“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12)
Contrary to what many of the vain motivational speaker we have today would teach, fear is an integral part of the Christian faith. This is different from the fear of God which is the deep reverential fear. The fear I’m talking about is not a fear of reverence but a fear of terror. A fear that causes one to tremble, and tremble because of a fearful expectation. The expectation of eternal damnation that belongs to as many as God shall condemn. It is in this fear that we must work out our salvation.
It is also not that Adamic fear that makes one run away from God, but the fear that constrains you to do God’s will. It is the fear that he who said he would execute judgment on the wicked is not only able but is really, most certainly, going to do it. It is the fear that keeps you away from that wickedness.
What is the reason for such fear? It is glaring that if the glory to come by the working of God to those who believe is beyond what the mind can conceive (1 Corinthians 2:9), the terrors to come to those who don’t believe is also beyond what the mind can conceive. For if the glory to come is beyond what the mind can conceive because it is by the working of the incomprehensible power of the Almighty God, so also is the terrors to come to those who don’t believe by the working of his great power. For the greatness of this terror, we must fear. With the terror of these we must work out our salvation so as not to end there.
Hebrews 4:1 says, “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.” So we see that just as the Bible admonishes us to be wise, to be courageous, to be patient, etc. it also admonishes us here to fear. So we must learn to fear horrors of Hell, for this is wise to do. Was it not in fear that Noah acted wisely to build the arc? And was it not in not fearing that the rest of the world perished in the flood? For Hebrews 11:7 says, “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.” Noah prepared the arc for fear of perishing in the flood. It was by the actions of that fear that he saved his soul and that of his house. So also many would end up in hell because they are not afraid of Hell. They make light of it and so shall they end up there unless they repent.
Now let such fear not be seen as a thing that is unwise to feel. No, for the Bible says, “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself; but the simple pass on, and are punished.” (Proverbs 27:12). It takes a fool to see the things about Hell and eternal damnation and not with complete earnestness and resoluteness, being moved with fear, seek to avoid it in any way possible, even if it is by means of the cross alone.
Now let us consider the Hell we’re talking about here. Two major things make Hell a place of immense torment which are, its torment, its duration. Let’s consider its torment. If a person steps on a smoking match stick that is put out but merely glowing red, he’d take off his foot at once. If a person were to put your finger in a flame as gentle as that of a candle, you’d probably scream for pain and force your hand out of it. If a you were to find yourself in a building engulfed in fire, your struggle and improvise any possible means to get out. But all these are nothing compared to the torments of hell. I’ve read about occasions where tormentors torture people by pressing the glowing end of a cigarette to their skin, but what shall a man then say about fire burning with brimstone and sulphur and being fully immersed in it? So based on the torment alone, seeing that every wise person seek to avoid these little forms of pain (little compared to Hell), how much more should a man bow his shoulder to bear the cross of Christ if it is the only means by which a man may avoid the torment of Hell.
Jesus also says plainly, “And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.” (Luke 12:4 – 5). He didn’t just say we should fear him but also gave us the reason why we should fear him. He did not tell us that because of his majesty, or because he has done so much for us, how dare we pay him evil for good, and so on which we can term to be that reverent fear that every Christian ought to also have. The reason he gave was rather that we should fear him because he is able both to kill and also to cast in hell. So Christ here is admonishing us to fear with the fear of torment and not mere reverential fear. For this reason, we are not to fear others, whether they be terrorists, armed rubbers, etc. We must fear God alone for his mighty power with which he can cast into Hell. We can be sure by all these that fear is a Christian virtue.
Let’s move on to its duration. The worst thing about Hell is not its torment but for the endlessness of the time that one shall spend there. Here’s why. Suppose you were in a room with no doors and only windows with burglar proof. With you is this boring guy who only taps away in a boring and annoying way on the strings of his guitar. You can’t sleep, you can’t read, you can’t concentrate, you can’t do anything. You’re convinced that he’d never stop, and you can’t make him stop, and you’d be there in that room for a week listening to this boring guy. Outside this room is bustling with activities, fanfare, enjoyment, and other social stuff, but you’re trapped here. I suppose if ever you get out of that room sane, you’d never return there again. But let’s say you’re to be there for a month. Or for a year. Or a century. Or forever, world without end. That would be indeed Hell. You’re not being tormented with any fire or burnings, but for the duration of this mild unpleasantness it would be a Hell for the individual. Now consider that is not just boredom, but the very fire of Hell burning the person, not for two days, not for a week, not for a month, not for a year, or a century, not even a millennium. It shall be forever and ever. That is just an imagination of what Hell is like but it’s worse in reality.
What then shall we say of that. Shall not a man who is wise gladly take up his cross and follow Jesus for the sake of these only. It is in the fear of these that we are told to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
—The Rewards of Fearing—
“For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.” (Isaiah 66:2)
“Hear the word of the LORD, ye that tremble at his word; Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for my name’s sake, said, Let the LORD be glorified: but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed.” (Isaiah 66:5)
We can see that there is a reward for those who tremble at the words of God. For this is wisdom to do so. In the first verse, God says, he look to him that is poor, of a contrite spirit and trembles at his word. So, despite the fact that you pray and pray, God will not look to you (give you any attention) except you possess these characteristics including trembling at (fearing because of) his word. This fear is that fear that’ll make your abstain from what displeases him.
He also says in verse 5 that to those who tremble at his words, their persecutions shall be turned to joy and the persecutors shall be ashamed. All these for just trembling at the words of God. Fear of Hell as revealed in the Bible is therefore a Christian basis for choosing the cross.
—Warning Against Casting Out Fear—
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)
Very often people use the verse above to make fear an evil thing contrary to what we have looked at earlier. It is not only peculiar to our time. Old time writers too do the same and there is nothing devilishly wrong in that, but we must at all times have every part of the scriptures in consonance with every other part. If we haven’t understood a portion of the Bible in a way that it agrees with every other part, we haven’t understood it yet. So this verse of necessity can’t be contradicting the other parts of scriptures that asks us clearly to fear.
So here we go. The Bible, in this verse, did not say that the man who is perfect in love casts out fear but love itself casts out fear. When we do not take up the responsibility of love, we are sure to act in a way that is detrimental to our spiritual growth. So we must work on ourselves to grow in the love of God until fear of itself, being driven away by love, leaves us. Here’s what I mean, we don’t have to be engaged in driving out fear as many Christians do. They employ many portions of the Bible for this fear driving enterprise. They politely ask it, if it doesn’t leave, they rebuke fear, if it doesn’t still leave, they stab it in the head, perhaps with the “sword of the spirit,” etc. But it is not our lot to do that.
Another portion of the same epistle of John explains this to us where it says, “But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.” (1 John 2:5 – 2:6). He later went on to say, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21). We’re told here what it means to be perfected in the love of God. It is by keeping his commandments that we know that we are perfect. This is in total agreement with what Jesus said saying, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15). So, we can understand fully well that John meant to say, only when we keep God’s commandments consistently are we perfected in such love. When we attain to such a state, we are made perfect in love. Such perfect love showing itself in obedience to the commandments of God is what drives fear away.
We probably can understand this in the light of the government of the world. The Bible says, “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” (Romans 13:3 – 14). When your actions are right and according to the laws of the land, you walk boldly and confidently knowing that no ill would come your way because of your actions. However, if you’ve been doing evil, you’d always live in fear even when there is really no reason to fear, in the sense that no one is making any attempt to discover your faults. But if you’re doing well and you receive a letter to submit yourself for inspection, you’d gladly do so because your good works would be made manifest by the very same inspection. So when through love, expressing itself through obedience, you have done the will of God, fear must go for it cannot stand in the presence of such love. It is in this sense that the apostle John says, “Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.” (1 John 3:21).
Imagine Jesus fearing Hell. Imagine him praying out of fear, “O God, forgive me this evil I’ve done. I don’t want to go to Hell.” Such fear is impossible for an one such as Christ to have. Jesus could never fear Hell and here’s why, he confessed plainly,”I do always those things that please him.” (John 8:29). Were this to be our stance, we too would have a perfect love that would cast out fear, for when we ALWAYS do his will, we no longer have fear of torment. Here is a confirmation of this, “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.” (1 John 4:17). When we have become as he is in an outright, absolute, and consistent obedience to God, we have boldness (absence of fear), and this is because our love is now made perfect.
So, dear brethren, I do not say that we can become perfect in any way while in the flesh, but let us allow our love to grow stronger and stronger, daily, towards perfection. Let us also allow love to do its work without our interfering. Let us be focused in allowing the love of God to consume us wholly and forget about casting out fear for when love has consumed us wholly, fear would of itself, in the presence of perfect love, depart from us.
So this virtue called fear is one reason why it is wise and rational to choose the cross of Christ, seeing that the land is sweet and rest is good. For reason of the fear to lose this sweet land and good rest, as well as the fear of incurring damnation to our souls, we choose the cross of Christ. To do otherwise is irrational, foolish, unwise, reckless, and suicidal.
Prayer: O God, I see that the call of Jesus to us, asking us to carry our cross and follow him, is far more glorious than it appears. As a matter of fact, it is glorious directly contrary to how it appears ignominious. Dear Lord, in the light of this, help me and all your children to be always conscious of that good eternal rest and that pleasant land of the Heavenly Jerusalem set before us, and for this reason, and other wise reasons, make this wise choice of bowing our shoulders beneath the burdens of the cross. Let us choose this instead of the passing vanity the world is ever offering. In Jesus’ name. Amen.