Sunday in our Bible study we spoke about what it means to fear God, and we noticed that there are a wide range of views on what this means. Some even recounted being taught to be terrified of the Father in the past.
We also referenced a sermon by the great preacher Jonathan Edwards from July 8th, 1741. The Title of that sermon was “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” and Edwards could not finish the sermon that day. So many in the congregation were crying out and weeping because they were so terrified of hell based on the words of Edwards that day. I spoke about the abhorrent theology present in the sermon as well. You can read the sermon for yourself, but I want to share a quote from this sermon that illustrates the point.
“The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: His wrath towards you burns like fire; He looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire; He is of purer eyes that to bear to have you in His sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in His eyes than the more hateful venomous serpent is in ours.”Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God – Jonathan Edwards
Effective as this type of preaching may have been, this is not what the Bible tells us about God! Let’s look at 1 John.
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.1 John 4:18-19 NIV
God doesn’t abhor you. He loves you, and he loved you even when you didn’t love him! This is the very reason that Jesus came into the world; not that God abhored you and couldn’t even look at you, but he so loved you that he sent his only Son! (Jn 3:16)
Notice also John’s admonition that in love there is no fear. Why? Because fear has to do with punishment. And just to be clear, there is no condemnation (punishment) for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). For those who are in Christ Jesus, there is no fear of punishment!
Trying to scare the Hell out of people may make for effective preaching, but it distorts the message of Scripture. God isn’t eager to destroy you. He paid the ultimate price for you! You are loved, you are precious, and as a loving Father he pleads with you to love him as well. And those who have chosen to love him in Christ Jesus have no reason to fear.
And yet, we are told that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” (Prov. 9:10)
So what does it mean to fear God? We’ll talk about that Sunday morning. See you there!