Pop The Hood on What You Fear

Have you ever heard someone use the phrase “You are what you eat?” That can be especially worrying when you’re halfway through your second donut for the morning. But really, no one who says that really believes that the donut-eater is actually in danger of suddenly becoming a gargantuan Krispy Kreme with arms and legs. 

The underlying premise is what they’re after: if your food pyramid starts with fats and sugars. then your body will begin to grow obese, sluggish, and unhealthy.

A related truism is “You become what you worship.” The psalmist applied it to idol worshipers, telling them that if they gave themselves over to the worship of false, mute, unhearing, unseeing gods, they would become, like those idols, unable to see or hear speak (Psalm 115:4–8). Why? Because what we worship expresses our heart, but also shapes our heart.

The Dividing Line Between Love and Worship

This returns us to something fundamental to human nature that we introduced in an earlier post: we pursue what we love. The dividing line between love and worship runs right through the human heart. What we love, we can easily worship. If left unchecked, we become like it. That’s true whether it’s glazed donuts or golden idols.

John 12 gives us a window into how this human hardwiring works—this impulse to pursue what we value. After Jesus arrives for the final time in Jerusalem, a scene quickly unfolds that is pivotal in the drama of redemption. Christ is the center of attention—everybody’s attention.

At one point Jesus prays, “Father, glorify your name.” Immediately a response booms out from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (John 12:28).

A voice from heaven! When was the last time you heard someone’s prayers get answered at once with the audible voice of God? One would expect this episode would permanently turn all the bystanders into Christ’s followers, right?

Not exactly.

John goes on to tell us something shocking: “Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him” (v. 37). Surprised to hear that people could be with him—and hear God speak to him—and still not believe? It gets worse. There were others who did believe, yet still wouldn’t follow. “Many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it” (v. 42).

Let’s track this: they listened to him, they saw his signs, they believed in him—but they wouldn’t say so publicly.

How come? What was so important that they could look straight at the Son of God and see him exhibit miraculous power, but then turn away?

Look Beneath What You Fear

John says it was “for fear of the Pharisees”. We can all relate. Fear is a huge human motivation, right? In our world, fear is often seen as a fundamental drive for human behavior. Yet in the very next sentence, God pops the hood on their true motives. We get to look beneath the fear to see the engine that powered their withdrawal. There was a motivation deeper than fear. 

It was a corrupted ambition. A deep desire they craved; something they loved. “They loved the glory that comes from man,” John writes, “more than the glory that comes from God” (v. 43).

Isn’t this fascinating? In this passage, “fear” is not seen here as a root issue in the diagnostics of human behavior. It’s not portrayed as an understandable feeling that defines why we do what we do. In John 12, we discover there was something more powerful that actually generated their fears.

It was a love of glory-gone-wrong. They loved the glory that comes from man. They craved approval from others. Pleasing man was more important than pleasing God. When their positions came under threat over identifying with Jesus, they felt fear. A larger object of their worship was under attack. 

Do a quick exercise and isolate your most recent experience with fear. Does this passage apply at all? I can point to a number of times where it applied to me. How about you? Can you pop the hood and see the desire beneath the dread? Are you able to see any longings where a disordered love was juicing your fear?

Loving the wrong kind of glory is the road to corrupted ambition. It catapults us towards the wrong kind of approval. The drive to misguided glory was so powerful for these religious leaders, it diverted them from the Son of God himself. They didn’t fail to follow Jesus because they thought he was a lunatic. Their problem wasn’t unbelief; it was indulged fear and misdirected love. They loved the darkness of man-glory and so turned away from the True Light.

Tenacious Tuesday Questions

Take a minute to assess your heart. If you saw a love beneath some fear, can you name it? Don’t be afraid of the ugly–grace is powerful enough to help you face it and change. Now ask yourself: What does the gospel say about what you see? Reflect upon the gospel’s power to transform you.


Lord, examine my heart. Help me to see it truly. Expose the misplaced love within and redirect that love towards you. Lead me in the everlasting path which is characterized by loving you with all my heart, my soul, my strength.

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