Theme: The Right Way to “Fear and Love” God
1) Love the same as Luther
2) Empowered by the Eternal Gospel
Revelation 14:6-7 Then I saw another angel flying high overhead, having the eternal gospel to announce to the inhabitants of the earth-- to every nation, tribe, language, and people. 7 He spoke with a loud voice: "Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come. Worship the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water."
Have you ever been in love? Do you remember what it feels like? People use the word “love” in a lot of different ways. Sometimes it’s hard to narrow it down to one thing in particular. But most of the time when we talk about “being in love” we mean a very special feeling that is hard to find and hard to keep. You may “love” something but that doesn’t necessary mean that you feel like you’re in love.
The feeling of love is special and rare. It’s a feeling unique unto itself, unlike any other. When you’re in love time seems to stop, problems fade away, and you feel like you can do anything. But feeling like you’re in love is just that, it’s a feeling. It doesn’t last. It’s impossible to duplicate. Many people spend an entire lifetime searching for that feeling of being in love, and some never find it. For those that do, the feeling doesn’t last long. There always comes a point when whatever we’ve fallen in love with eventually becomes ordinary. The special, “new” feeling of love wears off.
It’s usually at this point that relationships that once started in love begin to fall apart. But it doesn’t have to end that way becasue true love is much more than just a feeling. Love is certainly a vital part of your relationship with God. Without love you wouldn’t know God; at least not the full picture of who He is. But that begs the question: What kind of love do you share with God? Many people liken the beginning of faith to falling in love; to that great feeling that can never be duplicated. But is your relationship with God just a mere feeling and nothing more? Certainly not! There’s much more to the love that God has for you and we hope much more to the love we have for God.
We speak of love today, because although it may not seem like it, love was extremely important to the Reformation. In fact, the life of Martin Luther, in particular, is really a love story. Luther was plagued early on in life in the way he viewed God. He knew that he needed to fear God, as the verses of our text read, and he certainly did. But it wasn’t a healthy fear, not the type of fear that is born from respect and admiration. Luther was scared of God. Scared because he was a sinner in the sight of a righteous God. When he thought of judgment from the Lord, the images that filled his mind were ones of condemnation and failure.
Just as he feared God, so Luther also knew that he needed God. That’s what kept driving him back to the leaders and teachers of the church for answers. That’s what led him to the walls of the monastery and the cell of penance. He couldn’t just ignore the truth. Two facts stood out abundantly clear in his mind: God exists and I need to stand before Him one day. Two facts indeed, but ones that led only to wrong kind of fear. This same scene played out over and over again, year after year for Luther, who lived in absolute torment. It wasn’t until something new entered his life, that everything changed.
That something new was the very thing that the angel flew with and proclaimed in John’s vision – the eternal Gospel. It wasn’t until Luther actually read and studied the Bible for himself, instead of taking the Roman church’s word on everything, that the love of God came to him through the Gospel. Luther would write later on about the very moment this happened. The passages he read were from Romans 1:16-17: For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith."
These were the words that sparked love in Luther’s heart. The only way he could describe that feeling was by saying that it was “if the gates of heaven had been opened to him.” For the first time in his life, he understood the simple Gospel message, that “the just shall live by faith.” And for the first time Luther understood the right way to fear God. The Gospel shows us that fear and love for God go hand in hand. They are not two opposing ideas. True, Biblical fear of God comes from the Gospel. It is not about being afraid or scared. It is about respect and admiration. It is the type of fear that transforms us from stubborn and arrogant people to those who approach God in humility and reverent joy.
How important was this truth to Luther? Think no less of it than the greatest feeling of love you’ve ever had. Luther was willing to do anything for the sake of the Gospel. He was willing to die to protect it and he would have; but the Lord had different plans. The eternal Gospel changed Luther forever, just as it has changed us. To see a glimpse of its importance both for him and for us, look no further than what is perhaps Luther’s greatest achievement – the Small Catechism. From early on, one phrase in particular is engrained in our minds and hearts – “fear and love God.”
Where do first we learn this phrase and what it means? When we study the first of the six chief parts of the Catechism – the Ten Commandments. In each of the Luther’s explanations to the Commandments, he begins with the phrase, “We should fear and love God…” Do you see why now? This is Luther’s lasting gift of love to you. With this simple phrase he intends every reader and student to feel the same energy and connection to God as he did, when he first read “The just shall live by faith.” He wants you to be in love with God through the eternal gospel.
In each moment that we view God’s law, we are met with the same depressing picture that held Luther captive for so many years. We, too, are sinners in the eyes of a God who demands holiness; and who promises a future judgment. How can we not shake with terror at such a thought? Anyone who doesn’t needs to wake up to reality. But it’s at that very point, when we view ourselves in the mirror of God’s moral law, that Luther wants us to bask in the glory of the eternal gospel. He knew what it was like to feel worthless and inadequate and to live in the wrong fear every day. He didn’t want that same feeling to be with anyone; but rather that all would know the right fear of respect and worship to God who abundantly pardons and forgives. That’s the love story that Luther had, and you and I share in that today.
Let’s not forget the important detail that our text tells us; that the Lord’s gospel is eternal. That means it’s meant for all generations of all people and it will never disappear from the earth. True it is that people can obscure and cloud the gospel. They can devise wicked schemes to keep its glory and splendor hidden. That was the case of Luther’s time. The gospel had taken a back seat in the church as a cheap trick of mysticism and chance. The hope of the majority was in their own substantive deeds, not in faith in God that so simple a child could have it.
Sounds a lot like our day doesn’t it? How many people today are living with the same torments about God that Luther had? How many people have the same kind of fear because they see clear evidences of God’s power but not of His love? Churches are doing a good job of filling people with empirical proof for Christianity. We know more today about defending the archaeology and history of the Bible than we ever have. We have scores of secular sources that aid in verifying the validity of God’s Word and His presence among men. On top of all these benefits we have the age old proofs of creation and conscience. No one can deny the implicit design, function, and beauty that God gave the world through His creation. The laws of nature, the principles of physics, the mountains, the seas, and the valleys all speak to the wise and infinite Creator. But perhaps the greatest evidence of all is in your own heart. The silent, small voice that tells you right from wrong. The ever consistent law of God programmed in your mind that beckons you day after day to seek Him and follow His will.
We have so many clear evidences of God’s existence and power; that’s why the Bible calls denial of God “foolishness.” We don’t need more examples of His power; nor do we need more reasons to fear Him in terror. His power is abundantly present; around us all the time. But there’s only one source of His love. While many people today may need a reminder now and then about God’s power; there’s no question that we all need His love daily. And that love only comes in that eternal gospel message. The gospel is the only thing that tells you how God uses His power not to destroy you, but to care for you.
The gospel is unique because it’s the purest source of God’s love. Yes, we share that love together. Through faith we practice that love in our lives and others can see it. But the only source is the gospel. That’s where you get the strength the love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. It’s through the gospel that you’re led to love your neighbor as yourself. It’s through the gospel that you have the ability to glorify God in your own body. All love from God and for God flows from the eternal gospel. It’s not the love that’s just a feeling, but it will cause you to act in boldness and confidence. It’s not the love that fades away but it can be misused and abandoned. It’s not the love that I get to define based on my own experiences, but it does apply to every problem I will ever face. This is the love of the Reformation – the eternal gospel of Christ crucified.
God’s opponents have always tried to cover up the full glory of the Gospel. That should never surprise us. What’s even sadder, though, is when Christians themselves fire upon the Gospel. The Gospel’s glory is shrouded when Christians deemphasize it’s important in favor of other Biblical doctrines. When Christians place a higher priority on their own personal works of service instead of Christ’s ultimate work of service, the Gospel is obscured. Leading one another to place our confidence of faith in feelings, intuition, or physical proof, does damage to the Gospel’s core of free, underserved love in Jesus. The Reformation is a reminder of how far Christians can drift from the glory of the Gospel, but also how powerful that love message really is. And the lesson we must learn is this: When the Gospel is clouded, shrouded, or obscured; so too will be our ability to “fear and love” God.
The Christian’s love story is one of complete unity with God based on salvation through Jesus Christ. It’s a love built on the truth of God’s inspired Word. All Christians have felt this powerful love; and have been led through it to their own proper fear and love of God. Luther felt it when he read Romans 1:16-17. The apostle John expressed it when he wrote: 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 (1 John 4:18). Paul described it when he said, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).”
Every Christian throughout the ages has had a part in this love story. I wonder, what’s your part? Why do you “fear and love” God? What does the eternal gospel mean to you? What is your love story? What will it lead you to do? Only time will tell. But what an exciting feeling! More exciting for sure than the feelings of being in love with another person. Your Maker and your Lord loves you! He willingly went to the very brink of death and hell and stepped through it all so you wouldn’t have to. He kept His record of promises intact through faithful Christians before you so that you can sit at His feet and receive the words of life. That’s true love; the kind of love that changes you. Your love story is being written right now; today, and everyday. But the change, the feeling, lasts for eternity. That’s true “fear and love” in Christ Jesus. Amen.