Is Fear Ever an Appropriate Motivation for Conversion?

When walking on the edge of a great chasm, perhaps hiking in the Grand Canyon, a healthy fear keeps us from getting too close to the edge or distracted by the scenery.

True, fear isn’t the only thing that keeps a Grand Canyon hiker on the trail. The trek offers the companionship of friends, gorgeous scenery, natural wonders, good exercise, and adventure. But a good hiker also has a healthy sense of danger.

According to Scripture, every member of the human race lives on the edge of a spiritual chasm much more terrible than the sheer cliffs of the Grand Canyon.

Just as natural laws of gravity dictate fear of a precipice, natural laws relating to the inevitable consequences of sin should cause us to fear the abyss that brings spiritual death. If we were in our right mind, awareness of sin and its consequences would be just as vivid as our awareness of the inevitability of gravity.

Tragically, because of our natural spiritual state, we aren’t in our right mind (Ephesians 2:1-3).

  • How else could people callously shed innocent blood, prey on the defenseless, and even on their deathbeds have a single-minded focus on wealth and power?
  • How else could people have such unquestioning confidence in the propaganda of the principalities and powers of this world that they sacrifice their children to demons of ideology and greed?
  • How else could people be contemptuous of monogamous couples, as though the submission of husbands and wives to their creaturely roles in procreation and parenting diminishes the meaningfulness of their love?

For these people a healthy, Spirit-given fear would probably be the first step towards conversion. Fear is closely related to awe. The person who is alive to the wonder of existence and the infinite significance and unending ramifications of every action is familiar with both fear and awe.

Although fear isn’t the only thing that keeps us close to the shepherd of our souls, it is important. The great hymn “Amazing Grace” resonates with the hearts of many generations because of its declaration that grace “taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.” The writer of Proverbs wrote that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (1:7), and the Old Testament stresses the importance of a healthy fear of God (Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:24-33; Ecclesiastes 12:13).

When we truly understand what we are and what we have done, we realize we deserve judgment. Fear will either trigger self-justification and rebellion or drive us to Christ.

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