God’s awesomeness can be scary and those who willingly persist in sinfulness should be afraid of the dire consequences about which scripture warns. Jesus did not shy away from the reality. He said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). In another place, scripture says of those who keep on sinning after they have heard the word of truth: “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).
In 1741, Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon titled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” which described, in vivid language, hell and the fate of unrepentant sinners. Edwards said, “There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.”
He said that God’s wrath was like a great river of water that is held behind a dam with no outlet. The longer the river is held back, the higher the water rises and the more power it accumulates until it can no longer be held back. Then, he said, “if God should only withdraw his Hand from the Flood-Gate, it would immediately fly open, and the fiery Floods of the Fierceness and Wrath of God would rush forth with inconceivable Fury.”
Believe it or not, Edwards words were spoken in love. He hoped that the imagery and language of his fiery sermon would awaken his congregation’s conscience to the reality of hell and the fate of those who continue to live without calling on Christ. He hoped that people would repent and turn to God, come to know that God is loving and kind, and respond accordingly.
Jesus first commandment was “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” We are to love even with our bodily strength; in other words, our obedience. Does fear have a role in obedience? Let’s look to Jesus for our answer.
Jesus said to his disciples: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me” (John 14:23–24).
True obedience, Jesus says, emerges as a response to God’s love, not out of fear of God. In fact, scripture says that God’s “perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). Thus, it cannot be that those who obey out of fear really know God’s love.
I pray, as I’m sure Jonathan Edwards did, that people will come to realize God’s love and, out of that realization, repent and become lovingly obedient to Jesus.
In Closing, I Say
Lift High the Cross