There is something more dreadful in this world than when God makes us miserable because of our sin: when God uses more sin to make us miserable because of our sin.
This is more dreadful because misery may be a wake-up call that leads to repentance. But more sin means deeper bondage and more guilt.
Precious Place of Fear
Therefore, if we are about to walk into sin, we should feel doubly afraid. We should fear the threat of misery. And even more, we should fear the failure of faith that leads to final enslavement and nothing but misery.
“Misery may be the wake-up call that leads to our repentance.”
And, yes, there is a godly fear by which we fight for faith and life: “You stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear” (Romans 11:20).
I have tasted enough of my own capacities for unbelief and self-deception to know how easily I would be enslaved to sin if God did not awaken fear. Fear and trembling are not pointless words for me, when Paul says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Nor do I flinch when Jesus says to me, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
Worth of Warnings
One of God’s merciful warnings is to tell us that there is something more dreadful than when he makes us miserable because of our sin. Namely, when he uses sin to make us miserable for our sin. Oh how precious is the word of God to give us such alarming warnings!
If you are about to sin, ponder which is worse: the mercy of God-appointed misery, or melting in the hands of your iniquity? So, we read the warning: “You have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities” (Isaiah 64:7).
What would be a worse consequence for dabbling in pornography — getting caught by your spouse, or moving on to adultery? So, we read: “The mouth of forbidden women is a deep pit; he with whom the Lord is angry will fall into it” (Proverbs 22:14; see also Ecclesiastes 7:26). In other words, we better hope — with trembling — that the anger of the Lord would gouge out our eye, rather than let us fall into the pit of adultery. One eye is a better price to pay than the depth of that pit.
And if we fall into a season of dullness and do not listen to the Lord’s voice or submit to his words, which is worse: stumbling into financial ruin, or being surrendered to the pride of a stiff neck? So we read: “My people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels” (Psalm 81:11–12). Fiscal misery would be a gift compared to being abandoned to a stubborn heart.
“We should fear misery. We should fear even more the failure of faith that leads to greater misery.”
If you are falling in love with the world, and about to exchange the glory of God for the dream of gold, ponder which is worse: waking up with gravel in your mouth, or being handed over to ever deepening perversion? So, we read: “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves. . . . God gave them up to dishonorable passions. . . . God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (Romans 1:24–28).
If you are about to surrender to your doubts, and call Christ an illusion, which would be worse: a bullet of truth through the arm of your flesh, or a beautiful song of endless deceit? So, we read: “They refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false” (2 Thessalonians 2:10–11).
Pay Attention to the Alarms
Oh how merciful of God to give us such warnings! How kind to shake us out of glib and playful attitudes about the Christian life! How sweet to make us serious about the greatest things. How patient to offer sorrow instead of slavery, chastisement instead of chains, pain instead of perdition.
All this mercy, kindness, sweetness, and patience awaits you in his word.