In 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 thesis declaring salvation by grace through faith. Today the church desperately needs a second reformation of sanctification by grace. Christians are chained to a treadmill of trying to please God by their behavior, of trying harder and sinning less. If they can just discipline themselves enough and be determined enough, they are deceived into thinking they can become righteous and holy and be close to God and He will be pleased. Grace tells us that our relationship and intimacy with our Father in heaven is no longer dependent upon our behavior...or lack there of. Grace tells us we no longer have to strive to become righteous, because He has given us a new nature that is righteous. Grace tells us that it is the only thing powerful enough to deal with our sin. Grace tells us that God is already head-over-heels in love with us and nothing we do can change that. Welcome to "Formed by Grace."

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Does God Motivate us with Threats?

I have written a number of times how the Gospel transforms our fear of God from being scarred, timid, and apprehensive to wonder, awe and amazement. This is why I can always approach my Father with confidence and boldness.

A couple of weeks ago a friend responded, "Yeah but what about Philippians 2:12, 'Work out your salvation with fear and trembling'?"  Great question.  This sounds as if our Christian growth should be motivated by a fear of what God will do to us if we don't meet his standard of effort and progress.  It feels like a semi-veiled threat to be faithful or else.  This is what I used to think and I had it wrong.  For a couple of reasons.

First, we discover that if it is a subtle threat it is an empty threat.  In our moments or months or even years of half-heartedness we do not experience a heavenly Father that makes us tremble with fear and duck for cover.  Rather our experience is exactly the opposite, we have the experience of the prodigal son being embraced by his father.  We don't have a Father who is trying to move us along with a cattle-prod of fear, rather we have a Father who is wooing us with his love and goodness.

Secondly, the person we are responding to with "fear and trembling" is not is us. Ralph  Wardlaw, an early 18th century Scottish Presbyterian wrote, "This fear is self-distrust; it is tenderness of conscience; it is vigilance against temptation...It is taking heed lest we is the caution and circumspection which timidly shrinks from whatever would offend and dishonor God and the Savior."

Lastly, the very next verse, verse 13, describes God's participation in our growth, "For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him" (NLT). God is out in front of us, enabling us to obey and cheering us on--not behind us kicking us in the butt.


  1. Great reminder that God is going out before us and doesn't have a whip to keep us going. When we truly trust God then it will be easy to obey Him because we know that He has our best interest in mind.

  2. It is scary to trust God, especially when our past experiences have been painful or difficult. It reminds me of the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Indy has to step onto the invisible bridge. All he can see is the bottom of the gorge, even though the bridge really did exist. I would imagine he was quite afraid until his foot found the bridge.

  3. I think we all feel uncomfortable with the word "threat" and then, especially, to assign it to God. Unfortunately, in the OT, it is used assigned to God and unless we entertain the fact that God changed after the Cross, we have to assume it is His nature to threaten His people. Pursuing that for a moment, combining 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and Hebrews 12:1-12, we see that God does rebuke, correct, train, teach, punish, and discipline ... and should be seen as an encouragement and more importantly as part of our relationship with Him. A further study would be to see how many times Jesus ties heaven and salvation to someone's works. Without upsetting salvation by faith alone, God expects His people to do something after He enters a relationship with them and there are lots of positive instructions that go along with that. But what if we don't follow Him and His Word and do whatever we want? I think Hebrew 10:26+, right after a famous passage on encouraging each other to love and good deeds, God writes a warning, or threat if you will, of what happens if we deliberately keep on sinning. We have to embrace this as His redeemed people in order to not set our hearts on evil as they did (1 Cor 10). When I run into people that are really exploring God's grace, some have a tendency to go too far in defining God's grace; some think "Love Wins" and everyone will be saved, some react so hard against previous legalism that they refuse to take responsibility for their own faith and actions past and present .. one, in particular, cannot understand how God would punish His people since Jesus took the punishment on the cross. Well, God says He will punish (which is a threat) His people and if this guy cannot understand that about God then his relationship with God is very limited (Matthew 7:21-29 give a warning and a solution) if he even has a relationship at all.