Fear-Based Obedience in the Christian Life

Romans 12:1-2 are a summary of the whole Christian life.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

What is our motivation for Christian living? “Therefore in view of God’s mercy.” This indicates we give ourselves to God because of all Paul has been saying up to that point in chapters 1-11, that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone.

This is especially true in light of Romans 8, Paul’s treatise on why we can’t lose our salvation. If a Christian could lose salvation, then surely the overriding motivation for obedience would be fear.

If fear is the primary motivation for obedience, we should see the following effects:

  1. Our motivation will lose its power over time. It moves you to great feats at first, but eventually it is exhaustion. People who live in great fear experience a numbing effect after a while.
  2. Fear-based obedience has a great deal of trouble with repentance. When we are motivated by fear, we believe somewhere there is a “line” that if we cross because of too much sin, that God will condemn us. But we don’t know where that line is! We don’t have the security to admit our sins for fear of reprisals from God, so we do a lot of rationalizing and blaming.
  3. Fear-based obedience will always make it difficult to endure suffering or trouble. The fear-based person will either think: God is paying me back! God has abandoned me! OR, This isn’t fair! I obey so that God will bless me. In other words, despair or bitterness will be the result of suffering if we live the Christian life with fear as our motivation.

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