I will write two blogs, one on the need for separation between the Fear of God and the Love of God in its pragmatic application to our relationship with God. The other blog will be on the necessity of their marriage.
A Dangerous Lack of Distinction
The fear of God is meant to produce in us certain realities that lead to other Godly realities. The same is true with the love of God. In the Lord's increase of the fear of the Lord in my life recently, this has become pointedly clear.
In the Lord's increase of the fear of the Lord in my life, the primary role I feel God has given me to do is to not permit myself to stand on shakable (unbiblical) props. Specifically, I have realized how futile attempts at learning the fear of God are if a person applies the love of God to his or her life wrongly, unbiblically. This false application will keep a person suspended above the places of true, righteous agony and terror that are to be experienced. This false application will cause them to feel saved because of love instead of because of the power of God in Jesus Christ to save (of course motivated by love). "For Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, yet also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter...For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others." (2 Cor. 7:10-11, 2 Cor 5:10-11a).
I have seen in my own heart the strong propensity to avoid certain pain/grief/fear through wrong application of the love of God. Let me give you an example. I will be planning on fasting for a certain period of time, but before that time arrives, I will end up eating something. Then, instead of repenting before the Lord (not for not fasting but for not doing what I originally intended), I will say, "Well, the Lord loves me" and then will feel better. Now, it is important to say that the Lord absolutely and indescribably does love us all the time, and that those emotions we tap into with respect to how He feels about us even though we failed to fast, are accurate, real emotions. Me sinning right now and not repenting for it, contrary to the opinions of some, does not avert the unconditional love of God towards me until I repent. While I was yet a sinner, Christ loved me (had positive emotions towards me). So, I have no doubt at all that He does now when I sin and fail to repent. What I am saying is that just feeling God's love for you when you stumble is, in some real way, an unbiblical and destructive application of those emotions that will hinder you from experiencing real freedom through the fear of the Lord.
(Something this begins to touch is which you learn first, the fear of God or the love of God. Should a person who doesn't know that God loves them even though they didn't fast well try and do what I am about to tell you? I will leave that for you to decide.)
Let's take another example, 2 Cor 5:10-11a. Many individuals when envisioning themselves before the throne of Christ giving account for what they have done are so filled with fear and condemnation that they never approach this place truly. They simply cover it with the emotions of God's love for them. Just as with when you are fasting and fail to do it as you intended and then cover it simply with a "well, God loves me", I would ask the same question: what emotions are you running from and should you run from them with the 'love of God'? Or does the Lord have another means of dealing with your emotions? Most would say they feel feelings of failure and condemnation, of worthlessness, and then would say one of two things: either that these emotions aren't true because they are saved or that 'God loves them'. Let's take both of these responses.
These Emotions Aren't True Because I am Saved
Is it true that you are condemned before God (in the legal sense)? If you are saved by Jesus, the answer is no. So maybe this response is correct. But, do you think you are making progress away from those feelings of condemnation before God by just saying so? Furthermore, where do you think those emotions are from? Is Satan the one telling you you are condemned before God? Contrary to the opinions of many, in a certain very real sense, it is not Satan. Why would Satan inform anyone of this? Why would he ever tell anyone that they can never save themselves, that they are bankrupt in their natural state, that they can never work hard enough to produce salvation? This awareness is precisely what is meant to lead us to knowledge of salvation! That voice telling you how absolutely inept you are, how absolutely failed you are, how completely guilty and beyond any self-saving you are, is the voice of God in all people, also known as the conscience (Rom 2:12-16).
IMPORTANT Note: I am describing here how the feelings of 'condemnation or worthlessness or ineptness' are actually from God and not Satan. However, it is HIGHLY important to realize that words like, 'worthlessness', 'inability', or 'condemnation', can suggest two sets of emotions (to simplify). One set is precisely as I am saying: it is emotions from God that are meant not to be ignored or evaded but faced, emotions that cause God to delightfully respond by thrusting into our soul profound knowledge of salvation that keeps us in our biblical place. The other set of emotions are actually emotions stemming from not knowing the unconditional love of God. These emotions ARE from Satan and should be combated with a knowledge of the love of God. An example: A person says they feel condemned and a failure. You must look into it and see what they are saying. Are they saying they feel condemned and a failure because no matter how hard they try, God will never have positive emotions towards them, will never love them? Or, are they saying that they feel condemned and a failure because they cannot produce goodness, cannot be righteous? Even with this language you still have to be careful, because many people, when saying, "I just can't be righteous" are actually meaning, "I can't be loved." It is crucial to understand what you are actually saying in your own life and towards those who are in your life. If you just keep telling a person that the reason they aren't condemned is the blood of Jesus when the real emotion they feel is that they are unloved, then you are trying to tell them they are loved unconditioanlly because of something that happened, a contradiction the heart will never receive. Conversely, if you tell a person they are not condemned because God loves them when the emotion they are feeling is actually their profound own inability to save anyone, you will rob them of an encounter with God's holiness their life requires to continue. To put it entirely, we must know both what we receive unconditionally from God (His love) and that which we receive conditionally from God (salvation) to have every facet of our emotions affected biblically and gloriously, and when we misapply truths we can greatly harm our or our friends' relationship with God.
So, in this case, the emotion being felt by the person when I say 'condemnation and worthlessness and ineptness' is a profound awareness of their inability to be good, to produce what is worthy before God. These emotions should not be called demonic and untrue. These emotions contain incredible truths in them of poverty of spirit and the fear of God, and are in fact the voice of God seeking to lead you to greater truth. The fear of God that is poverty of spirit, leads to the fear of God that recognizes His power to save us. Coupled with a knowledge of His love, which tells us He deeply wants to save us, and you arrive at a pure bliss, under-girded not by shakable heresy but by the unmovable fear of the Lord and the heart-rending love of God. The mere condemnation of these feelings is ineffective because they are from God! We should not simply say, "No, I am not condemned in the name of Jesus because I am saved" and be done with it in avoidance. The emotions of worthlessness and ineptness, in this sense, are ONLY to be combated with a knowledge of salvation in God. They are painful, grief-filled, shaking emotions that make the soul tremble. But I believe it is extremely valuable to let these be answered by the knowledge of God's salvation, and that even 'after that', maintaining them in some real sense is crucial to both ministry and relationship with God.
The Emotions Aren't True Because I'm Loved
Now the second response: Someone says they are don't have to feel these emotions of condemnation and worthlessness because they are loved by God. Again, this is absolutely true if what they mean by those two words is that they don't have to feel unloved. However, given that these emotions are the real emotions all humans possess involving a sense of utter inability and need, terrifying and breaking, the idea that they should not be felt because God loves us (though common) is absolutely absurd. I have a rather radical belief in the love of God, more radical than most. I believe that God has positive emotions of ecstatic delight and wondrous, passionate, desire towards all human beings that caused Him to die for us all and now causes Him to do everything He can to bring them to salvation .I also believe God has guttural pain over the state of rebellion that His creation is in because of that love. And yet, the idea that these emotions He has for us that impel Him with every part of His being to give Himself to us are enough to remove our guilt is, in a frighteningly real sense, false. God's love impelled and impels Him to do everything He can to be with us, but it is not enough. We must gain something that only comes with our surrender: salvation.
No matter how much Jesus loves a person, if that person does not fully and perseveringly surrender to Him as Lord, that person will be tormented for all eternity in everlasting fire (Rev. 14:11). That person will be ever-crushed underneath the weight of the wrath of God, ever screaming underneath the futility of their attempts to be righteous alone. As has been said, there is an extent to which you are to feel positive because of God's love with respect to your attempts to be righteous, that being that you do not have to do anything and in fact cannot do anything to cause God to have any greater love for you. And yet, you are to feel intensely miserable to the extent that you have not humbled yourself and felt the salvation God has given you freely. In fact, when we permit this humbling to occur in our lives, when we actually experience awareness of our own ineptness, the love of God often only becomes a sharper blow, that makes us cry out to God more.
Oh, I encourage you, stay in that cry. Stay in it until God answers it with an overwhelming surge of the knowledge of His salvation. And then after He answers, let yourself go even deeper. Determine to know that you are not condemned ONLY because of God's salvation, where condemnation does not mean unloved.
What to Do
Once again I do not mean that you should force yourself to feel this stuff. You must simply not use false, unbiblical props as just discussed. This does not mean you never feel joy or love. It means that you don't feel them unbiblicaly. In my own life, as this has been occurring, the fear element has remained rather constant, but I can also feel other emotions, and the Holy Spirit tends to move me through them very well, as a great Teacher and Helper. The important thing is to not do feel unbiblically.
Something to not do: Even with trying to feel condemnation righteously you may make fall into something that is just as unbiblical as misapplying the emotions of God's love. I am very aware that often feeling condemnation and worthlessness has nothing to do with the fear of God or poverty of spirit but is actually a religious parade we perform to make us feel better about ourselves ('if I hit myself now because I sinned, then I am actually making up for it and am therefore worthy and good'). This is not what I'm talking about. That is actually prideful. Fear of God that leads to striving is not actually fear of God. And this actually stems from a lack of knowing that God loves you unconditionally (this person is normally trying to be loved and thinks that they are accomplishing it by what they are doing). I am talking about a true crushing inside of you, a breaking at your awareness of how you stand before God's holiness, absolutely loved but absolutely unable to save yourself. Please do not try to force yourself to feel condemned in some religious way as you will probably end up doing just this religious, trying-to-be-loved, gig.
So, what do I think you should do? Part of that is up to you following the Holy Spirit as He might want to really teach you about the love of God first. I honestly don't know His syllabus for you. =) And part of this I have already explained in another blog. But here I will say that I think you should let yourself feel your failure before God and that from that place of actually feeling the failure, God will show you the knowledge of salvation (the other side of the fear of God). I believe that that condemnation we often feel is actually the places inside of us that do not yet know we are saved. One day when the pressures of life have increased, if we have not let the Lord give us a solid foundation, we will have a real problem. My goal now is to not hide from the fear of God through an unbiblical application of love. It is to face the way His fear-worthiness destroys me so that I will realize how He has saved me from that destruction. Knock out the shakable props from your life. If you feel like you are good because of the way you minister, then be careful with those moments. If you feel like you are good because of certain prayers you pray, then you might consider lessening those prayers and sitting in the feelings that those prayers conceal. If reading this list of things to do right now, causes you to feel ways that you are going to fix yourself, then stop reading it and sit in that emotion. If you feel like you are good because God loves you, then get a new definition of love (an unconditional one), and know that being absolutely loved does not cause you to be saved.
The primary purpose of this blog is to show how the love of God and the fear of God should be separated. The primary purpose of the next blog is to show how the love of God and the fear of God must be married.