Still Afraid of God?

Are you still a little afraid of God? If you grew up in a church that regularly put the fear in people, you may worry he has something against you. Many preachers claim you can’t possibly be forgiven until you repent of every sin you’ve ever committed. Continuing in a state of forgiveness depends on how often and how deeply you repent of ongoing sins. Even if you’ve long understood God’s grace, you may have lingering fear of not repenting enough. One author uses 1 John 1:9 to back up this assumption: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

I don’t doubt this verse is true—I’m sure John was inspired! But I would like to offer another perspective, based on my little bit of understanding of God’s loving nature. In Hosea, God told the prophet to marry a prostitute, and he did. Their marriage produced children and Hosea loved his unnamed wife. She eventually went back to her immoral ways. In the same way Hosea didn’t stop loving his wife, God never stopped loving his chosen people. They often repented, but repeatedly turned back to idolatry.

The Good Samaritan who stopped to help a Jew in distress also showed one-sided love. In the course of normal, everyday life, the Jew and the Samaritan would have snarled at each other as they passed on the road. The Samaritan laid aside his hatred and prejudice to help a man who would just as soon spit in his face.

The father of the prodigal son didn’t wait for his son to drop to his knees, begging and pleading to be taken back, even as a servant. He ran to his son crying, elated to have him back, before his son had spoken a word.

We tend to think God is like our parents or teachers, peering over reading glasses, looking down his nose, waiting for us to sheepishly or desperately admit our sins and ask for all to be forgiven before giving us the well, OK, but don’t do it again condescending nod.    And then we may or may not get the ruler on the knuckles before he sends us on our way.

Growing in grace and knowledge means we must put aside our childish notions of an anthropomorphic God who thinks and acts as we do. He is not like us; his thoughts and ways are not like ours. He is not a petty, malicious, self-centered being who gets offended when we sin and then peevishly waits for us to crawl to him on bloody knees. Just as in the examples of Hosea, the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan, our God loves and forgives us even while we are sinning! Christ died for the ungodly. His love is not conditional and his forgiveness is ours before we even think to repent.

God does desire our repentance. He wants us to understand our nature and proclivity to evil. But what exactly does repentance mean? It means to change, to turn around, to go a different direction. It doesn’t mean drumming up artificial sorrow, especially when half the time, the sin was enjoyable and we’re only sorry because we got caught. The only way we can truly change our ways is in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Through the Holy Spirit, through him who is also God, we are enabled to turn our lives over and surrender to him to live as new creatures in Christ. Through him we can also surrender our fear and even dread of the angry, vengeful God we’ve been told is waiting to punish us.

God is not mad and he has not turned away from us. He stands at the door, anxiously awaiting our return, though we must return daily or even hourly. He lovingly awaits those who still feed at the pig troughs, no matter how long it takes. His love is unfailing and his grace is never ending.

As ministers of the gospel of grace, we need to let fearful people know—and remind ourselves—who God really is, not a cruelly gleeful, knuckle-rapping schoolmaster, but the loving father of his prodigal sons and daughters.

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