Overcoming Sin through Christ: Fearfulness and Cowardice

Overcoming Sin through Christ

A Comprehensive List of Sins

(Alphabetically Arranged)


Richard Hollerman

The plan of this study is simple.  We will look at a large number of sins, one by one, alphabetically.  We will define the sin, describe it, and comment on it, along with noticing Scripture references on the particular entry.  Some illustrations will be offered along with the description.

Fearfulness and Cowardice

There has been much misunderstanding in this subject of fear.  Some are fearful and constantly are aware of this. Others are entirely unaware of having this attitude of fear. People often condemn others because they perceive an attitude of fear. We must also consider whom we fear—do we fear Satan, or other people, or circumstances, or even God?  Can fear be a sin—or can it be a virtue?

Fear can have several different emphases in Scripture.  The main word translated fear is phobos.  First, the Bible is clear that “fear” can be a positive and necessary attitude of heart.  We are to have a “reverential fear and awe” of God our Creator and Father.  Mounce says that the positive sense would be an “awe” or “respect” more than a “terror” or “alarm.”[1][1]  This is not to be avoided or denied, for again and again in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, God calls on us to have this positive “fear” of Him.

The believers in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria “enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase” (Acts 9:31).  After God killed Ananias and his wife because of their blatant hypocrisy and lies, Luke tells us that “great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things” (5:11; cf. v. 5; 19:17).  This fear must have been something that God desired, in showing His awesome holiness.  Paul writes of the need of this healthy fear: “Having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).  This wholesome fear of God will lead us to holiness, without which no one will see God (cf. Hebrews 12:14).

Cornelius, a “God-fearing man,” is commended for having a godly “fear” of God (Acts 10:22, 2; cf. 10:35; 13:16, 26; Revelation 11:18).  The angel even called out, “Fear God, and give Him glory” (Revelation 14:7; cf. 15:4; 19:5).  Paul thought that a wholesome fear was so important that he said, “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11).  Since he knew something of the terror awaiting the unbeliever if he refuses to repent, Paul found it absolutely necessary to urge people to come to Christ!  We should do the same.

We are also to have a fear of the Lord Jesus. Paul writes, “Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).  To the Philippian saints, Paul says that they are to “work out” their salvation “with fear and trembling” (2:12b).  Life is so serious that Peter admonishes us, “Conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth” (1 Peter 1:17). In contrast to this, the pagan unbelievers had “no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18).  Slaves are to serve their masters, but are also to be “fearing the Lord” (Colossians 3:22).  Peter succinctly says, “Fear God” (1 Peter 2:17).

This godly fear has an important part in our life.  In fact, if we have this positive fear, we will turn away from sin.  Paul writes of certain elders who do wrong: “Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning” (1 Timothy 5:20).  Proverbs 16:6 says that “by the fear of the LORD one keeps away from evil.”  Fear can have this purifying effect.  Again we read, “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and he evil way and the perverted mouth, I hate” (Proverbs 8:13).  Does someone love evil?  Perhaps he doesn’t fear the Lord enough!  “Fear the LORD and turn away from evil” (3:7; cf. Job 1:1; 28:28).

There are other scriptures that show we should not fear or that we must not fear certain people or experiences.  For instance, certain Jews were not “speaking openly of Him [Jesus] for fear of the Jews” (John 7:13).  They should have been willing to confess Jesus before others—even the hostile Jewish leaders—but they allowed a misplaced fear to overwhelm them!  Later in Christ’s ministry, we have this record: “Many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God” (12:42-43). Again, these so-called “believers” had a fear of the Pharisees and this caused them to deny the Lord. This kind of fear is wrong!

Then there are cases in which someone feared people and this caused them to do wrong.  This was the case of Peter who separated himself from the Antioch Gentiles, “fearing the party of the circumcision” (Galatians 2:12).  Peter had earlier feared that he would be detected as Christ’s disciple, thus he was willing to lie three times about his identity (cf. Matthew 26:69-75).  This is the kind of fear that Jesus warned against.  He told His disciples to “do not fear” those who persecute them for Jesus’ sake (Matthew 10:26; Luke 12:7).  He goes on to say “do not fear” such people for they are much more valuable than sparrows to God.

Especially powerful are Christ’s words about two kinds of fear: “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him [God] who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28; cf. Luke 12:4-5).  Richards comments, “Such fear of the Lord releases us from bondage to the opinions of others and frees us to act spontaneously and to choose what is right.”[2][2] He further states, “When we are aware of God’s power and of his love, we are released from those lesser terrors that might move us to compromise or to disobey the Lord.”[3][3]

We are not to be fearful, but instead must be courageous for the Lord.

What kind of courage is meant here?  It is the courage to suffer, to be despised and distained, the courage to lose one’s life.  Cowards want to keep their lives and what makes life worth living for them, what they think is important and worthwhile.  Cowards want to save their happiness, their reputation, their income, and everything they enjoy.  That is why they evade the issue when their happiness, reputation or their life is threatened.

Cowardice is nothing more than a consequence of being afraid of bearing the cross.  Cowardice usually goes hand in hand with fear, especially with the fear of suffering.  This fear, this cowardice, often leads to short circuit reactions which could cause us to become very guilty, or could make us deny people, even Jesus and His church.  Cowardice often makes us untruthful, inconsiderate and irresponsive. . . . The important question is: How can we overcome our cowardice?  One way is to dedicate ourselves to suffering. . . . We must believe that we will taste heaven in the midst of suffering. And then, when we are deprived of people, things, love and honor, we will be happy, because Jesus will come to us as the Prince of Joy.[4][4]

Another word is deilia, “fearfulness,” which comes from deos, “fright.”  Paul writes, “God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).  God has not given us a spirit of “fear” (ESV).  Vine says that the term denotes “cowardice and timidity” and “is never used in a good sense.”[5][5]  In extrabiblical literature, deilia “refers to one who flees from battle, and has a strong pejorative sense referring to cowardice.  Boldness, not cowardice, is a mark of the Spirit.”[6][6]  When Jesus and the disciples encountered a storm on the Sea of Galilee, the disciples became fearful.  Jesus replied, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” (Matthew 8:26; cf. Mark 4:40).  This fear (deiloi) was unjustified since Jesus Himself was in their presence.  It is so serious to distrust Jesus in such circumstances, the Scripture says that “the cowardly” (deilois) will be thrown into the lake of fire, which is the second death (Revelation 21:8).  This shows how utterly serious it is for one to be fearful before others when he or she should stand strong for the Lord.

Christ is the solution to our fears.  Our Lord says, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me” (John 14:1).  He goes on to assure us, “Pease I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful [deilisto]” (John 14:27).  If we have fear in life, let us fear the Lord!  Let us heed the words of Solomon: “The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, but the righteous are bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1).  Are we a coward—or are we courageous for Jesus?

[1]Expository Dictionary.

[2] Expository Dictionary.


[4] Schlink, You Will Never be the Same, pp. 54-55.

[5] Expository Dictionary.

[6] ESV Study Bible, note.


Comments are closed.