How Fear Can Lead to a Denial of the Gospel

By Sam Powell

Since man fell in the Garden of Eden, we’ve been in trouble. We are a weak and foolish species without power to stand even for a moment.

We have all sorts of reasons to fear. We fear enemies, we fear pain, we fear loss of identity. But usually these are the wrong things. There is only one problem with all of mankind. Our sins have separated us from God.

But it is even worse than that. There are many who will freely confess that our sins have separated us from God, but they still believe that they can do something about that. We’ll just try harder. We’ll offer the right sacrifices. We’ll separate ourselves from bad influences.

But sin lies in the heart of men. It is so ugly, so ingrained, so deep in our hearts that there is and always has been only one solution. The Son of God suffered and died in our place. The problem is that we are all under the penalty of eternal death, and there isn’t a thing that we can do about it.

And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; 2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: 3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.1 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)1 6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: (Eph 2:1 KJV)

This is the Gospel. We were dead in trespasses and sins, but God has made us alive in Christ. He died in our place, that we might be raised to a new life.

This shocks and stuns the natural man. It is repugnant to everything we hold dear. Our natural religion states that we have to DO something.

We as Christians confess that our salvation is the free gift of God, and that our righteousness can only ever be the imputed righteousness of Christ, but we still have the remnants of our flesh that cling to us. So often, I present the gospel. I speak of the glorious, free salvation that we have in Christ. And there are always those who will forever repeat, “But we still have to keep the law, though…right?”

How do you answer that? No. The gospel doesn’t make us lawless. The gospel establishes the law. The gospel is about a change of nature. The gospel is about the law written on the heart, not tables of stone. The gospel is about becoming new creatures, new trees, that no longer bear thorns and thistles, but fruit. Fruit of love and joy and peace and longsuffering.

Isn’t it beautiful and wonderful! Our salvation freely and perfectly provided for us in Christ.

And yet, there’s that critic again. “But we still have to keep the law, right? What will happen if we quit telling people what to do? Our kids will be out of control. Society will crumble. People will live just like animals. We aren’t lawless. Those gay fellows, and those gangsters and those Syrian refugees and those Moslems need to be told what to do. What we need is stronger laws!” These are the church leaders that monitor skirt lengths, talk about what to watch on TV, speak incessantly about man-made rules that can never ease the weight of sin. And we do it because we are afraid. And we are afraid because we don’t believe that the Holy Spirit can actually change a heart.

20 Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,1
21 (Touch not; taste not; handle not;
22 Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?
23 Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.1 (Col 2:20-23 KJV)

Paul is saying that all of these things look very good and holy. They look like they have such a zeal for righteousness. But they are of no value in the subduing of the works of the flesh.

I would submit to you that the repeated question, “But the husband is still in charge, right?” is of the same caliber. It shows a total lack of the understanding of the dynamics of love, and is of no value to peace of the home. It also cannot be answered satisfactorily from the perspective of the gospel-driven home.

Do I mean by this that the husband has no authority? Of course not. I mean that the question becomes irrelevant in a home ruled by love, just as the questions concerning which laws you have to keep become completely irrelevant in a heart ruled by the gospel. The law in a gospel-ruled heart is kept out of love, not coercion. And service in a gospel-ruled home runs on the same principle. This is why Paul said that the husband is to LOVE the wife, as Christ loved the church, not rule over the wife as Moses ruled over Israel.

Before Christ came into the world, God gave Israel the perfect code of law. He enforced it Himself on tables of stone, thundering from Mt. Sinai. All Israel heard the voice of God from the top of the mountain.  And within days they were dancing around a golden calf.

“Righteousness never comes by the law.”

Ever. Can’t happen. Something far deeper, far greater, are far more miraculous must happen. We don’t need better enforcement. We need new hearts, which is precisely why Jesus came into the world.

We as Christians should know this. And yet we still catch ourselves thinking like the natural man. “We’ve got to do something or everything will get completely out of control.”

Fear is a powerful motive.

I have recently received a great deal of correspondence that bothers me. I have written over and over again that the headship of the husband means service in love, and Christ loved the church. And men all over everywhere went nuts.

The response was everything from polite and courteous, to vicious assaults on my character. But when you cut through it all, the question was always the same, “But men are still in charge, right?”

As I distilled and thought about the massive assault of words that came my way, I began to understand the fear. The idea is this. If men aren’t in charge, then the home will disintegrate, society will crumble, the women will take over, the kids will rebel, and the woman will become a manipulative, domineering shrew.

Some have gone so far as to say that the man must remain in charge (according to Gen. 3:16) to keep the woman from messing up creation again.

My response is this, “I thought that you married a Christian.” But that falls on ears as deaf as the ears of the Pharisees in Jesus’ time. The natural religion is hard to get out of a heart.

Men, if you honestly believe that you must lay down the law to your wife in order to protect her from sin, then you do not understand the gospel. And further, you are as obdurate as the legalist repeating incessantly, “But you still have to keep the law, right?”

Did Christ die only for the man? Did he withhold the gift of the Spirit from the woman? Does righteousness come by grace to men, but by the law to women?

Is your wife incapable of growing in peace and joy and love apart from the decree of the man?

I actually received a comment from one man who said, “You say that the husband is responsible for the peace of the home, but how can he do it if you give him no authority?”

Peace to this deluded man only comes by a strong and firm hand of an authoritarian male. But Moses was the strongest leader there was. Gifted by God, backed by miracles and the staff of Jehovah. All Israel knew that he was God’s prophet. And their carcasses fell in the wilderness. If righteousness could have come by the law, then Christ died in vain.

Peace in the home comes only one way. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit poured out upon us by the gospel of Jesus Christ. And don’t miss this next point, for eternal salvation is at stake:  The gospel never comes by the law. Never. The law only brings condemnation. The law can only make good slaves. A slave works either for hope of reward, or for fear of punishment. But a slave never works because he loves.

A son, on the other hand, works because he loves the father. The gospel takes us from being slaves, to being sons. The difference is everything.

Our wives are not slaves. They are not to be treated as those who will only serve if they are properly under authority of male leadership. They are to be treated, in Peter’s words, as “co-heirs” of eternal life. That is, they are also directly led by the Holy Spirit, firstborn sons of God and heirs according to the promise with no other mediator than Jesus Christ, son of Mary, and the eternal Son of God. Martha was busy with much worry and business. But Mary sat at Jesus’ feet. A patriarchalist would have rebuked Mary and told her to get to work. But Jesus praised Mary. She chose the better part. Love for Christ is everything, and take precedent even over the duties of the home!

To put this very practically: If a wife does what she does in the home because she is afraid of the wrath of the husband, or because she wants to earn a bit of quiet, or perhaps wants to gain a word of encouragement and love from her husband, then your home is a home of slavery, not a home of the gospel.

On the other hand, if the wife does what she does because she loves her husband and loves the Lord, and if she isn’t trying to earn her husband’s favor, because she knows she is loved and honored in the home already, then the home is a gospel centered home where Christ is preeminent. I don’t love my wife because of what she does. I love her for who she is, a child of God and an heir of eternal life. Her character shines through every pore and she brings peace and love wherever she goes. How she longs to be able to cook again – because she loves me and I love her. But she is physically incapable.

There is a group of men who have repeatedly asked me a question, and incessantly demanded an answer. The question is this: “What does wifely rebellion look like? Is it possible for a woman to rebel?”

Now that we understand what the gospel is, and what a gospel home looks like, the question can be answered. “Wifely rebellion” looks like any other creaturely rebellion: violation of the laws of God. A wife can commit adultery, murder, revile, lie, steal, cheat and take God’s name in vain just like a man, because she is also a creature under God and answerable to him.

But a man laying down the law won’t ever change that, anymore than Moses could change the hearts of Israel. Righteousness never comes by the law. Ever.

What she needs is what every other person under heaven needs: the gospel of Jesus Christ, who gave himself for me that I might be raised up to everlasting life and begin to walk as a new creature, in love.

An authoritarian can create an obedient slave. This is not, however, what a Christian marriage is. A Christian marriage is based upon faith working together with love.


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15 responses to “How Fear Can Lead to a Denial of the Gospel

  1. Life-giving! Just…thank you.

  2. Amen! I sure appreciate your words and your willingness to stick too it, no matter what the peanut gallery says. It is the love of Christ that draws us towards Him, and it is the love and grace of a good husband that softens our hearts. Perfect love casts out fear.

    It’s sad to me, those poor men who ask, “what, aren’t men in control anymore, don’t we hold all the power,” strike me as so weak, so small, so impotent, never knowing spiritual intimacy or what genuine submission is really all about. At best they’ll get a poor substitute, a cheap imitation, and never fully understand what love Christ has for them.

    Don’t let the turkeys get you down.

  3. Pastor Powell,
    I am humbled and grateful for the time you have taken to expound on the truth of God’s Word. It is amazing what ‘fear’ or ‘jealousy’ can do to a person, even professing Christians, and this post articulates what true Christ-honoring love looks like. Thank you again and also to the other ministries who reach out to the vulnerable.

  4. Amen!
    Thank you Pastor Sam Powell.

    I’m going to share this as widely as I can. This is one of the best posts I’ve ever read.

  5. Sam, Please help me understand “wifely rebellion.” Is the question about a wife rebelling against her husband? If so, is there such a thing as hubandly rebellion? Or are we talking about sin in general?

    • Hi Julie Anne, nice to see you commenting here 🙂
      In his post, Sam said ” ‘Wifely rebellion’ looks like any other creaturely rebellion: violation of the laws of God.”

      So I’m guessing he would also be happy to say, ” ‘Husbandly rebellion’ looks like any other creaturely rebellion: violation of the laws of God.”

      Sam may answer you too, of course, but I know he’s a busy man and has to spend a lot of time looking after his disabled wife and his family and his church, so I’m answering you in case he doesn’t have time to answer you.

      In his About page, Sam explains his personal situation and his limited time for responding to each and every comment on this blog. 🙂

    • Julie Anne, that persistent question came from some pretty unsightly characters, who, as it turns out, are trolling this site to promote their agenda, so I have an idea that they meant that the wife is under the thumb of her authoritarian husband and if she rebels against that, she is sinning.
      That, of course, is not my view. My view is that the wife is first and foremost a servant of Christ, and she belongs to him, body and soul. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.
      Reformed theology has consistently rejected adding man-made “good works”, as just another form of bondage. For example, the Heidelberg Catechism says,
      “What are good works?”
      “Those only which proceed from true faith, and are done according to the Law of God, unto His glory, and not such as rest on our own opinion or the commandments of men.”
      It then goes on to define the law of God as the Ten Commandments.
      The devil always seeks to place us again under the bondage of men. Currently, the patriarchal movement has added an 11th commandment, “Thou shalt obey thine husband in all things, sin excepted.”
      These spurious good works are defined further as “getting dinner on time, making sure the kids don’t bug me, getting the dishes done in a timely manner” and so on.
      It is simply a re-do of the old bondage of Pharaseeism, medieval Roman Catholicism, and every other man made scheme of salvation.
      For a godly husband, a wife who seeks to love God by striving more and more to live according to the commandments of God is a jewel to hold onto, more precious than rubies. They strive to love God in obedience together.
      For an ungodly husband, the wife must serve him as god. But this would actually be a violation of the first commandment, as I explained in my post “Whom will you serve?”
      This is the reason why I answered the way that I did. Wifely rebellion is just called “sin” in the bible, and it is defined by the Ten Commandments.
      We must consistently and steadfastly refuse to be brought under the bondage of the commands of men, whatever form it takes.

  6. I’ll be happy to answer,but it will have to wait until tomorrow. Thanks, Barbara, and Julie Anne, I’m always happy to help when I can. 😊

  7. 3blossommom

    I remember while I was engaged to my soon-to-be-ex husband, we frequented the home of the Rev. who did our marriage counseling. On Sundays we would head there after the service. The women would go to the kitchen to set the table and finish dinner preparations while gossiping about the latest news from friends at church. I dutifully joined in everything but the gossip. The men would head to the living room and spend time discussing the sermon’s finer points, the news of the week, and maybe start watching a game. I didn’t shun kitchen work. I would gladly have spent five mins. carefully setting the table each week, but I so longed to discuss the sermon too rather than waste time listening to the women. I had thoughts stirring in me. I remember admitting, during a counseling session, that I felt that way. The Rev.’s response was something like, “Well you’ll need to push that urge down. You have to get used to being in the kitchen…doing your job as a wife. You don’t belong in discussion with the men. No one expects that of women.” I remember feeling like I was broken or unwomanly for desiring the intellectual or spiritual things. Occasionally, in the last twenty years, godly men have shown appreciation for my thoughts on spiritual and intellectual issues, but my husband did not tolerate it very well nor did he tolerate another man praising me. Oh, he said it was fine, but his actions said otherwise. I spent our entire marriage enslaved to the hope that what I was doing at home or in the kitchen would please him enough to break him out of the silent treatment or cause him to like me again or keep him from having another affair. That enslavement didn’t work.

    • 3blossom, your testimony is so valuable. I grieve with you.
      Jesus said that by sitting at his feet and listening to/engaging in spiritual conversation, Mary did the better thing than Martha.

      Those men in that church ignored that verse.

    • 3blossommom — I can relate to you … I often dreaded the “women’s Bible studies” because of the gossip sessions … and now most of the churches have become full blown social outings rather than a gathering together of the saints to glorify and worship The Lord and Savior.
      I gleaned so much more after I left the local assemblies. I still ache for blood and flesh fellowship. Thankful for ministries who make their sermons and teachings available via the internet.

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