“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 John 4:18
How often do you feel like God doesn’t love you, or that He’s furious with you? For years, I saw God as a big cruel ogre who was constantly waiting for me to mess up just so He could punish me. And as soon as I did mess up, I would scramble around trying to do a bunch of religious stuff to make up for my failures.
I was petrified of God, even as a Christian. I didn’t understand the truth about His love. This is not okay. The reason I thought this way was because of the teaching from people who didn’t know God very well–if at all. Instead, all they knew was church, conservatism, hating sin, and behavior-improvement programs for “bad” people.
Due to the non-gospel teaching of God’s love being conditional, I always felt as if everything bad happening in my life was God rightly punishing me for my poor choices. Either that, or He was putting the hammer down because I missed too much church–or because I didn’t have enough good works. “God hates backsliders! You gotta be quick to repent! If you don’t repent daily, and if you don’t get to work for God, then you’ll get exactly what you deserve!”
I constantly thought God was “getting me back,” I was so afraid of Him. Eventually, I wouldn’t even ask God for help when I needed it, “It’s no use. I’m such a terrible Christian. I don’t even deserve God’s help.” The anti-compassionate people had taught me, “You better get that sin out of your life or God will never even hear your prayers!” Sadly, I believed them for far too long.
It’s no wonder why so many people hate Christians, it’s because of the complete misrepresentation of God’s love by people claiming to be Christians.
Soon enough, my level of The Fear of God had peaked. Fear then turned into anger, and anger morphed into rebellion. Finally, I said, “The heck with it (only I didn’t say heck). I can’t be good like these people keep saying I have to be, and God keeps punishing me anyway, so I’m just going to do whatever I want.”
Little did I know, I actually wanted what God wanted because He lived inside me! Even if my flesh and mind rebelled against legalistic people–rightfully so–my spirit would always stay holy and blameless! My spirit would always have the same desires as God–and even better, God’s loving opinion of me would remain the same for eternity because I was His child! (See 2 Timothy 2:13, Colossians 1:22, Romans 6:6, John 1:12, Ephesians 1:5).
Looking back, I could see that it was the Holy Spirit rebelling against such garbage, not just me. I had to unlearn a lot of untrue stuff about God. This wasn’t easy. In the beginning, He was teaching me who He really was by comforting me in my darkest hours, but I was still so petrified of Him I believed I already had one foot dangling into hell.
Because of the religious abuse I endured, certain parts of my unrenewed mindsets were still very afraid of God and hell. But He didn’t want me to be afraid of either! The truth is, God has no desire for us to enter into a relationship with Him through fear. So if you did, He doesn’t want you to stay there. He wants you free from all fear.
God’s aspiration for us is to be confident as His cherished children! The Bible says, “Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded” (Hebrews 10:35). The number one reason why we can be confident is because we won’t be judged guilty for any sin we ever commit. Past, present, and even future sins are already forgiven. Jesus tells us this in John 3:17 and 18:
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
The writer of Hebrews doubles-up on our once-for-all forgiveness:
“And by that will (God’s will, the New Covenant), we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10, note added).
“Have been,” as in past tense; and “once for all,” as in once for all! This is the foundational reason why we shouldn’t be afraid of God! Because we are holy and forgiven forever through Jesus’ body, we have nothing to be afraid of!
The word fear is what comes to mind when we know we will be punished for something. For Christians, when it comes to being punished for sin, we won’t be punished! Therefore, we have nothing to be afraid of when it comes to our Creator! The apostle John tells us this in 1 John 4:18. He also says that God’s love for us is perfect, and if we are afraid of God then we really don’t understand His love!
Old Betty Blue-Hair will be quick to correct me by saying, “Matt, do yourself a favor and study God’s Word harder! You’re telling people they can just sin away with no consequences whatsoever!”
To that, I’d reply, “Yes. That is exactly what I’m saying, you old goat.” I’m kidding! I wouldn’t say that last part! But yes, there are no heavenly consequences for any Christian’s sins, ever. Earthly consequences? Yes, absolutely, but not heavenly. Jesus has already forgiven all of our sins so there are no consequences left to be had. Christ didn’t say, “I’ll forgive you of all your sins unless you sin too much!” No, He said:
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).
However, the person who is focused on their wonderful behavior will say, “Liar! All Christians will be judged for their sins, and you will be judged the worst for telling people they won’t be judged!”
To that, I’d say, “Calm down, Sparky. I’m sorry you didn’t get your Christmas bonus to pay for the pool, but you don’t have to have a come-apart.” I’m kidding! I wouldn’t say that! That’s from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation for those of you who didn’t get the joke.
But seriously, the Bible says no Christian will be judged for their sins because Jesus was already judged for them–and the punishment was death (see 1 Peter 2:24, 3:18, 2 Corinthians 5:21). The Prophet Isaiah foresaw what Messiah would do by absorbing our sins, 700 years before His birth:
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5)
By His wounds our spirits are healed. Healed of what? Sin! Still, this won’t be enough biblical proof for most grace-confused Christians. They will rebuttal this amazing verse with a taken-out-of-context verse, 2 Corinthians 5:10:
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”
The key words here are “whether good or bad.” I agree that all of humanity will stand before Christ in judgment, each person after they die, but we Christians don’t have anything bad to be judged for. What are bad things? SIN! And what has Jesus done with our sin? He has taken them away! (See John 1:29, 1 John 3:5).
So yes, Christians will give an account on the Day of Judgment, but only for the good they have done–not for anything bad. Even better, Jesus said if we do so much as give a cup of water in His name, we will be rewarded (see Mark 9:41). So us Christians should be excited about being judged! But let’s be clear, simply knowing Christ is our true reward! We don’t do stuff on earth in hopes of getting stuff in heaven! We do what we do because Jesus already lives in us!
Yet, the frustrated Christian still won’t be happy with my answers. After all, they’ve worked way too hard for God and someone like me isn’t going to come along and take away all their gold stars, without a fight. “So Matt, you’re saying that no matter how much you sin, God will never leave you? What a lie! You gotta prove yourself to God in order to keep His love!”
Friend, Jesus said, “I’m with you always, even until the end of time” (see Matthew 28:20). He didn’t say, “I’m with you sometimes and when you are not doing religious stuff, nope. You are all alone.”
Johnny McAngry will bark back, “You mean to tell me that we can do whatever we want and Jesus won’t send us to hell or leave us?! You’re crazy!”
Buddy, I hear you. This makes no sense. The truth is, we want what God wants. It seems like a crazy idea, but the gospel doesn’t make any sense at all, especially if you think about it.
Here, this might help you understand: If my wife told me, “Matt, I love you so much, I’ll never leave you no matter what you do. Because of my love, you are allowed to do whatever you want, whenever you want. You can even have as many affairs as you please, and I’ll still be here for you. My love and commitment to you will always remain the same.”
Seems ludicrous doesn’t it? But what do you think my response would be? Do you think I would want to go sleep around, knowing without a doubt, that Jennifer would never leave me and her love would stay the same? If I knew that I could go blow all of our money, get drunk all the time, beat up her and Grace–but yet, she’d never show me resentment or hard feelings? What a cray-cray idea!
But this is how God sees us because of our faith in Jesus! (See Romans 5:1). He has taken our heavenly punishment away by Christ being killed on the Cross! (See Colossians 1:22). So no matter how many poor choices we make in these bodies, our salvation is secure because of Jesus’ death and resurrection! (See Hebrews 7:25).
Also, I would have to be a selfish fool to cheat on such a person or actually look forward to causing them pain–and I’m not! No Christian is like that–at their core–because of the Holy Spirit giving them a new spirit! (See Romans 6:6, Galatians 2:20, 2 Corinthians 5:17). Our want to is in the proper place because of God’s unconditional love and because of our new hearts–our new spirits! This is why God never has to use guilt or anger to motivate us into a closer relationship–only people do that. Instead, He uses agape love, loving discipline, and never-ending commitment!
Next, I want to address the issue of using “the fear of hell” as a means to get people to come to know Christ. Yes, hell is a real place, but why would you want to establish such a fearful foundation in a relationship with God? No good relationship has ever been built on fear, only bad ones!
Let’s just say for a moment that hell is not real–which it is–but for now, let’s say it doesn’t even exist. When we die, if we are not in Christ, instead of going to hell, we are annihilated. Again, not the truth, but for my point, let’s just think about that for a minute.
Even if there wasn’t a hell wouldn’t you still want people to know Jesus? Yes! Yes, you would! This is why our focus as Christ’s ambassadors must be on knowing Jesus rather than being petrified of a very bad place. It’s all about our focus! Our focus should be on relationship!
I’ve tried my best to teach my daughter to be confident in not being afraid of God. Some people teach their kids the opposite, and that’s why they rebel. They don’t want anything to do with a mean God–that, or they become uber-religious and nobody can stand being around them. I don’t want Grace to be either. I want her to live her life until she’s 102 years old from a place of peace with God. I want her to always feel secure in her relationship with God. I try my best to let her know the more mistakes she makes, the deeper God’s love for her goes. Because I’m teaching her the truth of the gospel, at 12 years old she already knows that she never has to worry about going to hell no matter how many times she messes up or how many times she misses church. She is confident in God’s love, and this is how it should be!
My goal is to make sure Grace knows that God’s love is unconditional, from start to finish. So on the day she hears the false teaching of fear tactics, she will immediately fight back with, “That’s a lie, and I know it. God is for me, He is not against me. I don’t have to be afraid.”
Friends, God is not unloving, He is not graceless, He is not a fair-weather friend or a controlling, vengeful, hateful, manipulating God! The people who teach this stuff might be, but God is nothing like that at all. So who is He? Believe it or not, God is not so much a who as He is a what! God is love! (See 1 John 4:8) He is love! Love is not just a characteristic of His but it’s what He is!
Nothing can separate you from God’s love! Not even your sin! (See Romans 8:37-39). God did this for you for free, through Jesus dying on the Cross! That’s how much He loves you! How amazing!
So today, my friends, know this: You can’t be bad enough to lose God’s love, and you can’t be good enough to maintain it. He loves you no matter what. Now, because of this good news of the gospel, aren’t you confident? Don’t you feel loved? Doesn’t this love make you want to love Him back? I know it sure does me! So join me! Join me in showing the world what confidence in a loving God looks like! Don’t be afraid any longer! You are loved!
A prayer for you: Heavenly Father, thank you for showing me how much you love me through Jesus. Because you gave Him to us, you not only saved us, but you showed us what you are really like in person–LOVING! Right now, I lift up all who are reading this, directly to you. For those who don’t understand just how much you love them, and for those who have been taught to fear you, touch their lives today. Teach them about your unconditional love! Begin to build up a CONFIDENCE in them THROUGH your love! In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.
This devotional is from 60 Days for Jesus, Volume 1. Get your copy here!