Afraid of God
I am going to say it up front and perhaps make a lot of well-meaning Christians upset. Being afraid of God is never the right motive for obeying Him. And “obeying” God because you are afraid God will punish you by bringing bad things into your life, or taking away things from you, is the result of believing lies about God. It is in fact evidence of spiritual immaturity, which God wants you to grow out of, not into.
“And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment (punishment). But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us.” I John 4:16-19 NKJV
Think about what you just read. Men are afraid of God, John says, if His love has not been “perfected” in them. That is, they are afraid because they lack a full revelation of His love and have not yet allowed His love to do a complete work in them. They are still immature in their thinking regarding God, the evidence of which is their need to be motivated by the fear of “punishment” at His hand. This fear, says John, is present only because they have not yet been “made perfect in love.” If they were, the revelation of God’s perfect love would have “cast out all fear” out of their lives.
Clearly, from John’s comments, God does not encourage the fear of punishment among His children. He does not view it as something good at all. He wants to get rid of it. And He does not use fear to motivate His children to do His will. Period.
Now, it is true that without the fear of punishment, many will live carelessly. The only reason such persons see to “obey” outwardly (such obedience is never inward) is to avoid punishment. Their so-called obedience is the “obedience of fear.” But God receives no glory from anything motivated by fear. Faith, not fear, pleases God. We have been called to the “obedience of faith.” And what God is looking for is the obedience that flows out from “faith working by love.”
True, there is a fear of God that is good, the “beginning of wisdom.” But this fear has absolutely nothing to do with being afraid of God punishing you. Why can I say this so categorically? Because Jesus walked in the fear of God and does anyone really believe Jesus ever once contemplated the notion of being punished by His Father? The fact Jesus could walk in the fear of God so perfectly with no thought of punishment demonstrates conclusively the right fear of God has nothing to with punishment at all!
The fear of God commanded and Jesus walked in is a holy reverence for the greatness and goodness of God that causes you to ascribe infinite value and worth to Him. This is indeed the beginning of wisdom because once you begin to see God and treat God as the awesome God He is, everything about your life will be positively affected for the better.
Being afraid of God’s punishment is not a fruit of the Spirit. It is a work of the flesh produced by believing the lies of the enemy. It is a hindrance to spiritual growth. So, the sooner you know and are perfected in the love of God, the better.
“But if I cast off the fear of punishment as a child of God, won’t I be removing an important restraint against sin in my life?” You will be removing an ineffective, unbiblical restraint that is fleshly for a far better one–God’s love shed abroad in your heart. Love is a much nobler motivation and the foundation upon which the Spirit wants to grow you up into the full measure of Christ. And conform you to the image of Jesus. “We love Him because He first loved us.”
Child of God, God wants you to be “bold in the day of judgment.” That is why Paul writes, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and of a sound mind.” (I Tim. 1:7) Since this is the case, you do not need to spend any more time trying to figure out whether your fear is of God. It isn’t–He told us so. You simply need to believe Him. You simply need to grow in the knowledge of Him. And that, my friend, is His heart’s cry for you.