Lou: Someone said the other day that there is actually a condition in the medical dictionary called theophobia– fear of God. It’s an actual ailment that a physician might need to be alert to.
Graham: That’s right. Doctors run into it now and then. It is a morbid fear of the wrath of God. Some saint preaches, “Fear God,” and doctors have to rush in to cure the theophobia. We’d better tell people the truth about God. Otherwise, we ministers will be working at odds with our clinical friends, making people ill with theophobia. We had better bring the good news that there is no need to be afraid of God. Jesus spent all His life healing the sick. It would be tragic to think about God, the One who meant to cast out fear, and have that become a theophobic experience.
Lou: You also mentioned Ephesians 4, where it suggests that the work of the church community is to help people grow up. How does a church try to do that? What can a church do to really help people grow?
Graham: As a pastor, you’ve devoted your life to thinking of ways to do this. It would be growing up for a member to go from a child-like, legal, authoritarian view to a larger understanding of freedom and truth. God does not ask us to believe anything for which He does not provide evidence. It is evidence that appeals to the reason. He urges us to inquire, to investigate. These are the things that a grown-up does.
We have to take trusting children and make them independent, but loving and trusting adults, adults who can withstand what’s coming. I think one of the first ways to do that is to invite our members to investigate every sermon that they hear. If they go home and investigate, over time they’ll grow up.
Lou: Toward the close of the previous chapter, you were suggesting some ways in which the Enemy has distorted and perverted Bible truths. Bible truths can be twisted to offer a terrible picture of God, one in which God is pictured inaccurately and unfairly. I’d like to turn that around here and have you suggest how a right understanding of those same truths can help people to grow up. For example, what is the correct understanding of faith?
Graham: The Devil would love to have saints understanding faith as believing what someone in authority tells us; that faith is a leap in the dark, it’s just believing. Because then he’ll have his way with us. The truth isn’t on his side. So what he needs is our willingness to believe without investigation. Genuine faith means trust, a well-founded trust, based on God’s demonstration of the truth.
Lou: What about the Holy Spirit?
Graham: The same way there. I think the Devil has perverted the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, offering the Holy Spirit as a shortcut. “You don’t need the truth; you just need the Spirit.” He teaches that when you have this indwelling, this feeling that comes up through your body, the Holy Spirit is taking over. And when the Spirit is in charge, God will run your life. It sounds so good, but it’s a devilish perversion.
In contrast, the Bible says, “When the Holy Spirit comes, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). He will help you investigate, and He will give you the gift of self-control. So all of these doctrines can be used both ways. We’ve got to present the Spirit as bringing independence (John 3:8), teaching us self-control, things like that.