrained — will go from bad to worse. Although I must admit that even with my overtly pessimistic view of humanity, I am taken aback at how quickly things have devolved. But I am not at all surprised to see lost people act like lost people.

However, what is surprising to me is the rapidity with which professing believers have embraced the very “fear of death” that is the indelible mark of Satan’s power over the people of this world.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, (Heb. 2:14, ESV)

This incredible sentence begins by explaining why the Messiah of Old Testament prophecy had to become a man. The short answer: so that he could die. It was only by his death that he would secure victory over the one who has the “power of death.”

I take this to mean that at the cross, Jesus dealt the decisive death blow to Satan. And as a result, the devil has been so neutralized, so incapacitated, that even though we are warned of his lion-like prowling (1 Peter 5:8-9), our resistance to his deception sends him running (James 4:7).

So far, so good. But what does Satan’s destruction have to do with us? The author continues in verse 15:

and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

This. Verse. Is. Awesome.

Let’s unpack it.

You and I were born into this sinful world as slaves. And just so we don’t conjure up some temporary version of indentured servanthood in our thinking, the author uses the phrase “lifelong slavery.”

Before we were born again, we were without God and without hope (Eph. 2:12). Our master was our own sin, and he paid a horrific wage (Rom. 6:23). But this text also says that we were subject to lifelong slavery through fear of death.

In these two verses, Satan’s power is linked to the “fear of death.” He deceptively wields it as a weapon. In other words, Satan’s previously described “power of death” is only in operation over those who have “fear of death.” Paul uses this same life/death/slavery motif in Romans 8:13-15:

13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

So, if you are a person who lives according to the flesh (a nonbeliever), you will die — and that is all there is for you: death and eternal separation from God. This is one of the most fundamental truths of being a human. But look at what Paul calls the prior state of the one who once lived according to the flesh:

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!”

When you lived according to the flesh, you were — just as the author of Hebrews states  — a slave, bound by fear. But for those who have saving faith in Jesus Christ, you don’t need to fear anymore because you are no longer slaves to sin!

We have a new master. And we are not bound to him by the fear of death, but with the promise of life! And what’s more — where there is no fear of death — Satan has no power.

As we observe how the nonbelievers of this world react to pandemics, economic recessions, violence, racism, riots and looting, it is evident that an underlying impulse drives them. Simply put, they are — as you and I once were — under the power and influence of the evil one (2 Tim. 2:26).

Now, I am not saying that Satan is operating as a master puppeteer, determining each step taken by the nonbelievers of the world. I wouldn’t give him that much credit. I am saying that the fundamental impulse fueling the panic is the “fear of death,” which is brandished by Satan himself.

But the objection could be made: “There are many nonbelievers who don’t fear death. Does that mean that Satan is powerless over them?” Not at all.

In the same way that you and I — before we were saved — did not realize that we were slaves to sin, today many people are slaves through the fear of death and don’t even know it. A person’s ignorance of his own “fear of death” does not preclude the reality of it.

In fact, people’s ignorance of their slavery through the fear of death reveals that they have already believed Satan’s ancient lie: “You will not surely die” (Gen. 3:4). And that unawareness further demonstrates that they are under his power.

But let me be emphatically clear about something: The nonbeliever should fear death. Every one of us will certainly die, and apart from Jesus, there is no promise of eternal life. No victory over that death. As a “lifelong slave,” you must obey your master.

But there is hope. A blessed hope.

For the person who puts her faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, she is set free from that wicked master. She has become a daughter of God and doesn’t need to fear death anymore.

Jesus has declared victory over Satan. We must embrace that! For the believer, Satan is only as powerful as his lies are effective. This is why Peter’s warning of the devil as a “roaring lion” is immediately followed with “resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Pet. 5:9a).

And how do you resist him? The same way you resist any of his temptations: by refusing to believe him. Your fearlessness regarding death robs Satan of his greatest weapon and makes you untouchable by him.

But the world is not so fortunate. There is a great divide between how the believer can deal with pandemics and riots and how the world will respond.

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. (1 John 5:18-19, ESV)

The fear of death is an empty threat for believers. It no longer has control over us. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have been set free from fear. Let us live as free men and women, as we carry out his Great Commission.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Rom. 8:1-2, ESV)

Ritch Sandford, Pastor, The Mission Church

After two tours of duty in Iraq as a U.S. Marine, Ritch Sandford moved to Naperville, Illinois, where he served as a pastor at The Compass Church for seven years. In 2013, he moved to Utah, founded The Mission Church and created (an evangelistic ministry to Mormons).

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