Fear is a universal human emotion that we all experience at some point in our lives. As Christians, understanding the root causes of fear can help us overcome it through faith in God. The Bible has a lot to say about fear, its sources, and how believers should respond.
Fear is an unpleasant emotion thatalerts us to threats or danger. It creates heightened arousal and vigilance, motivating us to either confront the perceived threat or flee from it. While fear can be helpful for survival, excessive or irrational fear leads to sin, bondage and paralysis.
The Bible repeatedly tells Christians to “fear not” because God has not given us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7). However, to overcome fear, we must identify and understand its root causes. According to Scripture, the main sources of fear include:
- Fear is often caused by focusing on circumstances rather than God’s power and promises.
- Pride, the fear of man, and unbelief are major roots of fear.
- Fear is a form of torment associated with punishment.
- The enemy uses fear to steal, kill and destroy.
- Fearing God in a reverential way leads to wisdom and right living.
With this foundation, let us now explore these causes of fear in depth and see what the Bible teaches about overcoming them.
Fear is Caused by Focusing on Circumstances Rather Than God
One of the most common causes of fear is focusing on our difficult circumstances rather than focusing on God’s power and promises. When challenges arise, it is easy to fixate on the obstacles we face, the lack we experience, or the worst possible outcomes. This leads to anxiety as we rely on our own limited strength and wisdom. In contrast, Scripture calls us to look to the Lord in the midst of trials:
“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2)
The antidote to fear is trusting in God’s sovereignty and goodness. He is able to deliver us regardless of what we face, so we can rely on him and rest in his capable hands. As Isaiah 41:10 assures us:
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
When we take our eyes off the storms of life and fix them on Jesus, we become empowered to walk on water with him, no matter the obstacles. Just as Peter began sinking when he focused on the wind and waves, we too will falter if we zero in on seeming impossibilities (Matthew 14:29-30). God calls us to live by faith, not fear.
Pride and the Fear of Man Lead to Fear
Pride and the fear of man are also significant causes of fear according to Scripture. Pride leads us to be overly concerned with our image and reputation. Proverbs 29:25 says:
“The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.”
This fear of man is rooted in pride – caring too much about the opinions and approval of others. Rather than basing our security on God’s acceptance, proud people become enslaved to human praise and find rejection unbearable. This makes them easily shaken and controlled by what others think. However, the Bible calls us to draw our confidence from Jesus’ acceptance alone:
“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)
When our sense of worth is based on human approval, we will constantly battle fear of rejection. Conversely, knowing we are loved by Christ sets us free to live boldly for him.
Unbelief Causes Fear
Perhaps the greatest source of fear is unbelief – doubting God’s Word and failing to trust in his capabilities. Scripture warns that an “evil unbelieving heart” leads to falling away from the living God (Hebrews 3:12). When we refuse to trust the Lord, we are overwhelmed by life’s challenges. However, faith in God’s promises dispels fear. As Isaiah 26:3 promises:
“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”
An unbelieving heart falsely thinks God has abandoned us or is unable to help. This skeptical view of God’s character and abilities brings unnecessary turmoil. Only by taking God at his Word, regardless of circumstances, can we experience lasting peace and stability.
Fear Comes Through Torment
The Bible also associates fear with punishment and torment. Godly sorrow leads to repentance, but the sorrow of the world produces death (2 Corinthians 7:10). Proverbs 10:24 contrasts the desires of the righteous and the wicked:
“What the wicked dreads will overtake him; what the righteous desire will be granted.”
Whereas the righteous desire God’s blessings, the wicked are haunted by fear of judgment for their sin. They correctly recognize God’s moral authority to punish evil. However, instead of repenting, the wicked try futilely to silence their conscience or deny God’s existence to escape fear. Their own guilt torments them, leading to crippling phobias.
In contrast, Christians are delivered from the fear of condemnation through Christ (Romans 8:1). Our sins have been forgiven, so we need not dread punishment. This liberates us to draw near to God without terror. The fear of the Lord leads to wisdom (Psalm 111:10), but the torment of a guilty conscience results in phobia and paralysis. As 1 John 4:18 states:
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.”
The Enemy Uses Fear to Steal, Kill and Destroy
Satan is also a source of crippling fear, seeking to oppress believers and keep them from their destiny. The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). Satan attacks the mind with fearful thoughts to paralyze our progress and potential.
He inspires fear of the future, fear of failure, and anxiety over loss or death. As a roaring lion, he uses fear to devour our confidence and keep us living far below our privileges as children of God (1 Peter 5:8).
Too often, we do not recognize the spiritual forces behind irrational phobias and anxieties. We must guard our hearts and minds, casting down fearful imaginations (2 Corinthians 10:5). While the world teaches us to manage anxiety, Scripture calls us to resist the devil so he will flee (James 4:7). Believers haveauthority over demons in Jesus’ name to drive out spirits of fear. As Paul writes:
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
Standing on this promise breaks spiritual strongholds that keep people bound through fear.
The Fear of God Leads to Wisdom and Right Living
Thus far we have explored sources of unhealthy fear that believers must combat with faith in God. However, there is a positive, beneficial fear that Scripture commends. The fear of the Lord leads to wisdom and right living. Proverbs 9:10 states:
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”
This fear is reverence and awe of God’s greatness and moral perfection. Recognizing God’s exceeding glory and righteousness leads us to worship him, obey his commands, and pursue holiness. We hate evil because God hates evil. This fear of the Lord results in purposeful, prudent living that brings joy:
“The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble.” (Proverbs 19:23)
Moreover, the fear of the Lord prompts us to persuade others to flee coming judgment:
“Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others.” (2 Corinthians 5:11)
This reverential fear motivates evangelism, knowing the terror of the Lord that will come upon the disobedient (2 Corinthians 5:11). It also moves us to live holy lives that make the gospel attractive to others. Our motivation is gratitude to God for mercifully saving us from judgment. In this way, the fear of God bears good fruit in love and righteous living.
In summary, Scripture outlines several key causes of unhealthy fear that believers must overcome through faith in God’s promises. Focusing on circumstances rather than God’s power leads to anxiety. Pride and the fear of man trap us in insecurity.
Unbelief in God’s character and abilities paralyzes us with phobias. Fear also arises from a sense of guilt and torment. The enemy uses fear to oppress people and hold them back from abundance. Yet the Bible also commends the fear of the Lord that produces wisdom, worship, holiness and purposeful living.
By identifying ungodly fears and their root causes, Christians can more effectively walk in power, love and self-discipline. As we fix our eyes on Jesus, cling to his promises, and resist the devil, we can experience lasting peace and security in his love.
Our faith overcomes the world and every strategy of the enemy to derail our lives through fear. May we walk boldly into the destiny Christ has prepared for us, trusting in his provisions and overcoming every obstacle through the power of the Holy Spirit within us.