"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men..."Which of God's characteristics is a valid motivator for obedience, according to the inspired apostle? It is the "terror of the Lord." We see this kind of persuasion throughout the scriptures. In other words, the prophets and apostles of old often cited the wrath of God and the horror of hell to convince sinners to obey the word of God. Even in the New Testament, where it is sometimes alleged that God is 100% love and 0% wrath (as opposed to the "cruel" God of the Old Testament), we see Jesus hammering home the reality of hell in places like Matthew 25, and the apostles warning people of God's impending wrath if they did not repent (Acts 2:36-38; 17:30-31).
And yes, even mature Christians are told in Philippians 2:12 to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling," and even seasoned saints are reminded that "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31). Those who are faithful children of God should never lose sight of hell. We should never become complacent or apathetic.
It occurs to me that as Christians mature in the faith, we become less motivated by fear, and more motivated, or "persuaded" by the love of God.
"For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:38-39).
"For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that day" (2 Tim. 1:12).The impression I get is that as Paul drew closer to God, he became more and more convinced of the love of God. As he experienced God's care and intimacy in his own life, he developed a profound and deep-seeded AWE of God's "amazing grace." Did he know about God's love and grace from the beginning? I'm sure he did...at least intellectually, but there can be no doubt that he went from knowing about God's love to feeling it. It became a source of confidence and faith.
Of course, anyone who has truly experienced spiritual maturity know that what I'm saying is true. If you have become that "living sacrifice" of Romans 12:1-2, if you have come to "deny yourself" (Mt. 16:24) and to be "crucified with Christ" (Gal. 2:20)...as you've grown and developed on a spiritual level, God's love has become such a precious reality in your heart, so much so that you often find yourself dwelling on the fact that God is amazing. He is perfect. He is incredible. You are so indebted to Him. This life is nothing - you are nothing - without Jesus Christ. Children often obey their parents from the standpoint of fear, but as they grow into adulthood, that fear melts into love and admiration (or at least should) - because now you want to please them.
This reinforces John's sweet words in 1 John 4:18. Writing, I believe, about mature Christians, the apostle comments that "there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear..."
As we've seen, fear is an appropriate motivator, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with appealing to God's wrath and to the fiery consequences of sin. Even as Christians, we need to be reminded of these things from time to time. No question. But again, the longer we serve Christ, the more we, too, like Paul, will be "persuaded" of God's unmatched love.
Finally, in closing, let me suggest to you that your attitude in this area serves as an indicator of your spiritual maturity, or lack thereof. If you have been a Christian for many, many years and yet you are, to this day, trembling in fear before God, constantly dwelling on hell, and perpetually worried that you may miss out on heaven, then you haven't yet been "persuaded" as Paul was persuaded. If this describes you, I urge you to examine yourself.
Meanwhile, if you're not yet a Christian, or if you are a babe in Christ, I say to you with a smile on my face and a twinkle in my eye...
You have much to look forward to if you will simply yield to the Lordship of Jesus Christ!
What are you waiting for?