Fearing God the wrong way can make you feel like a whack-a-mole in an arcade game, and you’re the mole. Resting in Christ’s works rather than your own is a challenging process to learn. It was definitely that way for me.
I have two sons who love to go to the arcade. I don’t enjoy video games that much, but there are two attractions that draw me to the arcade. They are skeeball and “Whack-a-mole.”
Few things are more satisfying amid the cacophony of sound and flashing arcade lights than taking a giant hammer and beating that pesky mole to smithereens. (Admit it, you just imagined yourself gleefully smacking the laughing mole, didn’t you?)
Before I came to salvation in Christ and during my early years as a believer, I had a view of God’s character that was very much like my favored arcade game. I pictured myself in a giant “whack-a-mole” game with God.
I call it “whack-a-mole” theology. I developed the view of God that He sat on His high, lofty throne in the sky waiting for me to “mess up” so He could “whack” me over the head (punish me).
Instead of having a healthy fear of God, I was afraid of Him. There is a big difference between the two perspectives. Consistent, in-depth Bible study was the key to correcting my understanding of God’s character. As I studied, I found several blind spots in my theology.
Resting in Christ’s work
I wasn’t serving God from a place of rest in the finished work of Christ on the cross. On the contrary, I was still trying to earn my salvation. No longer does any further work need to be done to offer salvation to me or any other sinner. And because of His satisfactory atonement, the blood of Christ cleanses our conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Hebrews 9:14).
My conscience is clear because of the finished work of Christ. Christ died once for all (Hebrews 9:12, 28). More than anything else, I needed to learn how to “rest from [my] works as God did from His” (Hebrews 4:10-11).
Not by my works
A careful study of Ephesians 1 and 2 taught me Whose I am. Through Christ’s blood, I have redemption–forgiveness of my trespasses–according to the richness of God’s grace that He lavished on me (Ephesians 1:8).
The Greek word used for “lavished” means God’s grace is “overflowing” on me. I could not get more grace than He already bestowed on me. Ephesians 2:8-9 teaches that I am saved by this same grace – not by works. God chose me before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before Him (Ephesians 1:4).
He created me in Christ for good works – not because of my works (Ephesians 2:10). There is absolutely nothing I can do to earn a higher position with God than I already hold because I am a blood-bought child. Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice is enough (Romans 3:25-26).
Too much personal responsibility
Before you get upset with me and stop reading after the sub-header, hear me out. At a young age, my environment placed a heavy weight on a Christian’s personal responsibility. I reduced my Bible study and sermon application to a mere set of rules to follow.
In my understanding, the Gospel was nothing more than a list of do’s and don’ts. I came to the conclusion that my righteousness (or unrighteousness) was solely my responsibility.
I am not saying God does not place emphasis on personal responsibility to live righteously. 1 Peter 1:13-16 explicitly teaches to be holy as God is holy. Romans 6 teaches that assuming upon God’s grace by willfully sinning is an absurdity. God doesn’t merely suggest His children live holy lives; He expects it.
And He has a right to this expectation because He has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit to enable us to live righteously (Ezekiel 36:26-27). It is entirely possible for a blood-bought, born again child of the living God to walk in righteousness because of the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit within him or her.
However, it is also easy to become Pharisaical and hang a millstone around our necks – or the necks of the general Christian population – by becoming so rules-based that we neglect to apply the Gospel to our lives. Yes, we are responsible for walking in the Light (1 John 1:7) and for not practicing sin (present tense Greek – continually, habitually in 1 John).
However, we must also understand that acts of sin happen – and if we say they don’t, we are liars (1 John 1:8-10 – aorist tense Greek – occurs at one particular time).
The motivation for our obedience should be the living hope we have in Christ (1 Peter 1:3). Our living hope should create in us a purifying hope (1 John 3:3) that we respond with obedience out of the gratitude we hold for being given such a high position as the children of God (1 John 3:1-2).
No more “Whack-a-Mole” theology
Correcting each of these blind spots in my understanding of God’s character helps me to grasp my true freedom in Christ and enables me to prevent placing myself again under a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1). I no longer walk through life waiting for a divine hammer to pummel me.
Instead, I gratefully bow my knees before my Father who loves me and gave His son as a sacrifice for my sin. The Lord doesn’t need to “whack” a submitted servant.
Friend, are you like I was? Do you live afraid of God, rather than in reverent fear of Him? God gave His son as a satisfactory atonement for all your sins – the past, present, and future. But the story doesn’t end there.
Christ didn’t just die for your sins; He also rose again. He conquered death and hell on your behalf, and He sits at the right hand of the Father today interceding for you. Christ’s reign should cause you to have such awe and wonder that leaves you with no recourse but to maintain a posture of repentance and strive to live a life of obedience.
Because of Calvary, those who have placed faith in Christ need no longer fear condemnation and punishment. Instead, you are declared righteous through the precious blood of Christ.
I can’t help but think of my Savior’s words in Matthew 11 as I write. I will leave them here for you as a benediction:
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. – Matthew 11:18-30
Rest in the Savior’s work, beloved. It’s time to unplug the game.
Also published on Medium.