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A Rosh Hashanah Meditation


From Fear or from Love?

by John J. Parsons

The Talmud notes that someone may be motivated to do teshuvah (i.e., repentance) for one of two reasons.  Someone may repent out of fear of Divine Punishment (called teshuvah miyirah, תְּשׁוּבָה מְיִרְאָה), or out of love of God and the desire to become attached to Him (called teshuvah me'ahavah, תְּשׁוּבָה מֵאַהֲבָה). Those who repent out of fear are said to have their intentional sins counted as errors, but those who repent out of love have their sins redeemed and transformed into virtues (Talmud: Yoma 86b).

This is explained as follows. Someone who repents out of fear of God did not have such fear within his heart when the sin was first committed, and therefore the sin is considered a result of ignorance of God's exaltedness and omnipresent glory. When the call for teshuvah is heard, the action is acknowledged as sinful, and fear of God's punishment induces the heart to turn back to God.  This sort of person understands teshuvah as a kind of "get of of Hell free" card.  By turning back to God, he or she hopes to appease God's anger and escape His righteous judgment.  In other words, this form of repentance is essentially self-preserving and is meant to avoid the negative...

The one who repents out of love, on the other hand, acknowledges the seriousness of sin and the bottomless depth of sinfulness within his heart. This person understands the extent of God's mercy and grace that gives him cleansing, and a feeling of passionate love and gratitude arises within him. A sense of closeness to God results, and an intimacy and attachment to the LORD develops. This person's sinful condition, in other words, is transformed into an ongoing passion to love and serve God. The more profound the awareness of his sinfulness, the greater will be his attachment and love for God. Unlike teshuvah miyirah, this form of repentance is essentially self-giving and is meant to gain the positive... For the true baal teshuvah (בעל תשובה), the broken and sinful heart is (ultimately) transformed into a heart of healing and grace.

Yeshua mentions the relationship between love and repentance in Luke chapter 7. Recall the story of the unnamed "sinful woman" who washed his feet with tears and anointed him with costly perfume at the home of Simon the Pharisee.  When the religiously scrupulous Simon inwardly objected to her unrestrained display of appreciation, Yeshua looked at him and said, "I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven - for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little" (Luke 7:47). This principle, "to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little" (ολιγον αφιεται, ολιγον αγαπα), is behind the idea of teshuvah me'ahavah. We genuinely return to God when we understand our complete brokenness and sinful state and also find faith in His unconditional acceptance of us....

"to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little..."


If you are trusting in God's forgiveness through the merit and sacrifice of Yeshua performed on your behalf, you can truly rejoice in the glorious fact that you are "accepted in the Beloved" (Eph. 1:6). Your faith has saved you: walk in peace (Luke 7:50). As Bonhoeffer once said, "Accept that you are accepted."

Ultimately, "there is no fear in love" (אֵין פַּחַד בָּאַהֲבָה) because fear centers on judgment and punishment within the Heavenly Courtroom...  Perfect love -- ahavah shlemah -- "casts out fear" because of Yeshua and His sacrifice as our Advocate (παρακλητος) of the New Covenant. "The record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands was nailed to the cross" and this consequently "disarmed" the devil's legal prosecution against us (Col. 2:13-14). We are declared "not guilty" by faith -- justified. We have been set free to love and cling to the One who saved us from everlasting exile.

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