Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 16: Meeting our fears with a greater Fear.

REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.

Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 16: Meeting our fears with a greater Fear.

There are many fears emerging as the pandemic weaves its way across the world, is reported upon ad infinitum and handled in different ways. There are the usual conspiracy theories, which I understand have plagued almost every disaster and epidemic since the middle-ages. The desire to explain what we don’t understand, and worse to blame others is as predictable as it is unhelpful.

Most of it comes down to fear of what we cannot control. When death and the potential for serious economic consequences are involved, we can understand why fear has become a factor to be dealt with. Is there a way for us to be able to handle our natural fears without them crippling us or seeking irrational or vindictive solutions?

In the early 19th century Thomas Chalmers preached a sermon to his congregation in Scotland called The Expulsive Power of a New Affection the text of 1 John 2:15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. Only the expulsive power of the love of God seen in the Lord Jesus Christ can drive away our natural, but sinful, love for the world. He wrote, misplaced affections need to be replaced by the far greater power of the affection of the gospel. {His sermon is worth googling}. What is true for love is true for fear. The greater fear of God, will drive away our fear of pandemics, persecution, death and poverty.

Mercifully there are other aspects of the gospel that will drive away fear. Indeed in the very same letter the apostle John reminds us that perfect love drives out fear (4:18). So why do we need a greater fear to drive away our fears? Partly because this is what our Lord teaches us and partly because to love God is to fear Him. Our Lord said: I tell you my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom to fear: Fear Him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes I tell you, fear Him (Luke 12:4-5). The person who fears dying unrepentant and outside of Christ, wisely responds to the gracious invitation of the gospel to repent and to believe. The evangelist Jack Miller summed it up in his memorable statement: ‘Cheer up you are a worse sinner than you could ever imagine, but you are more loved than you could have dreamt of!’

The classic proverbial proposition is the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7). When convicted of our sinfulness, God’s holiness and gracious invitation to come to Him through the Lord Jesus, we wise up and repent. The New Testament exhorts believers, in the light of this amazing and undeserved grace to continue to fear Him. It is not only when we come to Christ that we are to fear God. In 1 Peter 1:17 we are taught: Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear and in Hebrews 12:28-29: Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire’.

Selwyn commented that ‘Christian reverence rests upon the knowledge of redemption’, seen in its cost in Christ’s death (1:18-19), who was chosen before the world’s foundation (1:20) and was certified by His resurrection (1:21). We stand in awe, fully reverent, in Holy fear because Jesus, who bore the full weight of His Father’s judgement in our place, was none other than the unique second person of the Godhead. That royal blood was shed in our place must evoke from us a desire to be holy (1:16). The call in Hebrews comes so unexpectedly to our ears, so easily attuned to the rhythms of grace. Hebrews having contrasted the terror of Mt Sinai (12:18-21) with the joyful grace of Mt Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem (12:22-24) astounds us, with the warning of 12:28-29 to worship God with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire; yet mercifully frees us from the illusory cheap grace we so easily commend.

What do we learn about combating fear with this reverent awe?

  1. The grace of God to us in the gospel and person of our Lord Jesus Christ must never to be taken for granted. Grace to us cost our Lord and Saviour much, principally His bearing His Father’s wrath. This is most clearly seen in His cry from the cross ‘My God, My God why have You forsaken me?’ I have an obligation to respond with gratitude and to offer Him the reverent worship of whole-hearted trust. His commitment to me in this way is my assurance that I need never fear loss, pain, financial reversal, persecution and the like. All because He paid the price for my rebellion out of His love for me (Gal 2:20-21). To fear circumstances and people who would persecute me would be to doubt, or worse if continued, to deny His love for me. On the other hand to trust Him in all circumstances is to reverence Him and stand in awe of His love.
  2. We stand in reverence and awe of God as we recognise His holiness. Holiness, not happiness is His primary desire for His children. This is why 1 Peter 1:15-16 exhorts us to holiness of life with the awesome reason ‘Be holy, for I am holy’ and why Hebrews 12:4-12 is about our Father disciplining those whom He loves (6). Once we grasp this aspect of God’s love we will be far less likely to either lose heart or make light of our Lord’s discipline. We will neither withdraw from God because we don’t think His discipline is fair, nor waste the benefits of His discipline. Both would be petulant and tragic since we know that God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness (12:10), knowing full well that without holiness no one will see the Lord (12:14). We will become active participants in God’s gracious purposes of allowing and using pandemics, setbacks, sicknesses and any other stretching circumstance of growing us to be like Jesus as Romans 8:29 affirms: to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.
  3. Since none of this is easy we will be driven back to justification by faith, since it is the foundation of our confidence. We will rely upon the assurance that we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone, counted as holy not for our merits or deserving but on account of the merits of Jesus (Luke 18:14; John 5:24, Rom 5:1-5, 8:1, 1 Peter 3:18). But we will also be driven to the truth that we are saved in order to serve, to work, to obey, to be transformed, to grow ( John 13:15-17; Eph 2:10; John 14:15, Eph 4:17-5:21 and 2 Pet 1:3-11). These two great truths: justification and sanctification are brought together by Hebrews in the words: because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy (10:14). We are work in progress, children learning to be more like our Father and our Brother, and there is therefore no need to fear the process that our Father uses to mature us, since both can be trusted and are loving (2:10-12).
  4. It goes without saying that the true believer will fear letting their Lord (or His people) down. When the motivation of God’s love for me is not enough to keep me from blatant sin, I for one want a very healthy dose of the fear of God to kick in (and kick me in the pants!) to stop me in my tracks. This was evidently a standard part of Paul’s teaching in regard to sexual fidelity, when as one of his 8 reasons to keep sexual practice to male/female marriage (1 Thess 4:3-8) was the Lord will punish people for all such sins, as we have already warned and told you ( 4:6). Grace without fear is likely to lead to disgrace, just as fear without grace could lead to despair. One could say: what God has joined together let no one put asunder. Bill Halstead’s prescription ‘a devotional pattern that places us starkly in awe of a fearsome God. A God-angled view of sin and its consequences’ is essential if we are to defeat our besetting sins. We are not being realistic if we believe that we cannot fall into serious sin or that we will find help if we confine our devotions to feel good passages or comments. God loves us, and His people too much to allow us these follies.
  5. “There is nothing amazing about grace as long as there is nothing fearful about holiness”. These perceptive words from Dale R Davis (from Judges: Focus 2003 p.97) help us to see the true marriage of fear and grace, just as with holiness and love, justification and sanctification. Dallas Willard noted that “though grace rules out earning it does not rule out effort”. Response is required to grace by us not only initially at conversion, but daily in our sanctification and consecration to God’s purposes. By reminding us of His goodness and unfailing purposes in Christ, grace and fear will be paramount to our perseverance, which will often be hard and full of challenges as we have been taught by our Lord (Matt 24:9-14) and His apostles (Rom 8:17; Heb 11; James 1:2-3;1 John 2:15-17; 1 Pet 4:12-19).
  6. Since we are so weak and prone to seek the easier ways we do well to be reminded that this has been the ever present lot of those who love the Lord. Many have been encouraged by the realism of hymns like Robert Robinson’s: O to grace how great a debtor/ Daily I’m constrained to be/Let that grace now, like a fetter/ Bind my wandering heart to Thee. (Golden Bells 470#3 of Come Thou Fount of every Blessing).
  7. To be bound to the Lord Jesus, as He bids us in Matt 11:28-30, is the way of perfect freedom. Only one so gracious as, can keep us from any and every fear. The old hymn (How firm a foundation) puts it so well:

Fear not, he is with you, O be not dismayed
For he is your God, and will still give you aid:
He’ll strengthen you help you, and cause you to stand,
Upheld by His righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie
His grace all sufficient shall be your supply;
The flame shall not hurt you, his only design
Your dross to consume and your gold to refine.

Richard Keen (c1787) The Australian Hymn Book.

Peter Brain 22nd May, 2020

 

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