Summary: When we comprehend God’s perfect love for us, we will live without fear and be moved to keep his commandments for all the right reasons.
Fear of punishment is a very effective form of motivation.
It’s used quite effectively in the military. Soldiers are trained to obey orders. That’s what boot camp is all about. You find out very quickly that you better listen and get it right the first time or you face the wrath of an angry drill sergeant.
Teachers use fear to motivate and discipline their students. When a child misbehaves, she writes his name on the board. If he misbehaves a second time, a second check is made by his name. All day long that student stares at the check mark behind his name. Because he knows if he gets another check mark, it means the long march to the vice-principal’s office.
The police use fear to keep people in line. They hand out tickets and carry handcuffs and have the authority to arrest you and put you in jail if you break the law. And it works. When you see a squad car coming in your direction, you slow down. Why? Because you don’t want to pay the fine.
If God wanted to motivate us and discipline us to keep his commandments with the fear of punishment, he could do so very effectively. He could have easily installed a simple little device somewhere in our brain that gave us an electric shock whenever we disobeyed. A little disobedience, a little shock. A big one, and the shock would make our hair stand on end for a week. It would have been so easy.
But God didn’t just want our obedience. He wanted our hearts. The drill sergeant might be able to make a good soldier. But have you ever known a soldier to love his drill sergeant? The trip to the vice-principal’s office might be an effective disciplinary tool. But did you ever know a student to be happy on that trip down the hall? Have you ever known someone who said, "Officer, thank you for stopping me and giving me a ticket and making me slow down!?"
God could have used fear very effectively to motivate us. But he didn’t. Because he wants our hearts more than anything else. So he motivated us with love instead of with fear. In fact, John tells us ....
Perfect Love Drives Out Fear
I. God’s love enables us to live without fear
John tells us, "But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." Think of Adam and Eve after the fall into sin in Genesis 3. It says that they immediately experienced shame and fear. They hid from God among the trees in the garden. The threat of the law was ringing in their ears. The day you eat of it, God told them, you will surely die. They fully expected to feel the full force of God’s justice and anger for sin. So they ran and hid as best they could.
Was their fear justified? I believe that at this time it was. Because they had nothing to really believe in yet. They knew the love of God in their creation. They could see the beauty of the garden in which they lived. They could still wonder in awe at each other and the loving act of God in bringing them together. But those things happened when they were good and perfect and had not sinned. Up to this point, they had not yet experienced the love of God for sinners.
Then God came and sought them out. He didn’t destroy them. He didn’t punish them - at least not as they deserved, with eternal death and hell. Instead, he gave them the promise of a Savior. He claimed them once again as his dear children. He showed them that even though they would have to experience physical death, yet he would claim them again in heaven and make another paradise for them.
Perfect love drives out fear. God’s love for Adam and Eve after the fall drove out the fear of punishment that caused them to hide. It enabled them to live without fear. It enabled them to die without fear.
Friends, if Adam and Eve had a reason to live and die without fear, we have an even greater reason! In 1 John 4:9-10, John wrote, "This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." God gave Adam and Eve just a small promise to hang on to. But it was enough. God has given us much more. He’s given us the fulfillment of that promise. He has given us the sacrifice of his one and only Son. This love doesn’t just overlook our sins. It obliterates them. It paid for them. It makes them not count against us. It doesn’t leave any room for punishment because God’s love in Christ punished all sin on the cross! It is this perfect love of God that let’s us live and die and face the judgment of God without fear of punishment.