Love and fear are often placed in opposition to each other in the realm of religion. They seem on the surface to be mutually exclusive, when it comes to discipleship and service to the Lord. The clear preference is for love of the Lord; fear of the Lord is thought to be a low and despised motivation. The Bible, however, has a different view: (Deuteronomy 10:12) “Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul,” You see, it is not either love or fear; it is both love and fear. Indeed, if one of them is missing, faith tends to go a little dysfunctional.
What happens, if we don’t love the Lord enough?
Our service becomes drudgery
When one loses one’s love for the Lord; our service becomes less joyful by degrees, our obedience becomes increasingly only about compliance, and our discipleship becomes more and more slavish.
We seek to avoid service when we can
As self-love increases against Christ-love, one begins to seek to dodge service and obedience, whenever possible. And as we dodge more and more, we find that we love less and less.
We become satisfied with the minimum
Connected with seeking to avoid service; we also find satisfaction with minimal discipleship. We begin to be interested in what is absolutely necessary to get to Heaven. We begin compartmentalizing our discipleship from our secular life—losing sight of the fact that our spiritual life should reach into every corner of our lives. And as we minimize our discipleship, we begin maximizing the secular compartment of our lives.
Obedience becomes rote
When one has lost his love for the Savior, worship, prayer, Bible reading, etc. starts to become mechanical, purposeless, and thoughtless—because we’re supposed to. And as these things begin to mean less and less, we are motivated to love less and less.
Is it true that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18)? Yes, of course; Jesus clearly had such perfect love for the Father and His will. However, with the remainder of men the trouble usually is in that phrase “perfect love”. Our love is too often immature, incomplete and imperfect. It could be strong at one moment, but then be overcome with self-love, pride, sensuality, etc. the next. For those of us with imperfect love (I’m going to take a chance and include us all in this category); healthy, reverent fear is good and even necessary.
What happens, if we don’t fear the Lord enough?
We play fast and loose with God’s commands
One of the first things that we may do, when our fear for the Lord declines is become careless with our obedience. We get satisfied with “close enough” and “good intentions”. We start finding situations in which the Lord’s will won’t apply to us; we discover lots of “play” in the commands found in Scripture.
We try to play lawyer with His commands
Lack of fear for the Lord often leads to playing close to the edges of sin. It usually includes trying to parse the exact words of the commands: “Well, the Bible doesn’t specifically condemn this” or “The Lord doesn’t say that I’ll go to Hell, if I do it.” It’s a very dangerous game to play with God, who takes sin seriously.
We take advantage of God’s mercy and grace
We begin to caricature (a picture with exaggerated features) God’s nature as being all loving, merciful, gracious, and forgiving—a doting grandfather figure in Heaven. Justice and righteousness get shoved to the back of the closet of our minds, and before long we are sinning easily and fearlessly, because “a little sin won’t be any big deal”, and because God will just cover all our sins.
We may abandon God’s commands altogether
And why not? If God is not to be feared, if all my sin is to be forgiven anyway, if there is nothing but Heaven in store for me no matter what I do; then bring on the “religions” of convenience, worship of my own choosing, cheap discipleship, and lives that are indiscernible from the world’s.
The Hebrew writer’s words offer serious warning to those whose love is sometimes less than perfect, Hebrews 10:26-29:
“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?”
Love and fear are two godly sides of the same coin of Christian faith. God wants us to serve Him in love; but we must also understand clearly Who we are dealing with, the awesome and holy Creator. It’s not either/or; it is both/and.