The Difference Between Cowardice and Fear
When I was younger, I struggled with cowardice. I mean I struggled. I formerly thought that selfishness and lying were my two primary vices during childhood, but now I see that cowardice was my greatest pitfall. (Yes, I am aware that pride is the root sin—I’ve even said so before on this blog—but my pride as a child would often exhibit itself as cowardice. So, let’s keep to cowardice. I still struggle with pride—we all do—but cowardice is one fruit of pride that God has thankfully removed a great deal of from my life.) Anyway, cowardice was my primary pitfall as a child. But God has delivered me from a great deal of cowardice—all praise to Him—and I pray that this confessional/testimonial post will help those of you who may be struggling cowardice, as I have in the past.
My Struggle with Cowardice
Have you ever been sinning but didn’t really know it? Or to phrase that differently, has something in the Bible ever shocked you? As a child, my favorite book of the Bible was Revelation. I had a large imagination, and it just feasted on the great imagery of the Bible’s last book. But as I read Revelation once, I remember Revelation 21:1-8 arresting my attention:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
Now, most of the times I had read this passage, I had focused on its glorious depiction of heaven. But this one time I read it, I couldn’t see heaven for hell. “As for the cowardly … their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur,” in our words, in eternal hell. I couldn’t get over the fact that God considered cowards on the same level as “the faithless, the detestable.” Worse yet, in my imperfect human eyes, God considers cowards as terrible as “murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars”! I recalled as I read that passage that I was a coward … and that God was saying in plain English that cowards would burn in hell.
That fact—and it is a fact—scared me. I rationalized to myself, “I am a Christian. I believe in Jesus. I’m going to heaven when I die.” But I couldn’t shake the fact that I was a coward. And cowards don’t go to heaven, according to these verses. So I was at a logical contradiction. How could I be a Christian if I was also a coward? I was young and did not then know from Scripture that God powerfully preserves those who are His, but I did realize by His grace that I needed to ask His forgiveness for being a coward. I needed to ask for His strength and courage so that I wouldn’t be a coward. And so that’s what I prayed. And that’s what I prayed intermittently for the next few years.
It was a long struggle I had with cowardice and its companions: lying and selfishness (more on those two in much later posts). And am I perfect with any of these now? No. But I believe at this point that God has given me measurable progress with respect to cowardice. Now I can say with confidence: “I am not a coward. I am courageous in God by His grace.” God has shown me through His Word over the years that I cannot enter heaven on my own perfection. When I die, I will still have at least a hint of cowardice about me. But I will go to heaven, because Christ’s death paid my ransom and made reconciliation between me and God. But still, as God’s child, I have a responsibility to grow in the faith (Philippians 2:12-13), and for me that means growing in courage and killing cowardice. It has been gradual, and like I said, I’m not perfect yet and won’t be until heaven, but God has given me much progress in this area.
The progress began, really, after three years of intense praying. I read Just Do Something with my then-associate pastor Seth Channell, and I also read Boy Meets Girl by Joshua Harris at around the same time. These two books were rejuvenating water to my soul. God has used both in my life for incredible good. Just Do Something has been particularly beneficial; I have reread it no less than two times over the course of this year. The quote that most stuck out to me and sticks with me to this very moment is “God doesn’t take risks, so we can.” Think about that for a moment; let it sink into your soul. “God doesn’t take risks, so we can.”
Such beautiful theology: “God doesn’t take risks, so we can.” “God doesn’t take risks,” because He is meticulously sovereign. He knows the end from the beginning and all points in between. And because “God doesn’t take risks … we can.” There is the application. There is the other half of the coin. Because God is sovereign, we can stick out our necks and go out on limbs. DeYoung’s and Harris’s books emboldened me to do just that. Yes, God used my pastors and other people, as well, but these books coupled with the intense Scripture used in each really helped me progress away from cowardice. So if you struggle with cowardice, Just Do Something could particularly help you, I believe. God certainly used it to help me.
I suppose one question I should answer is “Am I fearless now?” No, I am not fearless. I fear many things, and I am easily scared. But there is a difference between fear and cowardice, which I wrote about in a recent status on my Facebook page. The difference between fear and cowardice is that cowardice runs from that which it fears, but fear runs headlong into that which it fears, to overcome the thing feared. The main progress I see in my own life regarding cowardice is not that I have ceased to fear, but I have ceased to be so paralyzed by fear.
A Closing Exhortation
Perhaps you’re like me from a few years ago, though, and you find it harsh that God would condemn cowards to hell. First off, though, we must recall that God is just and perfect. He makes no mistakes and does not sin, nor does he wrong anyone. He is perfectly just to throw cowards into hell. But the Bible is also clear as to why cowards go to hell: cowards go to hell because they do not stand up for God; cowards do not persevere in the faith. The Bible is very clear in many passages that saving faith is a persevering faith. A coward will not persevere in the faith; he will turn back at the slightest danger and never return for fear of encountering that danger again. God sends cowards to hell because cowards do not place their full trust and hope for salvation in Jesus Christ. (Indeed, this very reason is why everyone in hell goes to hell: lack of faith. And a coward certainly lacks saving faith, since any “faith” he has does not persevere but withers away.)
So, fellow Christians who struggle with cowardice, I heartily recommend Just Do Something to you. I would also recommend that you listen to worship(ful) songs, whether old or modern; such songs are great buoys for the spirit. Ultimately, though, I urge you to pray. Prayer is what the Bible commands (1 Thessalonians 5:18, Philippians 4:6-7, etc.), and prayer is the means that God has appointed to strengthen you. Also enlist the help of other, more mature Christians, either to pray for you and/or to hold you accountable.
Fellow Christian, don’t be a coward. What God commands (e.g., non-cowardice, bravery, trust), he provides in Christ. Look to Him for your sufficiency. Don’t be paralyzed by fear, but cast out fear with perfect love, as we are told in 1 John 4:18. Remember: “God doesn’t take risks, so we can.” Go, be brave, trust God, and take risks. God has been faithful to grow me in this area, and I know he will be faithful to all who are His to do the same in ya’lls lives. “Set your minds on things that are above,” and may those things embolden you to rise above cowardice to love God and to love others.