Save with Fear

Modern Evangelical Christians have dramatically shifted emphasis in presenting the Gospel, away from hellfire and brimstone as in earlier days, to focus almost entirely on God’s love.

The love of God is amazing, for sure, certainly less offensive than Hell fire; to comprehend it is to be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ep 3:19) But is this a good move? In other words, is this shift in focus a biblical one, or might it tend toward compromise, lukewarmness, and spiritual decay?

Putting it another way, should the unregenerate, those who don’t already deeply love Jesus Christ (1Co 16:22), be encouraged to meditate on God’s love? Or is this a topic which should generally be reserved for committed Christians?

If we consider the biblical emphasis, God’s universal love for Man is only explicitly highlighted twice in all of Scripture (Jn 3:16, Tit 3:4); entire gospel accounts – written to introduce the life and ministry of Christ to the world – don’t mention it, nether does the inspired history of the early Church, in showing us how to spread the Gospel to the nations.

However, the wrath of God is made plain several hundred times throughout the Word, and repeatedly emphasized by Christ Himself in the Gospels. John the Baptist introduces Christ by preaching repentance (Mt 3:2) and warning of eternal fire. (Mt 3:12) Paul is mindful of the terror of God as he’s persuading men (2Co 5:11), acutely aware that those who don’t know God are in real, eternal danger. (Php 3:18) Jude advises us to make an exception for certain kinds of people, compassionately entreating them with gentleness (22), but to generally use fear as a primary motivation in our witness. (23) Why might this be?

Telling those who don’t fear God how much He loves them isn’t actually a very loving thing to do; it tends to downplay the imminent danger they’re in, how urgently they must repent and turn to God. By the fear of the Lord we depart from evil (Pr 16:6); this is the first step in seeking God. (Is 55:7) Unless a lost soul is seriously going after God, seeking Him with all their heart (Je 29:13) and striving to enter the kingdom (Lk 13:24), they’re actually hardening their heart. (He 4:7) Focusing on love is simply inappropriate here.

As we prayerfully encourage souls to pursue the living God (Da 12:3), we must do so in love, being mindful of their peril, yet using discernment in how we engage. (Mt_7:6) Anyone in the West already has sufficient access to salvation truth to find God if they want to; shoving it in their face may actually do more harm than good. (2Pe 2:21) Christ only offers the gospel to those who are humbly seeking it (Lk 10:21), and the Apostle Paul does the same. (Act 17:31)

Let’s soberly contemplate the eternal, fiery torment of lost souls as we engage them in our witness. (He 10:31) May God melt our hearts until sinners feel our trembling (Php 2:12) and our tears (Ac 20:31), as God reaches out to them through us. (2Co 5:19) Our Lord, Man of sorrows (Is 53:3), lives in us, calling us to follow His steps. (1Pe 2:21)

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