FAITH AND ITS ANTITHESIS

Christ-following, Discipleship, Worship

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7

God did not give us a spirit (pneuma: wind, spirit) of timidity (deilia: cowardice, fearfulness). Cowardice is a condemnable state before God, at the top of the list of the abominable sins that are cast into the lake of fire. “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)

Why is cowardice so abhorrent to God? I hold forth that it is the antithesis of faith and the manifestation of unbelief, rendering one separate from and unable to please God. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6)

Consider a pivotal moment in the history of mankind – the long-anticipated moment of meeting between Yahweh and His rescued people at Mount Sinai. After all of the drama of Moses’ demands before Pharaoh, the subsequent plagues that eventually led to his acquiescence and the departure of the Hebrews, his reversal of position that sent his army in pursuit, the perilous moment on the shore of the Red Sea with the Egyptian army bearing down on them, the parting of said Sea, safe passage across the seabed to then witness the drowning of the pursuing enemy, the visible manifestation of His Presence day and night in the form of a pillar of cloud or fire, water from a rock, bread from heaven, miraculous quantities of quail – after all that they experienced, now the time came for the meeting. They were going to meet the God who had already shown so much of His nature and His care for them by His great deeds. He told Moses, “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did in Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now if you obey Me fully and keep My covenant, then out of all nations you will be My treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” (Exodus 19:3-6) The people expressed their commitment to obey. Instructions were given to consecrate themselves and stay within prescribed boundaries until the appointed time.

On the third day, God came near. “Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.” (Exodus 19:18-19) Further instructions were given and then God addressed the whole assembly, beginning with the words, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2) Prior to this moment, God had been the God of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; but with the distance of four hundred years of slavery in Egypt, that connection may have felt quite thin. Now the voice of the Lord spoke to them from the fire and smoke, and identified Himself with them personally. He continued with the commands of His covenant: “You shall have no other gods before Me…You shall not make an idol…You shall not misuse My name…etc.” As soon as God concludes, the narrative says, “When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.’” (Exodus 20:18-19)

It would be natural to sympathize with the Israelites at this moment if all we were to consider were the immediate conditions. I acknowledge that the manner with which God chose to reveal Himself had to have been overwhelming. But remember the context. After all that they had witnessed during their deliverance, these people had already been exposed to the greatness and power of God in quite dramatic ways. And the oft-repeated words, spoken through Moses, of His determination to do good to them were then added to, in their hearing, with His identification of Himself as their personal God and Deliverer. In light of all that they had experienced, this sudden ‘chickening-out’ was inexcusable. Also, think of what was implied when they said, “do not have God speak to us”. Who did they think was in charge of this meeting: God or Moses? Did they even acknowledge God at all, or did they think that Moses was a magician orchestrating spectacular tricks? Moses tried to exhort them back to sense with these words: “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” (Exodus 20:20)

Do not be afraid. Do not shrink back from this moment with the thought of protecting yourself. Do not avoid this opportunity in order to preserve what you have. To meet with God is to change, for the better. Separation from Him is death. Reconciliation with Him is life. To remain separated is to choose death. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning. A lifetime away from God has left us with nothing but an instinct to obey ourselves, but reconciliation with God is the restoration of right relationship with Him as Lord and only a deep impression of His worthiness will override that old instinct. He has come to test you, to change your whole worldview so that restoration can proceed. Do not let self-preserving fears take the lead or reconciliation will be thwarted before it has even begun.

Tragically, however, the Scripture says that, “The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.” (Exodus 20:21) Their cowardice was the dismissal of all that God had done to draw them to Himself, the refusal of Him, anti-God. We must recognize the disaster of this moment and learn from it, for even as Moses said, only the fear of God would keep them from sinning; when they shrank back from Him, they left themselves still subject to their fallen instincts and unable to obey God, as demonstrated by the rest of their history.

It has been no different for anyone else. Either we stand and receive from God as He gives, or we turn away to protect ourselves and are left with ourselves. Cowardice is anti-God. It acts on the assumption that God is what He is not. The Israelites stated that if God spoke to them, they would die. He had declared that they would be His priests and holy nation. Their assertion made God out to be a liar. When we choose cowardice, we do the same. We disbelieve what God has said about Himself and His intentions, choosing to believe instead that we know otherwise.

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7) The spirit of timidity or cowardice is not from God. The spirit He gives is completely other, that of power (dunamis: miraculous power, might, strength), of love (agape: love, goodwill) and of self-discipline (sophronismos: self-control, sound mind).

Consider the nature of the Spirit He gives. It is from Himself. Our own spirit is that which is without God and thus does not resemble Him. It is driven by our own interests and capable of only what a fallen soul is capable of. But the Spirit He gives has capacities that originate with Him and gives what could not exist outside of Himself. Thus His Spirit of power is a power beyond the power of a separated soul; miraculous power that enables His servant to know, move and act in ways that they would be unable to do without Him. His Spirit of love flows from His pure, burning goodwill that is free of all neediness and sentiment, able to protect, trust, hope and persevere in the face of all things as He does. His Spirit of self-discipline is that which is founded upon the restored right relationship of the Creator and His creation; the relationship of the Master and His servant who lives to do His will and does not live by man-made rules but by the Word of his Lord. It is the Spirit of a sound mind that heeds His voice and is not blown about by the myriad demands of every strident agenda, not even that of its own old spirit. They, on receiving His Spirit, are free from the old, self-interested spirit that shrinks in cowardice from all that is God because God insists that He alone is God. This is the Spirit that God gives.

It occurs to me that religion is the creation of the spirit of cowardice and not the Spirit that God gives. Religion defends its authority with man-made power instead of acting in the miraculous power of God. Religion justifies its judgment and oppression in the name of love, claiming that it only has the well-being of people in mind. Religion does not believe in the God-given Spirit of self-control at all, but mandates conformity rather than encouraging the servants of God to live as God directs them. Religion is made up of those who still say, “Do not have God speak to us or we will die.” The very idea of God speaking to His people without an intermediary is suspect. Religion has consistently rejected those who do walk in God’s Spirit, representing them as a threat and therefore to be avoided, opposed or even destroyed to preserve the purity of their own institutions. They cannot recognize that which is from God, having established for themselves a standard that flows from their own spirit and is anti-God.

What is a soul to do when confronted with the dire nature of the situation before us? Jesus instructed us to ask. “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:9-13) Ask for the Holy Spirit! Ask for the Spirit of power, love and self-control. But acknowledge that what you ask for is the antithesis of timidity and cowardice and the two spirits cannot coexist.

Earlier, I quoted Hebrews 11:6 “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” I believe this is a fundamental requirement: to believe that God is who He says He is and that He does what He says He will do. The spirit of cowardice is forever denying both, making God out to be a liar and a fraud and shrinking back from Him to what, in its delusion, seems the safer ground. We must not make light of this, but persistently ask for the good gift of the Holy Spirit and then keep in step with that Spirit, not turning back to our old spirit of timid self-protection. God does test His people so that the fear of God will keep us from sinning. It is one of His restorative ways. Do not be afraid. Fear Him to obedience. He is our life.

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