Fear of death drove most cultural thought, behavior, life, and religion before the crucifixion of Christ. Jesus conquered death on the cross. As a result, as Christianity expanded, the Gospel message of freedom from the fear of death enthusiastically liberated every culture it touched. What happened?
It took a little over a hundred years for the responses of many of today’s pulpits to lose or refuse to reflect freedom from the fear of death and dilute the Gospel. Pulpit after pulpit uses the wisdom of man to deal with cancer, heart disease, accidents and now in recent times Covid. In comparison, they’ve regressed to the pagan and pre-Gospel methods of handling the fear of death. They cave to the world offering messages of delay and avoid.
A literary example posed of the loss of the Gospel occurs about halfway through Sinclair Lewis’ 1927 classic, Elmer Gantry, Elmer boasts to another minister about all his church programs, how fast his church is growing, and how many new members have joined, etc. After this braggadocio, the other minister asks, ‘Elmer why don’t you believe in God?’
Elmer trusts in his own talents, charisma, organizational skills, metrics, marketing, and comparison and not in God.
In sharp contrast to the wisdom of man, Hebrews 2:14-15 reminds us, “Christ destroyed the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and delivered all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Finished. Done. Over.
Today, lukewarm pulpits, teachers, and authors betray believers. They sell us out and compromise with the world. They don’t remind us to die to ourselves daily.
Fear of Death fed by Denial of Mystery
Denial of mystery and dependance upon empiricism and rationalism — the wisdom of man — seizes many pulpits. Seminaries strongly influenced by German Higher Criticism of Scripture now control and influence many pulpits. This movement, dominated by anti-supernaturalists, unbelievers, rationalists, and empiricists, slithered in about a hundred years ago and now has a python grip on much thought and conversation behind the scenes in leading seminaries. This snake kills the Gospel message and encourages fear of death.
A Ground for Fertile Growth
In parallel to Higher Criticism undercutting and diminishing the Gospel message, the United States began to flourish economically after the Civil War. As the country prospered, so did the desire to hold onto possessions and prestige. And of course this “love of mammon” worked itself into pulpits and congregations who soaked up messages of being “stewards” of their new found wealth. As material prosperity grows so do the demands of self.
We see this in the story of the Rich Young Ruler, and C.S. Lewis elaborates in the Screwtape Letters,“Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is ‘finding his place in it’, while really it is finding its place in him. His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of being really at home in earth… You will notice that the young are generally less unwilling to die than the middle-aged and the old.”
Overcoming the Fear of Death
Fear of death is overcome as we believe, expect and accept “the peace of God which transcends understanding.” (Phil 4:7) If we insist upon an explanation for something unexplainable, we will not be able to embrace the Gospel nor will we be loosed from the chains of the fear of death.
Overcoming this sickness occurs in choosing to believe the Gospel as true, something that isn’t possible within the framework of the “wisdom of man.”
For more on overcoming fear, read Assurance: Defeating Fear Daily. Overcoming fear must be done daily. It is part of the process of dying to self. As we grow in devotion and prayer, it becomes easier, but it requires daily participation. Ultimately, as we practice and pray, a shift in our being will occur and we’ll find ourselves free of the fear of death. It’s bound to happen sooner or latter because if we immerse ourselves in the truth of the Gospel, it confronts the lie of our fear and washes it away.
Remember Psalm 116:15 ESV – 15 Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
Why? Because then we’ll be home with Him. That’s what this is about. He begins shaping and making us into saints here, and then He takes us home. Throw aside the wisdom of the world’s dung and embrace the Father. Now this isn’t an excuse for living recklessly or ending our lives prematurely. It means we submit to His shaping us in the circumstances He has placed us in until we are ready to be taken home.
As disciples, we should make dying to self a daily practice. This daily drill will disperse our fears of the final crossover and keep our minds centered on who we are and who we live for. For more on dying to self in prayer: How to Pray: Prayer IV. Adapt the recommendations given in that post and in time, fear will diminish.
Reading the Daily Devotionals from Oswald Chambers for a year also substantially helps in teaching us to abandon and surrender our lives to God. Purchase a copy of My Utmost for His Highest. to add to your daily devotionals. Readings are short but usually poignantly encouraging. Readings can also be found at Utmost.org.