Joyful Trembling

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, September 23, 2015 0 comments

by Logan Ames

I’m aware that the title of this post is an oxymoron. How can you be joyful and afraid at the same time? Actually, it might be a little more common than you think. Almost any great professional athlete will tell you that they work hard and play their game because of their love for it and the joy it brings them. At the same time, the ones who play in team sports will talk about the great fear of letting down their teammates or entire cities, fear so great that it caused many of them to vomit before each game. The great Joe Montana once faced the task of driving his team the length of the field in the final minutes of the Super Bowl in order to win it. If he made one big mistake, his team’s chance at a title and entire season would be lost. According to his teammates who were in the huddle with him, just before the drive started Montana huddled with his offense and said, “Hey, is that John Candy over there in the front row?” Obviously, his teammates fed off of his cool, calm, and collected presence in a moment when they were all trembling, and they went the length of the field and scored the winning touchdown. Joe Montana didn’t cower to the fear because he knew the joy of the opportunity.

You may have experienced joy in the midst of trembling when you rode your first roller coaster, proposed to your future spouse, made friends at a new school, or took on some other adventure such as skydiving or bungee jumping. Or maybe you have been somebody that has played it safe all your life and can’t ever seem to take that next big step. If that’s you, comfort becomes your biggest priority every time you are faced with new opportunities to achieve what you want, but you end up feeling like your life has no meaning, purpose, or adventure. God wants to get you out of that comfort zone, but you must be willing to trust him enough to take the risk.

When it comes to salvation and what it means for our lives, so many believers become comfortable or lazy, and that leads them to a level of Christian arrogance that was never modeled by our Savior. In our passage for this week, Paul tells the Gentile believers in Rome, “Do not be arrogant, but tremble” (Romans 11:20b). This is reminiscent of similar words in his letter to the Philippian believers, where he tells them to “continue to work out (their) salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). In other words, we should remember that God saved us because he loved us and because of his incomparable mercy. He didn’t save us because we earned it or so that we could just take it easy and rest in the blessed assurance.

At the same time, working out our salvation with fear and trembling doesn’t mean that we must go and earn something that we can’t. If you look at the larger context of this week’s passage in Romans 11:11-24, you can see that Paul’s whole point is to make sure the believers remember the BLESSING it is to receive the message of salvation through the gospel and to never take it for granted. He reminds these believers that it was because of Israel’s transgression that the message of salvation reached the Gentiles in the first place (v. 11). Evidently, some of these believers were thinking they were superior to the Jews and had even “replaced” them as “branches” on God’s tree. But Paul is using the example of Israel’s unbelief and God’s subsequent breaking them off to show the Gentile believers to whom he is writing that they should not think they can keep living in sin and still receive this blessing. His warning is clear in verse 21: “For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.”

Because most of us did not grow up in Israel or observing their laws given through Moses, we must remember that WE are Gentiles. This passage could be written directly to us. I’ve been to many churches in Ohio and Pennsylvania and several in other states as well. There have been few places where there weren’t at least some people who seemed to think they were doing God a favor by being there and serving. Have you taken that attitude? Do you view your salvation as a blessing, or is it something that God owed you? You may laugh at that question, but I hope you will think more about what is shown through your life and not what you simply think.

Paul told the Gentile believers to consider, “You do not support the root, but the root supports you” (v. 18). In other words, God and his people are not dependent on you. If you choose to walk away, God’s will is still going to be done. Instead, you are dependent on God and his people. This should affect the way you approach other believers, and you should do so with humility and prayer that, if they have fallen away for a time, God brings them back by his grace and the leading of the Holy Spirit. You should not think of yourself better than someone else who is living out their unbelief. God desires that they would come back to him, and he will welcome them back. He may be stern with them when they’ve fallen (verse 22), but it’s an example for you to consider so that you realize his kindness to you and “continue in his kindness” (also verse 22). To me, this is the essence of joyful trembling. We recognize that God could be stern with us and cut us off from his kindness because of our actions, so that gives us a healthy sense of fear. At the same time, we realize that he has shown us kindness far beyond what we deserve, and that brings great joy. We must view ourselves and others in light of that kindness. Knowing his kindness gives us an opportunity to pursue godly living even though we may tremble at our failures. Examine your life and see if you have a healthy balance of joy and fear when it comes to God. If you don’t, I encourage you to dig into his Word to see all the reasons why you should know both.

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