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Random thoughts of fear and trembling
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Recently, I have been spending a lot of time trying to get my tiny brain around what God wants me to do. Ever have that happen? So often, I allow myself to just engross myself in the complex problems of the world and making the sometimes arduous task of just making it through until Jesus decides it’s time to return so that I may spend all my heart, soul, strength and mind to fulfill it’s one design: Worshipping and glorifying God.
Sadly, we are not there yet. That time has not yet come and, while it is all of our deepest desire that it will come soon, we have work to do for Him. I’m not really sure that we can call it work in the world’s sense; when, before we were saved, we would work to earn money so that we could pay for the necessities of survival. Once we are saved through our faith in Christ, we no longer need to worry about the survival part and are freed through our assurance of everlasting life.
So, here we stand with nothing but time on our hands, in the full knowledge of God’s grace and provision. I think that is where we find ourselves getting in all manners of trouble; whereas before we were saved, it wasn’t a question of whether we could get “into” trouble, we were already there, caught and marching toward the consequence. All we could do is remain in sin, try and survive, seek respite in empty pursuits and the get up and work again to survive a little longer.
So, how is it that we can possibly “get in trouble” when we are assured of survival?
I think of my kids (and myself as a child). My kids, hopefully, can have some degree of confidence that I love them enough to provide at least the basic essentials for physical survival. They know that they don’t need to earn the food on the table when they get home from school, or my time, or my affection. I give it to them freely because of my love for them. They have basic confidence that their needs will be provided, not because of what they did but because of my desire for them to survive, and more so thrive.
But there is another side of the story as well. Sometimes because of ignorance they place themselves in harm’s way, I love them and want them to thrive, so at times, I have to physically remove them from in front of the oncoming train that I can see, but they miss. And then, since they were not aware of the danger, there reaction is anger at being removed from their tea party on the tracks. They say things that hurt me, they refuse my affection, they avoid spending time with me…but they do so in the comfort of my provision and desire for them to survive. They feel that they can be angry at me for a time and still not lose my love and my desire for them to thrive.
Sometimes, one child will return to the tea party on the tracks and the other will choose to stay in the house and read a book about tea parties. When I, once again physically extricate the one from the tracks, they will be angry with me again..and…angry toward the child reading. “Dad loves you more”, “If you weren’t such a goody-two shoes, I would not get in as much trouble.” So now, the child is not only angry with me, they are angry with their siblings. But all of it occurs within the comfortable confines of assurance that their needs will be met.
Aren’t we all like that? We live in the blessed assurance of everlasting life, and yet we choose to sit on the tracks and then get angry at others when, for love of us, God physically extricates us from those tracks that we will not be injured. Then, when we find out that our brothers and sisters were inside reading and missed the opportunity to get smushed, we get angry at them.
That is one area that we get in trouble though we maintain our assurance of everlasting life. Over time, we begin to make better choices, and we start reading indoors with our siblings, what transpires then is another opportunity to get in trouble.
While I am delighted at my children’s desire to read, I want them to go outside and play so that they might enjoy the sunshine and get some exercise (which helps them to thrive). Then they get angry again because they misunderstood my actions, my intent was to get them off the tracks…not end the tea party. They mistook my intent to get them out of danger as an invitation to be inactive. So now, they are mad again at me, and, in addition, begin to argue with each other over which has the more comprehensive or entertaining book about tea parties.
So, I demand that both of them go outside and do something not on the tracks. And true to the cycle, they get angry and step outside in a huff. The sit for awhile on the front step, arguing about who is the more oppressed and how it is the fault of the other that they are now so bored. They fume at each other for awhile and then one says:
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know…how about a tea party.”
“Sounds good. Where at?”
I know that we’d all like to believe that we do not act that way toward God and our brothers and sisters in Christ. But it has been my experience that we do. The problem we face as siblings is not a lack of assurance over our survival, it’s that after we receive that assurance we begin to take it for granted and begin making decisions that are built upon our understanding of the circumstances rather than the reality of God’s intent.
I am guilty of this and I know that others are too. When was the last time you heard or read the phrases “Get out of Hell free card” or “Fire Insurance” in relationship to salvation. I am sure that there are others out there. I have found that those using them, including myself, have usually reached the level that they are now entirely focused on becoming more mature disciples in Christ…which is great and pleasing to God.
But let’s think about it for a moment before we use those phrases, because, essentially, what we are doing is marginalizing, or even mocking, THE most important event in the history of the universe.
How can we possibly assert that we are growing in Christ-likeness when we marginalize the very reason that God became flesh and was crucified?
The other day I had my regular weekly bible study with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and we were discussing salvation, I told them I was assured of my salvation, not because of my works (in fact despite them) but because of Jesus’ work. They were surprised at my confidence (which comes from God’s promises throughout the bible - my version, not their’s), and they pointed out that I should be careful because I can lose my salvation. They referred to a passage in Philippians as evidence that salvation was not assured:
“So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
Philippians 2:12 (HCSB)
What convicts me most about this passage is the fact that God, through Paul, is not warning us to fear or tremble about losing our salvation, which is assured through our confession and faith; instead He is reminding us to respond with fear and trembling at the utter magnitude of our salvation.
How many times have we looked at those same tracks and been deceived into only seeing the tea set we left behind without witnessing the trail of carnage behind the train that was destined to destroy us as well, had it not been for the intervention of the Son of God.
I often think that the trouble in the lives of the saints, the disputing and debates, division and anger, can often be attributed to the assurance of salvation in our lives. We are placed in a position that the boundless grace and sufficiency of God, the justification that we have received through Christ’s sacrifice and the unshakeable promise of everlasting life that we have received, have provided us with such freedom that we allow that freedom to be a launching point for intellectualism and pride in our actions rather than humility in the actions of our loving God.
We begin tearing down the assurance of salvation in others that do not meet our standards. It is only after passing through the narrow gate, the only Way, of Jesus Christ, and begin meeting others on the straight path to God, that we begin to analyze and critique those who have come through the gate as well. We question their technique and marginalize their salvation and our own as though all of our choice to go through the narrow gate rather than take the broad road was insufficient in the eyes of Christ; as though it were just the starting line rather than the ultimate goal of Jesus Christ’s work.
I’m beginning to see a trend in many churches and, sadly, individual saints to avoid the fear and trembling we should all experience in the face of such a mighty salvation. I believe the key to revival, the solution to the dichotomy of the love we are supposed to show and the often harsh judgmentality that we do show, and the impetus for the response that glorifies God, is found in the embrace of the Gospel; and make no mistake about it, when we magnify our personal salvation and marginalize the salvation of others…we are rejecting the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Embracing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Gospel that Saves, is not an intellectual exercise wherein if we can grasp it mentally we have arrived. The Gospel is a recounting of the most magnificent event ever, it is not just something out of a history book or an incredible story to comfort children and give those nearing death solace. It was an actual event which cannot be undone, and it will, like a stone thrown in a pool, forever change the landscape.
It is because of the Gospel that we seek to know more about God through His Word. As we better understand how our lives and destiny are changed forever because of Jesus’ work, we want to know more about Him, we seek Him in His Word.
We learn from His Word the height and expanse of His majesty and His sovereignty…we respond with fear and trembling.
We learn from His Word the depth of our depravity and enormity of our sin…we respond with fear and trembling.
We learn from His Word the magnitude of the One sacrificed by the only One holy enough to perform the sacrifice…we respond with fear and trembling.
We respond with fear and trembling as we seek to embrace, rather than just intellectually grasp, a grace so indescribable that the very Author of life would give everything for the opportunity to open that narrow gate to us.
It truly is amazing that, in response to that, we can even function in this world, and not, instead, spend every waking moment face down in reverent submission.
But that is not to be, yet, because we are called to be His messengers, to share that same Gospel with those yet at the tea party on the tracks…so that they may hear, respond, and begin to work out their own salvation…with fear and trembling….that they may rejoice in the freedom that comes from the assurance of salvation.
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