Did Jesus want people to follow him out of fear?

By Kim Michaels

If one takes a look down the long corridors of history, it is difficult to deny that there has always been a clear element of fear in religion. Even in today’s rational age, there are many Christians whose initial reaction to the title and premise of this book will be based on fear. They have been brought up in an environment dominated by the belief that only the people who believe in a particular interpretation of the Bible – as defined by their church – will go to heaven, and that all others will go to hell. Thus, their gut reaction to this book will be a fear that letting their minds wander beyond the safe boundaries defined by their church might open them up to ideas that will lead them straight to hell.

In today’s world we have a far greater knowledge of human psychology than what was available at Jesus’ time. Thus, we know that the primary effect of fear is a form of mental and emotional paralysis. Fear tends to make people cling to what is familiar, to what seems safe. The practical effect is that people tend to stay in the religion in which they were brought up and never go beyond its safe boundaries. Which inevitably leads us to question how Jesus ever gathered any followers? In other words, if all people at the time had taken the same fear-based approach to religion as we see in many modern Christians, how did the early Christian movement ever get off the ground?

The situation is obvious. In today’s age, Christianity is clearly a mainstream religion with elaborate cathedrals, intricate rituals and clearly defined doctrines. Yet at Jesus’ time, there was none of that—only a man wandering the dusty roads of ancient Israel with no recognition from any authority figure or institution.

The people Jesus encountered were mostly Jews, and they had been brought up with much the same approach to religion as seen in many Christians today. They thought that if they followed all the prescripts of the Jewish religion – the mainstream religion in their homeland – they were guaranteed to be saved. Yet if they strayed beyond it, they were guaranteed to go to hell. Thus, following an unorthodox preacher, such as Jesus, carried the ultimate penalty.

This leads to an inescapable conclusion. If all of the people Jesus encountered had been paralyzed by the fear-based approach to religion, then Jesus would have gathered no followers and Christianity would have died in infancy. End of story.

Since that clearly did not happen, we can conclude that there were at least some people who were willing to let Jesus take them beyond the “safe” boundaries of the mainstream religion of his time. In order to follow Jesus, one had to be willing to boldly go where no Jew had gone before. Thus, in order to find a deeper understanding of Jesus’ teachings than what is offered by mainstream Christianity today, one has to be willing to boldly go where few Christians have gone before. Yet in order to do this, one must find a personal balance between two opposing forces in human psychology.

Consider how people lived in previous times, such as in the stone age. Then consider how people live in the modern Western world and acknowledge the incredible difference. What is the one factor that can explain this immense progress, what is the main difference between modern people and stone-age people? It is that modern people know so much more than people did in the past. Thus, the one factor that drives human progress is an expansion of knowledge.

Yet we have just seen that one of the most powerful forces in human psychology is fear, which causes people to close their minds to new knowledge. So how could this incredible expansion of knowledge have taken place? The answer must be that there is another force in human psychology, a force that does not simply counterbalance fear but can actually – to use Jesus’ own words – make us free from fear. Take another look at this quote:

31. Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;

32. And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John, 8)

It seems clear from this quote alone that Jesus wanted to give his followers a truth that could expand their knowledge and set them free from fear. Why is this important? Because modern psychology has clearly shown that fear is based on a lack of knowledge. You fear the unknown, meaning that when you have full knowledge, you often see that your fear is irrational, which makes it dissipate.

We now see that fear can become a closed mental box, a kind of psychological or spiritual catch-22. You fear something because you have a lack of knowledge, but the fear has the paralyzing effect of making you afraid to look for knowledge beyond what you already know. So once the fear has entered your psyche, it prevents you from finding the knowledge that can set you free from the fear—the fear feeds on itself. Consider how children fear the dark, but as they get older, their rational minds can see that there is nothing to fear in the dark, and the fear dissipates. Consider how medieval people feared many things that we today consider non-existent and thus no longer fear.

Yet how do people overcome fear? They must be willing to look at it, to confront their fears and seek a greater knowledge that empowers them to see the irrationality of the fear. As an American president said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself!”

It now seems clear that Jesus wanted his followers to expand their personal knowledge and even be part of the ongoing quest to expand the total knowledge of humankind. Yet what does it take to overcome the fear of looking at your fear? It takes a force in the human psyche that is the anti-thesis of fear, a force that extinguishes fear—as turning on the light extinguishes the darkness in a room. The Bible has an incredibly beautiful description of this force:

16. And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.

17. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.

18. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

19. We love him, because he first loved us. (1John, Chapter 4)

Consider the deeper meaning of these words, “perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” They are in complete alignment with many modern psychologists, who also say that love is the anti-thesis of fear. In fact, some even say that we have two basic emotions, namely love and fear. Jesus himself seems to have been well aware of this, for he often told his followers not to fear. Here is one obvious example:

Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32)

Many modern Christians have grown up in a church that is heavily focused on the potential for “burning forever in hell.” Such a church is based on an image of God as an angry being in the sky who is constantly watching us for the slightest transgression. In other words, such a religion is using fear as the primary factor for motivating people to obey the religious rules and believe in the doctrines.

Yet is this angry God the same God as the one portrayed by Jesus in the above quote? How could an angry God take “good pleasure” in giving us his kingdom? Some modern Christian churches portray a God who seems eager to see us go to Hell, whereas Jesus portrays a God who is eager to see us inherit his kingdom.

What determines which God you accept? Could it be the balance between fear and love in your psyche? If people have more fear and less love, the image of an angry God seems more attractive to them. Yet once people begin to overcome fear, they tend see God as a loving God. Obviously, we must conclude that Jesus himself had overcome all fear, so one might reason that his view of God is the higher one. Take a look at another statement:

If ye love me, keep my commandments. (John 14:15)

Many Christians have heard or read this statement without considering the stunning implications of it. Consider that Jesus appeared in an environment that was also highly focused on the fear of going to hell. The leaders of the Jewish religion were as skilled as some modern Christian preachers in “encouraging” their followers to obey them by playing on the fear of burning in hell. Jesus clearly set himself apart from the religious establishment by taking an approach that is not based on fear.

Consider what Jesus did not say. He did not say, “If you fear me, keep my commandments.” So it seems clear that Jesus did not seek to motivate his followers through fear. He did not want people to follow him out of fear; he wanted them to raise their motivation to one based on love. It seems clear that Jesus was not seeking to appeal to the people who were dominated by fear. Just imagine how easily he could have used the fear of hell and judgment to attract followers. Instead, Jesus seems to have sought out the people who had started to overcome fear and move into love.

Did Jesus perhaps understand that people who were still trapped in fear would cling to the Jewish religion and thus close their minds to his message? Did he realize that only those who had tilted the fear-love balance toward love would be open to his new teachings? Consider how often Jesus told his disciples not to have fear:

And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. (Matthew 8:26)

Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known. (Matthew 10:26)

Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:31)

But when Jesus heard it, he answered him, saying, Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole. (Luke 8:50)

Isn’t it clear that Jesus did not want his followers to be motivated by fear but that he wanted them to be “made perfect in love?” Based on the concepts we have looked at in this chapter, one might conclude that religious people can be divided into three groups:

  • Those who are dominated by fear.
  • Those who are free of fear and dominated by love.
  • Those who have started to move out of fear but have not yet been “made perfect in love.”

It is not the intention of this book to criticize anyone. People have a right to adopt any approach to religion they choose. Nevertheless, it is predictable that those who are still dominated by fear probably will not be open to this book, and those who are set free in love have little need of this book. Thus, the book’s primary audience is those who are somewhere in between.

The reaction people have to this book will likely be determined by the balance between love and fear in their psyches. It might thus be helpful to consider that fear paralyzes us only to the extent that we are afraid to take a look at what we fear. The only key to overcoming fear is to open our minds to greater knowledge, for it is only the truth that will set us free from fear.

Consider monitoring your responses to the ideas in this book by evaluating whether your response is based on love or fear. If you discover a response based on fear, then consider that the only way to escape fear is through an expansion of knowledge. You must love the truth more than the limited view of reality that has created your present fear. You must love the truth so much that you will no longer allow your fear to prevent you from finding that truth.

The entire purpose of this book is to present an expanded understanding of Jesus’ teachings. Thus, if you allow your fears to cause you to stop reading, you will cut off any chance of attaining the knowledge that can set you free from fear. Whereas if you keep reading, you might just find the key ideas that will help you see the irrationality of your present fears, thus empowering you to move beyond them.

Remember that at Jesus’ own time only those who had more love than fear could follow Jesus. Today, only those who have more love than fear can follow the way toward a deeper understanding of Jesus’ teachings.

Based on this discussion, we can draw another important conclusion. Some modern Christian churches seem to say that Jesus was primarily interested in saving us, which is portrayed as a state we enter after this world. Yet we have now seen that Jesus clearly wanted to give people the truth that can set them free from fear. This leads to two observations:

  • Perhaps Jesus was not only interested in what happens to us after this world, since he clearly wanted to change people’s state of mind while they are still in this world?
  • Perhaps changing our state of mind – from fear to love – is one of the conditions we must fulfill in order to qualify for the salvation Jesus came to offer us?

The overall conclusion is that part of Jesus’ purpose for coming to Earth was to give us truth, to teach us. So we will now move on to consider what kind of teacher Jesus was. But let us first clarify the choice presented by this chapter:

  • Will you respond to this book with fear and close your mind to anything beyond the “safe” doctrines of your existing belief system?
  • Will you respond with love and open your mind to a deeper understanding that can “cast out” all of your fears?


Copyright © 2009 Kim Michaels