what’s the deal with fears? are any good for you?

Last updated on March 11th, 2024


A simplistic summary of fear has been expressed in the acronym, False Emotions Appearing Real. But before we go any further, we first need to understand what the Bible means by fears

Using the concordance with a Hebrew dictionary reveals that, like ‘Praise’, more than one Hebrew word landed in English as ‘fear’ in the Old Testament. Moreover, contextually their meaning has differing inflections

H2731 = chǎrâdâh (pronounced khar-aw-daw‘) – trembling, anxiety
H3372 = yârê (pronounced yaw-ray) – frightened, dread
H3373 = yir’âh (pronounced yir-aw‘) – morally reverence or respect
H6342 = pachad (pronounced pakh’-ad) – sudden alarm, dread, great terror

These are their most common uses throughout Scriptures and there are others with similar uses but enough to say there are two broad types of fear

Similarly, more than one Greek word landed in English as fear with alternatives in the New Testament. For example:

G1167 = deilia (pronounced di-lee’-ah) fear, timidity eg 2Tim 1:7
G5399 = phobeō (pronounced fob-eh’-o) – fear, alarmed eg Matt 1:20
G5401 = phobos (pronounced fob’-os) – fear, terror eg Matt 28:4

Harmful Fears

Harmful fear presents as a frightening sense of terror, dread, horror, or panic. It can prevent us from being who, or doing what, God intended. It has been said that fear embodies the response ‘Fear Everything And Run’. “Everything” is not really overstating the problem because once it takes root, fear can be compounding.

For instance, we fear any people, animals, influences, objects or events that we see as threatening, able to control, overpower or destroy us. Any of these can, in turn, make us vulnerable to a fear of harm, pain, failure and/or rejection. All too easily fear ‘takes control’ before we realise, even when we have promises from God that all will be well

For example, Joshua and Caleb exhorted the Israelite assembly not to reject God’s No Fearspromise of the land of Canaan they had just surveyed. Even though, as the others had testified, “All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there … We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes …” (Numbers 13:31c-33). Joshua, told the Israelites not to rebel against God and not to fear (yârê) those people (see Numbers 14:9)

Why did Joshua say they were rebelling against God by fearing the Nephilim (giant people) of Canaan? Wouldn’t we all be afraid?

Not if we trusted and obeyed the Lord ….. you see, in Deuteronomy chpt 5 Moses had “summoned all Israel and said: Hear, O Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today. Learn them and be sure to follow them” (Deuteronomy 5:1). In the oration that followed he reminded them of God’s promise of land and that He would drive out the many nations (Deuteronomy 7:1). Don’t forget, God promised this very same land to Abraham’s offspring (he was called Abram at the time) – see Genesis 12:1-7

He reinforced that with ….

If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow — to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways and to hold fast to him — then the LORD will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you. Every place where you set your foot will be yours: Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the Euphrates River to the western sea. No man will be able to stand against you. The LORD your God, as he promised you, will put the terror and fear of you on the whole land, wherever you go” (Deuteronomy 11:22-25).

The terror and dreadful fear (pachad) was meant to be of the Israelites, not in them

Jesus said of the end of the age, “Men will faint from terror [Gk: phobos – see the connection with the work of the enemy, below], apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken” (Luke 21:26)

Sometimes harmful fear can be cowardly. Like when Peter, who “used to eat with the Gentiles. But when [certain men from James] arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group” (Galatians 2:12). Consequently, his hypocrisy led Barnabas astray.

Like Solomon said, “Fear [chǎrâdâh] of man will prove a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord will be kept safe” (Proverbs 29:25)

‘Wisdom’ says “but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear [pachad] of harm.” (Proverbs 1:33)

Healthy Fears

Healthy fears (yir’âh) refer to an expression of rightful reverence or respect in close relationships. In today’s language, we don’t link the word ‘fear’ with reverence and we can see that ‘respect’ is generally diminishing. This change in culture is reflected in our language. So not surprisingly, modern translations of the Bible replace the helpful ‘fear’ with ‘respect’

It’s the kind of fear (respect) that caring parents instil in their child for things that may harm them. Things like electricity, boiling water, traffic or a rip in the surf. Such respect is much more preferable than making the child afraid (harmful fear). That sort of fear lends itself to nightmares and the child being scared to plug in a heater or walk across a road

For example, the NKJV has Paul saying we should “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honour to whom honour” is due (Romans 13:7 NKJV). The NIV translators chose ‘respect’ over ‘fear’

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh” (1 Peter 2:18 NKJV). In this sense people are to fear those who have authority over them. “Each of you must respect [yârê] his mother and father…
(Leviticus 19:3). [This is one of 3 contextual changes of yârê from harmful to helpful fear out of 314 occurrences in the Bible]

The Scriptures declare that “the fear [yir’âh] of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7) as well as “the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 9:10, 16:16)

We should (healthy) fear God and have no (harmful) fears of anyone or anything else. However, it appears that many people live the opposite. They have little to no (healthy) fear of God but, on the other hand, are living with numerous harmful kinds of fear of all manner of things

The Fear [yir’âh] Of The Lord

In the Old Testament the fear of the Lord is a sign of reverence or fully respecting God. “And he said to man, ‘The fear of the Lord – that is wisdom,’ ” (Job 28:28). “The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever…” (Psalm 19:9)

This fear combines with love and hope, and is therefore not a slavish dread. More like a family reverence.
[See Deuteronomy 32:6; Hosea 11:1; Isaiah 1:2; 63:16; 64:8 for examples of our child-Father relationship with God]

He who fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge. The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death” (Proverbs 14:26-27)

Also in the New Testament

A holy fear is a vital preventive of slackness in our relationship with God, and an incentive to repentance. When Jesus sent the disciples to the lost sheep of Israel he instructed them: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28)

As motivation in our ministry of reconciliation Paul wrote “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men…..” (2Corinthians 5:11). Also he says “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12b)

In another example, Isaiah said, “The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, He is the one you are to fear, He is the one you are to dread, and He will be a sanctuary;” (Isaiah 8:13-14a). And the early church lived it … “Then the church … enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord” (Acts 9:31). As Peter said, we should “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honour the king” (1 Peter 2:17)

Phobias are fears

Harmful fears often ‘sneak up on us’. Worse still, unchecked fears develop great strength. Eventually, they can become irrationally debilitating. The medical profession refers to such fears as ‘phobias’

The general acceptance is that phobias arise from a combination of external traumatic events and internal predispositions (i.e. heredity or genetics)

Healthline Media, an American online health and wellness resource, defines ‘phobia’ as “… an irrational fear of something that’s unlikely to cause harm. The word itself comes from the Greek word phobos, which means fear….”

The Australian Psychological Society says “People with a specific phobia … have developed an extreme fear of a particular object, activity or situation.” This fear is “out of proportion with the actual level of threat posed”. They group common phobias into four broad categories:-

  • animal related phobias (e.g., snakes, spiders, dogs)
  • phobias relating to the natural environment (e.g., storms, strong winds, water)
  • blood, injections, and injury phobias (e.g. needles, medical procedures)
  • situational phobias (e.g., elevators, aeroplanes, tunnels)

Indeed, the fears listed in medical literature are too numerous to count. The list is seemingly limited only by the medical profession’s ability to find an appropriate prefix that best describes the object of fear

A Fredd Culbertson started compiling a list from medical reference books back in the late 1980s (See “www.phobialist.com/#A-“). He adds ‘new fears’ to the list when they are formally documented

Examples of phobias

 Object of fear 
 Name allocated 
DentistsDentophobia (Dento is Latin (meaning tooth or teeth))
Open spacesAgoraphobia
Dogs or rabiesCynophobia

In recent years, clinicians have recognised a fear of happiness in patients and new research is looking into the verification of this. The NICABM (National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioural Medicine) already report that “Fear of happiness was found to be the best predictor of depression, anxiety, and stress”. Clinicians are noting another ‘new’ fear … “for some of our patients, the fear of experiencing a positive outcome might actually be stronger than their desire to heal” (NICABM)

Christians can be vulnerable

Even though the phobia list website filled over 15 screens on my notebook computer there are so many more fears. In addition to all the normal fears common to humanity there are more fears that can plague members of the Body of Christ. Even if they are not formally classified and named they are none the less real and debilitating

For example, some Christians suffer from fear of:- praying aloud in meetings etc; reading the Scriptures in public; asking for prayer; sharing their testimony; praying for healing; showing their love of the Lord. The list goes on and on

A few years ago, I heard a preacher say that “we hide our embarrassments and we hide our fears”. I have to admit that sounded like a common tendency, but I couldn’t help wondering why it was so. Inside the Body of Christ I mean

It goes without saying, if we are embarrassed about our fears and, afraid of being embarrassed then we are seriously “hamstrung”. This sure can spell death to honest open sharing and ministry between us, eh

Fear and lies are the greatest weapons of the enemy in our life. They potentially cripple us or at least cripple the main reason we were created – fellowship – with God, and each other. Walking in fear badly impedes our ability to trust and therefore to relate openly and honestly. Being susceptible to Satan’s lies can ‘be a killer’

Fears are connected to the work of the enemy

Significantly, not only is ‘phobia’ rooted in the Greek word ‘phobos’ but in Greek mythology, Phobos and his brother Deimos were the gods or personified spirits (demons) of fear. Phobos was panic and flight, Deimos represented terror and dread

Accordingly, Paul wrote “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear [phobos], but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’” (Romans 8:15). Importantly, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:16).

Again, to Timothy, Paul wrote “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, …..” (2Timothy 1:7 NKJV)

Note:- Paul refers to fear as a demonic activity — he speaks of an enslaving spirit of fear

After reminding us that “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” (1John 4:16), John declares “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love
(1John 4:18). ‘Drives out fear’ is a strong expression to use if fear was just an emotion or mental construct

One of Australia’s great evangelists, Noel Gibson, wrote “A general fear of demons has led to their existence being denied. The very thought of them may produce fear and a sense of defilement so the thought of them is rejected.”

The writer of Hebrews says, “… free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear [phobos] of death” (Hebrews 2:14 – 15). The enemy uses the fear of death to keep us as slaves

In other words, spirits of fear plague Christians in direct opposition to God’s love which casts out fear!

So “what are you afraid of?”

More to the point, has the enemy restricted you with fears? Or as the Word puts it, has the enemy enslaved you through spirits of fear preventing you from being who you really are and doing all that you really could?

Treatment –


According to the Australian Psychological Society (APS),
Exposure therapy is considered the most effective treatment for specific phobias.” This is where “the person confronts the feared object or situation without engaging in any avoidance or escape behaviours. By encouraging people to face their fears, it is thought that exposure therapy teaches a person that feelings of anxiety decrease naturally over time and that the feared consequences of the phobic object or situation are unlikely to occur”

Put simply, Face Everything And Rise. Imagine having your fears dealt with soley by confrontation

  • Scared of heights – be dragged up the Harbour Bridge climb.
  • Scared of cockroaches – be locked in a closet running with cockies
  • Afraid of being embarrassed – be taken to a comedy show where the comedian is primed to make fun of you
  • Terrified of dying in a car accident – ……..??

The APS includes Cognitive Therapy as a second effective treatment. It simply “involves helping the person to identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts”. Practitioners use it by itself or in conjunction with exposure therapy


I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:4)

Psalm 34 – read it slowly, carefully, prayerfully, meditationally

1John 4:18 – How rock solid confident are you in God’s enduring Love? See Suffering Part I for assurance from His Word

It seems that fully overcoming our fears may require more than Exposure and/or Cognitive Therapies. No doubt, confronting “the feared object or situation without engaging in any avoidance or escape behaviours” can restore some confidence. However, this may not deal with the root cause but merely reduce the debilitating impact of the fear

Similarly, being helped to “identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts” may be helpful in ‘moving on’. However, we must remember that by definition, fears are irrational

As a result of being in a secular environment, these two therapies do not embrace the spiritual links to fears like Psalm 34:4 – “I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears”. David takes the approach intrinsic to Kingdom Living and testifies of the total freedom gained

The Biblical Approach to Overcoming Our Fears Involves:

1. Facing up to fears with the Lord

Since all of us experience (unhealthy) fear at some time, the worst we can do is pretend we don’t. David found that remaining silent about his situations made his distress increase (Psalm 39:2). In that respect the secular treatment aligns with the Godly approach. Talk about your fears, but with the Lord or within Godly counsel. The treatments diverge after that

For instance, in many Psalms, David talks through his frustrations, sufferings and fears openly and honestly with God. As usual, he finds the answers lie in his relationship with God. So, in Psalm 39:7 (NET) he says to God “You are my only hope!”

2. Trusting the Lord continually

Often fears can seem overwhelming. Worse still they can ‘spring up’ unexpectedly. Like for the disciples when “A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat [they were in] was being swamped, and they were in great danger” (Luke 8:23)

Earlier, Jesus had said “those who hear God’s word and put it into practice” (Luke 8:21) are his “mother and brothers” (v.21). In other words, will have an intimate relationship with him. Intimacy and ‘healthy fear’ accompany one another. Whether in marriage, close friendships or parent-child relationships, intimacy goes ‘hand-in-hand’ with respect (healthy fear)

Later, in the boat, the disciples had two different types of fear happening. They were still in close relationship with Jesus (healthy fear, respect) but were also now in “great danger” (Luke 8:23). So they were afraid, (unhealthy fear) thinking they were “going to drown!” and woke Jesus (Luke 8:24a)

Hence Jesus “got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm” (Luke 8:24b). Then He pointed out that their unhealthy fear had diminished their faith. In fact, “Where is your faith?” He asked (Luke 8:25a)

From personal experience, overcoming unhealthy fear is so simple, yet not so easy. No matter what, keep trusting Jesus, whether He calms the storm immediately or lets the storm roll for a while and calms us, hold tight in faith

Therefore, overcome your fear with Jesus by abiding in Him as the vine (John 15) and ask for His help. Don’t be overcome by fear

3. Using the Sword against fears!

  • Ephesians 6:17
    Take the helmet of salvation to protect your mind from the whispers of the enemy, those irrational and unhelpful thoughts
  • Romans 8:35
    Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? Reassurance of God’s LOVE – soak in it because …
  • 1John 4:18
    There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. … Be ever conscious (full) of His Love and thereby diminish the room for fear until it is driven out. Add in the fact that
  • Hebrews 13:5-6
    God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  In its context there is a promise of provision from the Lord as well as the antidote to fear ….. So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” regardless of the circumstances – check out the simplicity – “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid!
  • 2 Timothy 1:7
    For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (nervousness / anxiousness / fear), but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
  • Romans 8:15
    For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
  • James 4:7
    Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. When the enemy approaches with the notion of something to be afraid of – meditate on all these pieces of Truth …….
  • John 8:32
    “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Observation – case study

Clinicians sometimes refer to Millennials (those born between 1981 and 2000) as ‘generation fear

No wonder then, in one of her most popular songs, “The Fear”, Lily Allen (a millennial) sings about the intrinsic sense of lostness of life. [Life without Christ’s direction can be overwhelming at the best of times let alone with fear added in]

I don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore
I don’t know how I’m meant to feel anymore
When do you think it will all become clear
Cause I’m being taken over by the fear

When she says ‘taken over by the fear’ she is ambassadorial for many of her peers

McCrindle researchers found that more than half of Australian millennials (54%) fear losing people who are close to them. That is, the most common fear among this generation involves relationship

Approximately one in three (34%) of them fear failure and 31% fear loneliness. Statistically, global threats such as terrorism and war are not as concerning for Australian millennials. Less than one in five (18% and 16% respectively) selected these options

Actually, each of their three main fears relate to identity. Individual identity (how we see self) and group identity (how we fit into the world/groups around us in life)

Thus, failure can damage twice because it threatens relationships as well as self-esteem. Consequently, this gives an inherent power to any whisper to a millennial from the enemy of a possibility of failure. Such a fear is so easily implanted. Especially in this identity based, post-Christian era

Loneliness is a lack of both a strong individual identity and a strong group identity resulting in social, mental or emotional isolation. This fear would be the most obvious of the three


While thinking through Lily Allen’s song I’m reminded that fear is not a simple mental attitude. …… Hence, can it be that fears, being irrational, can be completely reasoned away by cognitive therapies? Equally, given the connection between fears and the work of the enemy can exposure therapies drive out fears? Or do both therapies only enable and strengthen coping mechanisms that enable one to function ‘in the face’ of the fear?


From the recorded experiences of the Psalmists and the prophets, as well as the letters of Paul, Peter and John, one can see a consistency of Truth. God’s Love overpowers and expels fears. Also, an abiding faith in the Lord provides a perfect shield that repels the fiery darts of fear from the enemy

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord
(Romans 8:35, 38, 39)

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1) – Slavery to sin and fears ”

Jesus said “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.”
(John 8:31b – 32) So hold on tight

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10)

I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:4)

just sayin’
I don’t wanna be afraid anymore …. fear never told the truth

Bibliography –

  • The Holy Bible, New International Version®. Pradis CD-ROM Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, © 1973, 1978, 1984.
  • Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary
  • Healthline Media,
  • The Australian Psychological Society
  • Bridgeway Bible Dictionary © Don Fleming 1990, 1999, 2004
  • NICABM (National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioural Medicine)
  • http://www.phobialist.com/#A-
  • McCrindle results on yesHEis
  • Image: “No Fear” by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash.com
  • Video: Song “Afraid” by Tenth Avenue North on YouTube

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