Fear and the Goodness of God

wrath-of-god-martin

Fear (terror) compels people to do all kinds of things. History has proven this to be true at all levels of human experience, from personal interactions to community concerns to international conflicts.

Concerning salvation, many Christians confess that the fear (terror) of God’s wrath resting on unrepentant sinners (John 3:18-21, 36) is what initiated their faith in Jesus.[1]

There is another sense of fear that also plays a role in the Christian’s faith. The Bible teaches, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov 1:7, NKJV). This kind of fear (awe, reverence) comes from some measure of recognition of how truly great, mighty, and awesome God is and how small, puny, and powerless we are in contrast to Him.

But when it comes to salvation, God isn’t just interested in handing out “fire insurance” or “keep out of hell” cards. God doesn’t save us to set us on a pedestal. God desires changed hearts producing changed lives, lives that increasingly become transformed to reflect the the righteousness of the Son.

This kind of change is not produced by fear, but by the goodness of God. As Romans 2:4 says, “the goodness of God leads you to repentance.” Thus, the Lord invites us, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!”

Consider an example from Jesus. It was not the fear (terror) of death that drove the prodigal home. His fear caused him to reflect on his life choices and remember his father’s house. It was the goodness of his father that convinced him that he might find some small portion of sustenance after squandering his resources and exhausting his options (Luke 15:11-32).

Thus, in facing the fear (terror) of death apart from God, we learn the fear (awe, reverence) of the Lord, which draws us to the Son. And when we come to the Son by grace through faith (Eph 2:8), we find we need no longer fear death and the grave because God’s wrath no longer abides on us. What we find is good Father who welcomes us with open arms.

[1] R.C. Sproul relaying the testimony of some of his congregants for their reasons for believing in Jesus https://youtu.be/fcOzTZUOBn0?t=293.

When You Have Returned to Me

peters-denial

And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” But he said to Him, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” Then He said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me.” (Luke 22:31-34, NKJV)

Jesus and the disciples were in the upper room celebrating the Passover. The conversation among the disciples turned to a lively dispute about who among them was the greatest of Jesus’ disciples. Amusingly, this was not the first time they argued about this topic. They argued about the same thing shortly after returning from their preaching  and miracle ministry to Israel (see Luke 9, esp. 1-11, 46-50). We shouldn’t be surprised. After all, comparing our works to others’ is a common way to measure success in the eyes of the world. However, God measures success much differently. God isn’t interested in how we “measure up” to others—He’s interested in the condition of our hearts, whether we’re willing to humbly yield to the loving others and serving Him (see Luke 9, esp. 23-26, 46-50).

Regardless, during the Passover dispute, Jesus interrupts and tells Peter, “I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” The implications are clear. Peter will fail the Lord in word and works. And when Peter protests, Jesus very specifically tells Peter when and how He will fail—by denying Christ three times that very night, before the morning rooster finishes crowing. Interestingly, even with such a specific word of prophecy, Peter lives out his failure exactly as Christ prophesied.

But Peter’s failure isn’t the only prophecy Jesus spoke. Notice, Jesus also said, “and when you have returned to Me.” Here we are reminded that Jesus, knowing our thoughts even before we think them, loves us unconditionally. And this great love impels Christ to keep us as members of His flock, in spite of all our failures and weaknesses. He loves us so much that He even invests Himself personally in prayer for us.

Thus, Luke 22:31-34 exemplifies that wonderfully comforting passage in Romans 8:35-39:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written:

“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So, when you find yourself failing the Lord over and over again, take heart. Jesus already knows every mistake you’ll ever make, yet He loves you still. And no matter how many times you sin—no matter how far you wander or how hard you try to mess things up—when you truly belong to His flock, having received His grace by believing in Him, then, He will always hold you tight, never let you go, and invite you with open arms to return once more to Him.

Topical Study on Worship

Biblical worship begins in the heart with an awareness of God’s greatness, producing reverence toward God and motivating sacrificial service in the worshipper’s life. The basic idea in both the Old and New Testaments is bowing in reverence. Bowing may or may not be reflected in physical posture, but it is certainly a spiritual disposition before the presence of the Lord, informed and guided by the Holy Spirit working in the heart of the worshipper. Central to this awareness of God’s greatness is the person and work of Jesus Christ—Who accomplished God’s plan of salvation by dying on the cross for our sins, proved He is worth of praise by resurrecting from the grave, and brings glory to the Godhead by manifesting His unfailing love and life-changing presence in the worshipper’s life. Finally, worship is not a passive activity for spectators, but a recurring sacrifice of service rendered by the lives of participants. On the whole, then, Biblical worship might be summarized in this way:

Worship is the Christian’s reverent response toward God
for who He is and what He has done for us—
in, through, and to the glory of the Son,
our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

To view or download the entire study, click here:
Topical Study on Worship

Word Study on Partiality Gk #4382

The English word “partiality” from the Greek term προσωπολημψία refers to unjust favoritism based on external appearances or circumstances. God does not judge humankind on the basis of such externals. These include religious or ethnic heritage (Rom 2:11), social status (Eph 6:9, Col 3:25), and wealth (Jas 2:1). God judges the condition of the human heart according to His perfect standard of holiness, by which every human falls far short of God’s standard (c.f., Rom 3:23). Discriminatory treatment toward others on the basis of external circumstances is out of step with the character of God. God creates every person with unique physical traits, natural abilities, and spiritual gifts; as such, every believer’s role within their local church will vary according to the spiritual call God has placed upon each individual’s life (Eph 2:10) and that person’s willingness to pursue such a call as evidenced by a pattern of growth toward Christian maturity (e.g., Heb 5:12-14). However, it is clear that, for Christians, any distinctions between persons should never be based on external circumstances, but only according to God’s gifting and the individual’s willingness to surrender to God’s will for their lives.

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Word Study on Partiality Gk #4382

Word Study on Wrath Gk #3709

In the New Testament, the English word “wrath” from the Greek term ὀργήν may originate with humans or God. Human wrath is vengeful and always denounced. God’s wrath, however, is always God’s just response against sinfulness. God’s wrath is both present and future—present in that it rests on those who have not believed in Christ (e.g., John 3:36), and future as a promise for those who die in their unbelief (e.g., Rom 2:5). Of the two Greek terms for wrath, ὀργήν at times suggests the premeditated intent of the heart, but not always. Regardless, Christians should not conduct their lives in patterns of wrath against others, but rather, seek peace, even with their enemies, praying for their persecutors (Matt 5:44) and leaving all forms of righteous vengeance to God (Rom 12:17-19).

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Word Study on Wrath Gk #3709

Word Study on Perfect Gk #5046

The English word “patience” from the Greek term τέλειος has the idea of fullness of completeness. Something that is τέλειος is fully accomplished and lacks nothing. Old Testament sacrifices were without blemish. Old Testament saints were blameless. However, God is the standard of τέλειος. Christians are to look to Christ as our example of full spiritual maturity. So, when the Bible uses the word τέλειος for Christians, it means being wholly surrendered—heart, mind, and strength—in every aspect of life to the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the Spirit transforms us by renewing our minds to discern God’s will (Rom 12:2) and continually leading us in living out the fullest expression of the law of liberty by conducting our lives in personal purity and sacrificial love toward others (Jas 1:25-27).

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Word Study on Perfect Gk #5046