That is often the accusation used by unbelievers in their attempts to argue that Christianity is invalid. But is that argument itself a valid one? As any of us who have lived long enough knows, fear can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the situation. We have healthy fears that preserve our lives, such as the fear of walking into a busy roadway without looking in every direction first. We also have unhealthy fears, like being afraid of going to the doctor for checkups with the illogical assumption doctors only give bad news.
The truth is that the preaching of the genuine gospel can sometimes be a fear tactic. And that’s fine with God because the dangerous consequences of not heeding the gospel are real. God has given us license to use fear tactics when they are based on his truth in pointing people to the true and living God because God’s control of someone’s life is good control with positive end results. Since God has proven himself to be 100% righteous and trustworthy, the end justifies the means here.
According to Jude, we must depend on wisdom from the Holy Ghost with prayer, mercy, and love to know when fear tactics are necessary and when they should be avoided since God has two basic tactics of drawing people to him. Notice here what Jude says:
20 But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost,
21 Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
22 And of some have compassion, making a difference:
23 And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.
We are to go out of our way to show overwhelming compassion toward some of the unsaved people he mentions in the preceding verses (v. 15-19) because some unbelievers only require a very gentle nudge to get God’s message across. Then there are others who need to be scared straight with an urgent hellfire and brimstone message to be shown how serious their situation really is (even to the point of yanking them out of the fire) and how appalled God is at their behavior with a display of disgust at the very tools they use to promote their sin. This is what Jude refers to using the symbolic phrase at the end of v. 23 which also shows up in Zechariah 3:4.
Paul also said, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men…” 2 Corinthians 5:11. In other words, hell ain’t no joke. Proverbs 24:11-12 also makes this plain.
If we want to be frank about fear tactics, even Christianity’s critics use them for control. Fear is used to persuade people not to believe in Jesus by making them believe the lie their lives will be over if they do or that their lives will be boring and ruined if they have to give up their pet sin (despite the fact their pet sin has already ruined their lives). Fear is used by socialists to threaten, bully, and badger people with violence and/or surveillance if they choose not to comply. Fear is used by liberals for mind control to brainwash people into thinking those who don’t think like them are out to keep them from what they’re entitled to, therefore they should envy and become a scofflaw if necessary to get what they want. Environmentalists use it. Educators use it.
Fear tactics for control are in every segment of society. So the question we should really ask is “Is this controlling fear tactic for genuine good or genuine evil?”