The fear of God and survival

How possible can it be to fear God when one is unfamiliar with God? All humans, whether they be Christians or not, have some instinct to know that God ought to be adored and honoured. One does not necessarily have to have read the Bible to know that goodness comes from God. One of the convicts being condemned with Jesus expressed having an idea that God ought to be feared.

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:40-42 NIV).

The meek criminal was condemned for some undisclosed crime. How could he have committed whatever crime if he feared God? Can it be possible to fear God and be a criminal at the same time? The answer is two-fold. Firstly, it is possible to fear God and be a criminal, at the same time. Every human being, living in this sinful world, cannot be found without having committed any crime, one way or the other.

“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:22-26 NIV).

In Adam, we were all condemned to die. We may naturally be God-fearing and desiring to please God, and yet be found falling short. Without Jesus, we are as good as dead, because there is no other way of accessing salvation. Our condition could be typical of the criminal that rebuked his friend, who got amused by mocking Jesus.

The remorseful criminal was granted salvation, without condition. Jesus didn’t even question the status of his criminality. The salvaging accessed by that criminal was ahead of many of those who considered themselves to be innocent of any crime. Those reading through that story may still consider that criminal with low esteem, yet, safe in paradise with Jesus.

There is a second possibility that the stated criminal may have been condemned to die, for a sin that he never committed. Even when granted a fair trial, there would always be room for human error, in this world. Countless are people languishing in prisons for sins they never committed. Hence, Jesus insinuated that possibility, as would take place on the Day of Judgment.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me’” (Matthew 25:31-36 NIV).

Many of those prisoners, just like the criminal who was granted salvation, are personally known by God. In our human eyes, there is a tendency to always assume that every prisoner deserves incarceration. However, as far as Jesus is concerned, no one deserves incarceration. It is only the Day of Judgment that gives fair justice, which is different from how justice is conducted in our law courts, today.

The contrast is that of the other criminal who mocked Jesus. This world has plenty of such people. The unfortunate thing is that such people appear wise in the eyes of ordinary people. They get approval, more than those who wouldn’t dare gush out such foolish words can ever be supported.

Mockers have no slightest consideration of the existence of God. It can be a waste of time talking to them about God. As to whether such people would either be forever irredeemable or redeemable, only God knows. Although the indication is that grace remains open, especially for those found in that condition, unknowingly. The love of God is unlimited.

“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18 NIV).

It is a question of whether the person would deliberately ignore the Spirit or not. This was clarified by Jesus when speaking of those religious Pharisees who had similarly mocked Him. In the eyes of ordinary people, those mocking Jesus were religiously acceptable to God.

“He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:30-32 NIV).

Therein, the secret of all ages exists, and yet it is unknown by most people. The Son of Man and the Spirit are dichotomous; of which the Pharisees were unconscious. Nevertheless, even in today’s Christian dispensation, this reality remains. Ordinary people conflate the Son of Man with the Son of the living God. The Son of the living God is like a livewire who cannot be blasphemed without attracting eternal condemnation.

Jesus was manifesting Himself to those people as the Son of Man. They killed Him, but possibly without incurring the sin of blasphemy against the Spirit. They were safe, as long as they did not know what they were doing. This brings us to the question of the possibility of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. How could that attract the unforgivable sin?

Jesus’ utterance had been triggered by their random mockery after He had healed a demon-possessed man. Others sought to grant credit to Jesus, inviting division, as others did not believe in the Messianic condition of Jesus. They suggested that Jesus, whom they considered to be a sinner, was performing such miracles using Beelzebub, the prince of demons.

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do you people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:25-28 NIV).

Jesus was teaching an important lesson that ought to have helped those mocking, to think deeper. They were mocking the Son of Man who was being used by the Holy Spirit to perform such miracles. A person who fears God would be willing to examine all things before blurting out such stupidity.

I suppose those Pharisees were still safe, so long as uttering such insults, out of ignorance. Hence, Jesus commanded His disciples to keep the secret, rather than let everyone else know that He was Christ (Matthew 16:20). People knew Jesus, only as the Son of Man. Hence, they were protected from encroaching on the livewire—-blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is God, who convicted that criminal to censure his friend for mocking Jesus. The criminal who had mocked Jesus did so against the Son of Man. However, his friend did not see the Son of Man in Jesus but saw the Son of the living God. Hence, uttering: “Don’t you fear God?”

“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (Hebrews 10:26-27 NIV).

These are frightening words, to those who fear God. But certainly, these words have no significance to those mocking God. None of God’s mockers, reading through such information would take heed. It takes only those who fear God to examine themselves, whether approved of God or not.

God’s promises are unlimited. Foolishness envelops those not appreciating the existence of God. There is no other way of interpreting the meaning of wisdom, as opposed to foolishness. A wise person is one who questions his/her origin. That is forever the starting point.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have a good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise” (Psalms 111:10 NIV).

Just by expressing the fear of God, the criminal at the cross with Jesus was redeemed. It is unimportant to even question whatever transgression had caused him to be condemned to the cross. That man is in paradise with Christ, awaiting the resurrection that will be experienced by God’s people. The lesson that ought to be learnt is that Christianity cannot be regarded as a casual matter. Deep introspection is required.

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

“I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; salve to put on eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:14-20 NIV).

Once again, it takes only those fearing God to understand these words. God speaks through human beings. Those ignoring, due to invalidating such physical humans, may be forgiven. Such mockers would not be different from those who saw Jesus as the Son of Man, rather than the Son of God.

Those spotting the difference would behave differently. True Christians cannot be casual, in approaching these sentiments. Ordinary humans may be insignificant, but God, using those humans, is significant. It can only be the lukewarm condition that causes people to ignore God’s messengers.

The lesson drawn from this is that there is comfort in the lukewarm condition. A person without meekness entertains the assumption of knowing. I suppose God forgives the cold ones, referred to as those unable to see the difference between the Son of Man and the Son of God. This is different from those assuming to know but being uncertain.

Without God’s intervention, it is impossible to see the difference between God’s children and ordinary humans. Those reading this material up this far may not be ordinary. There is truth in that God is communicating with somebody, somewhere in this embattled world. What that person decides to do, contains nothing to do with the writer, but concerns God and that person.

The most important point is that there is survival in the fear of God. Those who fear God do not limit their viewpoints on physical beings. They see what the other criminal, at the cross with Jesus, failed to see. Bless are those people who see what the ordinary people of this world cannot see.

Andrew Masuku is the author of Dimensions of a New Civilization, laying down standards for uplifting Zimbabwe from the current state of economic depression into a model for other nations worldwide. A decaying tree provides an opportunity for a blossoming sprout. Written from a Christian perspective, the book is a product of inspiration, bringing relief to those having witnessed the strings of unworkable solutions––leading to the current economic and social decay. Most Zimbabweans should find the book as a long-awaited providential oasis of hope, in a simple conversational tone.

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