I am indebted to Neil T. Anderson, Dave Park, and Rich Miller for their clear teaching on the legitimacy of fear objects. In their book, Stomping Out Fear: Finding Courage in Christ, the authors address the issue of fear because fear is at the root of much of our sinful behaviors, speech, and thoughts. We grow fearful and try to cope through sinful defense mechanism such as blaming others, denial that we did it, lying to cover our tracks, minimizing what we’ve done by saying, “It’s no big deal!,” overworking/overeating/over-exercising/over anything, and many others.
Our first parents, Adam and Eve, did exactly the same thing! After sinning they were afraid and hid from God in the bushes. Adam declared to God, “I heard the sound of Thee in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10). It is the first mention of fear in the Bible and comes on the heels of the couple’s willful sin and disobedience. Fear leads to hiding and covering up. So it was with Adam and Eve, so it is with us.
Fear cannot co-exist with faith. Faith in God drives out fear because faith trusts the wisdom, power, and sovereignty of God. The Bible says “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). Fear trusts self to get out of this mess. Faith trusts God.
Here is what Anderson, Miller, and Park says concerning the object of our fears, “in order for a fear object to be legitimate it must have two attributes or qualities: It must be present and it must be powerful” (p. 13). God created us with the capacity to fear so we would be protected from harm but we fear illegitimate things. What makes the object of our fears legitimate or illegitimate? If it is present and powerful it is legitimate. In other words, is the object of your fear powerful such that it could harm you? Is the object of your fear present meaning is it in proximity to you? If a fear object is both present and powerful, be afraid. That’s a legitimate object to fear.
If only one of the two qualities is present, it’s an illegitimate fear object. For example, I don’t like snakes. They squirm and stuff. If I was speaking on stage and someone threw a live snake on stage near me, I would beat feet and run. Why? The snake is powerful (could harm me) and present (in close proximity). If, however, the snake was dead, even though it is present, it is not powerful; it’s dead. No need to fear. If the snake was alive but inside a glass cage, it is powerful but not an imminent threat. No fear.
That helps me understand fear objects. Now take those two qualities, powerful and present, and measure your fears against them. Are the objects of your fears legitimate or illegitimate? If they are illegitimate they need have no power over you. Confess your lack of faith to God, ask His forgiveness for not trusting Him, and move on.
I still hate snakes,