The Evangelical Church has become what we always despised in others: we are obsessed with sin and not with God. We have made the gospel safe by adding our own disclaimer.
The typical Christian today knows well an unwritten law: that one must never so much as hint at a success in his Christian life without making sure to make known how sinful and flawed he is. In doing so he dishonors not himself but his God.
There are those Christians who are always ready and waiting to talk about their favorite topic: their own self-made righteousness. This person is simply bursting as he hopes you will ask something that will give him the chance to tell you how he is God’s favorite, but since you will not ask he’ll just go ahead and tell you anyway. This person’s God is himself and there is no greater heresy for the self-righteous person than to admit to sin – for that would dishonor his god.
But even should this man come to find himself a sinner he will still learn a terrible habit which probably no one will correct in him.
The self-righteous person must not admit to sin or his god is impugned. The person who claims his righteousness comes from God must not admit to holiness or his God will be impugned, for he feels that he robs God of glory if he does so.Ask a Christian who has discovered he is a sinner to talk about his failures and he is in his element, you have him on a topic at which he is particularly adept. But ask him about his successes and everything within him twists and turns trying to return to the territory he feels is not so heretical: a discussion of his sin.
What both do not know is that their god is themselves and their lord is sin.
Mewling, fevered, downcast Christians who cannot look God in the eye without pausing to scourge themselves are gravely mistaken if they think they are giving glory to God.
It is the more grounded Christian who knows God does not play favorites or give gold stars for good behavior. But the one who refuses to admit freely that God is changing his life denies the power of the gospel. When we are able to talk about our lives with Jesus Christ only in terms of our sin we are saying that there is no life in Him. We are saying that in the end, this gospel doesn’t really work and we are back to being nice people. Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” We might glorify God a little when we know him to be better than we are. We glorify him much more when we are like him.
In 1906 the British Navy developed a ship which became the catalyst of modern naval warfare. The HMS Dreadnought was the first battleship to carry all heavy cannon and was developed largely under the vision of Sir John Fisher. Sir John chose the motto of the ship – “Fear God and dread naught” – on the basis of the many places in scripture in which we are commanded to “fear not”. Both “naught” and “nought” are archaic words meaning “nothing”. With a ship as well-armed as this and a God as powerful as the God of the Bible, Sir John Fisher saw little around him which could lay claim to his fear.
When we ask ourselves what is at the heart of our fears we find different answers. There are fears of real harm, whether our own or that of the people we love. There is a fear that is more revulsion than true fear (think of finding a dead body which cannot harm you but still strikes fear in the form of recoil at the unnatural). There is also the fear of others and this will be found behind so many of our fears of, say, “failure.” We must ask, “What happens if I fail?” and “If I was the only one who knows I have failed would that be different than failing publicly?” Our fears are often really just forms of fearing men which comes from not fearing God.
Fisher understood how the fear of God and the command of God to fear not fit with one another. Proverbs 14:27 says “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death,” and Proverbs 29:25 says “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” Taken together we see that we trap ourselves in the fear of man when we do not fear God. There is therefore freedom in the fear of the Lord.
In 2 Corinthians 5:10-12 Paul writes: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. 11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. 12 We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart.” He is secure in his identity in God and knows that he will answer to God and not men (compare his words in Galatians 1:10). Knowing his identity in and responsibility to the Lord, Paul is able to lead others. This is where grace produces bravery, love casts out all fear, and fearful obedience produces peace. Let us fear God and dread naught.