Fear or Love?

Do you believe in Jesus because you love Him, or because you fear hell? Should children obey their parents because they fear being punished, or because they love them?

This question stems from some negative reviews of Tedd Tripp’s book Shepherding a Child’s Heart.

Originally posted 10/2/2004, on bibleforums.org:

Which is better–obedience out of fear, or obedience out of love? I think we would all agree that obedience out of love is better. From what I’ve seen about this book, Tedd Tripp is saying the same thing. He is focused on the child’s heart moreso than their actions, and the parent’s role in protecting and guiding their child’s heart.

The difference of opinion appears to be in the best way to effectively guide and prepare children so that they will be most likely to acheive that goal of obedience to Christ out of love.

Which is better–obedience out of fear, or disobedience? Some people may disagree with me, but I think obedience always trumps disobedience. Every child I’ve ever seen is disobedient, so something needs to be done to help them move from disobedience to obedience. The big question is whether that is best accomplished by a two-part process (‘obey because there are consequences’ first, followed by ‘obey because you want to’) or a one-part process that skips right to the final goal.

The Old Testament tells us to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind; but it seems to talk even more about fearing God and keeping His commandments. Why did God wait 4,000 years before sending Jesus to redeem us for our sins? Why did He lay down the law to the Israelites and stress judgement for so long, instead of skipping right to grace and love? (not that grace and love are absent from the OT; they just don’t seem to be the focal point like they are in the NT.)

When I was a child, I loved my parents, but that isn’t necessarily why I obeyed them. When I was young, I obeyed them because I would get spanked if I didn’t. As I got older, I continued to obey them (for the most part) even if I knew I wouldn’t get caught, because they had taught me right from wrong and I loved and respected them.

Soldiers in basic training do what they’re told because their commanding officer will make their lives miserable if they don’t. Yet when their training is over, many soldiers would voluntarily lay down their lives for their commander. I doubt if our military would function nearly as well if it wasn’t for some healthy fear of disobeying. Now, soldiers aren’t children, and children should not be treated like soldiers, but I think the principle still applies. I don’t think it’s wrong to instill a little fear, because that is often a necessary motivator. It’s hard to teach someone love and respect if they won’t first obey.

It is wrong to overemphasize fear, or to stop at step 1 of a 2-step process. Some churches and leaders are guilty of this. They get so wrapped up in the negative consequences of disobedience, that they end up failing in their goal of guiding the heart, because outward behaviour gets priority instead. They don’t intentionally put outward behaviour above heart change, but that’s the message that comes across. As with most things in life, the best approach is balance not one or the other. It can be difficult to find the right balance.

More thoughts on “the fear of the Lord…”

Originally posted 10/4/2004 on bibleforums.org:

Some people get hung up on the word fear, because they associate it with terror. It has more to do with reverence and respect for the power and holiness of God. An illustration I like that sheds a little light on a proper context for fear goes something like this: a group of teenagers are hanging out and someone suggests going to do something that they shouldn’t do. One teen objects, and says “no, I’d be scared my dad would find out.” Another teen sneers, “what you’re afraid your daddy will hurt you if he finds out?” The teen replies, “no, I’m afraid if he found out it would hurt him.” This isn’t a perfect illustration, but it gives a picture of “being afraid” in a proper context.

I am reminded of a passage in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (if you haven’t read the Chronicles of Narnia, I highly recommend you do).

If you’re familiar with the story, you know that it is an allegory, and Christ is represented by Aslan the lion. Much of the story centers on four children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, and their journeies in Narnia. In the following passage, Mr. & Mrs. Beaver are describing Aslan (Jesus) to them:

“Is he—quite safe?” [asks Susan.] “I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

There is something a little paradoxical about God being our shield, protector, provider, comforter, etc.; yet at the same time He is our fearsome judge and ruler. Is God safe? No, but He’s good, so you can trust Him. He gives us plenty of reason to fear getting on His bad side, but He also gives us His word that He knows what’s best for us and will take good care of us if we trust and obey Him.


It seems like spanking used to be a pretty common form of punishment. Watch Little House on the Prarie, or some such show, and you’ll see parents and/or teachers using a switch as an instrument of correction. However, in recent times, many people have begun to see spanking as cruel, abusive, and unnecessary. Even some Christians hold this view, which is surprising to me.

Orginally posted 9/29/04 on bibleforums.org:

In my family, spanking was the main form of punishment. Occasionally if my brother or I were fighting or complaining, my mom would make us eat a dried out piece of bread because “Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife” (Prov 17:1). There were a few times we got our mouths washed out with soap, a few times I had to stand in the corner for a while, at least once when my bike was taken away for a while. Most of the time, though, if we disobeyed or did something that we knew was wrong, we got spanked. I don’t think I was ever grounded or sent to my room. My best friend got grounded a lot, and I thought it was unfair because his punishment affected me too since we couldn’t go out and play.

With few exceptions, the implement of spanking was always THE PADDLE. THE PADDLE was half of an old yardstick. Not the flimsy ones we have today, but one that was 1/4″ thick and didn’t have any flex to it. THE PADDLE was hung on a nail in the hallway beside the basement door. Sometimes we would have to “go get THE PADDLE” ourselves and bring it to Mom or Dad so we could get our spanking. Other times we would have to sit and wait while they went to retrieve THE PADDLE; you could always hear it rattle against the wall when they lifted it off the nail. Most spankings took place either in our bedroom or Mom and Dad’s bedroom. They would make sure we realized what we did was wrong and why they were spanking us–you know, the ol’ “this hurts me more than it hurts you” line, then we would have to bend over and put our hands on the bed while they delivered a handful of swift smacks to the rear, the force being pretty consistent but the quantity varying with the level of wrongdoing or how rebellious we were.

I don’t remember how old I was when I got my last spanking, but probably a little older than when most parents stopped spanking their kids. I’m guessing I was in junior high. By that time, I could put up with the sting without crying, so I think it lost its effectiveness and even made me a little resentful of the punishment.

With one possible exception, I never felt that my spankings were abusive or uncalled for. The punishment was never delayed; if Dad wasn’t home, Mom spanked us; she didn’t say “wait until your father gets home.” It wasn’t done on the spur of the moment or for accidents. It wasn’t done in anger. My parents didn’t yell at us or threaten us. But if we disobeyed them, there was a good chance that we would get a spanking.

My parents may not have had the perfect strategy when it came to discipline, but I can truthfully say that I am glad I was spanked. My brother says the same thing, and his kids get spanked too if they disobey. If I have kids someday, they will get spanked too.

Obviously (hopefully) you shouldn’t spank a baby. The child has to be old enough to understand a command and willfully disobey; most toddlers can comprehend this. Some people thing spanking is wrong, but I’m sure they would agree that parents should discipline their children. I’m curious how you discipline a toddler or small child. You can’t reason with them. Telling them “no, don’t do that” isn’t effective; they’ll just keep doing it and you’ll end up either caving or pulling your hair out. Inconveniencing them doesn’t teach correction; they’re not old enough to understand why their parents are depriving them of something they want; but they are old enough to connect a spanking with whatever they just did.

Okay, I’m tired, and I’ve probably written more than anyone wants to read anyway. If you think spanking is wrong, please read Proverbs 13:24, 22:15, 23:13-14, and Hebrews 12:5-11, then explain your position again as to why God wouldn’t want anyone to spank their children. And please don’t confuse proper spanking with improper spanking. A proper spanking is not physical abuse, just like a stern lecture is not verbal abuse.