Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we are continuing a series of sermons that take a look at the First letter of John. Last week we were considering the topic “This is Love” (Sermon here). This week we'll be studying 1 John 4:7-21. Verse 18 tells us that for those who truly love God,“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” Yet Paul, writes in Romans 4:16 about Abraham, who in his faithfulness is “the father of all believers,” and commends him for having a proper fear of God.
Professor Russell Reno, who was born in Baltimore and in later life became a professor of theology and ethics at Creighton University, writes about how Scripture identifies three types of fear, that play very different roles in faithful discipleship.
1. Worldly fear that can diminish human life.
We are aware that we can be destroyed by human sinfulness, powerful institutions, and natural processes beyond our control. Of course we should plan our lives with care (Proverbs 8:12) and have a healthy fear of the legitimate power of authorities (Romans 13:3). But Reno writes that worldly fear too often “debilitates, paralyzes, and undermines our faithfulness” and that “the kind of justice that emerges out of trembling anxiety, is outward and unstable.” This is the kind of fear that Jesus sought for us to be released from. Jesus invites us to; “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (Matthew 6:26-27)
2. Spiritual fear of God’s judgment that directs us away from sin and toward righteousness.
We should grieve over our sins. Our sins not only destroy our relationship with God but also our relationships with each other. They directly contradict the two great commandments given to us by Jesus, that we love God and love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. Paul reminds us that sin always exacts a price from us and writes in Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God's judgment finds expression in our lives when we observe how sin wrecks, pollutes and makes a mess of all that we try to do.
3. A lasting, heavenly fear that honors God’s holiness and love.
It is fitting and right to experience a sense of awe in the presence of a Holy God. Scripture invites us to die to our sinful selves, and be awake to how God can transform our lives. Reno writes. “The eternal and unfathomable difference between God and creature explains the everlasting fear that is consistent with a love that draws us ever nearer.... Our confident faith in [Christ’s] saving death is entirely consistent with a fearful sense of the depths into which He went on our behalf, depths from which we turn away in shuddering, instinctive horror... As the old spiritual says of the cross, ‘It causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.”
Let us pray that God will help us have a trust in God's love that casts out any and all debilitating fear! For some music Zach Williams sings “Fear Is a Liar.”
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.