I’ve become alarmed recently at just how many churches in America have become “seeker friendly.” Whereas there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting your church services to be welcoming and inviting to non-believers (that’s a great objective, actually), I have seen more and more churches go down a dangerous road.
In our effort to reach out to non-Christians without worship services, there is an undeniable tension to water-down the message of the gospel, especially the more unpleasant parts of it. To be clear, the gospel is the “good news” about Jesus’ love and salvation for us, but it is impossible to understand the gospel without the larger context of our fallen state and our eternal destiny apart from Him. Those are the unpleasant parts of the message we must share as part of the gospel.
Not Doing Well
Some churches are better than others at having an inviting atmosphere while maintaining a line in the sand for truth. I’m sure you know some. Unfortunately, from my perspective, it seems like more churches than not who have gone this direction are not faring so well. What started with good intentions has turned into a desire to be well-respected and liked within their communities to the exclusion of sound biblical teaching.
This should be no surprise as more and more churches seem all too willing to negotiate on matters of unrepentant, sinful behavior. It is one thing to fight for and stand by fellow believers who are struggling to overcome sinful patterns and behaviors and another thing entirely to condone or allow self-professed believers to openly engage in unrepentant sinful lifestyles. The latter seems to becoming more commonplace, especially when in context to the hot-button political issues of the day.
The Road Less Traveled
There is another way, though, but the idea is not popular. It is much, much more effective, but quite odious to most of my American readers, I’m sure. What I’m getting at is the concept of the fear of the Lord.
I have run into so many pastors, teachers and churchgoers who understand quite well what the word “fear” means, but somehow when they read about the fear of God in the Bible, they quickly change the definition of fear. This is an unfortunate error. The “fear of the Lord” should be understood quietly literally as a fear of God just like you would fear an intruder in your home. The connotation of fear in scripture is not nuanced or somehow different.
The psalmist in Psalm 111:10 and again in Proverbs 9:10, Solomon says that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. What he means is that when we consider the fact that God makes the rules, and we don’t completely understand who He is and that we cannot control Him, it only makes sense that we should be afraid. When we have to face those who have total control over our destinies, fear is a great motivator for self-preservation. That motivation for self-preservation is the reason that fear works in managing and ruling people. Fear, of course, is not the best of motivators, but a very effective one. Every society has prisons to back up their laws for just such a reason.
Jesus explains this himself when He said in Matthew 10:28, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” He was speaking of Himself. He expounds on this idea in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. In that parable, Jesus gives money bags to three servants. Two of them invested their master’s money, as was the implied command, and one does nothing with his money, acting out of contempt and disobedience. Jesus says that the third person said he knew the master was a “hard man” and that he was afraid of him, but his fear did not cause him to obey. Rather, he showed contempt for his master by just hiding the money so he wouldn’t earn any more.
Jesus’ response is interesting. He tells the servant that if he had just obeyed, even without love or duty to his master like the other two servants, he would have been forgiven. But as it was, because he showed only contempt for a master he believed was too hard, he was to be cast into hell. What Jesus is saying is that even if we choose not to love Him, it would be at least wise for us to fear Him and choose to obey Him.
Truly Good News
The good news is that it goes much, much better for us who love Jesus. 1 John 4:18 says that “perfect love casts out all fear.” For those of us who love God, and who are no longer called servants, but friends, we have the greatest news. God is not a hard master to be feared, but a loving, caring father who shares His heart with us. That love He loves us with we can lay hold of and reciprocate. For those who do, there is no need to ever fear God again.
But our culture does not have the benefit of God’s love or His fear because we have given them no reason to. The American church has taught our culture contempt for God by our actions. We want the culture love and respect us, so we try to meet lost people halfway. We think that if we can meet them on their level, people will be more apt to respect us and God and the church. Look around–it’s not working too well.
Fear in Acts
The message of the gospel is nothing but good news based in love, but for those who choose not to love God, it would be far better for them if there was a fear of the Almighty than contempt. Right now God’s people are a laughingstock because of our powerless, hypocritical lifestyles the outside world sees. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There were times where the non-believing world outside the church did respect and honor God’s people, but it was only because of the fear of God.
Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor.
What happened here was that when the people of Ephesus realized that this Jesus whom Paul preached was very, very real, they were caught in terrible fear. When this unseen God whom they had no control over suddenly proved Himself very real and very powerful, they were afraid of Him. This fear led them to hold the church in high regard. That led to quite a revival inside and outside the church.
The same thing happened earlier in Acts 5 when God killed Ananias and Sapphira for lying. Those non-believers in Jerusalem heard the story and began to be afraid of the church and their God who dealt with sin so swiftly. Their fear, however, couldn’t keep them from joining, daily, the ones who they saw were transformed by the love of this God whom they now feared.
If we want to change our culture, to win it back for the Lord, then we need not seek their approval. We need to give ourselves entirely to prayer and God’s Word that we may walk in the power of God as in the days of Acts. When the lost world around us see that God is very, very real and very powerful, they will no longer hold us in contempt, but they will fear us.
Few people know that Bill Clinton feared God in just such a way. In thee ’90s there was a prophet named Paul Cain who had direct access to Bill Clinton, probably the only person in America who had such a privilege. When he called the White House, he was quickly routed to the president. Why? Because Clinton was terrified of this man who regularly told him what he had only thought silently or said only to his trusted close advisors.
I am not saying that Bill Clinton was a beacon of godliness. No, we can see his life very clearly even to this day. But America fared much better under his watch because we had a president who was afraid of this God who saw everything he did and told him about it. At one point, Clinton wanted to attack Iraq, but Paul Cain called him and told him The Lord was against it. That, probably more than anything else, led president Clinton to slow down and hold some town hall meetings around America where he found out the public was against it too. We did not attack Iraq under Clinton’s watch, something to this day he is very happy about. Our nation was temporarily spared from the tragedy we now suffer because our commander in chief feared God.
Fear Will Lead To Love
If we want the world to respect and honor us as believers, we must not treat them as spoiled children and give them whatever they want. Let’s choose to give them what they need: a powerful, thriving, loving, alive church of God that operates in power through miracles, signs and wonders and the freedom to overcome sin. When the world sees that kind of power, they will learn to fear God.
And few people develop a fear of God without the curiosity to know Him. Set your heart today to seek God’s power and His approval far above the approval of man. The world needs God’s love and forgiveness so badly right now, and they need us to step up and show the just how real He is. Will you be one of God’s people who show the lost just how real He is?