Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Of The Removal of Fear For Our Sins

Earlier today I was in the midst of chastising my daughter for some pretty upsetting behavior. As I was doing so, I found myself at a crossroads. I could either say, "If you do that again, I will spank you!" or I considered another more Gospel-oriented approach. And so I decided to turn down the Gospel road. I leaned down to her crying face and said, "Sweetheart, do you love me?" to which she replied through pouty lips, "Yes. But you're gonna spank me." I paused and said, "I'm not going to spank you. But I do want you to listen to me. Do you love me?" She said, "Yes." I said, "If you love me, then please show me by your actions. You don't have to be afraid of being spanked. I don't want you to just do what I say because you're afraid you're going to be punished every time you mess up. I want your heart, and that means that I want you to obey me because you love me, because you want to please me. Because it gives you pleasure to bring joy to your Dad. That's the way God is with us. Jesus takes away our fear of death and condemnation so that we can obey him out of love instead of fear. That's what the Gospel is all about. Now you're old enough to understand what I'm saying, okay? God has taken the punishment from us so that we don't have to constantly be afraid of being punished, and that's what I'm doing with you, okay? Now, will you please apologize to your brother - not because you're afraid of me, but because you love me?"

Now, I don't want to drag anyone through the mud, but another family member (not my wife) chimed in and said, "Yes, but there's still an element of fear. We still have to fear disobeying God, because He does punish us when we sin." I just felt like a whole lifetime of poor Gospel preaching went into that comment. Is it possible that we can hear the Gospel our whole lives, sit under Protestant preaching all our lives, attend and teach Sunday School all our lives - and still completely miss the Gospel?

If you are talking to someone who still has to fear any condemnation from God, then you are not speaking to a Christian. And if you are not speaking to a Christian, then that person ought to hear the condemnation that is inherent in the Law for those who are not in Christ. They have reason to fear.

This is the greatness of the Gospel - in Jesus Christ, God has removed all of the punishment due his people. Any and every bit of God's wrath which we are worthy of was born in the body of our Lord. Either we are forgiven or we are not. God does not partially pour his wrath on us. He does not place some of our sin on Jesus and the rest on us. This is where a really solid view of the atonement is crucial. If we miss this, then we miss the Gospel. Jesus removes God's wrath completely from his people.

"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love" (1 Jn 4:18). If perfect love really casts out all fear, then Christ's perfect love definitely casts out all fear. Obedience to God (lets call it Sanctification) does not run on the fuel of fear. It is fueled by love. If you are putting the fuel of fear into your tank, you will fall flat every time.

This is a message I need to constantly remind myself of - especially when I am in the mire of sin and condemnation. Yes, I should put my sins to death, but I should not do it because I am afraid of condemnation or of being damned if I cross some sort of "sin boundary." Christ has taken that possibility as far as the east is from the west. Rather, my new motive is pleasing Christ. We move from having a negative relationship with God to a positive one. Rather than looking over our shoulder at a task-master, we look straight ahead into our Father's eyes, knowing that no sin in our lives is too wretched to separate us from Him.

In this respect, Luther's commentary on Galatians has been a great comfort to me. In one particularly simple and yet pointed passage, Luther considers that Christ has born our sins and concludes that "All this is of wonderful comfort to a conscience troubled by the enormity of sin. Sin cannot harm those who believe in Christ, because He has overcome sin by His death."

In another place, Luther speaks peace to our consciences again:
Practice this knowledge and fortify yourself against despair, particularly in the last hour, when the memory of past sins assails the conscience. Say with confidence: "Christ, the Son of God, was given not for the righteous, but for sinners. If I had no sin I should not need Christ. No, Satan, you cannot delude me into thinking I am holy. The truth is, I am all sin..." Let us equip ourselves against the accusations of Satan with this and similar passages of Holy Scripture. If he says, "Thou shalt be damned," you tell him: "No, for I fly to Christ who gave Himself for my sins. In accusing me of being a damnable sinner, you are cutting your own throat, Satan. You are reminding me of God's fatherly goodness toward me, that He so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. In calling me a sinner, Satan, you really comfort me above measure." With such heavenly cunning we are to meet the devil's craft and put from us the memory of sin.

With what greater words can I speak than these? In this blog post, I hope most of all to speak to the troubled consciences of my brothers whom I know are hurting from the sting of sin in one way or another. The longer I follow Jesus, the more I become convinced that the Gospel is for us, all the time. That we ought to practice preaching the Gospel to ourselves at all times. That we ought never to tire of the old message that our sin has been removed. That if we ever think that we're mature enough to move on from that old message that we're as immature as we could possibly be - regardless our education or status in the church.


  1. Is it fair to assume your "sidekick" was speaking of God's discipline with no thought at all of condemnation? That's how it comes across to me, but I wasn't there. Anyway, good post.

  2. The implication was that we always have to have a certain degree of fear of condemnation, or else we have no motive to behave ourselves. If they had meant discipline, I wouldn't have protested.

  3. Romans 13 comes to mind.

    1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

    "But if you do wrong, be afraid . . ." Afraid of God? In a way, yes, because his duly appointed authorities have the duty to punish wrongdoing. But one can understand Romans 13 this way while still maintaining that such fear and punishment have nothing to do with our eternal status as God's children.

    So my inclination would be to give your relative the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he meant his comment in the sense of Romans 13, unless there were clear indications otherwise.


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