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.