10/29/2015 Gary 26
Fear is popular on Halloween and in scary movies, but is it appropriate in church? Should we fear God? The Bible says repeatedly that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”, but all too often the fear of God’s punishment has been used as a tool for manipulation throughout church history and in many churches today. I spoke with a young man named Gary today who had grown up in just such a church. He told me how he had been constantly threatened with hellfire if he didn’t act right or believe the right things, and now wanted nothing to do with church. No one wants to feel like they have been forced into repentance through intimidation or fear, yet warnings of punishment were a major theme in the teachings of Jesus. How could I speak the truth of Jesus’ message to Gary without being like just another “fire and brimstone” manipulator like he had been used to hearing?
I think it is important to realize that Jesus didn’t bring a negative message of judgment, he brought a positive message of salvation. He brought the light of salvation into the darkness of a world condemned by sin. The righteous judgment of God was not seen as some arbitrary thing mysteriously used to manipulate people at a whim. It was understood to be something much more consistent, something everybody was subject to, something more like the law of gravity. The law of sin and death that Paul spoke of in Romans 8:2 – if you sin you die – was understood and received and feared as an unchangeable fact of God’s nature related to His perfect justice, much like we view gravity as a fact of God’s creation. People who don’t fear gravity and who carelessly fall off a cliff shouldn’t cause us to blame God for creating the law of gravity. Likewise, our sin and its consequences shouldn’t make us blame God for the just punishment for sin. It is what it is, what it has been and what it always will be, and this aspect of God’s nature deserves our healthy fear. But Paul wrote “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” Jesus gives life. Jesus IS the life, and we can be free from the law that brings death. No empty threats. No manipulation. Life and peace and freedom in Jesus. That’s the good news I shared with Gary today.