Why Faith is Not the Opposite of Fear

“Faith is the opposite of fear.”

“Faith and fear cannot occupy the same space.”

chair on porch

I’ve been running across such phrases lately, but the more I hear them, the less inclined I am to think they tell the whole story.

The thing about opposites is that they are concrete and clearly defined. Up is the opposite of down. Hot is the opposite of cold. Crooked is the opposite of straight. Right is the opposite of wrong.

Fear is a feeling. If a feeling can have an opposite, it would have to be another feeling. Like happy and sad, perhaps.

Faith is a choice. It’s not some kind of feeling that flows from believing; it’s the decision to believe. For me, that’s a huge distinction.

I’m not suggesting that choices don’t have opposites. I can love or I can hate. I can forgive or I can hold a grudge. Those are clear and opposite alternatives.

But connecting faith (a choice) to fear (a feeling) in some sort of either-or scenario is not very helpful, especially for people who battle anxiety or whose personalities don’t lend themselves to bold emotional expressions. As a woman who sometimes struggles with body chemicals that negatively affect my emotions, I can vouch for this.

When I can physically feel anxiety coursing through my veins—simply because of a change in my hormone levels and not because I’m facing anything particularly troubling or difficult—I don’t stop believing God loves me. I don’t stop trusting that He will make a way for me or help me overcome my anxiousness.

If anything, I hang on to those beliefs even more in those moments. The feelings of fear associated with anxiety come and go, but my faith remains. And to suggest otherwise can lead to feelings of guilt and unworthiness that are usually unwarranted.

Here’s the thing. Faith is not reciting affirmations or thinking warm thoughts about God. It’s not crying tears of joy in a worship service or giving a bold testimony in front of a huge crowd (though those can be expressions of faith for some people).

At the moment of salvation, faith is a gift from God—wholly unearned and undeserved (Ephesians 2:8-9).

After that, it’s choosing to believe what God’s Word says about Him, even when we haven’t sensed His presence in a long, long time.

It’s choosing to trust God when it hurts, when it makes no sense, when we cannot see Him working.

It’s acting on what’s right—on what we know God wants us to do—even if we are half scared out of our minds to do it.

It’s taking that first step, then the next, then the next.

You can’t tell me that Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego weren’t absolutely terrified when confronted with the pack of hungry lions or the super-hot furnace. But they believed God was with them, and they acted on that. They didn’t let their fear keep them from doing what was right.

The Israelites, on the other hand, weren’t banned from entering the Promised Land because they were afraid of the giants there. They were banned because they refused to enter when God told them to go. Their fear didn’t reveal their lack of faith, their inaction did.

When I’m afraid or anxious, the promise of 2 Timothy 1:7 gives me strength and hope: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

Not too long ago, I noticed something about this verse that I’d never considered before. In describing what God gives us instead of fear, there’s no mention of faith.

Power? Yes. Love? Check. A sound mind? Definitely very helpful. But nothing about faith.

Maybe that’s because faith is not the opposite of fear.

Nor is it the absence of fear.

It’s a choice that guides our actions.

Lois Flowers

P.S. Linking up this week with Aimee Imbeau at Grace & Truth, Kelly Balarie at Purposeful Faith, Jennifer Dukes Lee at #TellHisStory, Lyli Dunbar at #ThoughtProvokingThursday, Holley Gerth at Coffee for Your Heart and Missional Women.

38 Responses to Why Faith is Not the Opposite of Fear

  1. Trendytravelers2 says:

    Oops, below I meant to say the Fear of The Lord is the beginning of wisdom..sorry for the wrong statement below

  2. Trendytravelers2 says:

    I too, have seen the statement that faith is the opposite of fear. It doesn’t set well with me either. Another verse is , The beginning of faith is the fear of the Lord. So how can fear and faith be opposite. While I understand the fear of The Lord is not the scary fear but a reverential fear..that statement of opposites doesn’t set well. I love your analogy. Thankyou for sharing your insight..something to think about!

    • Trendytravelers2 says:

      I meant The beginning of wisdom is the fear of The Lord.

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Thank YOU for your comment! Sometimes I think it’s easier to toss around sayings about fear and faith than it is to acknowledge that it’s possible to feel scared out of our wits but still trust God enough to take that next step (or many next steps). For me, actions speak louder than feelings when it comes to faith, if that makes any sense. And wisdom … yes! Thank you for sharing that verse too!

  3. Sue Whitney says:

    Exactly Right, & it takes far more faith to take action when feeling fear than it does when not feeling fear! It doesnt take much faith to do something we find to be easy!
    People who believe feeling fear is a lack of faith are unknowingly accusing Jesus of sinning! The bible tells us Jesus suffered “ANGUISH” to the point of sweating blood, but He still obeyed His Heavenly Father in Faith!
    Luke 22:44- “And being in ANGUISH, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” The bible clearly reveals that though Jesus was always obedient He felt so much anguish He asked the Father if He could avoid the Cross when He was about to face the reality of what He knew would be excruciating for Him. -“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”(Luke 22:42).
    Jesus was perfect, & acted in 100% faith to obey, but suffered the feeling of intense fear, yet too many Christians have been taught that this feeling is sin, & this lie demands we be more than Jesus was or else we be judged by them as being people of little faith. This is a VERY destructive wrong concept that totally opposes the bible. It brings God’s people into much delusion, oppression & bondage!

  4. Danny says:

    I think that, one issue with this post, is to assume that fear, unlike faith, is an emotion. Thinkers like Kierkegaard have done wonders to demonstrate that this isn’t really true. Fear is also a decision, and it’s the one that keeps you from “the leap” (faith) most often. Jesus even puts them up against each other (Mark 5:36; the work often translated “believe is a cognate of faith). The saying that fear is the opposite of faith isn’t some strange platitude, there is a huge trail of interesting theology behind it.

  5. Aimee says:

    My husband and I often talk about popular sayings that are said so often in Christian circles making us believe that they are biblical when they aren’t really. You’ve given a great example here and you explained it all very clearly. Thanks for linking up with Grace and Truth. I look forward to reading more of your posts!

  6. Beautiful post, Lois. God’s truth shines through your words. Thank you. What a precious gift of God this faith is! Thankful for it today and every day!

  7. Leigh Ellen says:

    Lois – as someone who has struggled with fear and anxiety for many years, this completely makes sense to me. Such a great perspective! Thank you for sharing! You’ve given me something to marinate on for a while! Blessings to you!

  8. I, too, have heard the phrases contrasting faith and fear. I’m really new to Christianity in general – until I was 21, I really only knew about Noah’s ark and the 10 commandments. That’s it. So these were a source of hope for me, that if I held on to faith, it would vanquish my fear. However, I can totally see how these might inadvertently discourage people instead! I loved reading your thoughts on the subject. Thank you!

  9. Agreed. I think fear and faith are two independent concepts that do not cancel each other out. Faith is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, Who enables us to overcome our fears. And, as faith grows, fear minimizes. But there are also two levels of fear at issue: 1) fear of the Lord; and 2) fear of worldly things.

    Faith and fear of the Lord are blended as far as believing in God, having faith in Jesus, and obeying His commands:

    “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?” Deuteronomy 10:12-13.

    If you don’t fear the Lord, then you can’t have faith.

    But fear of worldly things, we overcome by faith–the level of fear mitigated by the level of faith. But, as you said, there are many time where fear necessarily co-exists with faith. We may be able to overcome fear of one-to-one ministry, for example, but we will never eliminate fear of persecution, for example. Yet by faith we can stand in the face of persecution, even if trembling. As you mentioned Daniel, Peter comes to my mind, who denied Jesus 3 times in the face of death, and the other disciples scattered. Yes, they feared for their very lives and yet whose faith is stronger today than Peter’s?

    Very thought provoking post.

  10. Carly says:

    Thank you for this. I totally agree. I have struggled with fear and anxiety my whole life and it is nothing to do with a lack of faith. I think sometimes it strengthens our faith when we feel afraid but choose to step out and trust God anyway. Also I’ve noticed lately that because fear is an area where I’m susceptible it is sometimes when I am stepping out and trusting God that the feeling of fear gets stronger as if the enemy is trying to use it to hold me back. But as you say, fear is a feeling and it doesn’t have to be in charge.

    • Lois Flowers says:

      I’m so sorry that has been your lifelong struggle, Carly. I think you’re on to something about our faith being strengthened when we step out and trust God despite the fear. And perhaps Daniel 10:19 will bolster your courage when those attacks come: “Don’t be afraid, you who are treasured by God. Peace to you; be very strong.” I hope you have a restful evening, my friend!

  11. Lisa notes says:

    Okay, so you’ve got me thinking, Lois. That’s always a good thing. 🙂 You’ve convinced me that faith is not the opposite of fear. And I am one who knows a lot about fear myself, unfortunately. “Faith is a choice.” Amen. May I make conscious choices to choose faith over all else.

    • Lois Flowers says:

      I’m glad to be a provider of thought fodder for you, Lisa. 🙂 I need to make those conscious choices too … every day. May God strengthen both of us as we work on that!

  12. Devi says:

    Love this, Lois! I’ve been hugely impacted by the Freedom in Christ course and its emphasis on thinking. One thing I loved was the freedom to feel my feelings, meaning to not try to unfeel fear, but instead to fill my mind with truth.. the more I thought about the truth, I felt differently. It is SO sad the way Christians are made to feel like there is something wrong with feeling fear.. I truly believe that fear is a God-given feeling, one that often protects us but also a feeling that can lead us back to God in the most beautiful of ways.. Thanks for bringing clarity to the discussion.

    • Lois Flowers says:

      This is a great perspective, Devi. Meditating on truth transforms our thinking, which directly affects the way we feel. But you’re right … trying to unfeel feelings–without the thinking part–only results in more bad feelings! I appreciate your insights today!

  13. Joe Pote says:

    I agree. Faith and fear are not opposites.

    Courage and discourage are opposites. I first caught this while reading the first chapter of Joshua, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be discouraged or dismayed.”

    It jumped out to me that when I am discouraged I am failing to act courageously…failing to act in faith. So, now when I feel discouraged, I run to God and ask for His help.

  14. Becky Keife says:

    Yes! I so agree! I love the way you boiled down the distinction between a choice and a feeling, and how they are not mutual exclusively. I, too, have struggled with anxiety in ways that are not linked to my trust and surrender to the Lord. You explain the experience well. So glad to be your neighbor at #TellHisStory

  15. Trudy says:

    I really love your deep insight into this, Lois. I’ll admit those expressions have made me feel guilty and unworthy. As have comments made by Christians that if we fear, then we must not have any faith. I beat myself up with that too much. Thank you for making the distinction so clear that one is a feeling and the other a choice. And in God’s eyes, both can be present. Blessings and hugs to you!

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Trudy, I’m so sorry those expressions have made you feel bad … I really wish people would think before making such blanket statements! I am glad the post was helpful to you, though. Writing about this has sort of lit a fire in me … I don’t think I’ve exhausted what I want to say about the subject! 🙂 Have a beautiful day, my friend!

  16. Debbie @ Bible Fun For Kids says:

    Love your thoughts on this and totally agree! Thanks for sharing!

  17. Lydia says:

    Thank you, Lois! Excellent and timely thoughts.

  18. Lois, I loved this post. You took the aspects of fear and faith to a deeper level for me today. I hadn’t really considered the truth that fear is a feeling and faith is a decision. YES! So true. We can be fearful and still choose to walk in faith. Or, we can focus on our fearful feelings and flounder because we’re not choosing faith in that particular circumstance.

    Like you, I want faith to guide my actions. GREAT post here today!

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Oh the floundering I’ve done because of all this, Jeanne! But you’re right … we’re not helpless here! I’m so thankful for the sound mind that God promises and provides! Thank you for your thoughtful words, my friend!

  19. Gosh, I walk away from your blog with true substance to chew on every time… truly a gift, Lois. And He rewards our search for the proper truth, setting it alive inside His Word and then working it out in our lives when we’re hungry for it!
    Have a great week, friend, and thank you.

    • Lois Flowers says:

      I love how you’ve described this process, Christine … “working out in our lives when we’re hungry for it!” I’m glad God is patient because this often takes a really long time when it’s happening in me! Thanks for your encouragement today … it’s always a blessing to me!

  20. Linda Stoll says:

    Lots to ponder here today, Lois. You’re a deep well, girl. Thank you for sharing what God is teaching you.

    Truth be told, we all struggle with fear in one way, shape, or form. But the fruit of the Spirit who dwells within always wins the day because He stays, strong and solid, no matter what emotions are surrounding us.

    And there is love, joy, peace, patience … etc.

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Wonderful thoughts, Linda. Perfect love casts out fear. The joy of the Lord is my strength. The peace that passes all understanding guards my heart. What better ingredients to counteract the fear than the fruit of the Spirit!

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