There are two very different kinds of fear: First, there is the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 9:10). Secondly, there is the fear of man (Proverbs 29:25). What you fear tells your story.
The fear of the Lord comes from a right view of God, is rooted in faith, and evidenced in love (Galatians 5:6). The fear of man comes from an absent or flawed view of God, is rooted in unbelief, and cannot please God (Galatians 3:2,21, 22).
“By faith” has always been the way to righteousness. In Genesis 15:6 we read, “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” This is true for both justification and sanctification. God does not change the means after we are saved. Sanctification is by grace, through faith as well, and will bear the fruit of righteousness.
Returning to the law as a means of sanctification is what Paul is talking about in Galatians 3:1-3 when he says, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?”
He also makes this point in Colossians 2:6 when he says, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” In other words the same way you were saved is the same way you are to live. It is by grace through faith and the obedient life is the fruit of a working faith.
We are not saved by grace through faith and then sanctified by obedience. Confusing the means with the result is a serious mistake and will lead to a performance based sanctification that cannot please God. Hebrews 11:6 declares, that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” Each story that follows in faith’s “hall of fame” chapter is a story of men and women obeying God as a result of an active and genuine faith. Philippians 2:12, 13 also shows good works as rooted in faith. Faith works—works to do not produce faith.
So, do we live without rules? Of course not. Rules and regulations have their place in life. The Old Testament law was given with a purpose and the rules and regulations we create on our own have a purpose. We use rules in our homes, workplaces, churches, and institutions. What I am saying is that while rules can serve purposes of protecting, controlling, and directing, they cannot produce righteousness. If we really believe, we will obey, but obeying by itself cannot bring about righteousness, sanctification, or the pleasure of God.
Diane and I have three young grandchildren. We pray for their salvation every day. I can assure you that in their home there are rules, regulations, and consequences. Like the law of the Old Testament, these can expose sin and act as a schoolmaster to lead them to Christ. But these rules and regulations cannot make them better than they are (unless you believe religious moralism is a better way to be lost). Galatians 3:23-25 says, “Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.” Only the transforming work of the Holy Spirit can make our grandchildren better than they are. The law and the many other rules we create may expose, point, and direct, but they cannot transform the life. That is my point.
Have we “fallen away from grace” and gone back to what we were delivered from (Galatians 5:4)? Paul warns us, “Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!?’ These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self- imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (Galatians 2:20-23).
Rules and regulations have a place, but when they are viewed as a means or measure of sanctification they quickly bring about a culture of fear and control. This is not a healthy fear. Yet, the fear of God will set us free from this kind of bondage. It will lead us to a faith that results in righteousness, joy, and peace!
In my next post I want to talk about the strength of grace and the weakness of the law. Grace is powerful because it is the only thing that can affect lasting change in our lives.