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When fear invades then fear pervades.

Fear is powerful thing. Depending upon its severity it can preoccupy our minds and deeply affect our bodies. When fear grips you there is scarcely anything you can do except try to deal with it. Even when you think you have it out of your mind you are still dealing with it through patterns of manipulation and control.

The highest level of fear is fear of God. By this I do not mean a healthy, reverent fear of God but a cowering, uncertain, insecure, paranoid fear of judgment. How do you deal with this? How can anyone deal with the reality of an angry God and a place like hell designed to showcase God’s wrath by eternally tormenting rebels?

From my seat there are three common ways to deal with this kind of fear.

Run to Sinai: When we fear judgment it is often because of personal sin. We know that we have disobeyed God’s word, his 10 Commandments stand over us, accusing us of our lack of conformity to God’s law. The common reflex is to go to work. Like the guy who overindulged at the dinner or snack table and needs to get to work at the gym to atone for his caloric sins, so too the one who has been indicted for slackness in spiritual matters runs to the treadmill to burn off his excess by “doing better” or “trying harder”. The problem here is that it does not work. We cannot atone for our sins by aiming to do better. Our fingerprints smudge everything with our depravity; everywhere we turn we are sinful. Furthermore, we don’t have the currency necessary to make the payment. God does not take the payment of a sinner on behalf of a sinner. It is like trying buy a Lexus with Monopoly money. We can’t do it. It doesn’t work.

Run to Sodom: One might see that Sinai does not work and get frustrated. They turn and say that God is neither just nor good. His law is unreasonable. His judgments unfair. So they run hard to get freedom from God’s law by traveling to that city where unrighteousness dwells. Attempting to find freedom from any bondage they run ahead to enjoy their newfound freedom. This of course does nothing to deal with the root issue, it just distracts the focus. Much like a man jumping out of the plane without a parachute feels free he is not free from the laws of gravity. The feeling of freedom does not remove the problem that prompted the need for freedom in the first place. Instead of being fixated on God and his judgment we become fixated on ourselves and our freedom. It does not remove the one it just replaces it. In other words, it doesn’t deal with the problem it just distracts. Pursuing salvation from God’s judgment by pursuing that which God promises to judge is a Jedi-Mind-Trick of the heart. “This is not the freedom you’re looking for.” It does not work.

Run to Calvary: On the other hand there is a place where we may go to find true rest from the relentless assault upon our consciences. Incidentally, when running from God we find ourselves running to God. In other words, in rebellion and sin we run from God, but salvation is found in God. God’s law of accusation leads you to God’s grace in acceptance. Upon the cross we do not have God setting aside his attributes of holiness and justice in order to be loving and forgiving. No, he is simultaneously holy and loving, just and forgiving. Jesus Christ stood in the places of the lawbreaking sinner. He bore the blame, carried our guilt, and endured all wrath — for us! Upon the cross of Christ, God’s wrath is unflinching while his love is unwavering! This is why the Apostle John could write:

By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 1 John 4.17-18

There is only one place that we may truly go that truly deals with our fears and guilt. If we turn away from the cross of Christ we are turning away to spiritual subterfuge or distraction, but when we run to Calvary we have God’s attributes in harmony projecting his loving acceptance of us.

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. (Ps. 85.10)

Cancel all trips to Sinai and Sodom; wear out a path to the cross!

[photo via Shutterstock]

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Erik Raymond

Erik Raymond is senior pastor of Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha, Ne. He and his wife Christie have six children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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