In Defense of "Trying Harder"

Christians agree that those who come to Christ in faith and repentance are supposed to behave differently thereafter. We also agree that God’s plan for every believer is to remake him or her in the likeness of Christ. Most also understand that this is a process that continues throughout this earthly life and culminates when “we shall be like Him,” seeing Him “as He is” (NKJV, ). It is God’s great gospel purpose to graciously change sinners into saints.

But what responsibilities do believers have in that plan? What attitudes should dominate our thinking? How does grace relate to effort and struggle?

Some insist that “effort” has no role at all. Beyond preaching the gospel to ourselves, struggle and striving are incompatible with grace and draw our attention away from the gospel and from Christ. Others concede (with evident reluctance) that effort is required, but quickly emphasize tension in the opposite direction. To them, believers are in constant danger of lapsing into “performance based” thinking or, worse yet, “trying harder.”

Both of these views tend to favor language and emphases that are out of sync with the simplicity of the New Testament teaching regarding sanctification. What we find in the NT is that properly understood, “trying harder” (i.e., discipline, hard work, and old fashioned effort) is a vital part of God’s design for the remaking of His saints.

1. The NT puts a strong emphasis on trying harder.

Though it’s true that Jesus presented His lordship as an easy yoke and a light burden (), He also encouraged people to view following Him as a costly and demanding way of life. He warns listeners that those who follow Him must accept the prospect of homelessness () and alienation from family members (). He insists that the life of the Christ-follower involves renouncing all one has (). He demands that disciples hand over their very lives (, ).

How such a life constitutes an easy yoke and a light burden is a question for another study, but this much is clear: Jesus did not intend for His disciples to cherish any delusions that they would be spared from having to do hard things. He said the “way” is “difficult” (ESV, ).

The apostles make the same point, but with a slightly different nuance. Without downplaying the personal cost of following Christ, they place greater emphasis on the personal effort involved. The following is a sample.

  • “strive together with me in your prayers” ()
  • “that…you may abound in every good work” ()
  • “strive to excel in building up the church” ()
  • “your labor is not in vain” ()
  • “Let your manner of life be worthy…striving side by side for the faith” ()
  • “do so more and more” ()
  • “To this end we toil and strive because we have our hope set on the living God” ()
  • “Remind them…to be obedient, to be ready for every good work” ()
  • “Strive for…the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” ()

What this small sample shows is that the NT calls us over and over to exert ourselves. It’s a constant refrain with occasional full orchestra bursts, such as these:

  • “I discipline my body and keep it under control” ()
  • “I press on toward the goal” ()
  • “let us cleanse ourselves…perfecting holiness” ()
  • “self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined” ()
  • “train yourself for godliness” ()
  • “add to your faith virtue…knowledge…self-control…perseverance” ()
  • “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” ()

Whatever pitfalls may be involved in teaching believers that they should “try harder”—and there are some—the fact remains that the NT reveals no concern at all that believers might put too much effort into their pursuit of godliness.

2. “Reckoning” and “yielding” are forms of trying harder.

Let-go-let-God advocates (whether of Keswick or Reformed roots) tend to introduce unhelpful complexity into Romans 6, often using language that suggests passivity. But the argument of the passage is not difficult, and Paul is clearly calling on his audience, and on us, to do something. “Consider” (AV, “reckon”) in is an imperative, as is “yield” in 6:13 and 19b. The “know” references in the text are indicative, but our response is consistently imperative. We are commanded to act.

Every little boy who has ever sat still when he wanted to wiggle knows that yielding often requires “trying really hard.” It’s putting down what we want and instead choosing what another wants. Yielding is not fundamentally different from the putting off and putting on imperatives of .

3. Properly teaching “try harder” emphasizes the gospel and humbles us.

One argument goes that calling on believers to exert themselves increasingly in the pursuit of godliness de-emphasizes the gospel, fuels pride, breeds legalism, and robs the Christian life of the joy we’re intended to have in Christ.

But this cannot be the case. Though believers’ personal discipline can indeed go horribly wrong (e.g., , and most of Galatians) the problem cannot lie simply in calls to “try harder.” Two lines of evidence support this analysis.

First, appeals to work harder cannot be inherently anti-gospel and pro-pride because, as the passages above demonstrate, these calls to exert ourselves are the norm in the NT. Second, appeals to try harder cannot be anti-gospel because the gospel itself is repeatedly cited as the very reason for trying harder.

  • Because we “know” we must “yield” ().
  • Because God works in us, we must “work out our salvation” ().
  • Because God has provided, in Christ, all we need, we are to “make every effort to supplement [our] faith” ().
  • Because we have been saved “by grace…through faith,” we “should walk” in the “good works” God prepared for us ().
  • Following Paul’s example, we should be “struggling” because of “[Christ’s] energy” that “powerfully works within” us ().

When we live the Christian dynamic, we pursue the imperatives in light of the indicatives, but we do not minimize the imperatives. In other words, we work hard and then harder, because we understand that we have been bought with a price for the very purpose of becoming holy and have been richly blessed with Spirit-fueled ability to do that very thing.

Properly understood and pursued, “trying harder” humbles us because we know every success is really a gift. Put in its proper context, “try harder” exalts the gospel because we are honoring it—and the Savior who is at its center—by making use of what He bought for us and has already done in us.

My parents once gave me a cordless drill for Christmas. In the days that followed I had some options. I could sit and admire the gift and feel genuine appreciation for the givers and their thoughtfulness and love. I could get to work using the gift and forget all about the heart behind it. Or I could admire the gift, appreciate the givers and also get to work. Which of these options honors both gift and givers most?

It is possible to “try harder” on a small number of superficial spiritual metrics and not really grow much. It’s also possible to “try harder” more comprehensively but do so with little reflection or awareness of why we’re trying, and Who rightly owns the credit for every successful step we take. But the solution to these errors is not to swing to the other extreme and proclaim a confusing, passivity-tinged version of the pursuit of holiness. The solution is to fully grasp the beauty of the gospel and the Savior and therefore try harder.

Aaron Blumer Bio


Aaron Blumer, SharperIron’s second publisher, is a Michigan native and graduate of Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) and Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He and his family live in a small town in western Wisconsin, not far from where he pastored Grace Baptist Church for thirteen years. He is employed in customer service for UnitedHealth Group and teaches high school rhetoric (and sometimes logic and government) at Baldwin Christian School.

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G. N. Barkman's picture

Thanks, Aaron.  You hit the nail on the head!

G. N. Barkman

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

This topic has bedeviled (so to speak) me for some time. It's hard to write about because there are always 35 other things that seem vitally important to say. So I've got a growing collection of points for another installment: the pitfalls and joys of trying harder.

I have seen the pitfalls and sometimes experienced them. I think the challenge is to teach ourselves and others in a way that avoids the pitfalls but to do it with a precision that doesn't create confusion and error in the "nomophobia" direction (to borrow Snoeberger's term... or whoever he got it from). 

And I ran out of room before I could elaborate much on the joy of trying harder. For Christians who experienced only frustration in some version of "try harder" dynamic, it's not hard to see why they'd want to discard the whole idea of discipline and effort (or maybe try to retain it and reject it at the same time, as I've seen some do). But Paul is a fascinating example of rejoicing amid suffering, joy amid frustration, disappointment and grief, and so on. Struggle and joy are supposed to go together.

Phil Siefkes's picture

Good balance to the Keswick-like approaches that plague our Fundamentalist sub-culture. Our anti-legalist neighbors will do well to listen to these wise words. Looking forward to reading more from your "pen" on this topic.

Discipling God's image-bearers to the glory of God.

removed_jh's picture

that really came to mind over and over as I read this was "balance." It was emphasized strongly in the John's theological treatise on the divinity of Jesus in John 1:14. This is not to be misunderstood by anyone as suggesting that Jesus ever struggled to maintain balance, for John clearly states that Jesus was "full" of grace and truth. Certainly the indication is that as God, He never lacked in any way or in any area.

By application, the challenge of balance lies with us as proclaimers of these seemingly paradoxical truths of verses like Gal. 2:19-20 and 1 Tim. 4:7-8. The inevitable feedback from a well-meaning listener will usually take the opposite side of the equation of what was just proclaimed. If you emphasize grace, they will point out personal exertion. If you emphasize personal exertion, the soul that greets you will remind you in great solemnity that it is through the power of the Holy Spirit that we live and have any growth at all! Well ... AMEN! to both of these, as Scripture posits these side by side continuously.

The challenge faces us as individual believers as well. I was greatly refreshed and challenged by your article, Aaron, and would make this observation from my own life personally. Maybe it is more universal, but I will keep it close to home. I can look back upon different seasons in my life, and while both aspects of personal growth and holiness were important, one side or the other needed to be emphasized more at that moment. Perhaps I was going through a time of spiritual laziness, and Peter's words were needed. Then at other times and seasons, I needed to be reminded of the need to abide and that apart from Christ, I could do nothing. For me, the desire to see John 1:14 lived out in my life is a great desire, while the ongoing reality is that this pilgrimage is a great journey, struggle, contest and a long walk in the same direction ... toward my Savior. Thanks, Aaron for the efforts (while seeking to write in the power of the Spirit, for sure) at articulating the wonderful balanced doctrine of progressive sanctification. ~ Jeff

Kevin Subra's picture

Thanks for the good summary, Aaron. It is an area that I seek to emphasize, too. The Christian life is not effortless, but exhausting. It can be wholly done sinfully out of pride and the flesh, but it is necessary to apply effort to work, walk, and yield.

For the Shepherd and His sheep,
Kevin
Grateful husband of a Proverbs 31 wife, and the father of 15 blessings.
http://captive-thinker.blogspot.com

Anne Sokol's picture

Maybe chariacature-izing each "side" is unhelpful in this discussion. Because it sounds strangely similar ...

 

Here in these early chapters of Colossians, where gospel indicatives and gospel declarations are paramount, we also see Paul blending in an implication of the kind of imperatives that appropriately flow from gospel truths.

In fact, the same thing is observed in Paul’s prayer for the Colossians even earlier in this opening chapter, where he asks God to fill them with full spiritual apprehension of his will, so they can “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work” (v. 10). Clearly, the liberating truths of the gospel are meant to lead us to a liberated life of action, of stepping forth in faith and doing the good works he directs and enables us to do.

Paul’s words in Colossians 1:23 about continuing in the faith, stable and steadfast, are a reminder to us that our Christian walk isn’t meant to be characterized by feebleness and shakiness, much less by doubt, distrust, and defiance. Thankfully, the gospel makes it possible for us to avoid all that.

Paul is talking here about the great Christian doctrine of the perseverance of the saints—that once God saves us, we will persevere to the end because Jesus persevered for us to the end.

WHAT THIS IS NOT ABOUT

As we continue working out our life of obedience in light of Christ’s obedience, one thing is clear: the issue is never whether or not to obey. We know the Bible has plenty to say about keeping God’s commands. That’s indisputable. But what motivates our obedience, what animates our obedience, and what prompts us to obey? Is it fear or faith? Is it guilt or gratitude?

Paul says that when we divorce obligations from gospel declarations, then our obedience becomes nothing more than behavioral compliance to rules without heart change. But when God’s amazing grace in the gospel grips our hearts, the motivational structure of our hearts is radically changed, and we begin to obey out of faith not fear, gratitude not guilt.

When I begin analyzing and evaluating my own heart and the motivations behind what I do, I begin to discover a lot of moralistic tendencies. That’s why, as I’ve said so often, we need to be making a beeline for the finished work of Christ every day, because only the gospel can crush the moralistic tendencies that are the natural default mode of our hearts.

from part 5: Everything, in Tullian Tchividjian's Jesus + Nothing = Everything

There's more.

I think one would actually have to spend more time in these guys' writings to root out what is the real issue here, if there is one. He's not saying Jesus + Nothing = Do Nothing. No one is saying that.

G. N. Barkman's picture

I'm scratching my head.  Did I miss something?  Did Aaron say anything about Tchividjian, or about Jesus + nothing = everything?

 

G. N. Barkman

dmyers's picture

I agree with Anne.  Aaron makes some good points, but he also sometimes portrays the view(s) he is opposing in ways that are probably not recognizable to those who actually espouse those views.  It would be more helpful to me (and perhaps others?) for the discussion to be more specific -- take Tchividjian's/Steve Brown's/Jerry Bridges's own description of what they're saying and respond to it in enough detail to be meaningful, rather than merely rebutting a generic/amalgamated description that might or might not include Tchividjian's/Brown's/Bridges's view.

Though I currently have a lot of sympathy for Tchividjian's/Brown's/Bridges's understanding, I am genuinely interested in pursuing this further.  I've seen and lived firsthand quite a few portions of the spectrum:  born and raised Nazarene, where "trying harder" was important both because you could lose your salvation if you didn't and because you could achieve sinless perfection (albeit with the assistance of sanctification as a second work of grace) if you did; IFB Christian school, BJU, and IFB churches where "trying harder" certainly was necessary evidence of genuine salvation and resulted in various forms of public pats on the back, and where failure (in only some, not all types of sin, which was effectively divided into socially acceptable and socially unacceptable categories) conversely called into question your salvation and/or your value as a person; and now generally Reformed circles where there is no consensus, with Kevin DeYoung (and John Piper?) et al. in disagreement with Tchividjian/Brown/Bridges.

One angle that would help:  what do the competing positions say about how God views me during the day or week or month that I am free of my besetting sin and actively (and sincerely) involved in my local church vs. how He views me during the day or week or month (or six months) that I am mired in my besetting sin and apathetic about church?  In both cases, I am trusting in Christ alone for my salvation, I am convinced that God is sovereign and that I am not, etc., and in the latter case I know that the "bad" season is temporary, not permanent.  Is it appropriate to speak in terms of being more pleasing to God, being more acceptable to God, being more glorifying to God, being more used of or usable to God?  Which understanding is more likely to motivate me to stay in the "good" place and to move out of the "bad" place?  Complicating all of the above, how is my daily life in the "good" place objectively better as far as God is concerned when in fact I'm still sinning in numerous conscious and unconscious ways even on my "best" days?

I could probably come up with more questions if there's not enough above to work with.  :)

Joshua Caucutt's picture

and What if I don't try? Is there any consequence if I don't try? Or am I just fine in terms of eternity as long as I have faith? 

formerly known as Coach C

Rob Fall's picture

I think it's kinda like what very senior professor of Hebrew told his class of beginners.  "Y'all can start learning Hebrew now or you can spend the first few years in Heaven doing so."  Not trying means a person is that much less mature when he\she walks the streets of gold.

Joshua Caucutt wrote:

and What if I don't try? Is there any consequence if I don't try? Or am I just fine in terms of eternity as long as I have faith? 

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

One of the reasons I'm not interacting all that specifically with the other views is that there are so many variants. Another is that I find their language so confusing. I suppose that invites the charge, "See, you just don't understand them." But that's really my point. The NT is not hard to understand regarding sanctification and the believer's responsibility... ergo, a view of sanctification that is hard to understand is, well, not doing it right.

About Gal. 2:19-20 vs. passages that call us to action and discipline. There is actually no paradox at all.

If we read Gal. 2:19-20 ("I am crucified with Christ... Christ lives in me.... the life I live I live by faith...") in light of passages such as Gal. 6:15 and 2 Cor. 5:17, clarity emerges. Romans 6 helps as well if we don't force mystical meanings onto words like know, consider/reckon, and yield.

When we connect what these passages teach, we see that every believer at least positionally died with Christ (I say "at least," because it's not entirely clear to me yet if there is more) and has some kind of union with Him in His life as well. The result is that each of us is already a "new creation," even though we are not yet perfected. That new creation is "created in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:10).

So, for all the parts of that union that remain mysterious, our responsibilities are not mysterious. We are new creations with a radically altered relationship to Jesus Christ. His righteousness is credited to us, and His power fills us. We live in a union in with Him. So when we press toward the mark, discipline our bodies, train ourselves for godliness, strive, struggle, labor, yield (and all those other biblical terms), we do so in union with Him and through the power He has given us--and continues to give us.

So we work in humble dependence, glorying in the cross and what it secured for us. We work as new creations, so it is no longer just "we" but "we and Him." But we still work.

(Or at least we're supposed to. This sort of writing is always convicting for me because my nature is to not try harder!)

So what about T.T. and Martin Luther (allegedly) et. al. ? Well, let's say my approach to this is pastoral rather than scholarly. Pastorally, you can't systematically answer every error out there, so you teach the Scriptures as clearly as you can and let that do the answering. Sometimes to select specific errors to work through in detail, but often it's not possible.   (I'm not a pastor currently, but I think there will always be a bit of pastor in me)

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

What if we don't try. It's a great question. If I stick w/the NT, I just have to say "then we are being disobedient." But does God still accomplish His plan to change us? Absolutely. We just miss out (to some extent) on the opportunity to partner with Him in that. (I say "to some extent" because I'm convinced every believer tries harder to some extent, though he may call it something else. And there is also much blessing that comes to us just by hangin' out with God's people, worshipping, etc. even at the completely effortless level. It's all good)

It's sort of like the way the "glory of God" works. Even sinners ultimately bring glory to God, even through their evil. But they forfeit the chance to glorify God on purpose.

Another question someone raised: How does God see me when I'm doing well vs. when I'm failing? This does touch on one of the pitfalls I'll probably try to handle in the next installment. We all "stand" in grace (Rom. 5:2) and in union with Christ. Justified. So when I'm not trying or my trying isn't "working," I am still "accepted in the beloved," still standing in grace, still justified, still adopted, all that. Fellowship is disrupted (what 1 John 1:9 and context are all about). I'm a bit unhappy, because I know He deserves better from me. But I can still rejoice because God's plan is not deterred in the least. He is still moving me forward even when I've taken steps backward.

OK, that part seems paradoxical, I suppose, but it isn't really. Imagine walking through boggy territory toward a village. You'd love to just go in a straight line, but you keep running into swamp and backtracking. It's all part of the progress. God graciously uses the failures to deepen our humility and our awareness of how much we need Him--and how blessed we are, etc. So, should we sin that grace may abound? Well, that would still be disobedient and we don't want to do that, do we? So He graciously uses even disobedience ultimately for His purposes, but we should not disobey, because the whole point of His work in us is to make us more obedient.

Yes... if that's hard to understand, it's because I'm not doing it right. (and I'll need a better way to say it. Probably the best way is stringing the biblical phrases together)

Joshua Caucutt's picture

Rob Fall wrote:

I think it's kinda like what very senior professor of Hebrew told his class of beginners.  "Y'all can start learning Hebrew now or you can spend the first few years in Heaven doing so."  Not trying means a person is that much less mature when he\she walks the streets of gold.

Joshua Caucutt wrote:

and What if I don't try? Is there any consequence if I don't try? Or am I just fine in terms of eternity as long as I have faith? 

Ah. So nothing, really.

formerly known as Coach C

Joshua Caucutt's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

What if we don't try. It's a great question. If I stick w/the NT, I just have to say "then we are being disobedient." But does God still accomplish His plan to change us? Absolutely. We just miss out (to some extent) on the opportunity to partner with Him in that. (I say "to some extent" because I'm convinced every believer tries harder to some extent, though he may call it something else. And there is also much blessing that comes to us just by hangin' out with God's people, worshipping, etc. even at the completely effortless level. It's all good)

It's sort of like the way the "glory of God" works. Even sinners ultimately bring glory to God, even through their evil. But they forfeit the chance to glorify God on purpose.

I think that there are some clear NT texts with very dire consequences for a lack of disobedience - if we have the courage to face them. I'm hoping that you consider them in the next installment.

formerly known as Coach C

Anne Sokol's picture

then maybe it's pointless to write about it as if you're answering a position that someone(s) is promoting. I don't think the position you're speaking to really exists.

??? it's just kind of frustrating and confusing maybe.

dmyers has the right questions going ...

Last night, after posting on here, I was talking with V--he's reading Bridges on holiness/sanctification, preaching about the sanctification point in the 1689 London BCF right now, and counseling someone with serious issues, and working on starting a counseling program in the church. (He's thinking of using Bridges' book for the rehab center too [which, BTW, Tullian recommends at the end of his book--he has a list of recommended reading].)

There was a definitive time in Vitaliy and I's lives together that we definitely shifted our views. In 2009, I think. V got into all this just by sharing the gospel over and over and over, and it all started dawning on him, and then he started Martin Luther ....

So, I asked him last night: What is the real difference in these views? It's not law, effort, grace, gospel. Because we all agree on the importance of those things. It's got to be in the way we mix them, emphasize them. What is the difference in the way we used to view this all, and how we do it now. Because now I feel like I'm running in sanctification, whereas before I felt like I was crawling. Though at the time I was crawling, i didn't see it that way.

And he said that Jerry Bridges uses this example in his book to explain it where we put our effort/emphasis:

A boy is playing soccer. He is all dirty, goes home, his mom says to go clean/wash himself.

What does the boy do? Can he really wash himself?

No.

He can put himself under the water that can wash him.

Point being, to fulfill the commands, do we focus on what we are doing--how we hold the soap, etc.-- or do we focus on getting under the water that can actually clean us?

TT even talks about the blood, sweat, tears of effort. But he talks a lot about other stuff too.

I may look into some of dmyers questions next--people are asking Vitaliy about that stuff right now too.

Larry's picture

Moderator

But what motivates our obedience, what animates our obedience, and what prompts us to obey? Is it fear or faith? Is it guilt or gratitude?

Paul says that when we divorce obligations from gospel declarations, then our obedience becomes nothing more than behavioral compliance to rules without heart change. But when God’s amazing grace in the gospel grips our hearts, the motivational structure of our hearts is radically changed, and we begin to obey out of faith not fear, gratitude not guilt.

And yet Jesus uses fear, as does Paul, Peter, and others, even warning of eternal hell (to answer Josh's question about why it matters: Because you might go to hell).

Why is it, then, that the Bible uses fear to motivate us to holiness and some today are reticent to do so? Are we that much more knowledgeable about the biblical means of sanctification than Jesus and Paul were? Or has mankind changed in the last two thousand years making the methods of Jesus and Paul outdated? Or is there another option?

 

Anne Sokol's picture

I don't think these people are denying a fear factor. It's more like, wow, if that's what you need to keep you from wrecking stuff, ok. But there's a much better way.

Charlie's picture

The major theologians - Augustine, Gregory Palamas, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin - insist that there can be different levels of obedience, but that sanctification is accompanied by a change in motivating factors. For instance, Augustine says that the obedience and repentance motivated by the threat of divine punishment is actually only preparation for the real obedience that takes place through the virtue of charity. Fear at best clears the ground for love. Calvin distinguishes between "servile fear," which is ultimately unacceptable to God, and "filial reverence," which obeys out of the relationship of union, new birth, and adoption. Eastern Orthodox theology stemming from Gregory Palamas aims at theosis, which is being filled with the divine life to the point that all action derives from love, transcending even self-interest. Aquinas teaches that "meritorious" obedience is only that obedience flowing from faith, hope, and love, virtues infused by the Holy Spirit. Luther taught that people are simul iustus et peccator, and that the law is for sinful people, and thus the threat of the law remains relevant to people insofar as they are sinful-- but only as one side of a dialectic in which the new person is free from the law.

So, there appears to be a consensus even among divergent traditions:

1) Only properly motivated obedience is truly pleasing to God. This proper motivation is a recognition of God's action toward us and the love that results from that.

2) Improperly motivated obedience can be a stepping stone to obedience. 

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Larry's picture

Moderator

I don't think these people are denying a fear factor. It's more like, wow, if that's what you need to keep you from wrecking stuff, ok. But there's a much better way.

But that is the contrast you quote above (fear vs. gratitude). Fear is such a common thing in both the OT and the NT. How can we minimize it in the way that you appear to be doing?

Charlie says that only properly motivated obedience is truly pleasing (I suppose that is contrasted with some other kind of pleasing). But that too seems to minimize, at least to some degree, the consistent use of fear in the Scripture.

So while we should obey out of love, it seems that Scripture holds forth fear as a proper motivating factor in obedience. Otherwise, why use it? Would God use an improper motivation for obedience?

 

Joshua Caucutt's picture

So . . . how do I know if my motivation is "acceptable" to God? Paul tells the Corinthians to submit and obey and if they don't, he was going to "bring a whip." 1 Corinthian 4:21 Paul was not so concerned that their obedience needed to be motivated by love, he was concerned that they obey. 

There is a real threat here and I think that Larry touched on it: eternal hell. And this warning of eternal hell extends also to those who were at one point justified. That is the warning of all of the passages that Aaron has laid out for us: The writers of Scripture are saying over and over, just because you happen to be justified right now, don't assume that you will remain so, unless you faithfully keep the commandments of God.

formerly known as Coach C

Anne Sokol's picture

are we talking about general respect? or are we talking about just plain old "I am afraid of something bad happening; I feel threatened" fear?

Where does God say he wants us to be motivated by fear of something bad happening/punishment? how do you reconcile this with him also saying he calls us friends (doing his will from love), not servants (who can love, but it's not obligated). And 2 Tim 1:7 and I John 4:18.

And what kind of fear do you think TT is referring to in his quote?

how would you rightly motivate someone by fear?

 

Charlie's picture

This is basic Christian teaching:

But the aim of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. (1 Tim. 1:5, NET)

There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears punishment has not been perfected in love. (1 John 4:18, NET)

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Larry's picture

Moderator

are we talking about general respect? or are we talking about just plain old "I am afraid of something bad happening; I feel threatened" fear?

Being told to cut your hand off rather than enter hell with two hands seems like "afraid of something bad happening," doesn't it?

Where does God say he wants us to be motivated by fear of something bad happening/punishment? how do you reconcile this with him also saying he calls us friends (doing his will from love), not servants (who can love, but it's not obligated). And 2 Tim 1:7 and I John 4:18.

To quote someone, Why do we have to reconcile friends? The question, to me, is this: Did God use fear to motivate us to obedience? If so, then what exactly does that tell us?

And what kind of fear do you think TT is referring to in his quote?

I have no idea. I am not talking about TT, but about what the Scriptures say. I referenced TT because you did.

how would you rightly motivate someone by fear?

Through the pattern of Scripture, I would say. Where and how the Scripture uses fear, then we are free to, and in fact, probably should. That's all I am saying.

Larry's picture

Moderator

This is basic Christian teaching:

But the aim of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. (1 Tim. 1:5, NET)

There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears punishment has not been perfected in love. (1 John 4:18, NET)

All true, Charlie. But this doesn't really address the point I am asking about, which is this: If the Bible uses fear to motivate us to obedience (and does anyone doubt that it does), then aren't we also to use fear in the same way? That does not in any way contradict love, so far as I can see. But again, what do we do with the passages that use fear as a motivation for obedience? This, as you say, is basic Christian teaching, isn't it?

Perhaps to put it more directly, how would you teach or preach the passages that use fear as a motivation to obedience?

Joshua Caucutt's picture

1Jn 5:3 "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome." 2Jn 1:6 "And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it." In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes it clear that those who keep his commandments will "abide in his love." Those who do not keep his commandments will be removed from the vine and cast into the fire. 

The writer of Hebrews tells his readers that they need to strive against sin nearly to the point of shedding blood because because without holiness, no one will "see the Lord" Furthermore, he goes on to say that persistent, unrepentant disobedience will result in a failure to obtain the grace of God. (Hebrews 12)

Yes, love is a motivator, but it is not the only motivator. Furthermore, this is the consistent warning of Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments: 

Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike. The LORD will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the LORD and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven. - Deuteronomy 29:18-20 Which is then quoted in Hebrews 12. 

formerly known as Coach C

Anne Sokol's picture

love and fear are not equal motivators. they are not friends in that sense.

we can use fear, it's just not the goal of the relationship. we should be getting out of that where we can and moving into love.

i don't think the cut-your-hand-off verses are teaching that it's Ok to be fear motivated. it's not talking about motivation.

where do you see God using fear in a way that we should replicate?

part of it is a balance thing, too, in relationships. my husband and I don't have "fear" motives in our relationship, that I can think of. But i'm sure our children feel it when they have to think about consequences for disobedience, but even then, i certainly don't want it to be the overriding tone of our relationship.

I don't think God wants us to be motivated by fear. though He will use it if we won't accept obeying in a nicer way. If we are obeying out of fear, we need to see why.

removed_jh's picture

Both love and fear are given as commands and motives in both testaments. Should they be viewed as separate and distinct motivations, or is love (Deut. 6:5) the primary command and motivation (John 14:15) with one characterization of that love being biblical fear (Prov. 8:13; 3:7; 10:27; 16:6, etc.; 1 Pet. 2:17; 3:2; 3:15)?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Do I take it that your position is that salvation can be lost?

The writers of Scripture are saying over and over, just because you happen to be justified right now, don't assume that you will remain so, unless you faithfully keep the commandments of God.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes it clear that those who keep his commandments will "abide in his love." Those who do not keep his commandments will be removed from the vine and cast into the fire.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Larry's picture

Moderator

i don't think the cut-your-hand-off verses are teaching that it's Ok to be fear motivated. it's not talking about motivation.

So if that is not motivation for purity from sin, then what is it?

where do you see God using fear in a way that we should replicate?

Anywhere he uses fear, right? If we are to preach the Bible, we are to say what God says. Therefore, where God uses fear, should not we? How can we faithfully preach what God says unless we actually preach what God says? Can we say, "I know God uses fear here, but we have a better way"?

I don't think God wants us to be motivated by fear.

So why did he use it then?

If we are obeying out of fear, we need to see why.

Because Scripture commands it.

I am trying to understand your point here. It seems like you want us to discount certain things from Scripture, and ignore the consequences of sin that Scripture lays out as a motivation for obedience. It seems to me that we are bent on making a distinction that Scripture does not seem to make. Life is complex in all areas, and these kinds of fine distinctions don't seem to work.

 

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