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Proper Fear

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Post  Admin on Tue 25 Nov 2008, 9:55 pm

Proper Fear
Margaret Manning

Recently on a drive through a small, suburban town, I saw the following message on a church sign: “Afraid of burning? Apply Son-screen.” I’ve seen similar messages like this one. “How will you spend eternity: Smoking or Non-Smoking?” “Life is Hard. Afterlife is Harder!” “WARNING: Exposure to the Son may prevent burning!” While there may be a pithy cleverness to some of these church slogans, I am bothered by the use of fear as a primary motivator for entering into a relationship with God. Why would we want to “scare” people into the kingdom? Is fear the best apologetic for Christians?

Of course, the Scriptures are replete with admonitions to fear the Lord. We all know the familiar Proverb: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (1:7). But the fear of God is quite different from being afraid. Actually, the fear of the Lord is a component of faith; it arises from knowledge of God and from within the context of relationship with God. The fear of the Lord is reverence for who God is, and it reminds us of our place and our standing before that God. We are finite and fallen. God is infinite and holy. Fear is simply another name for the wonder, reverence, and praise we owe to God our Creator.

Now, perhaps these church billboards have a hint of this understanding in their message, but I suspect the motivation, even if unintentional, is to make people afraid of God so that they will turn to God and be spared. But here I believe we confuse God’s judgment with punishment. Often, we want to punish others, or we have misplaced the desire to see others punished for a sense of justice. In contrast, the desire for justice is the desire to see things put right, made right by God. As Jesus prayed, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This is a prayer for God’s justice to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Rather than using an apologetic of fear and bidding the world to see all that is fearfully wrong, we are instead exhorted in Scripture to proclaim all that God has set right in Jesus Christ: “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of
reconciliation, namely that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

Interestingly enough, more than any other command in Scripture, we are commanded to “fear not,” “do not be afraid.”(1) In fact, there are 366 commands (one for every day of the year and for Leap Year) to not be afraid. So why do we want to use fear to try to persuade others of the good news of the gospel? Does fear have any place in the gospel message? In Jesus’s teaching and message, he reserved his warnings of judgment for those who considered themselves in the “right” with God--those who defined their righteousness by their own merits. Jesus never used fear to convert sinners. Rather, Jesus extended hospitality to those who were on the outside. Indeed, in his message announcing “the kingdom of heaven is at hand; repent and believe the gospel” Jesus extends an invitation, not an ultimatum driven by fear. It is an invitation to enter into the kingdom by following him--his way, his life. In the same way, our Christian apologetic must be
invitational, as though God were entreating through us: “We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

Perhaps understanding proper fear gives new insight to the words written in John’s first letter. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:16-19). Author Scott Bader-Saye comments that fear twists virtue into vice.(2) Fear motivated by a lack of love pursues punishment. When we are detached from love, we preach messages that are built on fear. But those who preach Christ motivated by love, cast out all fear. When motivated by love, we become ambassadors of reconciliation reaching out with faith and not with fear, winning the lost with the hope that God has first loved us.

Margaret Manning is a member of the writing and speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

Copyright(c) 2008
Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM).
Reprinted with permission.
A Slice of Infinity is a ministry of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries

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