The question about different motivations for following God is a personal one for me. I have spent about ten years moving away from a fear-based motivation for following God, and sometimes I'm still not completely rid of it.
As far as I can tell, my religious upbringing was not too uncommon for my particular area. I remember sitting in church as a young child and hearing our pastor recount time and time again the detailed stories of vivid nightmares he had about hell when he was a teenager. There was the constant reminder that if you died without knowing Jesus, you would "spend eternity in a devil's hell." I can still hear that phrase in my head if I think about it hard enough. At the age of eight, I felt anxious and sick to my stomach about leaving church. I was scared because I'd heard the pastor talk about people who knew they should believe but never took that step, and how they would go to hell if they died. So I thought that because I hadn't said THE prayer yet, but I knew I should, that made me one of those people. What if we got in a car accident when we left church and I died and went to hell? (Another common example used in the sermons I'd heard.) The next Sunday I went to the front of the church to pray.
It's not that I didn't believe in Jesus; I did. And it's not that the people at our church had negative intentions; actually, I believe they had the very best of intentions and were passionately preaching what they believed. But, either way, I ended up following God out of fear of what would happen to me if I didn't.
Starting my relationship with God based on fear had other effects. For years I struggled with feeling like God would punish me or reject me if I wasn't good enough. If I messed up too many times or didn't improve quickly enough, I feared he would punish me somehow. To this day, I still struggle with the deeply rooted fear that if I am not grateful enough or if I don't do things right, God will take away the people or things I love the most. I can't tell you how many times I've had a frustrating day with one of my children, only to lie in bed at night and cry because I'm so scared that God will take them away from me for not appreciating them enough. I know it's not true-- that this isn't how God works-- but that fear is still there in the back of my mind, haunting me at my weakest moments.
Most teens who have grown up with their parents' faith reach a point where they begin to question it all for themselves. This is an important step toward making their beliefs their own rather than simply regurgitating what they've heard all their lives. When I reached that point, though, I was so frustrated with all I had seen and heard that I more or less started over from scratch. Throughout my late teens and early 20s, I reexamined and reassembled my faith, and this time it was truly my own. And one thing I had to work through was whether I should be following God out of fear. As I learned more about God's love and grace, I felt this gentle nudge in my soul that this was it-- this was the point, this was what I hadn't understood before. I mean, I "knew;" I could have talked to you about love and grace, but I didn't really know. In my heart, I didn't get it.
This post has been long enough, so tomorrow I'll talk about the other half of it: following God in hopes of getting certain rewards.