Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.
This is one of the most famous verses in the Bible about not fearing. It is widely known, widely memorized, and widely used in times of struggle when we don’t really know what to say or think. It can bring comfort. It can bring hope. It can bring a sense of peace in times of chaos. But what is really going on here? Is this what the verse is really meant to convey?
This passage comes at the beginning of Joshua taking over the leadership responsibilities in place of Moses. It is an encouragement and a reminder to Joshua of what God has done, what He has promised, and what He will continue to do. As Joshua and the Israelites committed to studying and meditating on God’s Word (Josh. 1:8), as they committed to faithfully following Him, God promised they would always have access to Him, that He would always be there with them, through thick and thin.
God promised to give the Israelites the Promised Land (creative name, huh?), and He promised to be with them as they took the land. God communicated to them that the ownership of the land depended on His faithfulness, but the actual occupation of the land depended on Israel’s faithfulness. God would give them the land if they would act and go and take the land as they had been instructed to do. How eerily similar this comes to our own lives. This hits close to home, because often God has promises and gives promises to us in His Word, and yet when we don’t see them or experience them, we wonder how He could promise to be there, how He could promise a fullness of life (an abundant life), if our experiences have revealed that it is not possible? How could God promise all of these things and yet I never feel them in my own life? Well, the answer is perhaps in the fact that we have not done our part. God promises things, but He doesn’t force them upon us. We are still required to give action: to believe in Him, to meditate on His word, to be in communication with Him, to talk and listen to Him, to engage in relationship with other people who follow Him, and to tell other people about Him. If we are not being faithful, then we probably should not expect to receive certain things from God that are promised as a result of our committed relationship with Him, right?
After all, James 2:26 says:
For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works in dead.
This is not to say that we could lose our salvation by not living our the reality of our salvation, but it is to say that we won’t experience the fruit of the Spirit-filled life if we are not living a life committed to following Jesus Christ and His example and instruction.
So how do we live a fearless life? Spend your life faithfully following Jesus, abiding in Him, and choosing each day to not just treat God as an “add-on” to your life, but pursue Him first in all things (Matt. 6:33). Then we can be not afraid, but be courageous, and live with the realization and understanding that God is with us and will never leave us.