A friend of mine is terrified of snakes. She has had this phobia since before I met her. She cannot look at one, let alone touch one! She doesn’t even like to talk about snakes. If she does come in contact in any way with the creature, her whole body instinctively reacts with a huge jerk, and turns away. Secondly, her body temperature immediately rises and she invariably complains, “I’m so hot…I’m so hot…” as everyone around her has a good laugh at her expense. It’s all very dramatic, believe me. I really wish you could see it. I have to admit, this has made her a pretty easy target. Once, a friend of ours managed to get into her Facebook account and change her profile picture to a snake. The one prank that was especially cruel? Her boss gave her a live snake that she opened during their Christmas gift-exchange. It makes me laugh to picture it in my mind, as I write.

What is your biggest fear? Spiders? Big dogs? Heights? Being alone in your house at night? Discovering your spouse’s infidelity? Being abandoned? Losing your best friend, spouse, or parent? Burying your child? Not hearing “well done” when you meet Jesus?

When I was reading John 12 the other day, I came face-to-face with my biggest fear again, thanks to the Holy Spirit of God.

42Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. (ESV)

The preceding context of this passage is that many people did not believe in Jesus, even though He had done many signs and wonders. John further explains that this was to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecies about the unbelief of the people. Even though many did not believe, verse 42 says that many did believe in Jesus. Scripture explicitly says that many of these were authorities, rulers, leaders, etc. However, they were afraid that the Pharisees would excommunicate them and completely exclude them from the sacred practices of the Israelites. So the new believers didn’t confess their new belief because they loved the glory they received from man more than the glory that comes from God.

The Greek word for believe means “to place confidence in, to entrust something to someone, to think to be true, to be persuaded of.” These people chose to put their confidence in Jesus, to entrust their eternity with Him. They were persuaded about His divine identity by His authenticity. To confess in the Greek means “to agree with, to profess one’s self as a worshiper of one, to declare openly.” These men were too fearful to agree publicly with Jesus that He is Lord. They were too afraid of what the Pharisees would do, to profess themselves as worshipers of the Christ. The Greek word for glory means “approval; most exalted state; the good opinion of someone, resulting in honor, praise, and glory.” These new believers were still seeking to get honor and praise from the Pharisees’ good opinion of them. They wanted the approval of mortal men rather than the approval of the Immortal, Invisible.

Don’t miss this irony: these men decided to trust Jesus with their lives, their eternity. They believed that He was the only one who could save them from eternal punishment. They were persuaded to think He was truly the Christ, YET they did not trust Him enough to satisfy their human desire of approval, praise, and honor. You have to get this–they didn’t believe that Jesus would or could meet their needs. They still wanted their “most exalted state” to come from the Pharisees.

I see my biggest fear in these two verses: the fear of man. I know it is rooted in my legalistic background, trying to always look the part of a “good” Christian. I have always attempted to gain the approval of the people in my life, whether it be my parents, sisters, pastors, teachers, ministry leaders, mentors, employers, friends, students, the list goes on and on. Now I don’t think it’s wrong to seek human approval. It becomes idolatry though, when I begin to sacrifice my relationship with Jesus on the altar of this approval. That is when I transition to worshiping creation rather than Creator. That is what those new believers did in John 12.

We see this played out in several ways. This is not taking advantage of every opportunity to share our faith because friends might think we are “one of those Christians.” This is not raising our hands in worship, when the Holy Spirit wants us to, because we’re afraid people will think we are “trying to be over-spiritual.” This is not being honest with our closest friends about that sin because it may change the way they see us. This is living beyond our means financially and racking up consumer debt to “keep up with the Jones’.” This is staying in an unhealthy relationship because we don’t want to hurt the other person. It’s not telling our group of friends about a desire to go deeper with the Lord, because they may not invite us to do things anymore. It is not going to marriage counseling because then people will know that we don’t have a perfect marriage. It is being dishonest (even in the slightest way), in order to control our reputation and what people think of us. It is not humbling ourselves and apologizing to that person because we know they will just hurt us again in the future. It is not saying anything during a gossip-fest, because the people will be offended by the “confrontation.” This list is certainly not exhaustive. Is the Holy Spirit revealing the fear of man in your life?

Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” Read that again, let it sink in. This is one of my life verses. It is the first thing that the Lord brought to my mind when I read John 12:42-43. Now, track with me here. This is the kind of thing that makes God’s Word come alive! The Hebrew word for snare means “snare, bait, lure” and a simple definition of the word is “anything serving to entrap or ensnare unaware, a trap.” Trust in the Hebrew means “to trust in, to feel secure, to feel safe, to have confidence in.” Remember what the Greek word for believe meant? “To put confidence in!” The Hebrew word for safe means “to be set securely on high, to be too high for capture, to be exalted.” Another version of Prov. 29:25 says, “but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.” Follow me here. Remember the Greek word for glory that we discussed? One definition was “most exalted state!” Those new believers in John 12 wanted that glory, exaltation, praise, and honor–they would have gotten it if they had just put their ENTIRE confidence in Christ to meet all their needs and desires! Proverbs 29:25 says so! God’s Word is so intricately woven!

Fearing man and seeking man’s approval will constantly trap us and will never satisfy. However, the people who put their whole confidence in God to meet their needs and seek His approval of their daily lives will be exalted.

Is the fear of man “laying a snare” in your life? Do you believe that Jesus Christ Himself is the only One who can and will meet your human need to be honored? Are you striving after the approval of men rather than the approval of God Almighty?  If so, confess it and repent in the power of the Holy Spirit. Put your confidence in Him and trust that HIS glory is like nothing this world can offer.