The Fear of Judgment


Two important phrases in Scripture are, "the fear of the Lord," and, "fear of judgment." Are these the same thing or different? How do they relate to Christian living? Let's discuss what the fear of the Lord and fear of judgment are, and let's consider whether, as children of God through faith in Christ, we should have them or not. I imagine this will require two articles, one this week and one next.

First, the fear of judgment. The fear of judgment is an inner sense of terror because of the coming wrath of God at the end of history. It means to be afraid. It means to be deeply troubled. It means to be seriously worried, to say the least, about the looming destruction and punishment to come by the hand of God.

Now, should Christians have this? No way. Christians have no good reason to fear the coming wrath of God. When it comes, we will 100% be saved; of this we can be sure. Because of our weakness and our susceptibility to Satan's lies and accusations, we may feel the fear of judgment within us. But if the GOOD NEWS of salvation in Christ means anything at all, it means that we will be saved from the coming judgment. Here is the proof from God's Word.

  1. In Christ, you cannot be condemned by God. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). Believe God's promise; this is the gospel. 
  2. As a child of God, you are freed from slavery to the fear of judgment. "For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father'" (Rom. 8:15). 
  3. You will be glorified, not condemned when Christ returns. "But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, [21] who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself" (Php. 3:20-21). 
  4. God promises to keep you safe till this glorious day. "Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, [25] to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen" (Jude 24-25; see 1 Cor. 1:7-9). 
  5. Since God is faithful to His Word and promises, believers have confidence, not terror in light of the coming judgment of God. "And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming" (1 John 2:28

Does this sound too good to be true? It is the gospel truth. We are talking about the supernatural, incomprehensible grace and power of God. We are talking about the very thing that Jesus shed His blood for! He took the judgment of God we deserved in our place on the cross, so that on the day of judgment we would be marvelously and sufficiently saved from the wrath of God we deserve. 

For believers, the coming of Christ is not source of fear and terror, but a source of hope, joy, confidence, and peace. Jesus is not coming to kill you, beloved, but He is coming to give you the highest and best form of life you could ever imagine: i.e., resurrection life, free from sin (and all its causes and effects), in the presence of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Rejoice and be glad, you His saints, for God will surely do it.

Now for the last and best passage on the topic. 

"So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. [17] By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. [18] There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love" (1 John 4:16-18).

Since fear has to do with punishment for sin, and since believers have been forgiven their sin by the blood of Christ, therefore we should not fear punishment. What does John say is the remedy when we battle feelings of the fear of judgment? God's love for us in Christ is the remedy. It is the light that pushes back the darkness of fear. Maturing in the love of God gives us confidence for the day of judgment. The knowledge of God's love, faith in God's love, and inner experience of God's transformative love "casts out fear."

Picture a giant boulder slowly lowered into a small pond. What happens? The water is displaced. It is drive out of the pond by the boulder. The boulder is God's love found in Jesus. The water is the fear of judgment in our hearts. As the love of God slowly transforms our hearts according to "the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 3:18), and the wonderful blessings that are found in Him, fear of judgment is displaced; driven out by the Word and Spirit of God.

This is your hope, child of God. And this "hope of salvation" is "helmet" that will guard you in your battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. As the Word says, "But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. [9] For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, [10] who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him" (1 Thess. 5:8–10).