Monday, October 2, 2023

Following Jesus Like Fear-Mongering Ghosts

Suggested Reading: Exodus 20:1-21

Merlin, the BBC's late series about King Arthur and the famous sorcerer, had a five year run. In one episode leading up to the series finale, Arthur, who had instituted reforms based on equality and merit rather than on the accident of being born into a noble family, was visited by the ghost of his very displeased father. Arthur's father pleaded with Arthur to undo his reforms, arguing that the people would never fear him otherwise. Arthur responded that he desired respect rather than fear but the ghost of his father didn't believe Arthur would receive either. Arthur believed people would follow him if they respected him but his father believed that fear was the only motivation powerful enough to maintain order.

Arthur's father would have fit right in with the Israelites in Exodus 20. Moses had led them to Mount Sinai where God was going to meet with them and deliver the law. Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.”  (Exodus 20:18-20, ESV). When the Israelites arrived and saw the mountain where God was going to meet with them, they were terrorized with fear. In response, Moses told them not to fear (not to be terrified) but that God wanted their fear (reverence and respect) to keep them from sin. But the Israelites's respect  and reverence extended only as far as their terror. When they became used to the clouds and lightning and thunder, they soon lost their respect and began disobeying the commands they received in fear.

I have often wondered what motivates us as followers of Christ. Are we motivated by love and respect, cherishing Jesus and the Father, and obeying God because of that love? Or are we motivated by fear? Do we obey out of fear that we will face hell or that God will punish us if we mess up? Do we strive to live godly lives because we want to please God or because we want to avoid God's wrath? Don't get me wrong, we should have a healthy fear of the Creator of the universe who does have the power to punish or send us to hell, but if God just wanted our fear he never would have sent Jesus to die in our place. God sent his Son because God loves us.

If your walk with God is motivated by fear, you will fall away as soon as the fear fades. God wants your primary motivation for obedience to be love flowing from a grateful heart. If all you have is fear, you've missed the point of Jesus coming to earth.

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