Fear.

It’s a powerful thing. It can simultaneously steal from you and make you more creative than you’d ever be without it. It robs people of living a healthy, normal lifestyle. It creates nightmares that keep people bound every day. Oddly enough, fear is one of the only things that is not instinctual. It is a learned behavior. Don’t believe me?

Were you born with a fear of heights? I’d wager a guess that you weren’t. You probably loved it when your daddy threw you up in the air. Did you come out of the womb afraid of people from other racial and ethnic backgrounds? I highly doubt it. The Scripture is clear in 2 Timothy that God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but of power and love and … wait for it … discipline. If God speaks of discipline as a paradox of fear, then it points even more towards fears being learned and not given to us upon creation.

Fear is not a characteristic in DNA. There is no such thing as a “fear” gene. However, the tendencies that cultivate fearful behaviors or create inherent anxious responses to the world around you are most certainly tied to those who raised you, both within your family and your spirituality.

I grew up in a Pentecostal church, and I remember as a child being fearful of Jesus returning and missing the Rapture. I was raised to believe that if I sinned, did not repent before I went to sleep, and died before morning, I would go to Hell. I grew up thinking that people who believed that their salvation was secure were heretics. I can’t count the number of nights I laid in bed trying to think of all the things I had done that day as a 10-year-old child for which I needed to repent. I truly believed those things much, much longer than I care to admit. I was taught that “holiness” and “works” were the way to keep my salvation. I was even taught to believe that people who did not believe the way I did were on their way to “a devil’s hell” and there was very little hope for them.

I tried extremely hard to keep up with that lifestyle for a long time. I tried to make sure that I repented of everything I did at the very moment I did it. Not because I truly felt convicted by the Holy Spirit, but because I felt condemned by the pastors and teachers I sat under.

Then, my world fell apart when I was in my late 20’s. My marriage was over. My child was diagnosed with a developmental disorder. I was flat broke with no job. And I began to see myself through the eyes of the church that raised me. If my theology held, I was dying and going to hell. And, that just didn’t sit right. Not because I didn’t think that I deserved hell. We all deserve hell. But, because I knew enough about God to know that He wasn’t some dictator sitting on a throne waiting to throw me into a pit of fire for my mistakes.

So, I began to dig, and I mean really dig, into the Word. And what I found was so eye-opening and so liberating to my soul that it almost took my breath away.

Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin are death, and that’s a paycheck you can take to the bank. It will always pay the same dividend. But, it goes on to say this: but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Then in Romans 11:29, Paul goes on to say that the gifts of God are irrevocable. 2 Corinthians 7:10 furthers that thought and says that Godly sorrow produces repentance which leads us to salvation, not to be regretted.

I’m going to say something that may be controversial, but it’s true. Truth is liberating. Truth sets you free. (The Word says that, too.) Here goes.

God will not take your salvation back. You cannot lose your salvation by not working hard enough or not repenting hard enough.

My best friend in high school died six weeks before graduation our senior year. I grieved him a long time; he was like a brother. But, worse, I agonized over his eternity. I had seen him kneel at an altar and accept Christ. But, I’d heard him cuss, and I knew that he had drunk alcohol during Spring Break the year before. And, because of how I was raised, I suffered thinking that he was in hell. I didn’t understand how the pastor who eulogized him could say that he was in Heaven. Shamefully, I agonized over that far too long. Thank God, I no longer let that keep me up at night.

My uncle Chad died at 29. I was 19. He lived a homosexual lifestyle for much of his adult years. On his deathbed, he told my Mama he had repented for the life he’d lived. At the time, that gave me a tremendous amount of peace. Now, I realize that him living a life contrary to the holiness God defines in the Bible is no different than the pastor who stands in the pulpit condemning saved people to hell when it’s clearly not Biblical.

It’s all covered under the blood of Christ that washed us clean at the moment of salvation.

James Stephens said, “Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.” What I find so ironic about that is I let men in pulpits dictate how I believed, and I lived a very fearful existence. When I began to get curious about what God said about things, the bravery to live the life God intended for me blossomed.

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