Fear and the Good Father

“And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (I Pet 1:17-19).

If you can imagine the best possible father who adores you, who provides for you, who gives you good gifts, and yes, who disciplines you for your own good, you are beginning to see what your heavenly Father is like.  He is not only “like”, but so much more than the best father we can imagine.

But as we said last time, God is not an indulgent father.  He has a discipline program, a training regimen, designed to mold us into the righteous image of His Son.  And just like our earthly fathers instilled in us, there should be a healthy fear of our Father’s discipline.

When Peter talks in this passage about “the time of your stay upon earth”, he is highlighting the fact that we are actually aliens on this planet.  Our citizenship is in heaven.  Our eternal home is in heaven.  Our true King is in heaven.  Our Father is in heaven.  And we honor our Father by holy living.  We demonstrate our loyalty to our true King by our righteous behavior.

The fear referred to in these verses is a healthy fear, a reverent awe.  The ESV Study Bible notes that, “The fear in verse 17 is not a paralyzing terror but a fear of God’s discipline and fatherly displeasure; it is a reverence and awe that should characterize the lives of believers during their exile on this earth.”  We are to have a healthy fear of disappointing our good and loving Father.  We should have a healthy fear of treating lightly the sacrifice that was made for us, the precious blood of Christ.

This is not a fear of “God is waiting to pounce on us and crush us at our first offense”.  Fearing that kind of treatment from our Father requires us to explain away so much of the New Testament message about our good Father.  It requires us to ignore so much of the New Testament teaching about who we are as God’s child and how He treats His children.  We would have to cast aside His promise of His unconditional love, care, and protection.  And yes, we would have to neglect His own description of His discipline as being for our good; never capricious, never random, never mean.

There is a healthy fear of the Lord in the New Testament, but it is a reverence informed by all we have learned about our good good Father.

The Good Father’s Training Program

If you have embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, you have a brand new connection to God Himself.  He is now your Father.  He identifies Himself as your Father.  He calls you His child.  As we have explored our new Father-child relationship over the past few weeks, we have come to learn that God is a good Father.  He is the giver of good gifts.  He loves you with an everlasting love.  He provides for your needs.  He truly is a good, good Father.

But God is not an indulgent father.  In fact, as one of His children, we will experience discipline, training, and even pain at the hands of our good Father.  “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him.  For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives” (Heb 12:5-6).

The Greek word translated “discipline” in this passage refers to a training regimen.  God has you on a training program.  He is training you in righteousness; in righteous living.  And this training program may involve pain.  But the beauty of God’s training program, and the most important thing to take away from this passage is that the pain is never random, cruel, capricious, or evil.  God’s training program is always fueled by His love for us and for our good.

The author of the book of Hebrews goes on to explain, “God deals with you as with sons.  For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them.  Shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness” (Heb 12:7-10).

If we are true children of God, we will all experience His training program.  Just as we respected our fathers who disciplined us for earthly goals, should we not more so worship and respect our heavenly Father who disciplines us for “our good and to share in His holiness”?  Our good and our holiness are the desired outcome of the training program of God.  And that training program may include the pain of discipline on our way to the joy and peace of righteousness that it produces.

“All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb 12:11).  The goal of God’s training program is not only our good and our holiness, but also joy and a peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Now the beauty of this journey and what may set this apart from what you have heard in the past about God’s discipline is that God’s training program does not take place in a mysterious and unknown vacuum.  It is not meant to be painful in a way that keeps us in the dark.  It happens in the framework of God being the good Father and loving us with an everlasting love.  God’s overarching attribute in His dealings with His children is love.  Even God’s discipline is motivated by His love, “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines” (Heb 12:6).

The upshot of this is that the discipline of God should always be understood through the lens of the good Father.  Because God Himself is using that analogy in the Hebrews 12 passage.  He is telling us what to expect of Him based on what we experience at the hands of a good earthly father.  Based on that comparison, we know that His discipline will never be capricious, never be random, never be mean, never be beyond understanding.  Even if the reason is delayed, our knowing that the Father is good informs our faith to trust His timing.  Again, think about this comparison with our earthly fathers.

Every good father disciplines with the goal clearly explained to the child.  In fact, before we discipline or correct our youngsters, we go out of our way to make sure they understand what behavior is expected.  We go out of our way to make sure they understand why they are being disciplined.  We make clear to the child what they did wrong.  They know what behavior needs to change.  A good parent never disciplines in a random, unexpected, surprising, or capricious manner.  And based on today’s Scripture, we would not expect our heavenly Father to do so either.  His discipline is always fueled by His love.

Prayer and the Righteous Father

“Now Jesus was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not lose heart, saying, ‘There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God, and did not respect man.  And there was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying “Give me legal protection from my opponent.”  And for a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, “Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, lest by continually coming she wears me out.” ‘ ” (Lk 18:1-5).

Then Jesus draws this contrast, “You just heard what the unrighteous judge said.  But God, on the other hand, delights to bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry to Him day and night.  And will He delay long over them?  I tell you that He will bring about justice for them speedily.  However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:6-8).

I used to read this parable thinking of God as the judge in the story.  As a result, it seemed to me that our approach to prayer was to badger God into an answer.  As I studied the New Testament, my emerging view of God as the good Father, the giver of good gifts did not fit the unrighteous judge in this story.

Then it hit me.  God is not the mean judge at all.  In fact, the point of the parable is that God is just the opposite.  God stands in contrast to the judge, not as a similarity.  Look at the opening lines of the parable.  Many of Christ’s parables start with, “The kingdom of God is like…” or “The kingdom of heaven is like…”  But this story does not have that common opening line.

Because this judge is not like our God.  This judge is not like the good Father.  No, the point of the story is that God is the opposite of the unrighteous judge.  God is looking to provide relief and answer to His children “speedily”; the opposite of the judge in the story.

But there is a part for us to play.  The opening verse tells us that Jesus told the parable to illustrate the necessity of persistent prayer.  Our persistent prayer is an act of faith, not an attempt to loosen the purse strings of a reluctant father.  Our persistent prayer demonstrates our faith that God will answer.  The necessity of faith in our practice of prayer is driven home in the last statement in the passage (vs 8).  Will Christ find this kind of persistent faith on the earth?  Will Christ see this kind of faith in His people?

So take heart.  Let your prayers be bathed in faith.  Infuse your prayers in the faith that your good Father “knows all that you need” (Mt 6:32).  Do not grow weary of coming to the Father with your requests.  You are not trying to pry some breadcrumbs from an unwilling father.  No, you are entering the holy presence of the good Father, the giver of good gifts.