The Wonder of Our Sanctification (learning to live in love and fear)

As I have discipled countless men over the years in areas of struggling with sin, and as I have been discipled by others in the same way, I have recognized a pattern of tension that exists in our counsel. Many will say that the way you die to your flesh and deny the passions of your former self is to experience the love of God for you. As God’s love is poured out into your heart, you reciprocate that love back to God. As John stated so directly in his first letter, “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) When God’s love is poured into our hearts it pushes out our affection and love for the things of this world. We begin to see all things as lessor in comparison to the presence of God and to delighting in Him. This will necessarily and inherently cause us to walk away from sin patterns as we tie our hope and our affection more to Jesus over time.

This dynamic is analogous to losing sight of the stars as the sun rises in the morning sky. The stars are still present in our field of vision, but they are being outshined by the sun. In the same way, the things of this world (especially the passions of the flesh) will grow strangely dim as the light of Jesus shines into our hearts. We will develop a palette over time that longs only for the taste of the presence of Jesus. We begin to long for Him the way that we long for food and water.

To be clear, all of this is absolutely true. The love of God woos us and draws us nearer to His presence and away from our sin. But there is also tremendous value in understanding the fear of the Lord which also keeps us moving toward God and away from our sin. I am in the midst of a deep dive on the subject of holy fear right now as I read through John Bevere’s “The Awe of God.” When we think about walking in a fear of the Lord, we shouldn’t think about terror (although the prospect of being separated from God for eternity is terrifying). We ought to think of reverent, holy worship of God that is accompanied by a fear of what it would be like to not be in His presence. In other words, this holy fear keeps us moving toward God and away from the things of this world.

I have always been intrigued by the interaction that God has with Moses and the Israelites in Exodus 20. God’s presence has come to rest upon the mountain and the people behold this sight as they stand at the base. This is what is recorded — “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)

When I read this, I am simultaneously heart-broken because the people settled for something less than a desire for intimacy with God as they asked Moses to function as their intermediary. But I also feel a sense of wonder at the beauty and complexity of Moses telling the people, “Do not fear… that the fear of God may be before you, that you may not sin.” This is the point that I’m trying to make of what a proper fear of the Lord does in our lives. Just like God’s love, holy fear casts out all other fear from us and it causes us to run to Him and cling to Him only. Beyond that, it causes us to hate and run from our sin as we long to keep the commands of God with hearts that have been cleansed by Jesus.

The more God awakens my heart to both of these elements, the more I try to lead myself and others toward appreciating the balance between love and fear that must be struck. The image that comes to mind is that of a bicyclist. You aren’t likely to get very far in a race if you only have one pedal on the bike. You need both pedals working in tandem to create forward movement. This is the balance of how we experience God’s perfect love for us and a holy fear of Him. These two things, when they are happening in tandem, cause a gospel inertia in our hearts that keeps us moving toward Christ in intimacy and running from our sin as we hate what God hates.

I want to encourage you to begin thinking and praying about what this balance looks like in your life. Ask God to reveal the motivations of your heart as He searches you. More specifically, consider how you are experiencing the love of God for you. Do you believe that God loves you and is for you in all things? Do you regularly stare at the wonder of God’s love through the lens of the Cross of Christ? Ask God to pour out His love in your heart in fresh ways. Consider also how you operate in a holy fear of the Lord. Are there ways where your life does not exhibit fear of God that leads you into greater intimacy with Him? Perhaps your fear of other people outshines your fear of God (i.e. you care more about what other people think than about what God thinks)? Ask God to instill a fresh sense of holy fear in your heart that creates humility and worship.

Please know that I am praying for you as we are on this journey together… and it is a journey! The beautiful truth is that the grace of God covers all sin and unrighteousness as it is being worked out of our hearts. There is great freedom where the Spirit is present and at work. Let’s praise Him together!

Because of Christ,