I was caught up in a discussion the other day on a matter that should capture the attention of each of us, that being what should be preached to a man regarding the Gospel. The fellow on the other end of the discussion kept digging in on one constant theme. The message was fear, fear of sin and its consequences, the sheer magnitude of condemnation that awaits the sinner. While I am a strong advocate of preaching conviction and repentance, somehow the thought of trying to strike fear into a man in order to bring him to Christ seems a wayward task. Instead it is the preaching of the Cross of Christ and our need for Him that expresses the power of God with regard to salvation. It is the Gospel message itself that brings grace, faith and salvation. Fear is a fleeting moment among men. What one man fears today when confronted is far distant in mind when the threat is lessened and circumstances improve, even outwardly if not inwardly. Fear is easily dismissed as time tends to erase it's cause. I found some wisdom on this matter in the writings of D.L. Moody, taken from the 6th chapter of his book The Way To God.
Before I speak of what Repentance is, let me briefly say what it is not. Repentance is not fear. Many people have confounded the two. They think they have to be alarmed and terrified; and they are waiting for some kind of fear to come down upon them. But multitudes become alarmed who do not really repent. You have heard of men at sea during a terrible storm. Perhaps they had been very profane men; but when the danger came they suddenly grew quiet, and began to cry to God for mercy. Yet you would not say they repented. When the storm had passed away, they went on swearing the same as before. You might think that the king of Egypt repented when God sent the terrible plagues upon him and his land. But it was not repentance at all. The moment God's hand was removed Pharaoh's heart was harder than ever. He did not turn from a single sin; he was the same man. So that there was no true repentance there.
The fear of God, rather than being a cowering retreat, is a reverence for the Creator, an awe inspiring and often trembling experience. It is something desired rather than something to bring pangs and apprehension. Fear of the LORD is an experience of believers rather than a characteristic of unbelievers' repentance.