There's a great difference between cowering in the corner riddled with fear, and reverence. God can, without question do as He pleases, but I sure wouldn't desire a personal relationship with someone that I expect to eagerly wait to punish me all the time. Would you? I believe it's time we see all of the attributes of our Father God. Now I'm not speaking of an "anything and everything goes" perversity and taking advantage of Him, but rather a healthy, balanced understanding of His incredible love and compassion. Fear and intimidation can no longer be the tools used to "win souls". If God drawing someone to Himself is the only way anyone ever comes to Him anyway, why do we go to such great lengths to "make them" come to Him? I believe we have greatly over-stepped our boundaries in this area. We have moved from being a "tool" for God to use to being do-it-ourselves soul-winners. When intimidation and fear become recruiting tools for Christianity, the Christian faith becomes no different than any other oppressive religion that exists today. Coercion, fear and intimidation simply have no place in properly spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. After all, the most widely known verse of all time states that "God so loved the world that He gave". His great love moved Him to give His only Son so that we might live! He gave so that we might know Him intimately, not just so that we'd escape hell and damnation.
I guess it's likely always been this way, but I think it's interesting how so many Christians have some odd hell fascination. Such dread and "what if I'm really not going to make it into heaven" mentality so greatly grips many Believers today. So many Christians are so unsure of their salvation that it's no wonder really that fear abounds. Fear, without question, plays such a major role in lives today, even within the Body of Christ. Because I understand what has taken place at my salvation, I know that hell has nothing to do with me now. I don't wonder about it. I don't think about it. I don't ever ponder, just what if my name's not found in the Book of Life? Hell has no hold on me! Why in the world should it? My salvation has no relevance to hell. I now set my mind on things above, not on earthly things… and surely not on things below.
Let me say that again. My salvation has nothing to do with hell and everything to do with Jesus, The Christ! If we promote a Gospel that says the primary focus is that Jesus died to keep me from going to hell, we've missed the entire point of God's wonderful plan!
Jesus, God as man, died a physical death as the second Adam, reconciling me to God – period. Now, of course, rescue from hell is one result of that death, resurrection and return, but it is just one facet of many! Despite this simple truth, it seems to always be the primary catalyst for modern-day evangelism. Repeat after me, "If you died today, where would you…..?" Spend eternity, that's right. We have all likely heard this many times. (sigh) The majority mindset is the fact that so many people are dying each day without Christ. I say the more important issue is that so many people are living each day without Christ. It is the here and now life in Christ that people are missing as well, not just eternity that is to come!
It would seem, by examining much of Christian evangelism, that the beauty, the majesty and the reality of Christ is seemingly not enough. It would seem that the mindset of far too many professing Christians is, "the love and mercy of God just isn't 'producing' what we think it should, so let's attempt to scare everyone into salvation." After all, religious guilt and oppression have kept pews filled for eons, has it not? Why does "church" attendance spike on holidays? Guilt. Why does this nation "turn to God" when tragedies arise? Guilt. Why does nearly every message and altar call end with, "You need Jesus to bail you out of 'x'… and by the way, if you're not interested, you're going to hell."? Guilt. Now I'm not debating the validity of this truth in any way whatsoever. My issue is that it seems too often to be the primary catapult and focus. I personally believe that if the origin is fear and escape, it skews the Christian life that may or may not follow. There is such pressure to "make a decision" everywhere you turn within Christianity. It would seem that, even if you have no idea what you're getting into, just make a decision, say you don't want to go to hell, and you're good to go. Is this what we're told biblical salvation is?
Let's look at it like this, since I believe that so much of our love relationship with the LORD is depicted in our earthly relationships. Let's examine a healthy marriage - I'll use my own as an example as I feel like the LORD is teaching us how to love as He loves. I love my wife greatly. I am compelled to spend as much time with her as I can because I love her -I absolutely long to spend time with her. I never worry about her leaving me or disowning me, for any reason. I'm never motivated to show her my love out of fearing that her love may fade for me if I don't. If I screw up, which I know that I will, it's OK because I am secure in her love for me. I long to lavish my love on her. I long to show her how I cherish and value her. My motivation is rooted in love, not fear of what might happen if I don't do it good enough. Although time and time again I fail, her love for me is sure, unwavering. I rest in her love for it is unconditional. This is how I see my relationship with my Father. I long to see His face. I desire to please Him. I set my mind on doing what pleases Him. Just like I fell in love with my wife over twelve years ago, I also fell in love with my Saviour. Nothing changed in me spiritually, when I "chose" to become a Christian out of fear of God's wrath and hell. My "decision" only briefly gave me a false hope that I outgrew because it held no relevance to my everyday life. Sure, many labeled me as a "good Christian" but all that meant was that they didn't really know the real me. Whether I truly experienced salvation or not by my confession is debatable, but my point remains the same. I never embarked on being conformed to the image of Christ until I fell in love with Him. I personally just don't believe that fear alone can produce a healthy spiritual relationship with the LORD. If this is true on any level, then why would anyone in the Body of Christ put so much effort behind the use of scare tactics and intimidation? Sadly, many religious endeavors only offer to have non-Believers trade in one form of bondage for another. Give up your guilt over alcoholism and exchange it for guilt over not tithing enough or attending enough services. Throw in your addiction to worldly entertainment and dive headlong into "Christian" entertainment (ie: modern-day "worship). Trade in your fear of men for a fear of the "clergy", as if this is somehow any different. You see, people in fear and bondage are easily controlled and manipulated and sadly, a lot of the church likes to keep it that way. My Bible says, "If the Son sets [me] free, then [I] will be free indeed." (John 8:36) And, "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." (Galatians 5:1) There is only one yoke to be around a true Believers neck and that is the yoke of Christ (Matthew 11:30). Not guilt, not coercion, not manipulation. Christ alone.
* Part three will be posted Sunday morning.