About a month ago I wrote the following in a blog post about repentance:
“I think some Christians live in perpetual anxiety that one day God is going to snap on them. Doubting the sureness of his love, they live trepidatious lives—striving to avoid sin lest they awaken his hot wrath. Personally, this is the mindset that I am inclined to. I tend to have heavy doubts about God’s love for me and feel like his wrath is lurking just around the corner of my life, waiting to sweep me up the next time I sin. But friends, this is not the gospel! If we have entrusted ourselves to Jesus, God doesn’t sit as a wrathful judge over us. His anger for our criminal behaviors has been extinguished once and for all upon the head of Jesus. God is now our Father, and as any father would, he rejoices over us with gladness, quiets us by his love, and exults over us with loud singing (Zephaniah 3:17). He isn’t sitting on the edge of his seat, anxiously waiting to kick us out of the realm of grace. We are secure in his love.”
Though I stand by this statement, I do think it is in need of some biblical symmetry. There’s no doubt that through the gospel we become sons and daughters of a loving God who will never toss us to the curb. If we have been born again, we shouldn’t fear being “un-adopted” because of our sin. We are secure in God’s love.
However, God’s love is sometimes tough.
We absolutely should not fear God is going to disown us. But we should fear him similarly to how we feared our earthly parents. Just as our earthly parents loved us and, with our own good in mind, wanted us to obey them, God loves us and, with our own good in mind, wants us to obey him. We knew our parents would never disown us, but we feared the discipline that would rain down on us if we “crossed the line.” Likewise, we should fear provoking the God who deeply loves us to disciplinary action. Because he will act—for his glory and our good.
“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.’
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 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. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:5-11.
Sometimes being wary of provoking God to disciplinary action is the strongest motivation to turn from sin. For a couple of months in early 2013, I pulled away from the Lord, became entangled in an ungodly relationship, and seriously considered living the rest of my life out from under all this “Jesus stuff.” But day and night throughout these months, I was in turmoil. Some of my turmoil stemmed from fear that I may not be saved. Some of my turmoil stemmed from sadness over continuing to turn my back on a good and gracious God. And a big ole chunk of my turmoil stemmed from fearing what God might do to me if I continued to proudly sin against him. I actually feared that God might kill me.
I know many people’s gut reaction to that might be, “God would never ‘do something’ to you! He is loving and kind!” He is loving and kind, but friends, he is holy and stern. He doesn’t play games. In the beginnings of the Church, shortly after Christ’s ascension, one of the very first ways God moved among his people was in killing two of them: Ananias and Sapphira. This couple “lied to the Holy Spirit” about money, and he literally killed them (Acts 5:1-11). Later, in 1 Corinthians chapter 11, Paul says many in this particular church had become sick or even died because they were nonchalant as they participated in the Lord’s Supper. And as verse 32 of chapter 11 states, this was not God’s condemnation, but his discipline! Sickness and death were God’s disciplinary means of purging the sin from the Corinthian church.
So yeah, I feared that if I was really God’s child, he might strike me with a disease or send an 18-wheeler into the drivers’ side of my car. I feared that if I didn’t willingly cease from sin, God would do whatever it would take to make me stop. My fear of God was a huge contributor to my eventual repentance. It wasn’t the only contributor, but a major one, for sure.
Believers, it is good, right, and most importantly biblical to have a reverential fear of God. He is our Creator and Master and Lord. He takes our holiness seriously. As we rest secure in his love, we should never get so “comfortable” that we don’t tremble a little.
“‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
Therefore go out from their midst,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
then I will welcome you,
and I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.’
Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” – 2 Corinthians 6:16- 7:1