The burden of fear

Since Monday, and even since New Year's Day, the subject of Christian love has been the burden of my heart - or perhaps I should say my lack of love . To truly love my enemies, and my brethren would be a light burden indeed, a joy. But to lack in love brings with it a heavy burden, the burden of fear.

"So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 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. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother." 1John 4:16-21

On Monday I wrote a bit about what love is, and what it represents - the genuineness of our profession of faith. What I did not dwell on is a particular evidence of its absence: fear - fear of judgment - from God and man. Just as our genuine love for God reveals itself in love for God and our brethren, so our fear of God's wrath toward us often reveals itself in our dread of God and of man. Our love for the invisible God leads to our love for visible mankind. Our dread of God leads to dread of man. When we are confident of our place as beloved children of the almighty King, we feel free and safe to approach God boldly and love men fearlessly. When we are insecure in the love of God, there is no sense of safety to be found for us anywhere, and mankind can inspire the greatest of terrors. I know.

Sometimes, for any number of reasons, I will begin to doubt my position in Christ. It may be some sin I find myself repeating. It may be some bad attitude. It may be a sin from my past or decision I've made which I fear has left me doomed to be out of God's "perfect" will for the rest of my life. But, whichever it is, it leaves me suddenly and inexplicably afraid. I'll be afraid that perhaps I'm not God's child, that I'm a fraud - which makes sense in that frame of mind. But what comes from that, you might not expect and so not make the connection: the fruit of cowering from the invisible God is almost invariably the fear of man.

When I turned to Christ over four years ago, it didn't occur to me for a moment that God would not forgive me and accept me. I was bold to share the news about this almighty and forgiving God. I loved to talk about Him to anyone who would listen. I hardly gave a thought to what folks would think of me. I loved just about anyone I bumped into. It wasn't long, however, before legalism began to creep in. It feels right, after all, to try to pay God back for all He's done. We can't really expect to get all that for nothing, right? Somewhere, somehow, and gradually, things began to change. I began to put my trust in my obedience rather than His unmerited favor. I began to judge other Christians who seemed less "spiritual". This felt pretty good for a while, that is until I could no longer live up to my own standards of spirituality. Matthew 7:1-2 says, "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you." I don't believe that Jesus is speaking here only to the final judgment. I know, because I've been subjected to this measure of judgment in this life, and the heavy dread that comes with it - the fear of the wrath of God and man. I fear God's judgment and man's. Let me say, this fear is not conducive to love for God or man. No one loves the one they are afraid will destroy them.

So what hope is there for ones like me, ones who've grown fearful again of God and men? There is only one hope - the only hope there ever was - and that is the gospel of Jesus Christ. He died for sinners. He paid the penalty for sin - my sin - all my sins. He paid for the ones I sinned before I trusted Him, and He paid for the ones I still commit during all the moments when my trust is imperfect. I need Him now as much as the day I first trusted Him. I need a Savior today as much as that day. And if I trust in His great love, and His great sacrifice on the Cross, then I can know once more that I am "accepted in the Beloved" and run into God's loving embrace instead of cowering from His presence in fear. If I trust in His acceptance, I need never fear the rejection of any man (or woman). "If God is for me, who can be against me?...Who shall bring any charge against God's elect?... Who is to condemn?" Only God can judge me, and if He has acquitted me then I am acquitted indeed. There is no higher court which can be appealed to. I'm truly free. I'm free to love others with no fear of rejection, because I know I'm accepted by the Savior of my soul.

Brothers and sisters, are you afraid? Are you afraid of God? Are you afraid of me, or anyone else you know? Believe the gospel of Jesus Christ and fear no more. Love God and man - fearlessly.


Betsy Markman said…
Thank you for this! You connected some dots that I hadn't really connected in my mind before. I need to let this sink down into my soul.
Laurie M. said…
I do too. Like finding Orion in the sky for the first time, last night, late, by the grace of God I connected those dots too. Now, to let it soak in and change my life...may God give the growth.
Andi said…
I really enjoyed this post. Thank you!
Anonymous said…
This is a good post, Laurie. I've had a lot of the same struggles myself. It still seems to me, though, in trying to be faithful to the whole of Scripture, that there is some sense in which we should really, truly fear God. I've always been struck by Jesus' words in Luke 12:4-5. There, speaking to his own disciples (12:1), those he calls his friends, he says:

"I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!"

Those are sobering words. In this context, "fear" can't possibly be interpreted as respect, as some people want it to be. That leaves me wondering--how do we reconcile Jesus' words with John's? It's a sincere question, and not meant to be a challenge.
Laurie M. said…
I totally see your point, and it is legitimate. I would say that I think there is something qualitatively different about the two kinds of fear - one being a humble response to God's holiness - like Isaiah falling down and declaring he is a man of unclean lips. He agrees with God, feels the weight of it, and can not stand. But God cleansed him and made him able to stand. At that point it would be wrong of him to run wimpering and cower in a corner, rejecting the fact of God's work on his behalf. The fear I'm referring to is, I think, a perversion of the healthy and appropriate fear you're speaking of.

I'm sure many things could be written about the distinction. Perhaps one of us (or both) should take it on sometime. I appreciate you broaching the subject. Thanks
jeri said…
Laurie, you have been quite prolific! As has Paul--I just enjoyed reading over your sites for about half an hour.

I appreciate this post. I think it is the human condition, and maybe more so for some of us than others, to become legalistic and suspicious of God and people. We need continually to be reminded of His grace and love for us (even as we delight in the fear of Him)!
haithabu said…
Nice post, Laurie

I've thought about the tension between fear and love too, and the I believe the distinction you make is a valid one.

There is a fear which is really based on distrust of the character of the one feared. It is characterized by insecurity, a lack of confidence and feeling unloved. I don't think God is honoured by such fear.

The fear which co-exists with love is described in Is. 11:2,3

There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.

And here's the really thought-provoking part (for me):

His delight is in the fear of the LORD...The One who of all beings is closest to the Father and His love delights the most in fearing Him!

This is something which I can barely understand, except I know that if it is delightful to Jesus then I want it too.
Laurie M. said…
"There is a fear which is really based on distrust of the character of the one feared. It is characterized by insecurity, a lack of confidence and feeling unloved. I don't think God is honoured by such fear."

Exactly! Exactly.

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