100 Answers in 100 Days

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Sharing answers to the various questions of faith I have faced, and which others have been challenged with also.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Why Does The Bible Tell Us To Fear God?

Yesterday I wrote a post explaining that a Christian’s motive to be good is not out of a fear that God will punish us. If it were, that would be a kind of “fake morality”, and that’s not what Christian works are. We know that we have forgiveness and salvation, and we know that good works won’t earn us those things either; so our motive for good works is not to avoid punishment, nor are they to earn the reward of salvation. But there may be a point of confusion here, because the Bible does tell us to “Fear the Lord”. So on the one hand the Bible says things like “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18). And on the other hand it says things like “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear...” (1 Peter 1:17). This latter verse sounds like we should live in fear of judgement. But the rest of this passage reminds us that we have been saved from our sins... “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” The fear Peter speaks of here is, as I see it, more of a respect for something valuable; namely the redemption we’ve been given. I find that I often carry with me this emotion... that in whatever I do or say, I want to show people what Christianity is all about; namely that Christ has given me a love of righteousness and a hatred for sin. I don’t want to mess up that witness, and so I conduct myself with good, respectable behaviour. I don’t want anyone to say “This guy calls himself a Christian, and yet look at how he behaves!” That doesn’t mean I live as a faker all my life; rather, I just carry with me this awareness of my sinful nature and a consciousness of the importance to overrule it. I recall to this day the one time I happened to use an expletive in front of a co-worker, and I shudder with regret over that! I don’t normally swear, and I have no idea why it slipped out at all. To me, this seemingly trivial episode is a big deal! The “fear”, then, is not a fear of consequences for “messing up”, but just a fear of letting God down. And not only in front of others, but we know that God watches us in private as well. So the “fear of God”, for me, is more of a sense of awe of God, and a sense of the incredible honour and responsibilities He’s given us. I think you could take the commonly occurring phrase in the Bible, “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom”, and paraphrase it as “Remembering the glory of God is the beginning of wisdom.” Remembering all of His attributes, who He is and what He’s done, will teach you wisdom.

Now, we know that we are saved from Hell, but there are punishments in this life that we might suffer. Most Christians should acknowledge this. We can consider the words in Proverbs which say “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.” There may be circumstances where, when we have sinned, God brings some grievance to our lives in order to discipline us. This may be, for some, a case where there is a fear of God in that sense of worrying about a consequence for our actions. While we know that we will be saved in that afterlife, there is a present life where God may put us through hardship to teach us all the more to hate sin and love righteousness, or to discover what is truly wonderful about righteousness, and what is truly grievous about sin. You may hear of these referred to as “temporal judgments” in Christian lingo. When we suffer the consequences of our sins, we can often understand then why our actions were wrong. Sometimes it’s not enough to tell our children what they ought not to do. Sometimes they need to learn (possibly the hard way) why something is wrong. Consider the difference between hearing your parents say “don’t play with matches” and actually burning your finger, for example. Suffering some consequence for our sin generally means we won’t repeat it, though not out of fear of further punishment, but rather because we now understand a little clearer what was so wrong with what we’ve done. There may be consequences for our sins; and so there should be if we have any hope of learning what is right and being corrected. A parent disciplines their child, but the child doesn’t live in fear of their parents. A child of an abusive parent may do, but that’s because an abusive parent deals harshly with their child for no good reason. But discipline is deserved and any child can tell the difference between abuse and righteous discipline. The wise father who disciplines his children is not feared, but loved and respected.

Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. (Hebrews 12:9-10)

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