In this lesson we consider how a disciple’s love for God affects a disciple’s fear of God. We especially consider what John says about love and fear...
¶“18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1John 4:18).
Is John telling us that a disciple of Christ should not fear God? If he were meaning to say that, he would contradict Jesus who said, “Fear him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
John would also contradict Paul who said, “cleanse yourselves from all defilement of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord” (2Corinthians 7:1).
The texts above show us that the requirement to fear God does not belong only to the Old Testament era. It is also commanded of disciples of Christ in these New Testament times.
The disciples of Christ in Jerusalem were taught the Way of Christ and they saw the apostles perform wonders and signs “Then fear came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43). This is reported as a good thing and what God wants. It was not a wrong reaction.
When Paul says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), he shows that fearing God is part of our walking in grace and our endurance in salvation.
So at this point in our lesson we can safely say that John was not talking about this proper fear of God.
John is talking about an abject fear of God described by the Hebrew writer as “a certain terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire that shall devour God’s adversaries” (Hebrews 10:27).
That fear is not for disciples in the Way, but for enemies who trample on the Son of God. So we need to be sensible about how we fear God. We continue in his Way, “holding fast the confession of our faith without wavering, for God is faithful to his promise” (Hebrews 10:23).
It would not be sensible to say that disciples of Christ should be terrified of him. We should have “confidence in the day of Judgment” (1John 4:17). On the other hand, since godly fear is commanded, it makes no sense to say we should not fear God at all.
Here is the kind of fear that is sensible for disciples: “Serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear, for our God is a consuming fear” (Hebrews 10:28-29).
Love does not cast out that kind of fear, because it is sensible to fear God like that. We don't fear that God is going to consume us with his fire while we remain his disciples. But we are most afraid to offend him. So this fear helps to keep us in the Way. Is that not sensible?
If we were trapped in a burning building, we would fear the fire intensely. If we escaped we would no longer fear the fire as when we were trapped. We would not fear that the fire was going to consume us. Yet we would still fear the fire. We would be intensely afraid to go back into that burning building.
We disciples know that we have escaped the consuming fire of God. We are not under God’s condemnation because we abide in his Son. Yet we are terrified to go back into what we've been saved from!
When Ananias, and his wife Sapphira, committed deceit and hypocrisy, Peter rebuked them. In this case Peter acted with terrible severity. Using his miraculous powers, he caused them both to fall down dead.
What effect did this have on the disciples? “Intense fear came upon the whole congregation and upon all who heard of these things” (Acts 5:1-11).
Just as Peter did not lack true Christian love, yet did such a severe thing, so we do not lack love because we fear God. And love does not make our godly fear any less intense. The fire will not consume us if we remain disciples by God’s grace. Nevertheless we fear God as he commands us to, and that fear is intense.