Tag Archives: fear

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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Is It Possible for a Believer To Be Overwhelmed with Fear and Despair? 

In spite of his triumph over the prophets of Baal, Elijah fell into deep despair (1 Kings 19:4).

After confidently proclaiming his faithfulness to Jesus (Matthew 26:33-35), Peter denied Him with curses and wept bitterly (Mark 14:66-72)

Paul “despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8), and agonized over his helplessness when struggling against the “flesh” (Romans 7:18-24).

Though God accomplished great things through each of these people, as persons of faith they experienced their worlds spinning out of control.

These examples from the Bible make it clear that believers often face trials that are unexpected and have no discernable purpose. Trials like these overwhelm our efforts to understand and rationalize them. But these biblical examples of great people of faith illustrate that experiences of stress and despair can be times of greatest spiritual growth.

A story about the Victorian poet/hymn writer William Cowper illustrates how dramatically God’s grace can interact with our despair. Anyone knowing his history would understand why Cowper was given to long periods of depression. On one occasion, convinced he had committed the unpardonable sin, he left his home on a foggy London night and walked toward the Thames River, determined to commit suicide by drowning. As he walked, the fog grew thicker and he lost his way. After several hours of blind wandering, he found himself back at his doorstep. Astonished at God’s intervention, he wrote a poem that later became a beloved hymn:

God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform;

He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace;

behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.

Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His work in vain;

God is His own Interpreter, and He will make it plain.

Job’s story provides a framework for understanding the common elements of experiences that make believers feel they are abandoned in a hostile and meaningless world. God allowed Satan to test Job (Job 1), just as our accuser tests the faith of everyone driven to despair. Every believer has a personal enemy, Satan, who consciously seeks to make him or her feel their faith is empty (1 Peter 5:8-9; Ephesians 6:10-12). But just as God set limits to what Satan could do to Job (Job 1:12), He sets limits to what Satan can do to us (1 Corinthians 10:13; Luke 22:31-32). Even more importantly, if we are faithful the Creator is able to change our despairing experiences into good. God uses satanically induced despair to strengthen and refine us in our love for Him and each other.

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7 NIV).

 

 

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Is Richard Dawkins’ Claim That Religious Faith Is the Main Cause of Violence Correct?

One of Richard Dawkins’ recurring themes is that religious faith is the primary cause of violence around the world. Mr. Dawkins is right when he says that religious faith is often manipulated for terribly evil ends. Jesus said that too, and on that point Christians should be in agreement with Mr. Dawkins. Further, I’m sure that a case can be made that the greater the claims for truth and righteousness a group or person makes, the more revolting is their hypocrisy. Perhaps this is what makes religious hypocrisy especially repugnant. But religious hypocrisy isn’t the only kind of hypocrisy, and religious faith isn’t the only kind of faith implicated in violence.

Richard Dawkins points to violence around the world that is justified with religious rationalizations, and says that it is wrong for children to be given identities such as Catholic, Muslim, and Hindu at a young age that result in their distrust and hatred of others with different religious/faith identities.

His implication seems to be that someone (presumably people who agree with him, assisted by governmental power) should stop religious indoctrination of children. This raises the question: What will replace religious training of the young? Children are inevitably going to develop identities and will have to have some kind of faith, even if it isn’t “religious.”

Would it be better if faith in a particular form of religion and the people who represent it (Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, etc.) were replaced with faith in a “universal” ideology such as Communism, or faith in one’s people or nation (Judaism, nationalism, etc.)? Probably not. The ideologies of Communism and Fascist/nationalist movements were major contributors to the two World Wars and other major and minor wars of the past century.

What about faith in something that transcends religion, ideology, ethnicity, and nationalism? Can we trust the corporate/economic system (let’s call it “mammon”—the worship of material wealth) that is currently invading and reshaping the world, obliterating cultures, peoples, and traditions, and making the poor spiritually and materially poorer while granting a small elite hitherto unimaginable riches and power?1 Degraded “mammonite” culture is proliferating like a bacterial infection by means of the Internet, mass media, and actual military and political aggression. In fact, it seems apparent to many that one of the greatest forces for destruction and evil in the world today is misguided faith in the corporate/economic beast that is reshaping the world to suit its needs.

Faith in mammon doesn’t seem to be a good idea either. How about faith in science and reason?

Unfortunately, as the political and social leaders of the past 300 years have discovered, science and reason are tools that can be used for good or evil, but they aren’t adequate objects of faith.

What’s left as a basis for faith?

  • Religion (faith in God) is out.
  • Nationalism is out.
  • Ideology is out.
  • The corporate/capitalist system is out.

It looks like Mr. Dawkins would have to say that we need to have faith that atheists like him would indoctrinate children wisely if government gave them the power to do so.

If Mr. Dawkins had this kind of power, we would discover sooner rather than later that he and others sharing his perspective are really no more trustworthy than the religionists, ideologues, and nationalists who have caused humanity so much suffering and heartache.

The ultimate cause of violence in the world is not religion, nationalism, ideology (including atheism), or even mammon. The primary cause of violence is evil that is deeply embedded in human nature, an evil deadliest when undetected or ignored. Hearts unaware of their own wickedness corrupt faith of any kind into evil and violence.

  1. In Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:9, Jesus personifies the Aramaic word for riches, making it the name for an idol/false god that people worship rather than the true God. Back To Article
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Is Religion Just a Crutch for Weak People?

Many people today think religion is “pre-scientific,” bound to the past, and practiced only by the superstitious and ignorant. In their view, we’d be better off without it. John Lennon expressed this sentiment in his song “Imagine” when he wrote, “Imagine there’s no heaven, and no religion too.”

This anti-religious viewpoint has a lot of appeal to people who don’t want their personal moral choices “restricted” by tradition or creed. It appeals to young people who want to “kick over the traces,” and to older people who long to suppress the ache of a guilty conscience. Regardless of its appeal, it doesn’t hold up under examination. Religion is basic to human experience. It is such a basic aspect of our experience that we can’t get rid of it. Other creatures may live without religion, but people can’t. We are religious to the core.

Why are people so incorrigibly religious? Perhaps the main reason is our consciousness of the inevitability of death.

No matter how we try to suppress it, we all know that we are living on borrowed time, making decisions that define us forever. With maturity and age this awareness becomes even more intense and more troubling. Death is approaching; time is limited; the ways we invest our lives express our values and our source of meaning.

Our religion gives us our basic set of values and our source of meaning. Living consciously in the shadow of death, we express our religion involuntarily by the way we live.1 Animals live entirely in the moment, aware only of present time. But human consciousness, which is created in God’s image, constantly scans past and future, searching for patterns of meaning that link the isolated experiences of our lives. Humans can be immersed in the present only for a limited time, like a diver who submerges to see the wonders of a coral reef but inevitably comes back up for air. Meaning is as essential to our survival as the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat.2

The longing for ultimate meaning has a dark side, as does the longing for greater knowledge. Both religion and science have been misused. People have done terrible things in both their longing for meaning and knowledge. Evil people exploit our longing for meaning and knowledge to promote their agendas. The life-denying effects of false religion are confirmed by Scripture:

Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence ( Colossians 2:23 ).

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world ( James 1:26-27 ).

But it would be as unreasonable to condemn religion because it is sometimes misused, as it would be unreasonable to condemn science because it is often twisted to evil purposes.

The issue isn’t whether we are religious, because we all are. It is disingenuous to claim that one can live without religion, or that true religion is responsible for evil done by false religion. The crucial issue is whether our basic values are true or false, whether our reason for living brings life or death, whether or not it is aligned with the purposes of the Creator.3

  1. The term religion comes from a Latin word that refers to “the bond between man and the gods.” Worship is uniquely human. For ancient people, the “gods” referred to deities personifying aspects of their experience. But the “gods” also had a symbolic reference — a reference to the transcendent powers that unify human experience and give it meaning. Back To Article
  2. The fact that we are hungry for meaning and concerned with establishing a link between our past and our future doesn’t imply that it is good to be anxious about the future. Jesus Himself spoke of the importance of living fully in the moment. But He didn’t speak of doing so in the context of living like an animal. In fact, He stressed that animal existence couldn’t be our goal. As people, we don’t live on bread alone, “but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). He showed His disciples their potential for enjoying the present because of faith in the Father’s goodness — i.e. because of religion. Back To Article
  3. A final comment to a brilliant popular musician: Doing away with the possibility of final punishment for evil and reward for good — the possibility of ultimate justice — would never make the world a better place. If convinced of “no hell below” and “only sky” above, people would be even less compassionate, more desperate for immediate satisfaction, and less willing to endure personal hardship for the sake of others. Back To Article
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Is It Possible for Me to Lose My Salvation?

It’s been nearly 2,000 years since Jesus Christ personally offered forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Of the millions who have accepted His offer, many have found the peace and joy of knowing they have a secure relationship with their Lord and Savior. Others, however, haven’t felt as secure. Some routinely struggle with confusion and uncertainty, wondering if they’ve lost their salvation in Jesus Christ because of something they have or have not done.

It’s a frightening and tense place to be in when you are uncertain about where you stand in your relationship with Jesus Christ. Understanding the basis and the nature of salvation can eliminate much of the uncertainty that some Christians feel regarding their relationship with Jesus Christ.

The Bible stresses that salvation completely rests on trusting in Jesus Christ’s death on the cross as full payment for our sins ( John 3:15-16,36 ; Romans 3:22-24 ). Faith alone is the basis for our salvation. It is not based on our own merit or performance ( Ephesians 2:8-9 ; Titus 3:4-5 ), nor is it based on the amount of our faith. It is the object of our faith that matters. Trusting in Christ (not anyone else, including ourselves) brings salvation. A strong sense of security settles in our hearts as we realize that while we are the fortunate recipient of God’s grace and mercy, we are not responsible for earning it. It’s free!

Additionally, the Bible teaches that we are eternally secure when we solely trust the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior. This is the eternal and binding nature of the salvation that Jesus grants. Jesus said that He gives us eternal life and we shall never be lost. He declared that no one can take us out of His or the Father’s hands ( John 10:27-30 ).

In the same way, the apostle Paul wrote that those who have trusted in Christ for salvation are eternally saved. He stated, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” ( Romans 8:1 ). He went on to say that absolutely nothing can separate us from God’s love ( Romans 8:35-39 ). So then, according to the Scriptures, we can confidently believe that we are eternally secure if we have placed our trust solely in what Christ accomplished on the cross as full payment for our sins ( John 5:24 ; 1 John 5:13 ).

If we could somehow lose our salvation in Christ, then Jesus and Paul would be liars since they both described the gift of salvation as eternal ( John 3:16 ; Titus 3:7 ). Eternal means that it never ends. Our salvation is permanent. In other words, once we are saved, we are always saved.

God doesn’t give us the gift of eternal life and then take it back if we are bad. Our eternal security is not based on our ability to be good or perform, but on the promises of God ( John 3:16 ). Moreover, any attempt on our part to say that we can somehow earn and maintain a secure relationship in Christ is an affront to God. It strips Him of glory and lessens His remarkable offering of grace and mercy to an undeserving world.

Although we never lose our salvation in Christ, we can lose the enjoyment of close communion and fellowship with our heavenly Father. For example, when my daughter sins against me, it temporarily hinders our ability to be close and enjoy each other’s company. But even though all is not well between us, she never ceases to be my daughter. The same is true for those of us who have trusted Christ as our Savior. Whenever we sin against God and put distance between ourselves and Him, we are still His children who are secure in His love. That is why in Luke 7 Jesus told the sinful woman whose faith had saved her to “go in peace” ( Luke 7:50 ). She could rest and not worry about where she stood with God. That relationship was eternally secure.

We will sin as Christians, and our sin should grieve us. But it shouldn’t take us by surprise. The apostle John said, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” ( 1 John 1:8 ). Most importantly, there is no sin we could commit that would cause us to lose our salvation. The apostle John added that God is willing to forgive all of our sins if we confess them ( 1 John 1:9 ). He didn’t just mean the total amount of our sins, but the various kinds of sins as well. In other words, God forgives and cleanses us from every kind of sin possible. His mercy has no limits.

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