I remember a time while growing up when our 4 year old neighbor ran out the front door of her home with Mom close behind, shouting “Come back here, or I’ll paddle you.” The little girl being pursued responded “It’ll only hurt for a little while!” That was a typical response of a parent 30 years ago. In order to obtain a particular behavior, a threat of punishment was presented. Sometimes this was effective, but as seen by this story, it doesn’t always work!
This is often the approach used to reach the spiritually lost or keep those who have chosen to follow God. I ask myself why that is and the best answer I can come up with is that it is so easy for many. I even find myself at times taking the approach that God is just out there waiting to drop the hammer of justice on us. While it is true that God is just and that those not seeking His mercy and grace will find His wrath, the true essence of God is in His love.
The best approach seems to a balanced approach. Fear is a tremendous motivator but the result is a selfish one, one that seeks self preservation. Fear that brings one to God is good in that we are reconciled to Him as He desires (cf. 2 Peter 3:9). But we are to grow beyond that fear (dread) to a respect and reverence for God. We are to grow in both the grace and knowledge of our savior. Growing in grace means increasing in our understanding of the “unmerited favor’ we have received. it more and more each day as it comes to mean more to us.
One last point that occurs to me is the tendency of an individual to avoid that which is feared. If we are filled with a dread of God we will respond just as the Israelites did at the base of Mt Sinai when they pleaded for Moses to speak to them rather than God. They wanted to be at a “safe” distance, yet in His good graces. Remember, James tells us to “draw near to God and He will draw near to us.” Are you too fearful to let that happen?
Copyright © 2003, Nolan P. Rutter