1 Corinthians 11:29-32 NLT - For if you eat the bread or drink the cup [worship by taking Communion] without honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died. 31 But if we would examine ourselves, we would not be judged by God in this way. 32 Yet when we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned along with the world.
Acts 5:1-11 NIV - Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6 Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?” “Yes,” she said, “that is the price.” 9 Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.” 10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
Americans often resent “hellfire and brimstone” and reject the notion of a loving God who is to be feared. As a result two unhealthy realities regarding the fear of God have largely occurred. First, most American churches avoid the fear of God altogether, focusing on the very important truths of God’s love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, etc. While that is also necessary teaching, it is not fully balanced. As a result, many American Christians take little thought to how they live, speak, or present themselves in terms of what might be considered Biblical holiness and separation from a Christ-rejecting world. Hyper-grace teaching or worse - turning the grace of God into licentiousness - may appeal to the masses while dishonoring God.
The second, less common, danger is an unbalanced (and inaccurate) preaching of the fear of God and His punishment as an ever-present reality. This fear-based Christian ministry often produces anxiety and paranoia - the fear that making the wrong decision will result in calamity. As a result, otherwise good people are living in constant anxiety of the proverbial hammer dropping upon them or their families at any moment for any possible misstep they may take. It is little more than Christian superstition that results in being terrified of God most of the time, even when one is not sinning. In this situation, the motive for “holiness” or Christian discipleship is mostly to avoid ultimate tragedy and shame. The true doctrine of the fear of God is often weaponized in this unhealthy preaching to manipulate or scare people into proper behavior. This “Christian terrorism” is abusive, and it is not the same as the Biblical fear of God.
Both unhealthy expressions of preaching (or not preaching) the fear of God should be altered to fit the Scripture and fulfill God’s purpose. In the Old and New Testaments, God tolerated a lot of bad behavior without direct intervention in the moment, yet He always reserved the prerogative to break forth in divine punishment if the situation (and His purpose) demanded it. Examples would include, Korah’s Rebellion, Uzzah touching the Ark, Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity, Uzziah’s leprosy, Ananias and Sapphira, some in the Church in Thyatira, and several others. God is indeed a God of grace, love, mercy, forgiveness, longsuffering, but He is a God of holiness, purity, and purpose who must be properly respected - especially by those who bear the name of Jesus Christ as a witness to the world. There is no need for God to break forth in divine punishment upon any who live in the (healthy, respectful) fear of God and with the love ad grace of Christ.
Does it surprise you that God purified the early Church in a way as dramatically as the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira? How about when Paul taught the Corinthians that many of them were suffering sickness and death specifically due to the discipline of God upon them for their unloving, irreverent worship and dealings with one another in the Church? Would most people today even believe God might have reasons for purifying His Church through the intervention of supernatural judgment when there is “sin in the camp”? On the flip side, given how much wrong beliefs and behaviors existed in the early churches, might it be more appropriate to view such sobering interventions to be rare instances in which God acted for a specific purpose? Have you seen or experienced either problem (hyper-grace or fear-driven faith) regarding the Biblical reality known as the fear of God? Where might you need a little balance?