“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 14:8)
I wonder how many of my daily choices are because I am afraid of God and don’t want to get him mad at me — read: I don’t want to experience any punishment. One would hope that if I am good, especially when it would be far easier to be not so good, in thoughts or deeds, it is because I am moved by my Father’s incredible loving grace towards me. I’m not always so sure I qualify.
Worse yet, I have to wonder if I even care if my actions hurt God’s feelings? As long as he doesn’t punish me, do I really care how he feels? Of course, to focus on my actions and his punishment is missing it anyway. Jesus made it clear it’s much more about the condition of my heart than just my actions. Uh oh.
My actions can be squeaky clean, and yet my heart darkened by judgment, greed, jealousy — did I say judgment? Where do I — where do you — fit in the following stories?
In Luke 7 a really good acting man looks down his nose at a really tainted woman. He’s hosting Jesus for a meal and the woman comes in crying and washing Jesus’ feet with her tears. In Luke 18 Jesus tells us about another really good acting man who enters the temple to pray, but with the smugly self-satisfied opinion that he is a pretty darn good guy. Another man, the hated tax collector, knows himself better, and prostrates in humility before the Lord.
In both of these stories two really good acting men sneer at two not so good people. The “bad” people fall on their faces and humbly worship. They get it. The good men are so good they cannot even see God for their goodness.
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:14
Please don’t assume into which category you fall, and please don’t assume it’s only about good or bad acting. We must look at our hearts as well. Those of you who do live good, clean lives — might be lulled into a false sense of security.
But why are these two really good men, really good? Is it because they have an appropriate understanding of God’s power and his love, and therefore out of love and reverence and respect (Fear of the Lord) they seek to please him? I doubt it. More likely they are motivated by fear. They either fear God, as in: fear getting in trouble with him; or they fear people, as in: what will they think of me if I am not performing perfectly.
When we live and act out of fear, even when this fear leads to squeaky clean performance, we are missing the rich life Jesus wants for us. Our fear will ultimately fail us. Fear is a fence, but love is a fuel. The fence of fear will only keep us corralled when life is manageable. But when the tough times come — temptation or worry or greed — we will find a way over the fence. When we are fueled by love — for our Father, as well as for others — we don’t need a fence. Our grateful love to our Father, and to Jesus for saving us, will fuel our behavior, and more importantly our heart, into the Light.