March 9, 2012

The Fear of Man & How to Destroy It

by Geoffrey Kirkland

Have you ever been—in the slightest—nervous, afraid, or ashamed to share the gospel because of the fear of being REJECTED?

If so, remember Psalm 118:6: “The LORD is for me; I will not fear; What can man do to me?”

When you fear something—or someone—you allow it/them to control you. As Ed Welch wrote, “Their opinions, possible opinions, attitudes, or withholding of love become YOUR master.”

Unfortunately, the fear of man can be a hindrance to evangelism, as well as an area of lingering sin in people’s lives. But fortunately, the Bible gives us help to fight this sin.


The fear of man is when you think you need something to live, be happy, fulfilled, etc. but you wonder if you might *not* get it.

For instance:

If you need comfort—you’ll fear physical pain.

If you need approval from others—you’ll fear being criticized.

If you need love—you’ll fear rejection

If you need admiration for attractiveness—you’ll fear getting fat.


Are you over-committed? Is it hard for you to say no even when wisdom indicates you should? (people pleaser).

Is self-esteem a critical concern for you? (fear of man extroidinairre in the US). Does your life revolve around what others think of you?

You fear man if you are UNWILLING to confess sin to others for accountability (wife, pastor, trusted friend) b/c you don’t want to feel SHAMED in their eyes.

Are you always second-guessing decisions based on what others think?

Do you get easily embarrassed?

Do you ever lie—even white lies? Lying and other forms of living in the dark are usually ways to make ourselves look better before others.

Aren’t most diets—even when they are ostensibly under the magazine heading of “health” – dedicated to impressing others? The desire for “praise of men” is one of the ways we exalt people above God.

Now… If you DON’T deal with these sins biblically, they will SOON dominate you; it will be your people-idol. Your idol of people-pleasing and people-worshipping will soon own and dominate you.


Here Are five practical tips so that you can destroy the fear of man & replace it with the fear of the Lord.

1.    Acknowledge that you do FEAR MEN and CONFESS it as SIN.

Instead of asking: “how can I feel better about myself & not be controlled about what people think” (man-centered thinking!), instead ask: ”why am I so concerned about myself self-esteem?  And how can I think more on Christ and on the Gospel?”

Proverbs 29:25:  “The fear of man brings a snare, But he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted.”

2.    Begin to grow in the fear of the Lord.

Psalm 34:11: “Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.”

You learn the Fear of the Lord by being in God’s Word, learning about who God is (gaining a biblical view of the character of God rather than a man-made, cleverly-concocted god so many in our world fabricate), praying to God frequently and spending time with others who fear the Lord not man.

Deuteronomy 31:11-13 : “When all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place which He will choose, you shall read this law in front of all Israel in their hearing. Assemble the people, the men and the women and children and the alien who is in your town, so that they may hear and learn and fear the LORD your God, and be careful to observe all the words of this law.  Their children, who have not known, will hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as you live on the land which you are about to cross the Jordan to possess.”

God must be bigger to you than people are.

3.    Confess where your desires have been TOO big.

Remember that men are so selfish that their expectations will be greater than you will be able to satisfy. They will not consider those things that might prevent you from giving them what they desire such as your ministry to others, your job, or your necessary diversionary activities. They want you all to themselves as though you had no one else to care for but them (Richard Baxter).

Baxter then wrote: If you seek first to please God and are satisfied with that you have but one to please instead of multitudes. And a multitude of masters are harder to please than one.

4.    Delight in the gospel & rejoice that God has covered your sinful fears & shame.

Christ’s Unconditional and Unwavering love for His elect charted his life—he didn’t live to please men. He went to the cross because of His love for His own; not because of his fear of man that just had a bad outcome.

So, you ask, “What’s the BEST way to RID these sins & NOT fear men?”

Draw closer to Jesus Christ in genuine repentance like the woman who poured perfume on the feet of Christ even if others mock.

Luke 7:36-39: “Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.   And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume,  38 and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume.  39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.”

5.    Exchange your Need for others with a passion to love others more.

The fear of man is the sin that we feel that we NEED them (for ourselves) more than our responsibility to love them.

The task God sets for us is to need them less and to love them more.

In other words: “out of obedience to Christ, and as a respond to his love toward you, pursue others in love (Welch, When People are Big and God is Small, 183).

Ed Welch continues:

We have a wrong view of what we truly need and what we deserve. While all the things that I just mentioned are good things, is it ultimately true that I “need” those things? I may want those things, there may be great advantage to having those things, I may function best with those things, but as a Christian I must ultimately say that no, I don’t need these things. The only thing I truly need in this life, or the next, is for my sins to be atoned for so that I may be reconciled to God. Furthermore, the only thing I truly deserve is to spend an eternity in hell for the sins I have committed.

In conclusion, bear in mind the words of the Apostle Paul: “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Corinthians 5:9).

Geoffrey Kirkland

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Geoff is the pastor-teacher of Christ Fellowship Bible Church in St. Louis, Missouri.
  • Thank you.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    What if a non-believer says that because they hate you, they hate your God. And that if they liked you better, then they might be more open to accepting God.

    What does the believer do then?

    Eg., you say that you don’t support gay marriage because of Scripture. The non-believer hates you. And if you supported gay marriage, then they might like you better, and then they might be more open to accepting Jesus. What to do?

    • elainebitt

      If they hate you because of something in Scripture, are they really hating “you”? Listen, many godly men were hated, tortured and killed because of the truth of Scripture.

      We just continue affirming those truths. They are not rejecting us. Better they hate us because of our faith to Scripture than to hate us because of our character.

      • Truth Unites… and Divides

        I hear you. How about the case of Kirk Cameron who’s being vilified as a homophobe and bigot for upholding one-man, one-woman marriage? He’s persecuted by non-believers AND he’s persecuted by some liberal Christians. He’s persecuted by both within the larger Church and outside the Church.

        What to do?

        • Geoffrey Kirkland

          Good questions. One thing we all need to bear in mind is that the “Word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Cor 1.18). We NEVER want to alter the message or change our beliefs to make the message more palatable — or acceptable — to the nonbeliever.

          There is nothing we can ever do to make someone more “open” to the Christian God or the gospel.

          Dear friend, we should bear in mind that every sinner is absolutely hostile to God (Rom 5.10). There is no one who will ever be “more open” to our God if we simply soften our message or change our beliefs, etc. The only way one would ever be in the least open to the gospel message is the INITIAL work of God the Spirit softening the dead heart and giving them the opportunity to hear, listen, comprehend, and submit to the truth (1 Cor 2.10-14).

          You raise an excellent point. But we should continue to hold forth the word of truth as boldly as possible. We want to present the unadulterated gospel with all its glory! But just remember that the entire message is incomprehensible and unbelievable (literally) to the rebellious heart without the initial working of the Holy Spirit.

          Hope that helps!

          Geoff Kirkland
          Pastor, Christ Fellowship Bible Church

    • Creighton Ring

      We all struggle against a desire to re-define God. He began to set forth His character (and our purpose) in scripture as He created the very atmosphere you and I are breathing right now. (Genesis 1) His glory is our paramount purpose as His creatures. (Ecc.12:13, Matt.22:37-40) Your friend or acquaintance (as Elaine states) hates you because of your faithful testimony of the character of our Creator. If we are created for His glory, and He hates the perversion of His created order presented by homosexuality, then we bring him glory by compassionately standing against homosexuality as well.

      Ultimately, he/she (your friend or acquaintance) is creating a God (other than yours) based upon their own desires. Do not focus upon the self-righteous division of cultural morality, as the Pharisees did in the example from Luke in Geoff’s post. Focus on a caring compassion for them that recognizes the fact that apart from Christ, none of us stands less condemned or deserving of hell than the other. That compassion leads us to the Gospel. A right understanding of our Creator is not possible apart from the work of the Holy Spirit to reveal it (Rom.8), so remain faithful and patient as you re-direct conversations about (your) God to His plan for salvation for those who would be given ears to hear.

  • Great little piece. Something very key to be reminded of. This was good, “You fear man if you are UNWILLING to confess sin to others…” I wonder if getting into the habit of confessing might help mortify this sin/snare? (Prov. 29:25).

    Any helpful thoughts on the sometimes blinding power this can exert in the moment? How does one learn to work through that?

    • Geoffrey Kirkland

      Matthew P,

      Excellent question. The sin of the fear of man does launch its canon-attacks on us every day —and subtly so. How do you learn to work through the “in the moment” attacks? A few thoughts…

      1. Fill your heart and your mind daily with the truth of God’s Word. This is the best antidote to the fear of man. The best way to fight it is with a healthy and resolute conviction of the fear of God. The way you get the fear of God is by studying — and more studying — the truth found in His Word.

      2. Find someone or some other men to chat with regularly (disicpleship/accountability). But don’t only talk about sins and failures but be sure you bathe in the glories of the gospel & in the transforming power of it. Remind yourself daily (or, in the words of the old Puritan preachers: “Preach the gospel to yourself daily”) of the gospel and of the need to trust in Christ and to slaughter sin (including the fear of man) in your life.

      3. Pray and ask God each day to help you be sensitive to when and where you are fearing man. And when God does reveal this to you, repent, confess, and cling to the promises of God’s grace and abounding mercy in Scripture.

      Trust that helps!

      Geoff Kirkland

      • Thanks Geoff. I think the accountability dynamic is one that could provide greater freedom. I’ve been reflecting on Jesus’ words in John 5 lately: “I do not receive glory from men.” It seems like there is a two-edged sword here; the reality that every time I revel in the glory men give me I give it more control over me.

        I’m curious about how one lives in a world were praise from men is inevitable–even good?–without succumbing to the paralyzing need for it.

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  • There is nothing we can ever do to make someone more “open” to the Christian God or the gospel.

  • Any helpful thoughts on the sometimes blinding power this can exert in the moment? How does one learn to work through that?

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