Posted by Milo Hurley for June 9, 2012 Sabbath School
Does the fear of a future judgment have a place in driving sinners to Christ? I raise this question in light of the following discussion between Ellen Harmon and her mother:
When alone with my mother, I inquired if she really believed that the soul was not immortal. Her reply was, that she feared we had been in error on that subject, as well as upon some others.
“But, mother,” said I, “do you really believe that the soul sleeps in the grave until the resurrection? Do you think that the Christian, when he dies, does not go immediately to heaven, nor the sinner to hell?”
She answered: “The Bible gives us no proof that there is an eternally burning hell. If there is such a place, it should be mentioned in the Sacred Book.”
“Why, mother!” cried I, in astonishment, “this is strange talk for you! If you believe this strange theory, do not let any one know of it; for I fear that sinners would gather security from this belief, and never desire to seek the Lord.”
“If this is sound Bible truth,” she replied, “instead of preventing the salvation of sinners, it will be the means of winning them to Christ. If the love of God will not induce the rebel to yield, the terrors of an eternal hell will not drive him to repentance. Besides, it does not seem a proper way to win souls to Jesus by appealing to one of the lowest attributes of the mind — abject fear. The love of Jesus attracts; it will subdue the hardest heart.”1
Clearly, “the terrors of an eternal hell” will produce only a repentance needing “to be repented of” (2 Corinthians 7:10, KJV). But what about the terrors of a hell ending in eternal death? Is it ever appropriate to use the true doctrine of hell to awaken sinners to their danger? Or should we present to them God’s love exclusively? I believe the answer lies in comprehending the relationship between the law and the gospel.
|The Driving of the Law||The Drawing of the Gospel|
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. . . . for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:19, 20)
“In all its majesty the law confronts the conscience, causing the sinner to feel his need of Christ as the propitiation for sin. . . . The sense of sin, urged home by the law, drives the sinner to the Saviour.”2
“The law condemns the sinner, and thus drives him to Christ for righteousness.”3
“‘And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.’ This He said, signifying by what death He would die.” (John 12:32, 33)
“Christ draws the sinner by the exhibition of his love upon the cross, and this softens the heart, impresses the mind, and inspires contrition and repentance in the soul.”4
“Through the cross we learn that our Heavenly Father loves us with an infinite and everlasting love, and draws us to him with more than a mother’s yearning sympathy for a wayward child.”5
The law is a driving power, because it reflects God’s hatred of sin (Romans 1:18); the gospel is a drawing power, because it reveals His love for sinners (5:8). The law upholds the penalty of sin, while the gospel uplifts the Propitiation for it. “If we would have the spirit and power of the third angel’s message, we must present the law and the gospel together, for they go hand in hand.”6
Now let’s talk about motives. Humans seem to be driven by two of them: hope of reward and fear of penalty.7 When Jesus said, “In My Father’s house are many mansions; . . . I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2), He was obviously appealing to the hope of reward. On the other hand, He appealed to the fear of penalty by thundering to the Pharisees: “Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?” (Matthew 23:33).
I’d like to pause on this word penalty. There are legal penalties, as read in the verse above, and there are natural penalties, as heard in Jesus’ warning to a healed man: “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you” (John 5:14). When God warned Adam and Eve they would “surely die” on the day they ate of the forbidden tree (Genesis 2:17), that penalty was visited both legally and naturally. Legally, because a sacrificial lamb bled on that very day. Naturally, because no man separated from the tree of life has ever lived to a 1000 years — which is like one day to God (2 Peter 3:8).
But let’s go back to our two basic motives. If hope of reward and fear of penalty are not enough to produce genuine repentance, why does the Bible speak to them so often? How do they fit into the picture of salvation? The answer lies in the power of Love to transform these basic motivations. Naturally, selfishness causes us to hope for our reward, to fear for our penalty. By appealing to these selfish motives, God speaks to us where we are. But once converted — once love begins to replace selfishness — we begin to hope for others’ reward, to fear for their penalty. The process by which hope of reward and fear of penalty motivate us, more and more regarding others and less and less regarding ourselves, is the process of sanctification.
The end result of this process is described in 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” The word “torment” (kolasis) means “punishment” or “penalty.” So John is saying that perfect love has no fear of penalty. From my reading of Scripture, I have found only two examples (besides Jesus) that come close to such perfection. In the Old Testament there is Moses. Interceding for Israel, he had no fear of punishment when he prayed, “Please forgive their sin — but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written” (Exodus 32:32, NIV). And in the New Testament there is Paul, willing to be “accursed from Christ for [his] brethren” (Romans 9:3).
If you think John is describing a calling too high for any human to reach, don’t be discouraged. Remember, he is talking about perfect love — a love that moved God to say, “Let the penalty fall upon Me.” It is a love that “does not seek its own” (1 Corinthians 13:5), in contrast to the most sanctified believer’s confession: “For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:21, emphasis mine). Yes, although Paul wished to be cursed for his people, he also had to confess: “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected” (3:12). However, his falling short (Romans 3:23) did not discourage him from pressing forward.
And here is given the true doctrine of Christian character perfection. Paul sets the example by saying, “I have not attained, but I press on.” What matters is, not that he is perfect, but that he is pressing toward the prize (Philippians 3:14). Satan tries to hinder our pressing in two ways: either by legalism or by antinomianism. The legalist will say, “I have attained”; the antinomian will say, “I cannot attain.” Notice that both of these ideologies give us no prompting to “press on.” You see, Satan doesn’t care which ditch we fall into, as long as we stop pressing toward the goal of perfect love.
“Sanctification is not the work of a moment, an hour, a day, but of a lifetime.”8 Let us remember that the work of pressing forward should never stop until we take our last mortal breath.