People have a lot of fears. Here’s the top ten list of our favorite phobias from polls taken over the years:
1. Arachnophobia: The fear of spiders.
2. Ophidiophobia: The fear of snakes.
3. Acrophobia: The fear of heights.
4. Agoraphobia: The fear of situations in which escape is difficult (ya think?).
5. Cynophobia: The fear of dogs.
6. Astraphobia: The fear of thunder and lightning.
7. Trypanophobia: The fear of injections (so much for getting a vaccination to cure this phobia . . .)
8. Social Phobias: The fear of social situations. In many cases, these phobias can become so severe that people avoid events, places, and people that are likely to trigger an anxiety attack.
9. Pteromerhanophobia: The fear of flying. (or perhaps the fear of unpronounceable words?)
10. Mysophobia: The fear of germs or dirt (not a good phobia to have in 2021).
That’s not even to mention things like:
Drillophobia – fear of going to the dentist
Twitophobia – the fear of having your life destroyed by one stupid twitter post (selfie from the Capitol anyone?)
Textophobia – the fear that you might miss a really important text in the 1.37 nano seconds since the last time you checked you phone
There is, however, one phobia that did not break the top ten, but should stand at #1 – Theophobia! The Fear of God.
In my last post I provided a theological definition of the Fear of the Lord, but spent the bulk of the time priming the pump for an appreciation of biblical fear by describing five essential Christian qualities that are produced by fearing God. I drew on a number of Biblical texts to demonstrate that the fear of the Lord is: the beginning of wisdom, the foundation of holiness, the origin of love, the essence of worship and the basis for security. More broadly, I am convinced that the fear of the Lord is the proper motivation for all other responses to God and His Word. Perhaps we could say that the fear of the Lord is a little like oil in your car. Its presence is essential for the components of the engine to function together smoothly and efficiently. Remove the oil and everything starts to break down very quickly.
With that in mind, lets dive into the definition of the fear of the Lord so that we might know how to cultivate this essential character quality. Remember, The Fear of the Lord is:
The delightful, dreadful, consuming, reverential awe of God which flows from an understanding of His majestic character and results in increasing submission and obedience for the purpose of bringing glory to His name.
Fear is an attitude of the heart that is produced by the Holy Spirit and cultivated by faith as we read the Word of God
To delight in the fear of the Lord is to derive utmost pleasure and joy in thinking about, and responding to the greatness, power, majesty, love, grace, and compassion of God. This delight is not a visceral emotional response to God like the delight of consuming a triple chocolate fudge brownie Blizzard on a sweltering summer evening, but more like the settled, joyful, confident delight that comes from basking in the love of your spouse as you celebrate your 75 wedding anniversary. The delight of holy fear is an affection of the heart not a fluctuating emotion.
Lest delight seem like an inappropriate affection to combine with fear, the book of Isaiah tells us that the coming Messiah would Himself “delight in the fear of the Lord, “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And He will delight in the fear of the Lord, And He will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make a decision by what His ears hear” (Isaiah 11:2-3).
We delight in that which we value. The fear of the Lord is of greatest value to one who has partaken of His unsurpassed blessings. Like a piece of fine jewelry, or a vase inlaid with gold causes us pleasure and joy to look upon – so does the character and nature of God as He exerts his goodness on our behalf.
A true fear of the Lord causes us to delight in obeying His commands as well, Praise the Lord! How blessed is the man who fears the Lord, Who greatly delights in His commandments (Ps 112:1). Consider, if you were an engineer, how delighted you would be to have Elon Musk personally call you up and ask you to be part of his design team for the Mars spaceship. What if he then provided you an office next to his and daily called you in for a personal briefing on how the project was doing? Every time he ordered you to do something, you would pinch yourself to make sure you were really getting the opportunity to participate in his work.
The fear of the Lord is the Christian’s highest delight.
Holy Dread combines an understanding of God’s great power, might, holiness and steadfast love, with a cognizance of His hatred of sin and willingness and power to judge it. This leads to the fear of displeasing, failing to bring glory to, or incurring the discipline of one we love deeply. C.S. Lewis describes this kind of relationship with God in his allegorical presentation of Aslan the Lion in the Chronicles of Narnia. Aslan is strong, good, awesome, and powerful, yet also intimately relational. At one point in the book, Susan, when learning from Mr. Beaver that Aslan is a lion says, “Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” To which Mr. Beaver replies, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
This Holy dread does not cause us to recoil from the Lord in craven fear, but enables us to have absolute confidence and security in the power and presence of God – removing all fear of worldly powers or circumstances. This healthy, fear-reducing dread of God is described by Isaiah:
“You are not to say, ‘It is a conspiracy!’ In regard to all that this people call a conspiracy, And you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it. “It is the Lord of hosts whom you should regard as holy. And He shall be your fear, And He shall be your dread. “Then He shall become a sanctuary; But to both the houses of Israel, a stone to strike and a rock to stumble over, And a snare and a trap for the inhabitants of Jerusalem (Is 8:12-14).
Although the world mocks this concept of God, we would be fools not to have a sense of overwhelming smallness as we enter into the presence of the greatest power in the universe – even if we know that power is well disposed toward us. A pounding waterfall is overwhelmingly beautiful at a distance, but as you draw closer, its power carries a sense of uneasiness, as though you could be instantly caught up and swept away in its deluge. Christians are fond of the image of believers as tiny infants being held in the strong arms of a loving father. However, the little baby knows nothing of the power, wisdom, or motivations of the father. We do, and this brings both delight and dread.
‘Now hear this, O foolish and senseless people, Who have eyes but do not see; Who have ears but do not hear. ‘Do you not fear Me?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do you not tremble in My presence? For I have placed the sand as a boundary for the sea, An eternal decree, so it cannot cross over it. Though the waves toss, yet they cannot prevail; Though they roar, yet they cannot cross over it. ‘But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart; They have turned aside and departed. Je 5:21-23
Our God remains a consuming fire, even though we are protected from being consumed by the inferno. A volcano is still an awesome thing even when viewed from relative safety! Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:28-20).
Holy dread comes from an understanding of God’s hatred of sin and His love for His Son. Jerry Bridges states, “God has no favorite children whom He will allow to get away with disobedience. God is no indulgent grandfather who overlooks our sin. Some people . . . seem to think that suffering God’s fatherly displeasure and dishonoring His holy name is somehow viewed by God as less sinful or heinous because of Christ. In reality, it is the other way around. How dare those who have partaken of Christ’s holy sacrifice choose to dishonor that sacrifice by indulging in wanton sin” (Bridges, The Joy of Fearing God). The apostle Peter puts this succinctly:
If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.( 1 Pe 1:17-19).
The fear of the Lord produces a Holy dread that deepens and strengths our love for God and His character.
Fear is not an attitude we turn on or off depending on the situation. It is an all-consuming passion. Every aspect of our lives is to be lived out in the fear of the Lord. This fear nullifies every other fear. When we are consumed with the fear of the Lord, there is no time to be distracted by petty concerns, Do not let your heart envy sinners, But live in the fear of the Lord always” ( Pr 23:17). King Solomon, at the end of a survey of every pleasure and vice that life had to offer states, The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil (Ec 12:13-14).
Being consumed with the fear of the Lord means living with the understanding that everything we do is scrutinized by our loving, gracious, Holy Lord and so we desire to bring greatest pleasure and honor to Him.
Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences (2 Co 5:9-11)
What consumes you? Is it politics, sports, conspiracies, exercise, morality, making money, finding popularity, having a boyfriend or girlfriend, gaining a spouse? Each of those things can be a good pursuit (except, perhaps, conspiracies), but only as coming underneath a fear of the Lord, not in place of it.
This fear-driven reverence entails deepest respect, admiration and devotion to God in response to His greatness and majesty. To revere someone is to give them the value they deserve. Thus, reverent fear is not a favor we give to God, it is His due:
There is none like You, O Lord; You are great, and great is Your name in might. Who would not fear You, O King of the nations? Indeed it is Your due! For among all the wise men of the nations And in all their kingdoms, There is none like You (Je 10:6-7).
All men – believers and unbelievers alike will bow the knee before Jesus! We reflect our true understanding of His worthiness through our attitude and actions of reverent fear.
True fear is “awe-ful”. It involves being completely overwhelmed and continually amazed at the infinite worth, dignity, power, glory, love and grace of God. This awe will never fade, for it is enhanced the closer we draw to God (we will have holy fear even in heaven!). One look at God’s creation should stir in us a fearful awe:
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, And by the breath of His mouth all their host. He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap; He lays up the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast (Ps 33:6-9)
Fearful awe is also produced as we contemplate the work of God in redemption. We see, in the Word of God, the great power of God displayed in Christ who has conquered sin, death, hell, and Satan. Surely this is a greater deliverance than the escape of the Israelites from the finite powers of the Egyptian army:
When Israel saw the great power which the Lord had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in His servant Moses.Ex 14:31
We stand in ever increasing awe of God as we take hold of the forgiveness He provides and begin to recognize the depth of the sacrifice made, the value of the price paid, and the lavishness of the love displayed to make our forgiveness possible. “If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, That You may be feared (Ps 130:3-4).
Every time we seek forgiveness we should fear the Lord more, have a greater reverence and respect for Him, a greater delight in his provision for us, and greater dread of his holy, righteous character.
As we finish this discussion of the fear of the Lord, take some time to consider the following questions:
1. In what kinds of things do you take greatest delight? Are you seeking, by faith, to be delighted in the Trinity?
2. Is God increasingly weighty to you? Do you regularly bring before you mind His might, power, lavish love, hatred of sin, fatherly discipline, absolute holiness? 3. Do these character qualities produce a dread at displeasing him of falling under his fatherly hand of discipline?
4. What things consume you? What pursuits characterize your life? What things do you pursue when you have free time? Do you dabble in the fear of the Lord or are you consumed with it?
5. Who do you respect more than anyone else? Whose name and character would you never even think of impugning? Who do you hold in the highest esteem? To whom do you bend the knee in respectful worship?
6. For whom would you drop everything just for the chance to be in their presence? Who takes your breath away at the thought of their wondrous works?
There are a great many things to fear in this world, but only fear we are to cultivate – the fear of the Lord. May you know fear, and know, no fear!