A Christian nationalist event at the Frisco Convention Center in Texas some months ago provides the reason for this post. I’m not a fan of the phrase “Christian nationalism” because it presumes that the nation we live in, the US, is a Christian nation. Nowhere in The Declaration of Independence does it read that “we have been given certain rights by our Creator, Jesus.”
The Lord’s name is nowhere found in the Declaration; the only divine name we read is “God,” and God means different things to different people of different faiths. That’s not to say that all these views of God are valid, but rather, that the language of the Declaration leaves the true conception of God up to the individual.
We know that Jehovah’s Witnesses have often differed from conservative Christians in their view of God and Jesus; to them, Jesus isn’t God but rather, a messenger of God as a prophet would have been. This is the predominant view, though some Jehovah’s Witnesses churches do in fact include Jesus in their sermons now as “the way, the truth, and the life.”
But Christian nationalism presupposes Christ as the God worshipped in the US. The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence leave room for a political concept known as religious freedom.
Religious freedom doesn’t require worship of Jesus Christ in order for someone to have the right to exercise their freedom of religion. So, with that said, “religious freedom” and “Christian nationalism” are polar opposites; only one can be right — and it isn’t Christian nationalism.
But what is even more shocking as a statement at this Christian nationalism gathering, aside from the concept that the attendees placed their faith in (Christian nationalism), is that the attendees heard the sermon of a man named Joshua Feuerstein who told the gathering that they didn’t need to wear masks or have the vaccine because they have Jesus.
“Listen to me…and let me speak now to the cameras around the world to every pastor that’s watching this broadcast, to every Christian that has cowered in their home. I realize that for this last year, that maybe you’ve been fed fear…but the Bible says that God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. You have sound mind! You don’t have to wear a mask! You got Jesus! You don’t need the vaccine! You got Jesus!” Feuerstein preached enthusiastically.
There’s a problem with this. You know what it is, but keep reading anyway.
“god has not given us the spirit of fear”: what it means in the context of 2 timothy 1:7
“God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” What do these words mean in 2 Timothy 1:7? Well, before you can claim they refer to COVID, or even find a principle in them for this COVID era Christians are living in, you must examine what the words mean in their original context in Scripture.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the Bible nowhere mentions COVID-19. You can state this with your eyes closed and get it right every single time.
What does it mean in 2 Timothy 1:7? What is the “spirit of fear” to which Paul refers in his letter to his son in the ministry? To find out what the spirit of fear in 2 Timothy 1:7 means, you must examine the first six verses of the chapter itself. In those first six verses, we read all sorts of things. First, though, the original 2 Timothy 1:7 features the word “for.”
Now, as one is properly taught through biblical interpretation, the first question comes down to this: “What is the word ‘for’ there for?” Why is “for” used in the verse? The word “for” (Greek gar), is used as we would use the word “for” or “therefore”: to refer to the conclusion of an argument. So Paul has made an argument and then concludes by saying in so many words, “I say this because God has not given you the spirit of fear…”
But to discover why he concludes this way, we must go back to the first six verses and figure out what Paul has already said. Reading his letter is like reading a logical argument: you cannot understand the conclusion without understanding the argument.
And that requires reading more than just 2 Timothy 1:7. Any preacher who has studied biblical interpretation properly knows this. Biblical hermeneutics is absolutely essential to sound biblical interpretation.
Timothy’s upbringing (2 Timothy 1:5)
Paul tells Timothy not to live with a spirit of fear because of his upbringing: “When I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5, NKJV). Timothy had been raised by his mother Eunice and his maternal grandmother, Lois.
And “the genuine faith” Paul says Timothy has is the same genuine faith his mother and grandmother had. They were God-fearers, God-worshippers, true believers, what we would know today as Christians. So first, Timothy is not to live with a spirit of fear because of his godly upbringing.
gift imparted through paul laying his hands on timothy (2 Timothy 1:6)
Next, not only does Timothy have a genuine faith that was passed down by way of his mother and grandmother; he also has a spiritual gift imparted to him through the laying on of hands.
Paul is likely referring to Timothy’s gift of apostleship, as being an apostle is one of the offices of the five-fold ministry Paul speaks about in Ephesians 4. As an apostle, Timothy would teach and preach. And so, the apostleship God entrusted to Timothy came through the laying on of hands.
Paul, an apostle, prayed over Timothy, and God used that prayer and the action (laying on of hands) to impart the apostle gift to Timothy. We can tell that prior to Timothy’s apostleship duties, Paul laid hands on him in likely some sort of ministry prayer and “ordination” (to use a common word with which many of us would be familiar today).
To “stir up the gift” refers to the same thing as one stirring a bowl of potatoes. If you’re making instant potatoes, the potatoes don’t just come out looking ready to eat right away; you must take the bowl of potato mix and water and “stir it up” by using the spoon to move the potatoes around.
You do this until you see the water dissolving and the potatoes looking more like potatoes. When they cease looking watery, you can conclude that the potatoes are ready to serve.
Stirring, however, takes some work, and that’s what Paul is getting at: “you can’t stir up the gift of God, the apostleship, given to you Timothy, unless you do something with it.”
And why does Timothy need to do something with the gift? Because, to fail to do something is to live in fear — and God did not give Timothy nor believers the spirit of fear. If you don’t use the gift, you’re afraid to use it. The reasons why someone may not use their gift are different, but in Timothy’s case, he was fearful.
ashamed of the gospel (2 Timothy 1:8)
Paul tells Timothy he doesn’t have “the spirit of fear,” but we can’t know what this refers to until we read the end of his argument, or a good “stopping place.”
And that short-term stopping place can be found in 2 Timothy 1:8 — “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God.”
Paul’s encouragement to Timothy was with regard to 1) being ashamed of Jesus Christ and His life, death, and resurrection, and 2) being ashamed to share in the sufferings of the gospel.
Paul told Timothy to be ashamed of neither testimony nor affliction in the gospel. In other words, the testimony and affliction being mentioned here are for those who are Christian and believe in Jesus.
We are not to fear who Jesus is, what He said, and the sufferings we endure for the sake of Christ and the gospel. Don’t be ashamed to suffer as a Christian, is what Paul is saying.
“Don’t be ashamed to suffer on Christ’s behalf, because we are called to this.” “All who are in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution,” Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:12, just two chapters over from this one.
“A spirit of fear”: what does it mean?
What does Paul mean by “a spirit of fear,” then? The spirit of fear mentioned here refers to suffering for Christ’s sake and on His behalf.
So living a spirit of fear means “being ashamed” to suffer, which is what Paul says in the following verse (2 Timothy 1:8). A spirit of fear pertains to living one’s life free of suffering as a Christian.
No Christian lives a suffering-free life because Jesus didn’t live a suffering-free life. Jesus was persecuted unfairly, and we will be as well. Jesus Himself tells us to rejoice when we’re persecuted for righteousness’ sake, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).
So Paul’s words to Timothy are in step with Jesus’ words to His disciples and the masses in His famous Sermon on the Mount.
When Paul tells Timothy that God has not given us the spirit of fear, he’s encouraging Timothy to take the faith he has that was passed down to him and the gift given through his ordination and do what God has called him to do.
God has equipped him and that’s all he needs to do the work of the Lord. And he doesn’t need to be ashamed because God is with him.
When God equips you for the ministry, you’re called to it. The gifting is how you know the Lord has called you to it; the Lord never requires you to do something before He’s prepared you to do it. Timothy has all he needs, but fear of persecution and suffering for Christ is what’s holding him back.
Timothy isn’t alone; I can’t name one person or think of one that embraces suffering for Christ as we should. Suffering isn’t fun, and no one wants to suffer. And yet, suffering is part of the calling when we decide to follow Jesus.
It doesn’t feel good; just remember, though, that it didn’t feel good to our Lord Jesus either, when He hung on the cross and took the wounding and beating for us — but He was called to it and He submitted to the Father’s will. And we must do the same with the calling(s) God gives us, too.
The spirit of fear and covid-19: what does one have to do with the other?
What does “the spirit of fear” or “a spirit of fear” have to do with COVID-19? If it refers to “being ashamed to suffer,” then, how does it pertain to COVID-19? Is COVID-19 something God has brought upon Christians as a means of persecution? I don’t see how that is the case.
COVID-19 is not persecution for Christians because they name the name of Christ. It is a terribly fatal virus that has been leashed on our world by humans by accident. So to endure COVID-19 is not to suffer for Christ’s sake; it is to suffer from a virus that so many have had and endured. So many have died from it, too, unfortunately.
So when Joshua Feuerstein mentions COVID-19 and “a spirit of fear,” what does he mean? why does he mention these two together? His point is to say that COVID-19 is nothing to fear because you’ve got Jesus — and as long as you’ve got Jesus, COVID-19 can’t afflict you or harm you.
Is that true? Not at all.
There are plenty of people who have named the name of Christ that have died from COVID-19. There are a few pastors early on in the pandemic who continued assembling in mass numbers inside churches, despite orders to cease and desist.
They believed in the Lord, but they too, took Scripture out of context. Some died for their stubborn refusal to see the truth.
is jesus a substitute for masks and vaccines in this coronavirus pandemic?
Some refuse to mask up because they believe that 1) the COVID-19 pandemic is a hoax, 2) they’re being lied to and deceived in some sort of apocalyptic conspiracy, 3) the government is using masks to control the public, and so on.
And so, being told “you’ve got Jesus” in the context of “Jesus removes your need for masks and vaccines” is music to their ears.
Unfortunately, it also grossly misinterprets Scripture.
Remember in my sermon on “The Devil’s Dare” where I mention Jesus’ temptation in Luke 4? The Devil tells Jesus to “throw yourself off the temple” because “the angels will bear you up” and “you will not dash your heel against a stone.”
Satan tells Jesus to take His own life because “the Bible says God will be with you and the angels will protect you” (to use a paraphrase). In other words, “you’ve got God, so you don’t need to take precautions with your life.”
And unfortunately, it appears as though Joshua Feuerstein has also listened to the Devil’s Dare and believed the Devil’s lie.
His encouragement regarding not needing masks and vaccines because “you’ve got Jesus” is the Devil’s temptation, re-packaged for the twenty-first century and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The truth of the matter is that, in such a deadly pandemic, with Delta and now Omicron variants that are more contagious than ever before, we need every tool possible to fight against COVID-19 and protect ourselves and our loved ones.
The same God who approved of quarantining in the Old Testament for leprosy (Leviticus 13:1-4) would approve of face masks to protect others (and yourself) from getting sick with COVID.
The same God that approves of the use of oil and wine to heal the man beaten by thieves and left for dead in the Parable of the Good Samaritan is the same God that would approve of medicines to treat COVID, such as newly-approved COVID pills from Pfizer and Merck.
Now with that said, we realize that medicines have a lethal nature; for all the good they do, they can also cause harm if they go unregulated. We realize that vaccines can cause harm as well if they’re not regulated.
We also realize that vaccines pose a moral dilemma to some Christians who believe that injecting yourself with “the virus that causes COVID-19” is tantamount to injecting yourself with some lethal substance to see your tolerance to it.
Injecting a virus into your arm, no matter how dead or deactivated it may be, is, to some, playing “Russian roulette” with your life. But there’s no denying that vaccines have done good in the world, even in the midst of this moral dilemma to which the Catholic Church and few Christians, in general, have responded.
However, despite the good vaccines have done, “the ends do not justify the means.” So, with that said, Christians must ask themselves if the vaccines with their moral dilemmas are good simply bc they exist or merely good because they protect from illness.
Protection from illness is a benefit of the vaccine, but the way vaccines work by injecting viruses or illnesses is a moral problem that will not go away.
Even with all this in play, though, Feuerstein is still wrong to insist that Jesus is a substitute for masks, vaccines, and proper public health measures.
We don’t “tempt the Lord” by living as though we refuse public health measures. Even if some make the personal choice not to be vaccinated, there’s no excuse for the refusal to wear a face mask that can save their life and someone else’s.
Christian nationalism isn’t the only thing Feuerstein got wrong. God has not given us the spirit of fear, but he has given us a “sound mind.” It is not sound to pretend that COVID-19 isn’t a threat to health and life, or that we can just ignore it because we have faith.