In Revelation 21:8, there are a whole list of sins that will prevent someone from entering Heaven. Many of them are understandable.
But the very first one on the list is surprising:
Not only does that idea seem out of place, but it also seems remarkably common. I’ve met lots of people that have fit the other descriptions (only a few murderers, thankfully), but virtually all of us have been guilty of being a coward at one point or the other.
Biblical cowardice is different than being scared of a few spiders, though. It involves a deliberate failure to stand up for the Lord Jesus Christ — and for what He stands for — when we’re called upon to do so.
But is being a coward a sin? And if so, why?
What Does It Mean to Be a Coward?
Like any good millennial, every time I have a question as to what something means, I turn to my trusty friend Google for answers. If you punch in the phrase “What is cowardice,” this will be the response you get:
“A lack of bravery.”
However, turn over to a physical dictionary, and the real meaning becomes more clear:
“A lack of…firmness of purpose.”
It’s only a few more words, but that definition tells us a whole lot more about being a coward than the first definition. A coward is, simply put, someone who does not stand for their principles. They sway with the moving tide of politics and public opinion, never affirming or denying anything.
This falls more in line with the Biblical definition of cowardice. When Paul penned his second letter to Timothy, he told him to “kindle afresh the gift that is in you,” and that he was “mindful” of the “sincere faith” that was taught to him by his mother and grandmother.
Then, in one of the most powerful verses in the epistle, Paul tells Timothy that “God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”
We move forward. We stand up. We defend, to the death, if necessary, the faith that Jesus died to preserve for us. We do not, as Paul said, shrink back from any challenge to the Cross.
“Power and love and discipline” does not describe the attitude of the disciples in the boat, however. In Matthew 8:23-27, the storms rage and water splashes over the boat, and the disciples begin questioning whether or not God cares for them at all.
Jesus’s response is simple but direct: “Why do you doubt, oh ye of little faith?”
The more faith we have in God’s Word, the more trust we’ll have in His protection — in this life and the next.
Why is Cowardice a Sin?
All of that being said, there’s still a huge difference between something being a spiritual fault of ours and an outright sin. None of us are where we want to be, spiritually-speaking; growth is always a part of the equation.
But as mentioned above, cowardice doesn’t reflect a weakness that we’re actively trying to get over, it involves a deliberate decision to distance ourselves from any association with God.
That’s why it’s a sin. That’s why Jesus looked at Peter from across the courtyard when Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. When the relationship began to cost Peter, Peter ditched it in favor of preserving his own skin.
Cowardice Equals a Lack of Faith
Jesus is very plain: “If you deny Me before men, I will deny you before My Father” (Matthew 10:26-39). Done. Nada. Ka-put.
That may seem harsh to us, but why? What gives us the right to expect association with Him in Heaven if we actively disassociate ourselves with Him on earth? Doesn’t that seem unfair?
The reason that Peter denied Jesus was because, in his own words, he “didn’t know the man!” That’s a hard case to make, considering he spent more than three years traveling in Jesus’ footsteps, but how many of us are guilty of the same?
How many of us have been christians for decades, only to bail out of conversations about God because we “don’t know the man!” How many of us have been asked where we go to services, and then hem-haw around what we believe because we don’t really know what it is that we believe?
A lack of courage in standing up for our beliefs reflects a lack of faith in that belief. If we say we believe in something, we will live by it. It’s as simple as that.
Cowardice Goes Against the Saving Nature That Jesus Commanded Us to Have
Staying with the Apostle Peter, his second “egregious” sin that we’re aware of comes in Galatians 2. There, Peter is enjoying fellowship with all the Christians that he can, both Jew and Gentile alike.
When the Judaizing teachers show up however, Peter bails on his gentile friends. Why? Because rather than standing up for the truth of the Gospel — which teaches that all can find salvation, no matter where they come from — he bows to the societal pressure of Judaizing teachers.
What a shame.
If Peter had embodied the same saving nature that Jesus had, he would’ve not only welcomed the gentiles, but stood up for them as well. Paul had every right (and responsibility) to criticize him for this. Hopefully Peter got the message.
When we’re cowards about the truth of the Gospel, it can lead to us alienating people that God never meant to alienate. And for what? So we can keep a few friends?
What a shame.
Cowardice Allows Evil to Triumph
There’s an old saying that’s been attributed to a dozen or so men, but seems to originate with John Stuart Mill:
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Scary, isn’t it?
We may think that there’s a whole world of do-gooders out there that are actively fighting to keep evil at bay, but the truth is, the only thing that we have to do to lose that battle is…nothing. Inaction is a villain’s dream. It means the good guys stay in the Bat-Cave, while they get to ride through Gotham in a stolen cop car.
Instead, God commands us to stand up and let our (hopefully virtuous) voices be heard.
In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul is dealing with a church that has gone “sue-happy.” They’re all about lawsuits; members are actively dragging each other before the court in order to win some kind of summary judgment.
Paul criticizes them for this, specifically because the judges of the world are ruling according to human motives. They, as Christians, should have an eternal perspective. That, by itself, should make them more fit to dole out judgments than an earthly judge.
Instead, they prefer to let others make their decisions for them. And in the case of a spiritual power vacuum, evil is allowed to slip right in.
Cowardice Betrays a Lack of Confidence
I don’t mean “lack of confidence” as to what we believe (see earlier point), but a “lack of confidence” in where we’re going.
Let me explain.
In Hebrews 2:14-18, the Hebrew writer says that one of the reasons Jesus came was to destroy Satan, who has the “power of death.” Through that, He is able to “free those who were, through fear of death, subject to slavery all their lives.”
A “fear of death” keeps most humans in bondage. We make decisions about where to go and what to do based on whether or not it’ll cause us physical harm.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with that — fear of death is almost human nature, isn’t it? — but what about when that “fear of death” causes us to deny God?
We read accounts of brave men and women in the first few centuries that died for their faith, but what we don’t usually read about are the ones that gave up. The ones that were tortured for their faith, then recanted their belief. It happened though, just as surely as the ones who stood and died for God.
What would compel a person to do that other than a fear of death? If you don’t have confidence in your eternal salvation, then you’ll make decisions that will reflect that.
Christians will stand, but cowards will crater.
Which one am I?
Which one are you?Last modified: December 20, 2021