When to Fear and When Not to Fear

Fear Him/Fear Not

[Read: Luke 12:4-7, 22-32]

As I read over Luke 12 today, I couldn’t help but notice that the Lord Jesus commands us in one place to be fearful of what can God do,[1] but in another place to not be fearful of what God will do.[2] At first I was a little confused, seeing as the two commands almost seem to contradict one another. How can God command us at one time to fear Him and at another to not fear Him? The answer is simple, but beautifully profound. You see, in the first instance Christ is addressing the people that had gathered around to hear Him preach and teach,[3] and His command is a warning to all those who feared men more than they feared God. He says, “Fear Him who, after He has killed, has the authority to cast into Hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him!”[4] This temporal existence of ours is not all there is, for there is an eternal God who dwells in an eternal heaven who will mete out eternal punishment to His enemies and eternal life to those whom He has blessed with salvation. The command is, then, to fear God in this sense: He is the One who determines what will happen after one’s enemies no longer have any power over oneself. It doesn’t matter what a man might do to my body, when I die I will give an account of my life before the infinitely holy God whose concern at that moment will be His glorification in either my eternal punishment or my reception of completely undeserved blessings on the basis of Christ’s merits alone.

Fear is the appropriate response to God; however, even in this passage we read just two verses later that God commands us to not be fearful, seeing as the very hairs of our heads are numbered and we are worth more than many sparrows to God. Is this a contradiction? Not at all. Rather, it’s something profoundly beautiful. The only proper fear that we should entertain is a healthy fear of the Lord, for He is an infinitely good and loving, and yet absolutely just, God who now shows us His goodness in His daily provision for all of creation, including ourselves. There is a sense in which we have nothing to fear about the Lord, because He will never cease to treat His creation in a good and just manner, for all that He does is good. But there is a sense in which we are to fear the Lord, because He is the One who has ultimate authority and power to cast into Hell. Poverty, hunger, sickness, war, abuse, torture, and every other wicked act is something that God does not look upon approvingly, of course, and which He has decreed to happen – but we have no basis for fear if we understand that not even one sparrow is forgotten before God. He knows their every move. How much more, therefore, is He completely aware of our troubles? Is God just? Yes. The existence of Hell shows us that God is more just than our sinful, puny minds can even imagine, but He also is Love and as such will provide that which we need the most: Salvation.

Therefore, our Lord tells His disciples in 12:22-34: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”[5] God’s promise to His elect people is not merely that He will continue to behave benevolently toward all of His creatures, but that it is His good pleasure, it is His will, that His little flock hear the Voice of their Shepherd who gives them eternal life and keeps them eternally in the palm of His hand, in His omnipotent grip.[6] The unregenerate man grips on to his possessions, since the only hope he has is in this world, and he knows that once he is dead and gone, he will spend an eternity suffering in hell for the sins that he stubbornly clung to instead of turning to Christ in faith and repentance. For the children of God, there is nothing in this world that should cause us to fear except the omnipotence and justice of God who will reveal the secrets of men’s hearts on the day that Christ returns to judge the living and the dead.

Law and Gospel

What is wonderful about this passage is that in it we see the proper distinction between Law and Gospel, for the Lord Jesus does not tell us to first go and sell all that we have and then receive the kingdom of God, as He told the Rich Young Ruler.[7] No, He tells us first it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. That is to say: The Father has chosen to give the kingdom to you, a free gift given out of the abundance of His eternal graciousness and goodness to sinners like yourselves. He preaches the Gospel to His elect, and then He commands them: “Sell your possessions and give to the needy…[etc]…”[8] To the proud in heart, He preaches the Law in all of its sternness, proclaiming: “…ONE thing you lack…” And it is that one thing that keeps that rich young ruler from the kingdom of God. It is that one thing that causes him to walk away sorrowful, for he had many riches. For those who have heard the Voice of Christ, who have been irresistibly drawn to Him for salvation, the Word proclaimed is reversed! It is not one thing you lack; it is you lack no good thing, for it is Your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. The arrogant rich young ruler received the Law; the sin-conscious, heavy laden disciples received the Gospel. The rich young ruler was under a covenant of works, attempting to gain salvation by his own merits; the disciples were under the covenant of grace, receiving the kingdom from the gracious hand of God through the merciful kindness of His Beloved Son.

Their duty to sell all was not a burdensome task, for God had told them that something far greater was already theirs: Eternal life, where neither moth destroys nor thieves break in and steal.

Amen.

-h.


[1] Luke 12:4-5

[2] 12:32

[3] 12:1-3

[4] 12:5b

[5] 12:32

[6] Cf. John 10:24-29

[7] Cf. Luke 18:18-30

[8] 12:33-34

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