Monday Devotions – The Fear of Man, Hopelessness, and the Gospel

Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking at the newest Sovereign Grace church plant, Sovereign Grace Church of Frederick (Maryland), led by Chris Silard. They’re only 6 weeks old but had about 180 adults in the main meeting. It was a joy to see how God has blessed them not only numerically, but in so many other ways as well.

I shared from Galatians 2:16 on The Gospel and the Fear of Man. This is the passage where Paul confronts Peter for his hypocritical actions:

For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party (Gal. 2:12).

Paul points out that Peter’s behavior was no longer in line with the truth of the Gospel, which says that no one will be justified as a result of obeying certain laws, but only through the atoning sacrifice of Christ. But Peter was more concerned about the approval that came from men than the approval that comes from God through Christ.

I shared that the same root that keep Peter from eating with non-Jews, the fear of man, had caused me to experience a “sin breakdown” a number of years ago. Back in the mid-90′s I went through a significant battle with hopelessness. I would wake every morning with this thought: “Your life is completely hopeless.” My day went downhill from there. For about three years I experienced frequent panic attacks, itching and numbness, shortness of breath, and a hollow feeling in my chest.

There were a number of contributing factors, but a major root was the fear of man. I “feared” that others wouldn’t share the same high opinion I had of myself. I “feared” they would reject me, or think of me unfavorably. Those thoughts, repeated hundreds of times every day, led to bouts with anxiety, depression, and hopelessness.

One morning I was confessing to a pastor and good friend from another Sovereign Grace church that I felt hopeless all the time. He looked at me with compassionate boldness and said, “I don’t think you’re hopeless enough.” At first I thought he was kidding; but then I realized he was completely serious. He went on. “If you were completely hopeless, you’d stop trusting in what you think you can do to change the situation, and starting trusting in what Jesus Christ has already done for you at the cross.

A light went on. I realized that I hadn’t been embracing the fact that apart from Jesus, I truly do have no hope (Eph. 2:12). For months following that conversation, every time I would start to feel anxiety or hopelessness, i would say to myself, “I am a hopeless person. But Jesus Christ died for hopeless people.” I began to see that my inability to live in the good of the Gospel was rooted in my desire to find hope in something I had done rather than in what my Savior had done. I wanted some kind of credit, some kind of recognition, some kind of acknowledgment that God knew what he was doing when he chose me to be his son.

Fortunately, the Gospel brings better news than that. My acceptance before God isn’t rooted in anything I’ve done or ever will do.

God communicates the same thing to the Israelites as they are about to enter the Promised Land:

It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deut. 7:7-8)

What I’ve continued to learn is this: I never move on from my need for a Savior. The praise I seek from others will never substitute for the righteousness Christ has obtained for me before a holy God. In other words, the only approval that matters is impossible to earn, but is given to us as a gift in the Gospel.

I pray that your life will be increasingly filled with the joyful hope that comes from knowing Christ Jesus, who is and forever will be our only hope (1 Tim. 1:1).

5 Responses to Monday Devotions – The Fear of Man, Hopelessness, and the Gospel

  1. Pastor Matt October 16, 2006 at 1:22 PM #

    I am extremely encouraged by this post. What a timely exhortation for me that I will never reach a point, where the grace and mercy of the cross is not still sufficient for me.

    Thank you, thank you!!

    Blessings,
    Pastor Matt

  2. phil October 16, 2006 at 2:13 PM #

    Bob,

    Glad to know I’m not the only one who’s struggled with this. You said, “I ‘feared’ that others wouldn’t share the same high opinion I had of myself.” That was very insightful. What we try to pass off as low self-esteem is, in fact, an exalted, prideful self-esteem, that feels we deserve to be thought of more highly than other people are thinking of us. The fear of man really shows our identity is rooted in pride, rather than in God’s love shown to undeserving sinners by sending the Savior to die for us.

    Thanks for these posts. Monday devotions have been a real help to me, to start the work week off on the right foot. I’m always edified. In Christ,

    -Phil

  3. Allan Sherer October 18, 2006 at 12:21 PM #

    Hey Bob:

    Thank you for the very personal entry. I suppose it is impossible for me to be reminded too often of my need to ask myself what I am trusting in. A couple of days ago I was meditating on Psalm 11 and came accross this comment by Matthew Henry on Psalm 11:1. It dovetailed so well with what you wrote in this entry I thought I would pass it along.

    And it is the character of the saints, who have taken God for their God, that they make him their hope. Even when they have other things to stay themselves upon, yet they do not, they dare not, stay upon them, but on God only. Gold is not their hope, nor are horses and chariots their confidence, but God only; and therefore, when second causes frown, yet their hopes do not fail them, because the first cause is still the same: is ever so.

    Thank you!
    Allan

  4. Cap Stewart October 19, 2006 at 8:31 AM #

    That was very encouraging! Thanks for sharing about your own personal struggles. How paradoxical it is that some of the best news we could ever hear is that we are utterly hopeless. What glorious hope the gospel brings when we come to end of ourselves!

  5. Stephen October 20, 2006 at 3:19 PM #

    I could not have read this at a more opportune time, as of late I have been realizing how much I hold myself in high esteem and am always worried or have anxiety to see that others will notice my “knowledge”. This has been a tremendous struggle and I thank you for your words of encouragement. Soli Deo Gloria!

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