I recently had a somewhat disturbing conversation with a friend of mine that I knew from several years back. I met this person at a social function, and when I asked about her husband I was dismayed to find out that he had left her several years ago for another woman. On top of that, my best friend of two decades back divorced his wife as well – and remarried one week later! Then there was the deacon in my church that was teaching the Bible on Wednesday evenings while sleeping with another woman and living a life consumed by pornography. Another deacon was deeply involved in our Evangelism Explosion ministry – but somewhere along the way he too derailed, left his wife, and went to live with another woman. I could probably go on naming more examples, but it sort of gets depressing to do so.
What makes this so disconcerting to me is that these men professed to be Christians. They attended church with me, prayed with me, worshiped with me, and in a couple of instances were some of my closest friends. But somewhere along the way our paths diverged. And instead of continuing in what they knew God would have them do, namely remain faithful in their marriages they left for no good reason. Today they have made shipwreck of their lives, and to be honest I only know of one of them who attends church.
So what happened? Did these men derail by surprise, or was something else going on here? I remember Howard Hendricks one time saying that most adulterous affairs are not sudden blowouts, but slow leaks. Little by little resistance is wore down until the fateful event of adultery takes place. We could probably probe this a bit further, but this is not really the purpose of this short blog post – rather I would like to focus on what I believe to be one of the major issues in the lives of each of these men. And that would be a lack of the fear of God.
I am afraid I run into too many Christians that only think of God as the loving Savior, Redeemer, and the one who has freely forgiven all of our sins. And make no mistake about it – that is exactly what God has done! He has removed our sins from us as far as the east is from the west, and remembers them no more (Psalm 103:12). However they are missing another aspect of God, and that is that He is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). There is no healthy fear of God, and as a result they fall into the same pattern of life as those in Romans 3:10-18 who have “no fear of God in their eyes.” Proverbs 9:10 tells us that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Wisdom, in the book of Proverbs, has nothing to do with head knowledge and everything to do with lifestyle. To the writer of Proverbs, the wise person is the one who lived uprightly and righteously before God, not the one whose head was filled with knowledge (see also Job 28:28). I think too often we know more that we live. To use another Howard Hendricks quote, “we are educated beyond our obedience.”
When I was a child, I loved my father, and I knew that my father loved me. He was always there for me, took care of me, provided for me, and I would not have traded him for any other person on the planet. However, I also feared him. I knew that if I stepped out of line, misbehaved, or got into trouble, he would come after me and it would not be a pleasant experience. And just to satisfy your curiosity – there were a few times when I did cross that line, and my father made sure they were memorable occasions for me that I have not forgotten to this day.
God is Love, but God is also Wrath. And the only reason that I do not fall victim to his wrath is that Christ took my place. Christ has paid the eternal consequences for my sin in full, but that does not mean I should lose my fear of God. As a child I never worried about my father disowning me, but in those rare times when I received his discipline it hurt me more emotionally that I had offended and disappointed my father than it hurt me physically from his loving discipline. So the question I would like to ask my friends, “Are you afraid of God at all?”
I guess the answer to that is no! No fear of God. No sense of the disappointment and sorrow that God felt when they abandoned their marriages and brought shame and reproach on the name of Christ. No sense of fear that their actions may be used by other unbelievers to discount the message of the Gospel – after all it seems that Christians do the same things as all of us. Come on. Be one of the boys – don’t be different – it makes us feel better as sinners! No sense of fear that God may bring discipline and chastening into their lives as we are told in Hebrews 12:5-7.
And then there is the scariest thought of all, maybe they are not even believers!
I hope and pray not.