You have seen them before. Bullhorn-users. God hates______ sign-makers. Judgement jugglers. Fear enforcers. They are preachers, counselors, evangelist, and quite honestly often friends. People who dearly wish to see repentance manifested in the lives of unbelievers and believers alike. However, these sincere motivations are often handicapped because they restrict themselves to one weapon:
As I mature as a Christian and meditate on the Gospel, I begin to realize that there is something so much greater than fear as a tool for motivation in both evangelism and discipleship. Does fear have a role? Yes, but only a role that pushes us to the greater/truer motivation. The greater or truer motivation is indeed LOVE.
This is why many of the New Testament writers begin with telling us who we are in Christ (indicatives) before telling us what to do in Christ (imperatives). Listen to the Apostle John, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” (1 John 4:10-11) Notice, he states we are first to realize we are LOVED by God and then obey. We aren’t to focus on love for ourselves. Why? Because that is ultimately fear. Fear is self-serving, selfish, and self-righteous. We would only obey for the sake of avoiding punishment not for the sake of joy, love, or truly hate sin itself. Even more shocking, John doesn’t start with OUR love for God. He believes that love can only flow from our acknowledgment of how much God loved us as a covering for our sins. It is this motivation of love and a response to this love that generates obedience to “love one another.”
Tim Keller summarizes this point persuasively:
“In fear-based repentance, we don’t learn to hate the sin for itself, and it doesn’t lose its attractive power. We learn only to refrain from it for our own sake.
But when we rejoice over God’s sacrificial, suffering love for us — seeing what it cost him to save us from sin — we learn to hate the sin for what it is. We see what the sin cost God.
What most assures us of God’s unconditional love (Jesus’s costly death) is what most convicts us of the evil of sin. Fear-based repentance makes us hate ourselves. Joy-based repentance makes us hate the sin.”
This truth is hard to believe and often hard to practice as a pastor. We want to control people and often fear has immediate shock value and quick shallow results. Nonetheless, we must trust that true, long-lasting, Christ-exalting, sin-hating obedience can only be rooted in love that was given by grace. If there is any fear, may it only push us towards the love God has given us and may love be anchored in Christ work for us at the cross and vindicated at his resurrection.
No one will be saved for being afraid of God. In fact, when judgement day comes even the most wicked will be in fear. Here is the qualifying factor, not are you afraid of God but are you in love with God because of His great love towards you? For many of you reading, that could be a game-changer. No more fear means no more hiding, no more guilt, and no more shame. You are free to be transparent about your brokenness and free to know that your love in God is secure in Christ performance and not your own. That is a love greater than fear.
For God’s Glory,