So, how is your New Year going?
Wednesday, January 6th, 2021 is a day that will live in our memory for a long time. At the very least it is the day that we realized that the New Year was not going to provide a magic cure for the things that ailed us in 2020. Our capitol was occupied, people died, social media erupted, and the accusations and recriminations began to fly.
Where will it all end?
If you were hoping for an erudite analysis of where everything is headed socially, politically, or even evangelically, then you will be sorely disappointed. I am not a prophet. I really have no idea what the ramifications of such chaos will be. However, I do know this. In the midst of the craziness that is 2021, it is time to focus on, and be consumed by, the one thing that really matters – our relationship to the Mighty, Awesome, Sovereign, Loving, Gracious Creator. Your thoughts about God and your response to what you know about Him are the things about you that matter the most.
Perhaps our greatest need in this fearful hour is to cultivate the one fear that replaces all others. The fear of the Lord.
We live in a culture where God has no “weight.” Many claim to believe in Him and even to trust Him and yet have no understanding of His character or His requirements. The evangelical church has become guilty of presenting a “consumer friendly” God who adapts to our every whim and accommodates our every desire. We have retained the proper terminology about God with little of the Biblical content. Thus, we sing powerful songs of worship and praise to God and yet in practice treat Him as a sort of loving grandfather who indulges our desires and coddles us in our rebellion.
Additionally, we have allowed ourselves to depend on idols such as circumstances, political and economic stability, family happiness, and physical health for our joy and security. Unrestrained idolatry has produced in us rampant fear when our gods do not respond as we desire. We have relegated God to a secondary position in our lives and refused to properly honor and trust Him. A whirlwind of anxiety, anger, and hopelessness is the end result.
In Romans 3:10-18, the apostle Paul begins his description of the depravity of the human condition with the statement, “there is none righteous, not even one.” After seven more verses of similar, condemning verbiage, he summarizes the nature of man’s heart with, “There is no fear of God before his eyes.”
If it is the basic nature of the unregenerate heart to have no fear of God, then a true fear must be embedded in the heart of believers by the Holy Spirit at the time of regeneration. So, every Christian has the “raw material” of godly fear in the core of their being. Unfortunately, even true believers can often be described as having “no fear of God before our eyes” when we do not cultivate this virtue. We need to regain a proper vision of God, one that encompasses all His attributes and gives Him the awe, respect, love, submission, and obedience that His nature deserves.
The fear of the Lord is not some outdated Puritan doctrine, nor the result of a psychological imbalance leading to irrational anxiety in the presence of God. The fear of the Lord is a Holy Spirit empowered attitude of the heart which is the foundation for a true understanding of God and thus provides the proper motivation for a saving and sanctifying response to God’s Word.
At its core, the fear of the Lord is the appropriate incentive for all other responses to God and His word.
My purpose in this first article is to introduce a biblical definition of the fear of the Lord. But, before providing an in-depth explanation, I need to make a convincing case as to the importance of having this fear. In this way, I hope to provide motivation for keen attention to the meaning of Biblical fear. To ignore this step is like launching into an analysis of the mechanics and mathematics of the forces that enable an airplane to fly, without first whetting the appetite for the benefits of air travel!
The Definition of the Fear of the Lord
There are more than 150 verses on the fear of the Lord in the Old and New Testaments. A synthesis of these usages moves us toward a full orbed definition as follows:
The delightful, dreadful, consuming, reverential awe of God that flows from an understanding of His holy character and results in a life of principled obedience for the purpose of bringing glory to His name.
This description includes our heart attitude toward God, the knowledge of the character of God, and an obedient response to God. We will explore these components in detail in my second post.
For now, however, my purpose is to present the biblical evidence for the importance of having this fear. There are five major areas of the Christian life that have Biblical fear as their foundation.
The Product of the Fear of the Lord
1. The Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. Pr 9:10
Wisdom is the Spirit-empowered application of biblical principles in any given situation in order to produce a God-glorifying result. If the church is characterized by anything today it is a lack this kind of discernment. We have more Christian books and more spiritual information at our disposal than at any time in history, yet we grow increasingly shallow and weak.
Proverbs tell us that no wisdom is possible apart from a fear of the Lord. And so, even repentance and faith, the first acts of wisdom that the believer performs, must be preceded by Holy Fear. Then, as we cultivate a proper appreciation and submission to God’s holy character and mighty power, we will begin to pursue conformity to the image of Christ “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:3). We must first honor and respect the all-wise creator before we will exercise the wisdom He desires for His people.
2. The Fear of the Lord is the Foundation of Holiness
Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” Ex 20:20
A proper awe, reverence, dread, and delight in the absolute beauty and perfection of God’s character prompts in us a longing to imitate God and a passion to eliminate anything that might displease Him. He is so holy that merely being in His presence causes us to recognize our sinfulness and inadequacy. This was true of the prophet Isaiah who, when He saw the Lord Jesus in His thrice holy perfections, stated:
“Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Is 6:3-5
Joshua “fell on his face to the earth” before the captain of the Host of the Lord (Josh 5:14-15). Peter told Jesus, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man,” (Luke 5:8), John fell at the feet of Jesus “as though dead” (Rev 1)
Not only is God intrinsically holy is His nature, He has a holy hatred of sin. For this reason we need to be very careful of our actions lest we dishonor His Holy name.
“Now then let the fear of the Lord be upon you; be very careful what you do, for the Lord our God will have no part in unrighteousness or partiality or the taking of a bribe.” 2 Ch 19:7
This call to holiness motivated by true fear is not only an OT concept. While faith enables us to believe that God will keep His promises, only holy fear will motivate us to pursue the holiness He requires for those promises to be fulfilled.
Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. 2 Co 7:1
Jerry Bridges says in his book, The Joy of Fearing God, “Simply being afraid of God will lead to distrust and disobedience, but fearing God in the biblical sense . . . will keep us from sinning.”
3. The Fear of the Lord is the Origin of Love
One of the greatest areas of confusion regarding Biblical fear is its relationship to love. Most believers see a conflict between fear and love. This is only true if the fear referenced is a cringing, shameful, fear of ultimate punishment. The Bible teaches that true fear drives out unbiblical fear and is the foundation of a true love of God. The progression is as follows: God loves us, the Holy Spirit enables us to be stunned and overwhelmed by love, this understanding ignites true biblical fear, out of that fear we love God and others. John Bunyan explains, “Christian, let God’s distinguishing love to you be a motive to you to fear Him greatly. Remember that this fear of the Lord is His treasure, a choice jewel.”
Love without an honor, respect, awe, and dread of a holy, all powerful God is an earthly love – full of emotion, good intention, and desire for intimacy, but with no real understanding of who we are entering into a relationship with. Theologian John Murray states, “The fear of God in which godliness consists is the fear which constrains adoration and love. It is the fear which consists in awe, reverence, honor, and worship, and all of these on the highest level of exercise. It is the reflex of our consciousness of the transcendent majesty and holiness of God.”
The link between love and fear is seen in multiple passages of Scripture of which Deut. 10:12 is representative:
“Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, Dt 10:12
Old Testament commentators Keil and Delitzch provide an insightful interpretation of this verse, “The fear of the Lord, which springs from the knowledge of one’s own unholiness in the presence of the holy God, ought to form the one leading emotion in the heart prompting to walk in all the ways of the Lord, and to maintain morality of conduct in its strictest form. This fear, which first enables us to comprehend the mercy of God, awakens love, the fruit of which is manifested in serving God with all the heart and all the soul”
And now for the verse that you have been holding in reserve as I have made my case for fear being the foundation of love, 1 John 4:18.
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.
Whenever the concept of Biblical fear is raised, this passage is nearly always quoted in rebuttal. This prejudice demonstrates the danger of using words without understanding their context. “Fear” in 1 John 4:18 involves punishment and so is not the Holy fear that the Bible commends. The fear that love “casts out,” is craven, ungodly fear: the terror of Christ’s presence brought on by a refusal to repent of sin and submit to His Lordship. In contrast, the one who truly fears God, has a true love for Christ and looks forward to His return with confidence and joy.
4. The fear of the Lord is the essence of Worship
When there is no fear of God, only shallow, hypocritical, self-serving worship exists. Jerry Bridges writes, “In order to render heartfelt worship to God, we must be gripped in the depth of our being by His majesty, holiness, and love; otherwise our praise and adoration may be no more than empty words.”
Even in heaven where worship is perfect, the fear of the Lord remains.
And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” And a voice came from the throne, saying, “Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great.” Re 19:4-5.
Job is perhaps the greatest Biblical illustration of Godly fear producing true worship. God introduces Satan to Job by stating that Job is, “a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil” (Job 1:8). Satan questions whether Job only fears God because of the protection he has received, “does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side . . . But put forth your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse you to your face” (10-11).
Yet, when God allows Satan to take all that Job has, he demonstrates his true fear with heartfelt (and heart wrenching) worship.
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God. Job 1:20-22
5. The Fear of the Lord is the basis for Security
True rest in God as our strong tower of deliverance can only come through godly fear.
There is no need to be afraid of circumstances when we have a true fear of the sovereign Lord of all. No set of events can take us outside His comprehensive love and power. Just knowing God is sovereign is insufficient – fearing the God of sovereign providence will enable you to lay your head on the pillow at night without anxiety.
The fear of the Lord leads to life, So that one may sleep satisfied, untouched by evil. Pr 19:23
Why should we fear the greatest of men or the mightiest of their armies. God is infinitely greater and He is working on our behalf.
The king is not saved by a mighty army; A warrior is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a false hope for victory; Nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength. Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, On those who hope for His lovingkindness, To deliver their soul from death And to keep them alive in famine. Ps 33:16-19
Even death has no sting when we fear the one who conquered the grave and is the very essence of life itself.
and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. Heb 2:15
It only makes sense that true fear should be reserved for the one Being in the universe who is worthy of it. To fear anyone or anything else is neither logical nor beneficial.
“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Mt 10:28
When we fear God we take comfort in His power to care for and preserve us.
Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ Is 41:10
In fact, until we cultivate true fear of the Lord we will not be able to benefit fully from the richness of the Holy Spirit’’s comfort. And the church will not grow as it should.
So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase. Ac 9:3
In our next post we will take an in-depth look at the meaning of fear, but for today, what will you do with what you have learned? Will you consider your responses to the difficulties you face in 2021 and choose to grow in wisdom, holiness, love, worship, and trust? Or will you continue to be consumed with your circumstances.
Know Fear and Know No Fear!