The Slavery Objection to Christianity

The Slavery Objection to Christianity

One of the more popular objections to Christianity is that the Bible is immoral because it gives approval to the practice of slavery. Many Christians living in the nineteenth century used the Bible’s statements that slaves should obey their masters to justify the practice of Southern slavery where black people were kidnapped and forced into slavery against their will.

The first truth that must be established when talking about slavery in the Bible is that the Scriptures never give approval to kidnapping and selling people into slavery. Exodus 21:16 condemns both the person who kidnaps another human being and sells him into slavery and the person who buys the kidnapped slave:

“Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.”

This condemnation is repeated in Deuteronomy 24:7:

“If a man is found stealing one of his brothers, the people of Israel, and if he treats him as a slave or sells him, then that thief shall die. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.”

The Old Testament laws on slavery were designed by God to regulate and bring compassion to a pre-existing practice that is the result of the fall of man into sin. Unlike marriage, slavery was created by man, not God. Exodus 21:2 placed a time limit on how long a person could own a slave, Exodus 21:26-27 forbids cruelty to slaves, Deuteronomy 15:12-15 says that slaves are to be treated well, Deuteronomy 23:15-16 says that slaves who run away from their masters must not be handed back to them, and Leviticus 25:39-40 reminds us that slavery was often a means out of poverty and starvation as many slaves sold themselves into slavery to avoid starving to death.

Paul in 1 Timothy 1:8-10 lists enslaving humans among the horrible sins of this vice list:

“Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine.”

The term translated as enslavers literally means “man-stealers” to describe people who kidnap other human beings.

But why didn’t Paul advise Christian slaves to run away from their masters but instead to submit to them in Colossians 3:22? The reason is rather simple: the gospel. Paul wanted Christian slaves to win their masters and fellow slaves or servants to Christ. But why doesn’t Paul advocate abolishing slavery altogether in the Roman Empire? The reason for this should also be obvious: the New Testament Church had no ability to change the law because Christians were a small minority in the Roman Empire. But they did have the power to create a new community where they did not treat each other as slaves, but as brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul says in Philemon 1:15-16 that Christian slaves are not to be treated as slaves:

“For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother – especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.”

The church is a society where there are no slaves because they have all been adopted into God’s family: no longer as slaves, but as sons and daughters:

Galatians 4:7: “So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

Because Christ has set us free from our sins, we should not sell ourselves into slavery (1 Cor 7:21), but glory in the truth that we have been liberated from the just sentence of death and hell we deserved.


Will Future Generations of Americans Look on Abortion as They Do Slavery?

It is often said that future generations of Americans will sit in judgment of ours when it comes to the issue of abortion. Our culture will eventually change its tune and embrace the sanctity of all of life just as we have now come to see the evil of Southern slavery. As a Christian, I could never vote for or endorse a politician who supports abortion. Abortion violently takes the life of unborn children and is our nation’s greatest shame. While I wish that one day future generations of Americans will look back on abortion as the greatest evil our nation has ever participated it, I do not believe this will happen until Christ returns. I hate to be a pessimist, but I am afraid that this hope is unfounded because it misunderstands why abortion has become an untouchable sacred rite to those who are in bondage to their sins.

The demand for abortion will never go away until Jesus returns because fallen mankind is in bondage to sexual sin. There will always be a demand for abortion because it is viewed as a necessary form of contraception to avoid the consequences of sinful behavior. As long as there are sinners who are in rebellion against God in their sexual sin, there will always be a demand for abortion because sexual sin will endure until the return of Christ. I’d have to become a postmillennialist in order to believe that the demand for abortion will pass away before the new heavens and new earth arrive. But the Scriptures teach that the period of time before the second coming of Christ will be marked by great persecution and much unbelief (Dan 7:21-22, 25-27; 1 Thess 5:2-4; 2 Thess 2:8-12).

It is true that institutionalized slavery has been abolished in our nation, but abolishing slavery is a much easier task than abolishing abortion. One is a change in the economy of a nation which can be accomplished through coercive force, the other is a change in the heart of a person. While slavery is now illegal in America, it is still alive and well in the form of human trafficking. Even if by God’s grace abortion was made illegal in America, that would not diminish the demand for it one bit. No law has the power to change the human heart. Only God through the gospel can do that. If abortion was made illegal like slavery is, then surgical abortion would just be replaced by private chemical abortion. We cannot expect the government to do for us what only God can. Man’s sexual autonomy must be dethroned before Christ can rule over a person’s heart. It takes the regenerating power of God to change the nature of those who are in bondage to sexual sin.

The Constitution sowed the seeds of the end of slavery by asserting that all men are created equal and the same could be said for those who are unborn. But the abolition of slavery took place when our nation was not ashamed of its Christian heritage. In contrast, our culture has become radically anti-Christian and the power of the government has been restructured around the Supreme Court which is viewed as the ultimate authority. The mechanism for changing the laws of our nation on abortion is broken given the present form of our government. But even if the laws were changed, that would not change the demand for it. That is why we must work for a different kingdom and seek to transform this world through sharing the gospel with the lost even if our beliefs are only vindicated on the other side of history.

Should Women Who Have Abortions Be Punished?

There has been a great deal of discussion on the internet recently about whether women who have abortions should be punished by law if abortion were to become illegal. It is often argued that abortionists should be punished, but not the women who visit them. This is the dominant position in the pro-life movement today. But this belief is dead wrong and I’m going to explain why in this article even though the reason should be obvious.

Let’s say a woman is raising a one-month-old child and decides she no longer wants to be a mother because of the stress and cost of taking care of that child. She regrets not having an abortion because then she would not have to deal with the consequences of giving birth to a child. So she hires a hitman to abduct her baby and kill him so that she no longer has to be a mother. Should she be held legally responsible for the crime of hiring a hitman to kill her child? If you answer, “Yes,” then on what basis should a woman who hires an abortionist to kill her unborn child not be held legally responsible? The only difference between a one-month-old and an unborn child is the level of development. The only way you can make an argument that mothers who kill their unborn children should not be held criminally responsible is by agreeing with the pro-choice logic that killing an unborn child is fundamentally different than killing a child who is already born. Every objection against holding women who have abortions responsible for what they have done could be used against prosecuting the woman in this scenario who hires a hitman to kill her child.

By saying that women who have abortions should not be punished, the modern pro-life movement is saying that it is not actually interested in abolishing all acts of abortion. If the pro-life movement had its way, almost as many abortions would take place as they do now. Surgical abortion would simply be replaced by chemical abortion. And there would be no accountability for women who take abortion-inducing drugs under this policy. That would mean a woman who smokes marijuana is more legally liable under the law than a woman who takes a drug to end the life of her unborn child.

Those who argue that women who have abortions should not be criminally charged fail to cite any Scripture to support their position. That’s because this viewpoint does not come from the Bible, but from the Roman Catholic Church which was involved in the pro-life movement before most Protestants were. This argument is built around the myth that women who intentionally kill their unborn children are victims rather than accomplices in a murder. There may have been a time when a woman could claim that she did not know what she was doing when she had an abortion. But the time for ignorance is past. The amount of knowledge we have today concerning the development of the child in the womb is incredible in comparison to the days of Roe v. Wade. Anyone with access to the internet can see pictures of every stage of development in the womb.

The Bible says in Ecclesiastes 8:11 that, “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil.” Laws against evil serve as a deterrent to restrain those who are evil. This is the true purpose of the government (Rom 13:4). Without any legal accountability for abortion, there is no incentive for a woman not to have one. This is the reason why we punish both prostitutes and those who visit them. The same is true for those who purchase illegal drugs and those who sell them. Both parties must be punished or else only the seller would have an incentive to not engage in criminal behavior. Decriminalizing an action is the same as legalizing it because either way there is no punishment for the one who commits it.

One of the objections to the position advocated here is that this would result in punishing women who are in crisis rather than helping them. A woman with an unplanned pregnancy is a woman in crisis. But a woman who has had an abortion is no longer a woman with the crisis of an unplanned pregnancy because she has dealt with that problem through abortion. She is now no longer a woman in crisis, but a woman with the guilty conscience of having murdered her child. When ministering to a person who has committed murder, the church has a role to play in proclaiming the gospel to him or her and the government has an obligation to punish those who take life.

Another objection is that this would make it more difficult to prosecute abortionists because women would fear coming forward to testify against the abortionist for fear of being criminally charged. But why do prosecutors need the testimony of women who have participated in abortion to prove that the abortionist has committed a crime? When a woman hires a hitman to kill her husband, is her testimony against the hitman essential to proving the case? Holding women accountable for abortion would actually increase the likelihood of having them testify in court against abortionists because prosecutors can offer them the plea deal of a reduced sentence for their crime in having the abortion. If these women have not committed a crime, then no plea deal could be offered to them and they would have less of an incentive to testify.

Some might argue, “But women who had abortions before Roe v. Wade were not held legally responsible.” That is true. And that is one of the reasons why Roe v. Wade became the law of the land. Not punishing women involved in abortion helped to create a pro-choice culture because there was no deterrent against it. It was inconsistent to punish abortionists while not punishing the women who hired them so the courts stopped punishing abortionists.

But what about situations where a woman is forced into having an abortion by the father? In that case, the father or those who pressured her into having an abortion should be held responsible. A woman who feels as if an abortion is the only option should contact her nearest crisis pregnancy center or visit a church who can help her. There are many Christians waiting to help women in crisis if they only knew where to look.

As others have indicated, inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument. It’s time for those who are in academia and leaders in the pro-life movement to listen to the voice of the church instead of Roman Catholicism. I would be in agreement with Tony Miano’s position on abortion.

How Could God Command People to Kill Others?

God is the one who gives and takes life. As 1 Samuel 2:6 says, “The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.” He can choose to take us out of the world any time he wants (Deut 32:39; Job 1:21; 12:10; 14:5; 34:14-15; Isa 45:7; Lam 3:38; Dan 5:23). He is sovereign over life and over death. Murder is wrong because only God has the authority to take life. Because only God gives life, only God has the right to take life. To kill an innocent person is to usurp the authority only God has and put ourselves in the place of God. Because only God has the right to take life, how could it ever be just for one person to kill another? On what basis could God order someone to kill another person?

One principle we must take into consideration when answering this question is that it is essential to distinguish between those who are innocent and those who are deserving of death. Murder is the taking of innocent life, not all life. Lying is not telling the truth to those to whom the truth is owed, not all acts of deception. God commanded that those who murder be put to death: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Gen 9:6). All men have dignity and value because they are made in the image of God unlike animals who can be killed for food. It is exactly because man has value that murderers must be punished with death so that the punishment fits the crime. Destroying the image of God is a crime worthy of the greatest punishment.

God commanded Israel to kill the Canaanites because of the greatness of their sins (Deut 18:9-14). It is just for Israel to kill pagan idolaters in warfare because they are great sinners deserving of death. God allowed for the Israelites to use lethal force to defend themselves against thieves (Exod 22:2). The failure to distinguish between those who are innocent and those who are guilty leads to much of the confusion surrounding this question. Everyone whom God has ever ordered to be put to death was either someone deserving of death or in corporate solidarity with those who deserved to die. As in the case of Achan, everyone who was associated with him had to die for the guilt to be purged from Israel (Josh 7:24-26). But this extreme example is an exception to the general rule that children are not to be put to death with their parents (Deut 24:16).

God is just to order human government to kill those who are deserving of death because the government is an extension of God’s sovereignty when it is acting on his behalf (Rom 13:1-6; 1 Pet 2:13-14). When God tells the government to shed the blood of men who are guilty of murder, the government is acting as God’s instrument. It is not human government who is ultimately taking life, but God who is doing so through them. The government is not sinning when it takes the lives of those who are evil because it is fulfilling the Word of God. Only God can take life, but he has delegated this authority to the government. God has also revealed in his Word that it is appropriate to take life when necessary to protect the innocent from those who try to kill them (Neh 4:13-14; Esth 8:11; Ps 82:4; Prov 24:11; Acts 7:24). In these situations, the one who takes life is exercising an authority delegated to him by God. It is only just for man to take the life of another man in specific situations where God has revealed that doing so is appropriate. In such cases, it is God who is taking life through the means he has ordained.

The Biblical Basis for Self-Defense

In light of John Piper’s recent comments on whether Christians should ever use force to defend themselves or others, I would like to add my own thoughts regarding the Scriptures on this matter. When Jesus said, “Do not resist the one who is evil” (Matt 5:39), he was speaking with respect to our actions as individual Christians when mistreated for our faith. We are not to take revenge on those who persecute us because God will avenge us (Rom 12:19). He is not speaking with regard to the role of the government in punishing those who do evil or the obligation of a man to protect his family or the duty of God’s people to protect those who are helpless (Exod 2:17-19; 22:2; Deut 22:27; Neh 4:13-14; Esth 8:11; Job 29:17; Ps 82:4; 94:16; Prov 24:11; Eze 33:6; Matt 24:43; Luke 11:21; Acts 7:24; Rom 13:4; 1 Tim 5:8; 1 Pet 2:14).

Peter’s use of the sword against the Romans was sinful because he was using force against a legitimate authority (Rom 13:1-2). The church, of which Peter would be a cornerstone, advances the kingdom with spiritual weapons, not physical ones (2 Cor 10:4). In contrast, a person who is trying to murder your family is not a legitimate authority and should be repelled by force. Dying by the sword in Matthew 26:52 is a reference to the death penalty which those Peter had just attacked were capable of using and one day would use against him (Rom 13:4). Jesus himself used force to drive out the money changers from the temple because they were breaking God’s law (Matt 21:12; Mark 11:15-16; Luke 19:45; John 2:15). Therefore, it is not always sinful to use force or else Jesus would have been a sinner.

Jesus commanded his disciples to be armed with a sword in Luke 22:36 to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 53:12 that he would be numbered with the transgressors. But the act of being armed to defend oneself is not sinful or else Jesus would be commanding his disciples to sin. It was the use of the sword against a legitimate authority by Peter that was sinful, not owning a sword for self-defense. Some interpreters argue that the sword of Luke 22:36 is figurative rather than literal. But in that case, how would a figurative sword fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 53:12 and number Jesus among transgressors? Why would a person need to sell their cloak to buy a metaphorical sword?

We must be neighbors to those closest to us before those who are evil. Refusing to protect helpless people in distress is not being a neighbor to them, it is being a coward. Loving our neighbor requires us to protect them from those who would harm them. Men are called to provide for their families (1 Tim 5:8). That includes providing for their protection against those who would try to harm them. A husband who will not protect his family is even worse than one who will not provide for their financial needs.

It is the false shepherd who runs away and flees when confronted with danger. Jesus says in John 10:10-13: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” If a shepherd would use force to repel a wolf from attacking his sheep, how much more should husbands use force to protect their families. The reality is pacifism is often cowardice in disguise under a cloak of righteousness.

All human fighting, violence, and crime flow from man’s sinful craving to satisfy his appetite for power, money, pleasure, food, and significance. Christians turn from sinful lust by finding their identity in Christ instead of trying to build their own kingdom on earth. Because it is God who is our lasting satisfaction, we do not need to wage war to create heaven on earth. Crime will not cease until the second coming because violence is a problem of the heart. That requires constant vigilance by society to protect the innocent against those who are evil.

Pacifism in a fallen world invites violent men to take advantage of those they know will not fight back. In this sense, pacifism is a form of over-realized eschatology that does not take into account the reality of fallen man’s propensity to engage in violence even when there are strong deterrents. There will be no need for guns in the new heavens and new earth, but that day has not yet come. Other examples of over-realized eschatology include persecution of religious minorities, taking vengeance on others, the prosperity gospel, antinomianism, perfectionism, hyper-dispensationalism, hyper-Calvinism, hyper-preterism, never allowing any exceptions for divorce even in cases of unrepentant sexual immorality, and never allowing deception for the purpose of protecting the innocent (Exod 1:16-21).

Should Christians Get Tattoos?

God commanded the Israelites in Leviticus 19:28 to not make any cuts on their body for the dead or tattoo themselves. But he also told them in verse 19 not to wear clothing made of two different kinds of fabric. On what basis can we say that the command to not get tattoos or make cuts on our body for the dead is binding on Christians today while the command to not wear clothing made of different kinds of fabric is not? How we answer the question of whether Christians can tattoo themselves depends on how we answer the following questions: “What is the basis upon which we determine what Old Testament laws are still binding on Christians today?” and “What was the reason for the original command forbidding Israelites from tattooing themselves?” To answer these questions, we need to explore the relationship between the Old Testament and the New and the historical context in which Leviticus 19:28 was given.

The short answer to the question is no. The principle of ownership, the purpose of avoiding the pagan practices of the nations around Israel, and the reality that tattoos normally flow from the selfish motivation of expressing oneself to attract the attention of others are all reasons why this command is still binding on Christians today. On the other hand, the command to not wear clothing made up different fabrics was to be a reminder to the people of Israel that they are to be a people wholly sanctified to the Lord and are not to mix the holy with the profane.

Tattoos were common in the ancient Near East as a form of branding for slaves, to demonstrate one’s devotion to the god he or she serves, or for erotic enhancement. The land of Egypt from which the Israelites had come practiced tattooing for all these reasons. Some pagans would tattoo the image or name of the god they worship as a sign of their ownership by the god as a slave would be branded to show who they were owned by. The prohibition of Leviticus 19:28 also forbids making cuts on one’s body as a form of mourning for the dead. The association of tattooing with the pagan practice of cutting oneself reinforces that the motivation for this prohibition is so that the Israelites would not practice the religious customs of the nations around them, but instead derive their religion solely from God’s revelation in the Torah. The conclusion we should draw from this is not, “Tattoos are fine as long as they are not being done the same way pagans tattoo themselves,” but “Tattoos are an expression of pagan religion in the same category as cutting oneself for the dead.”

The word translated as “tattoo” in Leviticus 19:28 only occurs one time in the Hebrew Bible. But scholars are confident that the word is describing the act of tattooing based on the consistent translation of the word into other languages. Verse 27 gives further confirmation that the prohibitions of verse 28 are connected with pagan religious practices. Pagans would trim their hair in such a way as to signify their devotion to the god they worship as a form of distinguishing themselves from those who do not. In a similar way, tattoos serve as a visible sign of membership in a family, team, or cult. It is a perpetual outward reminder of one’s identity in a group (a hidden tattoo that no one can see defeats the entire purpose of having a tattoo). But for Christians, our identity is in Christ, not in any earthly fraternity.

The Israelites were forbidden to tattoo themselves because they were owned by God, not by any false god or any man. Would Moses approve of an Israelite getting a tattoo as long as the tattoo was of the name YHWH instead of a pagan deity? To tattoo oneself with the name of God would be taking God’s name in vain and worshiping God contrary to the way he has ordained in Scripture (Deut 12:4, 32). Because we are owned by Christ, we are called to glorify God with our bodies (1 Cor 6:20). Because we do not belong to ourselves, we are not free to do with our bodies whatever we want. We are forbidden to engage in gluttony, addictive behaviors which enslave us (1 Cor 6:12), or do anything which would disfigure or bring harm to the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16-17). Because our bodies are God’s temple, he has the right to tell us what to do with them, how to dress modestly, and how to worship with them.

Israel was given the command to not wear clothing with mixed fibers and to wear tassels on their garments to serve as a reminder that they belong to God rather than through the form of a tattoo. The parallel to Deuteronomy 22:11-12 demonstrates that the command not to wear clothing of mixed fibers is in the same category as the command to wear tassels on clothing as a reminder that one is a member of Israel because the commands occur next to each other. Since I am not an Israelite but a Christian living under the new covenant, the command to not wear clothing of mixed fibers is not binding on me (Eph 2:15). But since I am bought by Christ and am not free to do whatever I want with my body, I still have an obligation to not imitate pagan forms of self-expression rooted in false religions. Unlike tattoos, wearing clothing of mixed fibers was never an expression of pagan religion. That is what distinguishes the two commands from each other. One is the prohibition of an established religious practice while the other introduces a unique form of distinction for Israelites.

But what if I want to get a tattoo of a Bible verse? Many people believe that having a distinctly Christian tattoo will help them fight against sin by having a constant reminder on their body of God’s love for them. But the problem with this strategy of fighting sin is that it doesn’t work. Tullian Tchividjian had a tattoo of “Tetelesti” or “It is finished!” on his arm and he still fell into great sin. There are numerous people who have fallen into sin despite having Christian tattoos. Disregard for the lesser commands of God eventually results in disregard for the weightier matters of the law. The biblical remedies against Satan’s devices are many, but tattoos are not one of them. We fight against sin by hiding God’s Word in our hearts, not by hiding ink under our skin.

What Does It Mean to Fear the Lord?

What is the fear of the Lord? Proverbs 1:7 tells us that it is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge. But how can we love God when we are commanded to fear him? Doesn’t 1 John 4:18 tell us that “perfect love casts out fear”? How can we fear God when we have been delivered by him from the condemnation for our sins? How can a healthy marriage exist when the wife lives in fear of her husband? Some people will tell you that fearing God doesn’t mean quaking in your boots before him, but a healthy respect for who he is. They might even use the example of Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia to illustrate how we should respect God as we would respect a powerful lion. In the book, Mr. Beaver replies to Susan’s question about whether Aslan is safe by saying, “Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” This may be a good way to explain the fear of the Lord to children, but I hope we have grown beyond zoomorphisms. Respect and reverence are far too weak of terms to capture the fullness of what fearing God means.

The fear of the Lord is a holy adoration for God that leads to action. The fear of God is not a feeling, but activity. It is recognizing who we are in light of who God is and acting upon that knowledge. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom because wisdom is the application of God’s Word to every aspect of our lives. That is why fearing God is demonstrated by turning away from evil (Prov 3:7; 8:13). A man who does not fear God lives as if he is his own god disregarding God’s Word when it interferes with his pleasure. The wicked are called to fear God and turn from evil because there is a day of judgment coming when every secret of their heart will be exposed (Luke 8:17). Hebrews 4:13 tells us, “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” God knows everything we do and nothing is hidden from him. This is a strong motivation to fight against sin, even when no one else is watching. We fear God by turning away from what he says is evil because our old self was crucified with him. It is the recognition that we are now dead men who are alive in Christ.

To understand the fear of the Lord, we need to understand why he should be feared. God is the one who created all things and therefore holds us accountable to him. We must give an account to him one day for how we have lived our lives. He is perfectly righteous, holy, and just and his justice is inflexible. None of us can enter into his presence and his eyes are too pure to look upon sin (Hab 1:13). On that day, every proud and boastful heart will melt before him. Those who have long rejected the offer of the gospel will be cast into hell for their sins and lack of fear of God. While they are suffering “in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb,” the saints and angels in glory will both love and fear God perfectly for all eternity (Rev 14:11). The sight of the damned in hell will serve as a perpetual reminder of why God must be feared. When we meditate on our own end as either a monument to God’s glory or justice, it is impossible to reduce the fear of the Lord to mere respect.

Aaron had far more than just respect for God when he saw the dead bodies of his sons who disregarded the commands of God. He held his peace when God said, “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified” (Lev 10:3). God is the one who both gives and takes life and he can take us out of this world any time he chooses. He promises blessings for those who fear him and curses for those who disregard him: “The fear of the LORD prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be short” (Prov 10:27). Fearing God is the path to peace and happiness rather than living for sinful pleasures which bring guilt and fear. Fearing God frees us from anxiety and worry when we entrust ourselves to his will. As Charles Spurgeon once said, “The fear of God is the death of every other fear; like a mighty lion, it chases all other fears before it.” When we fear God, we will not fear man.

The fear of the Lord is one of the reasons we share the gospel with others: “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Cor 5:11). We not only fear God ourselves, but we are afraid for those we speak to lest they reject the gospel and fall under the wrath of God. We are called to fear God more than the rejection we may receive from others. If they die without Christ, their eternal existence will be a display of the perfect justice of God. And if someone had not shared the gospel with us, we would join them in hell. We are saved, not because we are better than them, but because we are covered in the blood of Christ.

But how do love and fear relate to each another? The fear of 1 John 4:18 that is cast out is the fear of condemnation that will never be ours because Christ was condemned in our place. We know that the saints in glory fear and love God perfectly at the same time. But how can this be? I think the answer to this question has to do with the relationship between love and desire. If we fear someone, we will do what he commands to not be punished. But if we love someone, we will desire to do what he commands for who he is. Because we are weak and sinful creatures, we do not have the ability to fear God. That’s why we need the love of God to do for us what moral obligation can’t. We have God’s love abiding in us if we are trusting in Christ: “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). We are able to love God because he has changed our heart and given us new desires. Because we now desire to worship God from the heart, fear for him flows naturally from our new affections which do not take delight in evil (Jer 32:40).

Psalm 147:11 is important for helping us to understand this relationship: “But the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.” Fearing God is described as hoping in his love. A man who does not hope in the love of God is not a man who fears him. If our hope is in God to satisfy us, then we will love him instead of sin and loving sin is the opposite of fearing God. Jesus demonstrated this throughout his life: “And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD” (Isa 11:3). Jesus delighted in the fear of God which was demonstrated in his sinless delight in the law of God. Jesus feared God perfectly in our place by perfectly loving God instead of sin.

When we choose sin over fearing God, we show that our delight and treasure is not in him, but in something in creation. And all sin involves exchanging the creator for the creation as our object of worship which demonstrates hatred for God instead of love (Exod 20:5; Rom 1:23). All sin flows out of a lack of love for God because we love the pleasure of sin more than God and sin is the expression of a lack of fear of God. In contrast, if we love God, we will keep his commandments which is the expression of fearing God (John 14:15). Love for God as a result of the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit results in turning away from sin which is the manifestation of the fear of the Lord. May we learn how to love and fear God both for what he has done for us and for who he is.