Fear is a basic human emotion. Everyone fears something. In the Bible, there is a certain kind of fear called “the fear of God.” While this blog isn’t meant to be an extensive treatment of fear, I wanted to touch on the contrast between godly and ungodly fear as it relates to God himself. I believe Christians generally have a hard time differentiating between the two.
The fear I call ungodly fear is a selfish fear that something might happen to ME. Something might adversely affect ME. Something might cause suffering for ME. This fear is based around a fear of the unknown and how it might directly affects us.
One of the biggest fears for everyone is the fear of death. Death is sure to come to all of us, and we don’t know the when, where, and how of it. Therefore, we tend to fear it. We all know we will have to face death (1 Corinthians 15:22). For some it is fearful and for some it is comforting. It all depends on how much you trust God.
For years pastors, evangelists, and other well-meaning Christians have used fear as a motivator for believing in God. How many times have you heard a sermon end with something like, “You could die before the end of this sermon,” or “You could walk out of this building and get hit by a bus.” If that doesn’t work, you might hear something like, “If you die right now you will spend an eternity in hell with the devil and his demons torturing you all day and all night forever!” The fear of death and hell is never seen in the scriptures as motivators for believing in God.
Ungodly fear is never a motivator for faith.
Matt Chandler wrote in The Explicit Gospel, “Heaven is not a place for those who are afraid of hell; it’s a place for those who love God. You can scare people into coming to your church, you can scare people into trying to be good, you can scare people into giving money, you can even scare them into walking down an aisle and praying a certain prayer, but you cannot scare people into loving God. You just can’t do it.”
Why, then, do we try so hard to motivate people to faith via fear? A lack of trust in God’s love and sovereignty is the culprit. In an effort to get a quick “decision for Christ,” we often employ ungdly fear as an evangelistic tactic (YOU might die tomorrow…”).
In the scriptures, love is the motivator for our faith in God (2 Corinthians 5:14). No one affectionately loves anything or anyone because they are afraid. They do it because they see the thing being loved as worthy of affection, obedience, and investment.
Which brings us to godly fear.
The Bible does address godly fear. Godly fear is an awe and reverence for God and all his greatness, awesomeness, and every other attribute of him that sets him apart from us and above us. Psalm 89:7 reads “God is greatly feared,” and in Acts 19:17 we find that “fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.”
Was this fear a fear that caused the church to be afraid that something bad was going to happen to them? Or that they might get trampled by a camel before day’s end? The answer is obviously “no.” Godly fear is one in which we recognize our lives are in the hands of the Creator of the universe, and this fear should produce comfort, not cowering.
While we know God can do anything he wants with us (Romans 9:21), the fact that he loves us and seeks our good is a motivator for loving him in a reverent and holy way. This affection finds its apex in that God sent Jesus to die on our behalf : “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Because of his great love, we are now free from fear and free to love.