I go to church, because I’m afraid not to.
The first response a Bible-believing, Christ-following person should have to such a statement must come from scripture - For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. – II Timothy 1:7. Fear is not a tactic of a Bible-believing Christian. It is a tactic of a cult. Consider a few other verses in order to answer the proposed statement above.
Genesis 15:1 - After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.
God is commanding Abram not to fear, while Abram follows Him. After this pronouncement, Abram talks with God, and God restates His promises to Abram as outlined in Genesis 12:1-3. He should have nothing to fear in following God, because God promised to be Abram’s shield and exceeding great reward. This promise extends to the Christian as well in that we should not fear our reward, but put our trust in Him. (cf. Proverbs 18:10).
For time and space I will skip a few more passages in Genesis and come to Genesis 50:19 – And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? This verse does not state that Joseph is in church. It states that he was in God’s will. In that place no one has anything to fear.
Drawing from previously skipped verses in Genesis, one must consider the many passages in Exodus that reference fearing God. Upon doing so, don’t hesitate to cross reference the many statements concerning fear in Proverbs, such as Proverbs 1:7 – The fear of the Lord is the BEGINNING of knowledge. (emphasis mine). The fear is only the beginning, but more on that later. The Hebrew women and Moses, who feared God, did what they were told to do, because they feared God. They did not know what would happen, nor did they understand what God was doing. In other words, they did not have the entire picture. They only knew that God commanded them, and they listened. Their continued obedience revealed more of Who God is, and upon knowing God more fully, they passed from fear into a deeper relationship. Notice Moses’ progression from the burning bush until his death in Nebo. Yes, Moses had a fear, a proper fear, of God, but after his initial fear, he matured into a vastly deeper relationship with Him. Also notice what God promised to send upon the Egyptians, who would not submit under God’s authority. Fear, most certainly not the same fear mentioned in context of Moses or the Hebrew wives, was part of the promised curse in Exodus 15:16 (cf. Exodus 23:27).
One final note to meditate upon comes from Exodus 20:20 – And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not. This is an interesting verse for a few reasons: The Hebrews are commanded not to fear, This is after the listing of the Ten Commandments, and God’s fear is mentioned.
First and Second, the only thing that man has to fear is breaking God’s Law (cf. Romans 1-3). Upon breaking that Law man should be afraid of Death and Hell, because that is what God has promised for them who do transgress that Law (Romans 2-3, Romans 7, James 2:10, I John 3:4, Revelation 20). In this context the Old Testament saints had much to fear, because of the Law. This is the beginning of knowledge, however. Man has to first understand how Holy God is, and upon realizing His holiness, man must then of necessity realize how unholy he actually is. (cf. Romans 2:4b – it is understanding God’s goodness that leads a man to repentance). This Law, rightly, then is the “schoolmaster”, which brings man to that repentance. It’s only the beginning. God wants us to progress past that level. He did not want the Hebrews to remain at the fear level mentioned in Exodus, hence the command to “fear not.” This truth is the same today as it was then. Any institution using fear as a means to control a person’s actions is misusing God’s fear for their own gain, and fits all definitions of a cult.
Finally from Exodus 20:20 – What is God’s fear? He is mentioned as fearing in this portion, and as previously noted, sends his fear against the nations, such as Egypt in Exodus 15. I must state openly that I do not know, but what seems to be the case is that God has a fear of sin. Not in that it will overtake Him, but that He must punish it in a terrible way. This further seems to fit context with II Peter 3:9 - …God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. God does not take pleasure in punishing the wicked (Ezekiel 18:32, 33:11). His punishment is severe, powerful, final, and just, but He does not take pleasure in sending any man to Hell. Perhaps this is what He fears in Exodus. For further weight to this viewpoint, consider Christ’s prayer to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. There was a level of intense passionate emotion in that prayer. Not that Christ feared death, but that Christ’s Divine relationship with the Father would be separated by taking upon Himself man’s sin. (I would love to hear your comments on this idea!)
Throughout the remaining “Five Books of Moses”, as they’re commonly called, fear is mentioned many more times. Leviticus deals with fearing God when His Law is broken, which I have already briefly illustrated. Numbers and Deuteronomy both deal with not fearing man, but fearing God. But how does the fear mentioned in these books mesh with the rest of the Bible? I hope to define this in the coming posts. It is a weighty topic, but a necessary one to understand in order to answer the statement “I go to church, because I’m afraid not to” properly. (Please, do bear with me in this topic, Fear is mentioned 501 times in the Bible, and I am certain to miss a few key verses or points here and there. If so, please, feel free to comment).