We are in the midst of a transition and are doing some traveling at the moment. This entry is excerpted/summarized from a sermon I preached yesterday at McCarroll Bible Church in Denver, Colorado.
But there is forgiveness with You;
That You may be feared.
This is not what we would expect, or how we would describe God. We would say, “There is forgiveness with You, that You may be loved,” or perhaps “There is perfect justice with You, that You may be feared.” But that’s not what it says.
So now the question: why? Why does he say it like this? How does forgiveness lead us to fearing God? It’s a riddle worth pondering.
Go ahead, ponder it a little. I’ll wait.
If you’ve got some thoughts on this, post ’em in the comments — I’d love to hear from you, and it’s surprising how often different parts of the body come up with different parts of the answer to biblical riddles like this one. Below, you’ll find my part of the answer.
Imagine if you served a god that was truly and completely impossible to please. Imagine if nothing you did was ever good enough for this god. You could do absolutely everything as perfect as you could possibly make it, and still he would find some petty thing wrong with your efforts and rain down judgment on you.
Why bother to try pleasing such a god? In the end, why even be afraid of him? Of course he can judge you and cause you problems, but he’s going to do that no matter what, so why change your behavior trying to avoid it? You’re going to hell already; surely one more brick on the load won’t make any practical difference. You might as well ignore him and live any way you want.
Yahweh is nothing like that imaginary god. Yahweh forgives. Yahweh accepts our efforts and and our worship because He has accepted Christ. And because He forgives, we can and should fear Him. Suffering His wrath is optional; we actually have a choice. Hell will be populated with people who will not receive forgiveness, who do not want it if it comes from Him.
The hellish life of unrepentant sin is likewise optional. There is no sin for which Christ did not die; there is no act after which you cannot cast ourselves on the mercy of heaven’s court, and receive forgiveness. If you confess your sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive you your sins, and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness. And having been cleansed, you are righteous. God says so. On that basis David says to you in the thirty-second psalm,
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous;
And shout for joy, all you upright in heart!