Fear God that you may not retrogress;
love Him that you may progress.
Augustine, Ps. LXXXV,16.
There is always the possibility of a Christian retrogressing. In 1 Corinthians 15:33 Paul warns against the negative influence of evil companions. Patterns of living, once pleasing to God, may be “corrupted’ by such influence, he says. John warned the “elect lady” to whom he was writing that it was possible for her to lose her reward by showing hospitality to false teachers, thereby enabling them to spread their heresy (2 John 8). So, we need something to keep us from retrogressing. Augustine’s point is that losing one’s reward, or sliding back into past sinful patterns, is something we ought to fear. Not fear of the thing itself, of course, but fear of God—fear lest we displease Him and, thereby, arouse His Fatherly displeasure and suffer His chastisement.
On the other hand, Augustine says that the way to grow is by loving God. But can one both fear and love the same person?
In these days when children are rarely punished severely, there is little fear of one’s father. But the father that one used to fear because of the woodshed and the hickory stick, he also came to love all the more because, as he grew in his understanding, he realized that it was precisely because his dad loved him that he punished him (Hebrews 12:6). Recognition of that love begets love. Thus, love for God issues in new ways of living for Him. One seeks to please the one he loves.
So—away with the nonsense that fear of God is wrong because it destroys love. To the contrary, the less fear the less love there is. The more fear, the more love there is. The less love there is, the less fear there is; the more love there is, the more fear there is. Think about this for a while. Chew on it, if you will—it has many ramifications!