In an Axios poll taken in December of 2021, a slim majority of those polled said they were “fearful for what the year 2022 holds in store…” I would imagine that if the poll were taken now (just a scant 3 months into 2022) after skyrocketing inflation and crime, record-breaking gas prices, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, that slim majority from the poll would become a supermajority.
People may say they’re only concerned or slightly worried about the rest of this year and beyond, but when war (and the rattling of nuclear sabers that has commenced) and supply chain shortages that every single hard-working American is straining under, coupled with progressive ideologies that are tearing at the fabric of our nation, are inundating all forms of media, it is more likely than not that people are flat our afraid. Firearm sales have been through the roof the last couple of years (19 million were sold in 2021 in America alone) and ammunition is still hard to buy. Couple that with companies like My Patriot Supply and BePrepared.com’s emergency food kits flying off the virtual shelves and it is pretty obvious that fear has gripped the hearts and lives of a lot of people (not to mention the two year fear-mongering from all directions about COVID).
And a significant number of them profess to be Bible-believing Christians. You probably see where this is going.
Actually, it’s probably not going where you think it is.
Most churchgoers already know what Paul told Timothy about fear (see 2 Timothy 1:7). They also know that we are called to exercise faith and utilize prayer in the face of fear. Shaming churchgoers for elevating fear over faith has been tried again and again with little or no positive result. So I won’t waste anyone’s time here trying to beat any life into that dead horse. We either obey God through a trusting faith or we don’t.
Rather than chastise all those (including myself) who are worried about how painful or difficult life may be in the near future, I’m taking another tact. I say, be afraid. Be very afraid. But as Jesus said let that fear be very specific and directed:
[F]ear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28).
It’s a matter of degree.
There are many things I’m afraid of. The way some people read the Bible, any kind of fear is disobedient and disrespectful of God (keep this in mind as you continue reading). But is that true? The verse above seems to be a hurdle already. What about Romans 13:3?
For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority?
We are seeing the consequence right now of progressive policies and District Attorneys who have called for defunding the police and returning violent criminals to the streets after being arrested. There is no fear among the lawless anymore. In a godly society, lawbreakers are supposed to fear the consequences of their deeds. And for that matter, isn’t the whole concept of evangelism driven by the fear of what faces the unrepentant when they stand before God? Could that be why making disciples isn’t really a high priority for so many churches and churchgoers? Though the saved aren’t afraid of facing hell on judgment day, shouldn’t we be fearful of what the lost around us will have to deal with eternally if they never cry out to Jesus? Fearing the future of the lost is not only healthy but a must if we are to obey the Great Commission. Even if we are secure, the fear of hell for so many who don’t know Jesus motivates us to reach out no matter the level of discomfort we experience.
But then there is the granddaddy of them all and the word fear isn’t even mentioned. But it is crystal clear that the intent of the words is to strike a healthy fear into all who hear or read them (especially the believers).
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness (Matthew 7:21-23).
I really don’t understand how the fear of this eventual reality isn’t constantly on every believer’s mind and doesn’t dwarf all our other fears.
Let’s take a brief moment to break this down. The people Jesus is referring to sincerely believe they are Christians. They call Him “Lord” and unless they are lying (which surely wouldn’t be a good idea while one is standing before the throne of the Almighty) they lay claim to words and works that they believe confirm their rightful citizenship in the kingdom of heaven.
Doesn’t every Christian do that? Don’t we all call Jesus “Lord” and believe our lifestyle reflects our salvation? Then how can any of us who dares to call ourselves ‘like Christ’ think that this explosive prophetic warning from none other than He who will judge us all (2 Corinthians 5:10) is meant for someone else?
When Jesus cited Isaiah (29:13) to the scribes and Pharisees,
This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me…(Matthew 15:8-9)
He was talking to people who sincerely believed they were completely living for God and would be rewarded in heaven. Isn’t that exactly what the people of Matthew 7:21-23 were claiming? How can anyone not shudder and wonder if that won’t be them on “that day”? Since “that day” will have eternal consequences whereas the fullest realization of our fears in this life pales in comparison…shouldn’t the fear that we could be deemed part of the “many” of Matthew 7:22 absolutely overwhelm our greatest fear(s) in this life?
What it all comes down to is being brutally honest with ourselves when it comes to obedience to God. Because the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount is the revelation of who can feel secure in their claims to be Christian and who has done a really good job of deceiving themselves about it.
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them…(Matthew 7:24). We must all let that sink in. All of our creeds, deeds, and professions of faith are hollow and vain if we don’t OBEY Jesus in real-time. Worse than that actually, when you consider Jesus called the doers of deeds done “in your name…workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23). We don’t get to treat the words of Jesus like a buffet where we pick and choose what we like and ignore what our preferences find distasteful. He framed obedience very specifically around “these words of mine” (Matthew 7:24).
During one of His last discipleship training seminars (known as the Olivet Discourse) Jesus reiterated His followers’ obligation to heed and yield to this principle of obedience by saying,
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away (Matthew 24:32).
Simply put, it won’t do you any good if you volunteer at a homeless shelter all day and upon leaving cheat on your spouse before going home. We are considered workers of lawlessness if we preach the gospel and abuse our children. We are still going to be told to depart from me even though we tithed our income our entire churchgoing lives but refused to acknowledge the log in our own eye (Matthew 7:5).
We don’t get to decide which words of Jesus we find worthy of obeying and which ones we find objectionable and choose to ignore.
You are my friends if you do what I command you (John 15:14).
The danger is when we convince ourselves we are following His commands despite what He thinks. It is more than a little disturbing that Jesus predicts that on a day when faith is removed (He is right there in plain sight on the throne of heaven) that these people are going to argue with the King of the universe. In their minds what they did do was supposed to blind God to what they didn’t do. It’s the old magician’s trick of distraction. “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”
I’m not afraid of God. I’m afraid of myself. It’s not His decision to tell me to depart from Him that I’m afraid of. It’s my decision(s) to rely on my own intellect and feeling that will lead me to soothe a guilty conscience that I’m afraid of.
I don’t think Jesus meant for us to bask in the pride of our sure salvation. Think about what He did to Peter. One minute He tells the fisherman-turned-apostle that He intends to build His church on him and the next He calls him “Satan” (see Matthew 16:17-23). Why? Because Peter didn’t like something that Jesus said. And not only did he not like it but he followed it up with an intention to get in the way of it. He, too, thought for sure that he was in the right.
I’ve already lost nearly $70,000 from my pension plan since 2022 began. I’m nearing retirement. Do you think that doesn’t weigh heavily on me? I have zero confidence in the leadership of my country’s government now with an emboldened Russia and China apparently thinking the same thing. It’s scary. I think it would be safer to travel to Muslim countries right now than into some of America’s cities. Before the pandemic, I was thinking that it might be time to trade in my old truck (a 2005 model) for something a little newer. Trucks with almost 100,000 miles are now going for almost $40,000. What am I going to do? I don’t know.
But I’ll tell you what. I am far more concerned about “that day” and whether or not I have obeyed all that Jesus commanded. I suppose it’s relatively easy to make a house look like a Christian house. But only God can see beneath it to the foundation.
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams (1 Samuel 15:22).
As the old hymn states matter-of-factly, “All other ground is sinking sand.”