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The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe (Proverbs 29:25).
Like many of the verses in Proverbs, there is a parallel format: two lines, one stacked on top of the other. The first one is usually negative, and the second one is positive, as it is here. If you were to diagram the two lines, it could look something like the infographic below. Notice the parallel. The diagram shows the starting point in the upper left as a heart of fear. If fear is the condition of our hearts, there is only one result—a snare (Galatians 6:1).
Though our goal may be to be safe, we cannot get there from a heart of fear. Fear always leads to enslavement, not safety in Christ. To be safe and secure, we must first deal with the heart of the problem—our fear. Within the human heart, there is always a tension between fear and faith. When fear wins out, the person will struggle with diverse forms of insecurity.
The insecure person wants to be safe, but fear of others holds them back. They have questions: “Will they hurt me? Will they reject me? Will they like me?” As the person becomes more securely established in the Lord, or at least when they become characterized and controlled by faith, the Lord will be prominent, and they will experience safety. I say “characterized by faith” because none of us live perfectly in faith. We regularly oscillate from fear to faith and back to fear again. No one has perfect, uninterrupted faith, though our general disposition should be stabilizing faith in God.
You see that the infographic’s two primary components are people (man) and the Lord. When sinful fear is operative in the heart, others will influence and control us. When faith is operative in the heart, the Lord manages us. It is our choice as to who or what will influence and control our thoughts. We are not victims, though we can feel more victimized than empowered when around certain people. If that is the case with you, please find help. Being manipulated by others is not what the Lord wants for any of us.
When addressing the fear of man issue, it is vital to address it at its root. (See the second graphic) Though you will perceive the manifestations of fear in the outward behaviors, its roots will not be as evident because they are in the heart. If you do not eradicate the fear at its source, it will continue to resurface throughout a person’s life. Heart theology is a basic understanding of how sanctification works. Do not be fooled when you see the manifestations of fear in a person’s behavior. Outward behaviors should point you to the entangled heart’s motivations (James 1:14–15).
Though I am talking about fear in the heart as the main thing, you want to address the real culprit, unbelief. Fear thrives in the soil of unbelief. Whenever fear rears its sinister head, it means the person is not trusting God. This kind of disbelief does not necessarily mean the person is an unbeliever. It could mean the person is an unbelieving believer (Mark 9:24) or a practical atheist. Believe it or not, believing Christians struggle with unbelief, and fear will entangle the heart when they do.
In real life, what you see is something like what the next infographic represents. (See the third graphic) The fear-motivated person will be looking for approval from someone. It does not mean they will be looking for approval from everyone. Fear of man is not an across-the-board, I-am-afraid-of-everyone kind of sin. You can be free from some relationships, but in others, you find yourself craving their approval, acceptance, respect, or the other side of the craving coin, which is a fear of rejection. Perhaps you have friends with whom you are entirely comfortable, but others tempt you to crave their approval (or you fear their rejection). In such cases, they control you.
This third graphic is analogous to a managed marionette—our craving for their acceptance is the strings that contain us. The real idolatry in the infographic is not the big person. The big person is merely the idol carrier who can give us what we want. I listed some of those idols; they are synonyms: approval, significance, love, acceptance, respect, and rejection are six ways of saying the same thing. You can pick the one that speaks most closely to your heart.
As you glance toward the bottom right of the infographic above, you will notice the biggest problem. Can you see the word, God? The smallness of the word contradicts the bigness of the problem. A small God leaves room for a heart to fear. There is something broken in the heart of the person with a little God. There is a distortion about how they experience, understand, discern, think about, and know God. This condition is a theological breakdown or a “small God disorder.”
What began as shyness, introversion, or peer pressure has now been diagnosed as a weak to nonexistent relationship with the Lord. It is essential to see this essential recalibration of our thinking to understand the issue: it is a problem with God. The real snare is not primarily about other people; it is about God. If you do not discern and diagnose the heart of the problem, it will be impossible to change. Let me say this: if you do not know what to put off, this essential first step to the change process will keep you from being free (Ephesians 4:22).
The people under the management of the fear of man spend too much time thinking about themselves. It’s their preoccupation, not realizing that thinking more about themselves will only further their enslavement. The solution is not for them to become more prominent in their minds through elevated self-esteem. Fear always leads to morbid self-evaluation and introspection.
Rather than being preoccupied with self-estimation, it would be better to esteem God and others more (Philippians 2:3–4). The goal is to have a bigger God, which includes bringing people down to size. No person should have manipulative power over anyone, even though we often give that power to others. When we crave things like approval, acceptance, love, or respect from people, we will allow them to have the ability to control us. To change requires a reorientation of the mind: We want God to manage our thoughts, not others.
What do you need? What drives your cravings? What makes you tick? Do you require people’s approval? How you answer these questions determines how you will relate to others and live your life within those relationships. Either you will live to please people or in the freedom that God provides through His gospel.
You will notice I inserted the name Jesus in the fourth infographic above because He perfectly represents what life looks like when the Lord controls us rather than others. Though He was despised and rejected by men, others did not control Him with their disapproval (Isaiah 53:2–3). The opinion of His Father controlled Him, and we know how the Lord thought about Him. The Father’s love for Jesus was off the charts. Mark described the dynamic relationship between the Father and the Son when he said,
And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). The Father was perfectly pleased with Jesus. He could do no wrong. The Pharisees and other knuckle-headed people could say and do all kinds of things to Jesus, but He would not allow them to control Him.
He moved through our world unbothered and untethered by what people could do to Him. He was a man under the authority of Almighty God. If you place your faith appropriately in the Lord, you will not be controlled or manipulated by what others may try to do to you. That is your goal. Free from the power of the people is the only way to live. Imagine being wholly untethered from the opinion of others. This kind of experience with God is one of my lifelong sanctification goals.
I long to be truly free in Christ. Jesus was 100 percent untethered from others, but He was not distant from or rude to others. He was free from others, but He was not apathetic about the depraved condition of others. There is no contradiction here. Being free from the opinion of people and caring deeply about people is perfect relational symmetry. Not controlled but always loving is the only way to fully, faithfully, and successfully pull off the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36–40).
Submitting yourself to God is your only option if you want to be mature. Either other people will capture your heart because of your desire to be accepted, or you will rest in the truth that God’s opinion of you is positive, unchanging, and satisfying. How do you know God’s view of you is always positive, unchanging, and pleasurable? It is the gospel. Because of the gospel, any Christian finds assurance by knowing God loves them and will always be for them (Romans 8:31–39). To experience acceptance from God, you have to accept the works of Jesus. God will never accept you based on your works (Ephesians 2:8–9).
If we had to please God through our works to be accepted by Him, we would never please Him (Hebrews 11:6). Our inability to please God is one of the ironies regarding fear of man. You will never be able to please others entirely with your effort, and you will never be able to please God with your efforts. The difference between the Lord and people is the Lord gives you an alternative to gain His approval: You can accept the works of His Son. People typically do not give you another option. You will always be a slave to those with whom you crave approval. What you did today to win someone’s love will not be enough tomorrow or next week.
Seeking the approval of others is an endless, exhausting cycle. It also breaks the first commandment (Exodus 20:3). The worship of other people’s opinions puts other gods between you and the true and living God. It is an idolatry that makes you a puppet to the vacillating opinion of the person you hope will like you. Worshipping God is not that way. Winning His forever approval was finished through Christ (John 19:30). A way was opened through Jesus after He lived, died, rose, and ascended to heaven. All a person has to do is get in the Son to be free.
In the Son is the place to feel and experience the complete pleasure of the Father. The only way to please God is by having faith in His Son. Get in Him and feel God’s pleasure. It is odd for a Christian to continue to strive for the approval of others when God is holding out the free blessing of full acceptance through Jesus. The Father poured out His wrath on His Son. Christ became the satisfying sacrifice for anyone who wants it. He took our place. All we have to do is believe. Moses told the folks under the attack of the fiery serpents, “Look and live,” which is all we have to do, too (Numbers 21:8; John 3:14).
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).