Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Heb. 4:1a “Let us therefore fear…”
The Bible gives two viewpoints on the powerful emotion of fear. Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (JN 14:27), but Proverbs 23:14 says, “Happy is the man that feareth always.” Romans 8:15 says, “Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear,” yet the same Apostle also says, “Be not high-minded, but fear” (RM 11:20).
“God hath not given us the spirit of fear” (2 TM 1:7), but “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (PH 2:12). “He that feareth is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18), but “See that ye pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1 Peter 1:17).
These verses obviously refer to two different types of fear. Fear can be good or bad, depending on the object, which prompts it. There is a fear, which Christians must avoid, but another fear, which Christians must cultivate.
Fear is wrong when it shakes our confidence in God. It is wrong for the believer to fear Hell or the losing of salvation. We must never fear that God will break His promises. Any fear, which turns our thoughts away from the light and love of God, must be avoided. Fear “rooted in unbelief is evil; for it drives away from God. If we fear that God will not be faithful and fulfill His promises… we are sinning against God” (Saphir).
Fear is right when is shakes our confidence in ourselves. This fear is compatible with faith and assurance. Our trust in God remains firm. We are not afraid He will break His promises. We only fear we might not perform the conditions which make those promises a reality in our lives, thereby robbing ourselves of God’s greatest benefits. The fear of falling short of pleasing God helps us not to fall short. The wise man becomes alarmed at the first sign of wavering in his spiritual life.
Such fear is an essential part of Christian living. As the opposite of presumption, it causes us to be ever examining ourselves. To keep us from growing cold with indifference, it serves as a gong to ring the soul out of lethargy, and into action. We do not need a feat that causes us to run away from God, or that paralyses us, but we do need a fear that causes us to run with all our might to the Holy Spirit in order that we not miss the one thing that is worthwhile.
When we know ourselves for what we really are, we have every reason to fear in the time of temptation. We need a fear, which makes us vigilant, and causes us to flee to Jesus as our sole strength. Failure to trust solely in God spells disaster. Never try to please God on the basis of your own power in the flesh.
Heb. 4:1b “…lest, a promise being left us of entering into His rest,…”
A promise of entering into God’s rest is left unto us now. The people who followed Moses had no advantage over us. We, too, have the privilege of rest offered us. God is as great today as He ever was, and He is as accessible as ever. He still wants to give men His fullness in this world.
It is easy to think the glory days are past. We read the miracles of Moses with envy, and are tempted to think things were better then than now. We are like the child, who upon hearing some great Old Testament stories, said, “God was much more exciting then.” That’s quaint, but not true.
God still offers rest. Men can live victoriously. Contentment is possible. You must know this truth. If you do not know what is available, you will never seek it or enjoy it.
At the close of our Civil War, a northern lady was traveling in a remote area of the south, and met a sad female slave. In their discussion, the northerner mentioned the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been enacted two years before. The lady immediately perked up, and asked, “Ma’am, are we really free?”
The northerner was shocked at the question, and replied, “Of course you are. Didn’t you know that?”
The lady answered, “Well we heard we were, but our master said we weren’t, so we were afraid to leave. We heard again that we were free, and this time we asked the Colonel if it were true, but he only said we had best stay with our master. That’s the way it’s been, off and on. Sometimes we would hope we were free, and then again we would think we weren’t. Ma’am, are you sure we are free? Please tell me all about it.”
The northern visitor shared at length about the Proclamation, and about the thousands of slaves who had been freed. The southern lady listened eagerly to the good news. Finally, after a while, she let herself believe for the first time that she was free. The northerner said the lady was transformed. She seemed to stand a few inches taller, and looked like another person. As she left the room, fire flashed from here eyes when she said, “I’m free! I’m not going to stay with my old master any longer.”
You, too, dear saint, need to know you are free from an “old master.” You do not have to be bound by him any longer. You can overcome temptation and defeat. Knowing what your birthright includes can help you enjoy what is yours.
Heb. 4:1c “… any of you should seem to come short of it.”
God’s rest is available to all believers. However, it is also possible for “any of you” to fall short. The privilege of intimate fellowship with God includes the responsibility of not failing to enter into that communion. Refusal to enter rest brings us personal disgrace and shame. It also wounds God. No wonder we need to fear.
Heb. 4:2 “For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.”
The message Israel heard was of little help to them, because it did not meet with faith. The same can happen today. Our position, like Israel of old, is one of trial. Our conversion was a beginning, not an end. Testing continues a lifetime. Unbelief thwarts us, belief causes us to thrive.
Hearing the message is never enough. Faith is necessary. We are called to be believers, not critics, because God’s word accomplishes its greatest work when mixed with faith.
Faith is more than mere assent to the truth of a proposition. The patriarchs, upon hearing the promises of God, “were persuaded of them, and embraced them” (HB 11:13). Faith receives the Word as one’s own personal message. Faith takes a promise and says, “This means me!”
This can be illustrated by an incident from the life of William Newell, great Bible teacher, and author of our beloved hymn, “At Calvary.” He was in a meeting where gifts had been piled high on a table for distribution to a large number of poor children. Upon hearing their names called, children would come forward and receive a present. One boy’s name though was called and no one came forward.
Newell was seated near the lad, and has shared this account of what happened, “I watched him. His name was repeated several times. At first he looked forward at the announcer; then, as his name was repeated, he looked to the right and to the left; and then stood half up and looked all around over the back part of the building, expecting to see the favored one. But someone near him called out, “He means you, Jimmy!” Jimmy kept his seat, clutching the chair in front of him. He was not used to receiving presents! Not until the speaker looked right at him, reading his name, and asked, “Is that your name?” did he tremblingly get up and go forward and accept his present!”
We act the same way toward God. He aims His promises directly at us, but we look around, wondering, “Whom is He talking to?” We can quote the promises, but rarely claim them as our own. This is sad. The promises of God are not merely beautiful language, nor are they only lovely literature. They are foundations on which men are meant to stake their lives.
I ask a question. If the promises of God are not for believers, His own children, then who are they for? Apply the Word to yourself; receive it as a personal message. The promises are to appropriate, thereby bringing us much joy. Someone has well said, “Little faith brings the soul to Heaven, while great faith brings Heaven into the soul.”