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Should we love God or fear Him?

This is a subject of great confusion for many, because people often assume that fear and love cannot coexist. However, God says this: ...what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all of His ways, and love Him... [Deut 10:12]. It is possible to have a healthy fear of God, without having any fear of condemnation or punishment. If you stop and think for a minute, it's easy to see, that although, the wrong kind of fear can be crippling, there is a healthy fear that plays an important role in our everyday lives. You, no doubt, have a healthy sense of fear when crossing a busy street, and this is not for your destruction, but for your protection. It's this same kind of fear, a fear of consequence, that is necessary when we first come to God. This kind of fear helps us, by undermining our fallen tendency to be rebellious and self-reliant, and this is why it is written, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom" [Proverbs 1:7].

God inspires a natural, healthy fear when we realize how extreme He is in every attribute. Imagine if someone attached you to a safety rope and lowered you over the edge of the Grand Canyon to dangle for a while, it would no doubt be terrifying, even after full assurance that the safety line is infallible and the canyon is not out to get you! Being made aware of how immense God is, also makes us aware of how limited we are, and the natural response is to feel vulnerable. Have you ever been nervous when talking to someone important, like perhaps a new boss or someone famous? Have you ever stood in front of a crowd to give a speech, wishing you could run away? Have you ever felt nervous when talking to an authority figure, like perhaps a police officer, or the school principle...even when you weren't doing anything wrong? Think about electricity, a treasured gift that greatly benefits our life, and yet, if handled foolishly, could kill you. Consider fire, a fundamental element of life with a long list of benefits - it would be out of balance to avoid it out of fear, but it could also be costly to not give it the extreme respect that it deserves.

Look at what God says about Himself through the Prophet Jeremiah:
"Should you not fear me?" declares the Lord. "Should you not tremble in my presence? I made the sand as boundary for the sea, an everlasting barrier it cannot cross. The waves may roll, but they cannot prevail, they roar, but they cannot cross it" [Jer 5:22]. It should not seem unusual to us that drawing close to God, would at times, inspire an extreme awe that would leave us bowed before Him in stunned silence.

Now, let us consider unhealthy fear.
If a person is willfully living in unrepentant sin, they should be very afraid, and yet, most people in the world go about their business every day, with a life full of sin, without fear - this is extremely unhealthy and a sure sign that their heart is terribly hardened. These are the people who should be terrified, not only of who God is, but what He intends to do to them on the day of wrath, if they stay in their sin [Rom 2:5-8, Jn 3:36]!

If a person loves Jesus Christ, and demonstrates that love by confessing and renouncing their sin daily, then their knowledge of God as judge and King should be tempered by the their understanding of Him as Father and friend. "The Lord is with you when you are with Him" [2 Chron 15:2], He is on your side when you belong to Him and He is no longer against you. "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble" [Jm 4:6]. You can celebrate that "there is now, no condemnation for those who are in Christ"[Rom 8:1]. You should always be aware of how incredibly holy God is, but if you fear God's condemnation or punishment after repentance, then you need to ask Him to heal you of this unhealthy fear. This unhealthy fear will cause you to hide from God, instead of running to Him when you need help with temptation and sin! The apostle John explains that the kind of fear that involves punishment is removed when your understanding of God's love is perfected in you [1 Jn 4:18]. Jesus Christ is your judge...but when you stand before this judge, you will be standing before your best friend, who has already paid your fines!

God is harsh with His enemies but He is gentle with His children, this is normal, balanced and good. We want a God who is capable of being ferocious when we call upon Him defend us. We should take pleasure in our ability to experience God, even the part of that experience that is sometimes mysterious and overwhelming [Is 11:2-3]. We should view the 'fear of the Lord' as a good thing, and embrace it, this is what keeps us humble and holy: "Don't be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning!" [Ex 20:20].

Let us bring a sense of reverence and awe back into the church. Even as we enter the Holy of Holies and receive the familiar and loving arms of our Jesus, let us tremble with excitement and fear, because nothing will ever compare to the awe of those moments, as we draw ever closer!

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