One of the greatest and most common dangers for Christians is falling into the trap of the fear of man (Prov 29:25). Christians must be on constant guard against allowing their lives to be controlled by what others might think of them. Today the fear of man often manifests itself in a Christian beginning to compromise the truth or clarity of the Scriptures out of concern for social acceptance. We are tempted to soften the edges of the gospel so that it loses its offense and, thus, we will not need to bear the reproach of Christ.
But many cloak the fear of man in the guise of evangelistic concern. “If we take this stand, then we will lose any opportunity to share the gospel with unbelievers.” “It’s not worth holding fast to this doctrinal position because it will hinder our efforts at missions and evangelism.”
This ploy is especially insidious because Christians should have a genuine concern that Christianity and the gospel be credible. In a recent episode of Theologically Driven, Mark Snoeberger highlighted the biblical emphasis on living lives that are consistent with and adorn the gospel, lest we undermine our evangelistic and apologetic efforts (Matt 5:16; John 17:20-23; 1 Pet 3:1; Titus 2:1-15).
So what’s the difference between fear of man and concern for gospel credibility? How can we know whether or not we (or others) are motivated by the fear of man?
While there may be other tests, one of the simplest is to ask whether our efforts will result in greater faithfulness and obedience to Christ or less fidelity to the Scriptures. A genuine concern for gospel credibility should move us toward increasing holiness and righteousness. It should cause us to be more conformed to Christ and his will. The biblical teaching on gospel credibility is never ultimately focused on whether or not others think more favorably of us but on whether or not our lives match up with the truth we proclaim. Are we seeking to follow Christ as fully as possible, regardless of what others might think, or are we seeking to align ourselves more closely to the values of our society?
If someone’s argument focuses on how unbelievers might view or respond to a certain teaching or practice, there is a decent chance that person is being motivated by the fear of man. And if the result is to minimize biblical teaching, the person has almost certainly fallen into the trap of the fear of man. But if the focus is on what God has said and emphasizes obedience to Christ then the fear of man is not behind it.
The biblical concern for gospel credibility is always focused on God and what he requires, not on what people want. People may still despise your good works, but your focus must be on following Christ as Lord.
Who then will harm you if you are devoted to what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear them or be intimidated, 15 but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. 16 Yet do this with gentleness and reverence, keeping a clear conscience, so that when you are accused, those who disparage your good conduct in Christ will be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.1 Pet 3:13-17