A popular song by Zach Williams, “Fear Is a Liar,” personifies fear and assigns falsehood to it. Of course, fear itself is non-personal, but song lyrics and poetry often use personification to communicate a theme or make a point. In the case of Williams’ song, fear is referred to as a “he” who tells us various lies and who must be withstood.
The chorus of “Fear Is a Liar” describes some of what fear does:
Fear he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Then Williams tells us what to do with fear and why:
Cast your fear in the fire
ʼCause fear he is a liar
The claim that “fear is a liar” is broad, and we must ask, is all fear a liar? In other words, does all fear come from an evil source that should be rejected? No. There is a good type of fear (not addressed in Williams’ song) and a bad type of fear (that Williams is correct to take a stand against).
We are rightfully fearful of God, and we are rightfully fearful of dangerous things (slick roads, rabid bats, the effects of alcohol abuse, etc.), in the sense that we exercise caution and apply wisdom. A man ignorant of rattlesnakes may traipse through the Arizona tobosa grass with no fear of being bitten, but he is being foolish; it is better to have respect or a healthy fear for what rattlesnake venom can do. The Bible warns us of the consequences of sin so that we develop a healthy fear of sinning. To understand the depth of God’s hatred toward sin and His intention to destroy it should be scary to everyone, including believers.
There are situations in which fear is definitely not a liar; that is, sometimes we should be fearful and seek help or a way to escape the source of fear. For example, when a truck is coming straight toward you at 100 mph, it is not sinful to fear; in fact, that fear is a gift prompting you to avoid the truck and save your life. Similarly, when a sinner is afraid of hell, knowing it is not a place he wants to be, that fear is just, right, and biblical. Sometimes allowing a little fear is better than trying to alleviate all fear: the statement “Hell is a real place of torment” may be fearful to some, but it is true; “There is no hell” may dispel fear, but it is a lie.
So, not all fear is a deception. Fear is not always a “liar.” Of course, there are fears that have a demonic origin. The fear that God is not truly good is one such fear. When fear says that God has forgotten His children or turned His back on them, then it is a “liar,” because those statements directly contradict the promises of God.
The truth is that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), and the Bible repeatedly admonishes God’s people not to fear. Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44) and the deceiver of the whole world (Revelation 12:9). When we are told any lie, it is of Satan, who has no truth in him. The devil will try to dishearten us with lies, and unwarranted fear is one of his tools.
While there are many fears that are lies used by Satan, there are also many fears used by godly men to try to turn people to God. God showed fearful and powerful signs to the Israelites so that they might turn to Him. Elijah called down fire from heaven so that Israel might turn from their false gods to the one true God. The apostle Paul sternly rebuked the Corinthians and threatened excommunication to those basking in unrepentant sin, hoping to prompt godly fear in them.
The difference between warranted fear and unwarranted fear is important: when God uses fear, it is based in truth; but when the devil uses fear, it is based in lies. When Jesus spoke of hell in fearful ways, it was to show the truth about God’s punishment of sin. Hell is not a place we want to be, and fear of it is warranted. When Satan urges us to fear man rather than fear God, he is advancing the lie that we owe more respect to fellow human beings than we owe to God. The fear of man is unwarranted; it is a “liar” and lays a snare (Proverbs 29:25).
Other common lies the devil uses to instill fear in people include “Jesus’ death wasn’t enough to cover your sin,” “Even if you trust in Christ, you’re not good enough to be with God,” and “God doesn’t love you, and this tragedy proves it.” The fear induced by these statements could rightly be called a “liar,” because the fear is biblically unwarranted. Faith in God’s Word will dispel such fear.
Our feelings should not decide whether something is of God or of the devil. For example, we cannot say, “This makes me feel scared, so it must be of the devil.” Rather, our discernment of right and wrong should be rooted firmly in the truth of God’s Word. We know that Jesus’ death was sufficient to cover our sins because God said so (Hebrews 10:10; John 3:16). We know that we shouldn’t be scared to meet God because Christ gives us His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). We know that God will not stop loving us because nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:38–39).
Is fear a liar? Sometimes, it is. The devil will use fear rooted in deceit to try to get our eyes off the Author and Finisher of our salvation. Unwarranted fear is a liar. But not all fear is from the devil, and some fear is biblically warranted.
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