Serving God Without Fear


July 18, 1999 ~ Pickering Standard Church


We live in a time that is characterized overall by a lack of restraint. The motto of our times is more and more that tired old phrase: "If it feels good do it." Even Christians are often tempted to overlook God's guidance in favour of pleasing our earth bound desires in what ever form they take. That self denial is not often considered to be an option is most glaringly apparent in such issues as sexual promiscuity, alcoholism, and smoking. In each case the potentially deadly results of living in such a manner is well known and yet we find that people will overlook the dangers of this lifestyle in order to enjoy its pleasures. Self denial has been discarded in favour of self indulgence. When we ourselves are not beset by the behaviours that trouble others it is all too easy to condemn them and to think how silly they are to give in to such things. But none of us are immune from this, it is a symptom of our humanity. The difference between Christians and the rest of the world in this matter is that we are given the ability, through our dependence on the Holy Spirit of God, to overcome the desires that plague us all.


Paul says no less than this when he writes to the Roman church, acknowledging that we are indeed week but that we also have the help of the Holy Spirit in our struggle with our human nature:


Romans 8:26-28 - In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.


He first makes note of our weakness, the inherent nature of all mankind to fall short of God's design, and then continues by saying that in spite of our weakness, and indeed because of it, the Holy Spirit will give us help when we need it. Even when we are at our weakest God's grace is, amazingly, still available for us to call upon.


Quite often, however, we feel that the secret thoughts we harbour within us separate us from God in that He will think less of us for what we think. In a way this is true. It is possible to secretly desire earthly things more than we desire God. Jesus told His disciples this very thing when He told them that the desires of the heart will show themselves through our behaviour.


Luke 6:43-45 - No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.


We must be very careful that the things that we desire and in which we are tempted to lose restraint do not become things that we desire above God. John's warning is very explicit when he says:


1 John 2:15 - Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.


So in one sense the danger is that these secret desires of ours can separate us from God if we love them more than we love God.


But in an other sense these embarrassing secrets cannot separate us from God if we do not allow them to. Think for a moment of the kind of people we were to whom God sent His Son Jesus Christ. Everything we did was an embarrassment. There was not a thing about us that could allow us to stand with confidence before God. We were, in all truth, beneath Him, He was too good for us. Paul, in writing to the Roman, church says that:


Romans 3:23 - All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.


And in so doing is echoing words that the prophet Isaiah spoke seven hundred years earlier:


Isaiah 53:6a - We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way


But Paul does not stop at merely stating our condition, he goes further and shows that the results, the natural consequence of this condition of sin, is death:


Romans 6:23a - The wages of sin is death


Both Paul and Isaiah are making it very clear that there is a judgement upon our condition and a condemnation for our failure to measure up to God's standard. In fact the entire text of the Bible is making the very same point: That we have failed and that the result of this failure is death. But the Bible does not stop once this point has been made. Quoting again from Paul we find that:


Romans 6:23b - The gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.


And Isaiah as well, referring to our waywardness, says that:


Isaiah 53:6b - The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.


So although there is judgement and condemnation in the Bible there is also the certainty that:


Romans 5:8 - While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.


Once this point is made the only one that can follow is this: If, while we were sinners, God sent His Son to die in our place, how much more will He do for us now that through Christ we have been reconciled with God. We need not be embarrassed to tell God what our troubles are and to ask Him for help, we ought to be frightened if we don't. For it is only in keeping these things to ourselves that they can keep us apart from God for in keeping them secret, in failing to seek God's assistance and forgiveness, we deny what Christ has done for us. If we deny Christ then we deny salvation. No earthly pleasure or any amount of pride is worth the sacrifice of our eternal lives.


An other consequence of harbouring secret things in our hearts that conflict with the will of God is that we become effective ambassadors for Christ. Jesus told His disciples that such a conflict could only result in choosing one master over the other:


Matthew 6:19-24 - Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.


Jesus is not saying this because He wants us to have a miserable time on earth after all it is Jesus Himself who told His disciples that He has come that we may have life and have it to the full (John 10:13). He is rather saying this because for us to give ourselves over to our earthly desires is so very dangerous and runs the risk of having us turn our backs on God. Eventually the tug of God or the world upon our heart will be answered and we will devote ourselves entirely to one master, forsaking entirely the other. We all will ultimately yield control of our lives to what we desire in our heart and desiring something other than God is like a bomb just waiting to explode. That desire of our heart will either be God or the world, there is no middle ground. In every life a decision will be made either for or against God.


But because of their very nature these secret desires may be difficult to give up. Alexander Dumas, in his book "The Three Musketeers," has the following conversation take place around the decision of Aramis (himself quite the ladies man) to take holy orders:


The Jesuit raised his hands to heaven - the Cur‚ likewise.


"No Father. But you must admit that it's not very gracious to offer the Lord something one doesn't value oneself. Don't you agree, d'Artagnan?"


"I most emphatically do," cried the young man.


The Jesuit and the Cur‚ sat bolt upright in their chairs.


"That's my premise. It's a syllogism. The world has its attractions. I'm leaving the world. Therefore I'm making a sacrifice. And it's written in the Scriptures 'Make a sacrifice to the Lord.'"


Alexander Dumas, "The Three Musketeers"


Toward the end of this scene Aramis recites a verse of poetry he has written on the topic:


Waste not the hours in vain regret,

For loves departed and affections slain

Offer thy tears to God and pain

Shall cease and thou shalt find comfort yet,

Waste not the hours.


Alexander Dumas, "The Three Musketeers"


The entire point of this discussion is that the world does have its pleasures and that these pleasures can have a significant pull on the individual therefore making it difficult to follow God completely. Although Aramis misunderstands what is meant by giving up the world (it is not so much a sacrifice as it is self denial) he is correct in the sense that any pain we may feel at leaving behind the things of this earth will be healed by God. If it were not so Jesus would not have told us to deny ourselves in order to follow Him:


Matthew 16:24-27 - Then Jesus said to his disciples, If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.


There are things that will be difficult to give up but we have God's own assurance that we will be able to by His own strength:


Romans 8:26-28 - In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.


It is extremely encouraging in light of the struggles that we may encounter to read the final words of this same section:


Romans 8:31-39 - What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-- how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died-- more than that, who was raised to life-- is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


All of which serves to reinforce the point that has been made earlier: If while we were still sinners and rebels against God He sent His Son to save us, how much more will He do now that we are His children through the blood of that same Son. No matter how hard the struggle may be we are not alone in the fight. God knows our every weakness and He sent Jesus for us in spite of them, now that we are His own He will protect us from what would seek to take us from Him for He is jealous for our sakes.


Nahum 1:2-8 - The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and maintains his wrath against his enemies. The LORD is slow to anger and great in power; the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet. He rebukes the sea and dries it up; he makes all the rivers run dry. Bashan and Carmel wither and the blossoms of Lebanon fade. The mountains quake before him and the hills melt away. The earth trembles at his presence, the world and all who live in it. Who can withstand his indignation? Who can endure his fierce anger? His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before him. The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him, but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into darkness.


It is utter madness to desire something more than Him who loves us so greatly that He willingly died in our place. It is infinitely more insane than wanting something for ourselves that would jeopardize the relationship we have with our husband or our wife. There must be no regret for the world in the sense that we miss the things we have denied for God even if though there may be the awareness that there are pleasures all about us which we are consciously ignoring in order to better serve our God. As Christians we have embarked upon a relationship with God, at His originating. We risk our lives if we attempt to hold or replace that relationship with an other or if we regret leaving the things of this world for our God. It has been said elsewhere that:


there can be no regret
giving up what makes Him unhappy
how silly I have been these years
assuming that relinquishing
meant despondency
rather than the final removal
of a barrier to life
and the love of Him who loves me best

and furthermore
that the longing dies
if one truly longs for Him


If we truly desire God all other desires will fall in line.