For earlier posts in the Fear of People series, check out the following links:
Kelsie took a deep breath as she watched her toddler try to blow bubbles while she played on the neighbor’s driveway. “Here, let me show you,” the neighbor boy said, slowly taking the bubble wand from Sara.
“Your kids are so great, April,” Kelsie said as she watched the teenager help Sara try again. “Sara loves Carson and Makenna.”
“I like them,” April smiled. “But I remember those early years, too—not for the faint of heart, girl.”
Kelsie rolled her eyes. “Maybe that’s my problem.”
“What, faint of heart?”
“I don’t know. I just know other moms who have had their devotions and fed their kids a three-course breakfast and trained for a 5K by this time of day—and we can’t even make it to the grocery store.” Kelsie turned Noah around in her arms so he could see his sister playing.
“That’s great for them, but ‘other moms’ don’t define what you or your kids should be doing. You are not them, you know.”
Sara squealed with happiness as she finally propelled a bubble into the air. She stared up into the sky with Carson as it drifted away on the wind.
“I just need to get it together,” Kelsie said quietly.
“Good luck with that, girl,” April said. “And let me know when you figure it out.”
So, So Hard
So we know our problem. We know it is there and that it is deeply rooted, and we worry (ironically) about how other people probably don’t have to struggle with this. It is discouraging to think others might have a handle on this when we never seem to figure it out.
As Christians, we know we are called to become more and more like Jesus, with the understanding that we will never live up to His example. Even Jesus’ opponents knew He didn’t “care about anyone’s opinion. For You are not swayed by appearances,” they told Him, likely trying to flatter Him into being tricked (Mark 12:14).
Paul adamantly declared he was free of this kind of fear. “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?” he wrote to an early church. “Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
It is easy to conclude that only weak Christians struggle with fearing people, and to live with an even greater condemnation than we were already giving ourselves. For shame, us—struggling with this problem that greater Christians left in the dust behind them. We just need to get our acts together and follow those who have gone before us, right? If we only try hard enough we can be better, like Paul.
But then there’s Peter.
“‘Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times,’” Jesus told Peter as they had the Last Supper together (Mark 14:30). True to form, Peter denied that prophecy, too.
But just hours later, he did deny Him—vehemently.
“And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, ‘You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘I neither know nor understand what you mean.’ And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, ‘This man is one of them.’ But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.’ But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know this man of whom you speak.’ And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ And he broke down and wept.” – Mark 14:66-72
He lied to cover his fear, lied to a servant girl—a servant of the high priest. He had been with Jesus in person for years, hearing the speeches to swelling crowds, seeing miracles of every kind, watching the daily patience and kindness and love and righteousness of the Son of God. And he denied it all. Would rather pretend he had seen none of it than admit his identity to a servant girl.
It was a low point in Peter’s life, to be sure, but redemption was coming. In a striking gesture of love and forgiveness, Jesus appeared to Peter after His death and resurrection, asking Peter three times if he loved Him. Despite his blunders, Peter was reconciled to a relationship with the Son of God even stronger than he had known when he walked with him in person day after day. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, Peter now had saving faith and the promise of forever with God.
Take Courage, Peter
The book of Acts opens with excitement. During a major Jewish holiday, when Jews from the world over convened in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples, prompting miraculous speaking in tongues and Peter’s delivery of a bold speech to the gathered masses. The early church had begun, and would grow and grow—exponentially.
Not long after this conspicuous start, the high priest put Peter and other apostles in jail, but an angel freed them and told them to continue preaching. So they preached some more. Again, the high priest arrested them and now called them to stand before him, accusing them of ignoring earlier instructions to stop this telling of good news.
We’re not sure who exactly said what, but since Peter is the only disciple named we can be fairly sure he at least did some of the talking, culminating with a bold stand: “‘We must obey God rather than men’” (Acts 5:29).
And the man who had cowered and lied to the high priest’s servant girl now stood tall and spoke clearly to the high priest himself.
Can Anyone Ever Really Change?
How we would love, in our human fascination with success stories and self-betterment, to assume that Peter had forever conquered his fear of people. After all, he had just spoken boldly and fearlessly to one of the most powerful people in his world.
But unlike a picture-perfect movie ending, the change didn’t last. Not completely, anyway.
Paul shared a story with the Galatian church. In the same letter where he shared his own victory over fear of people, he told them of someone else who had acted in that fear.
Paul tells the Galatians that at a gathering of believers he had scolded Peter in front of others. Why? Because Peter had been “fearing the circumcision party” (Galatians 2:12)—he cared more about what people thought than about what God thought.
What was up? Hadn’t Peter left this behind him? Does this mean we never really change? Will our true colors always bleed through no matter how hard we try?
Have No Fear
Peter’s second recorded fall into fear reminds us that we are not the only Christians to keep struggling with this, and his later victories spur us on to keep seeking growth—and victory—in our own lives.
Years later, Peter wrote to early Christians about persecution, urging them not to trouble themselves about it. “Have no fear of them,” he counseled, “nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:14-15).
Have no fear, Peter said.
In the same letter, Peter encouraged the women in the church to “not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:6).
Says the guy who used to be afraid of a servant girl.
The Story Isn’t Over
So it would seem there is hope for those of us who falter, who go back and forth in fearing and not fearing. The battle for fear of God over fear of people is not something we will completely conquer while we live on earth, and we will have days we struggle more than others.
Just like Peter.
If there’s anything Peter’s story shows us, it is that past mistakes don’t destine us to future failure. Not with Jesus. Through the power and grace of God—and maybe the rebuke of a Paul in our lives—we don’t have to be afraid any longer.
We have been freed from that.