I was old enough to know better but I still got in trouble. I was the oldest of three boys and from time to time I just could not control myself. I did evil on my little brothers.
At times the offense was so bad that I had to be punished. I deserved it. I knew it was coming. Dad warned me that it was.
One day he told me to go to the tree in the front yard and get a switch. I know as I tell this story in 2017, the idea of switching the legs of a child sounds like child abuse but let me tell you, it wasn’t. I deserved it. When Dad administered the punishment he did it in a restrained manner, taking no pleasure in the process. However the switch still stung; it stung so much that I never wanted it to happen again.
I developed a fear of my father and his ability to switch my legs.
In the previous post I wrote about passionate love as a motivating force to help us grow in our Christian lives but today I write about another force: fear—holy fear.
Fear has fallen “out of fashion” in the church. The Christian today is told that God is a loving God, accepting what we do with a very understanding and forgiving attitude. John Bevere says when Christians hear that they should fear God the ordinary responses are “We don’t have to fear God because He’s not given us a spirit of fear but of love.” “That’s an Old Testament teaching.” “Isn’t fear what we were set free from?” “What place does this word have in our vocabulary now?” [Good or God?, 192-93].
But then we turn to 2nd Corinthians 7:1 and read “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” Turning to Philippians 2:12 “Work out your own salvations with fear and trembling.” And then in 1st Peter we see “So you must live in reverent fear of Him during your time as ‘foreigners in the land.’” In Hebrews 12:28 it says “Therefore since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”
How could all this fear talk be in the New Testament? God is our “daddy”; yet these statements say that we should feel fear.
Bevere states that the notion of fear needs to be developed so we can understand what it means. In my life, I have sinned so badly that I wondered if God was going to send me to hell. The problem with that is I would repent and ask forgiveness and then I would sin again. Over and over the cycle would repeat. I will be honest; I wondered if God would ever get tired of my poor efforts to get myself under control and just let me go. The sad part of living like this is I was truly a person who was scared of God because I had something to hide. It reminds me of the sin in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve did not want to see God because they had eaten of the forbidden tree and they did not want God to know…but God does know. God knows everything we do.
Another way of looking at fear is respect. Moses encountered the burning bush and he was afraid to look directly at it because he knew it was God. He knew that he should show respect by not looking and removing his sandals because he was told by God he was on holy ground. He had a healthy respect for God.
Finally, there is fear that we will live our lives away from God. This idea means that the more we love God, the less we want to sin and if we do sin, we are moving away from God. Proverbs 8:13 states “All who fear the Lord will hate evil.” Contemporary Christian writer John Piper says it another way: “As we mature as Christians, we love God more than we love the sin.” Paul writes in 2nd Corinthians 7:1 that fear is the motivating force that helps us to walk away from sin.
John Bevere uses “real life” examples to illustrate his ideas and in Chapter 13, he recounts a visit to the penitentiary. He was there to visit a fallen pastor who was serving years behind bars for criminal activity. On top of that, this man had committed adultery and everyone in his church knew it. The pastor had read Bevere’s writings and had requested a meeting. Like so many people, Bevere knew this pastor had a passionate love for God, in fact you might say he was “on fire for Jesus.” He had to ask, when did you fall out of love with Jesus?
The man’s response was so significant.
“John, I loved Jesus all the way through my transgressions, but I did not fear Him. There are millions of Americans who are just like me. They love Jesus but they don’t fear God.”
It is good to love God.
It is also prudent to fear God.
I certainly look back on my days with my father and I know that I loved him, but the day he made me go get my own switch taught me that he was not afraid to give me the punishment I deserved. From that day on, it was prudent to fear the punishment and necessary to avoid being bad enough to get the switch…