Fearing God (1)
You, Yourself, are to be feared;
And who may stand in Your presence
When once You are angry? Psalm 76.7
Believers are called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matt. 22.37). This is the first and great commandment. Every Christian knows this, and no small part of effective discipleship involves cultivating that frame of mind and disposition of heart which lead to loving obedience to God through Jesus Christ.
We love God because He first loved us (1 Jn. 4.19). We must learn to love God, since loving Him does not come naturally to us; but all believers will insist they love God, and they would love to love Him more.
But the same God Who commands our love also commands us to fear Him: “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul…” (Deut. 10.12). This is not simply an Old Testament mandate that we can perhaps easily dismiss. The Lord Jesus echoed this command in Matthew 10.28: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.’’ Paul echoes the same instruction, insisting that the fear of God is that which defines and sustains our quest for holiness (2 Cor. 7.1).
We don’t hear much about fearing the Lord these days. In fact, about the last thing many pastors seem to want to tell their people is that they should in any way relate to God with fear. God is our Father, Jesus is our Friend and Brother, and the Holy Spirit is our Comforter. What’s to fear there?
In large segments of the believing community today we have concluded that fear is not a proper affection for conducting a relationship with God.
Obviously, that conviction needs reconsidering.
As a result of the neglect of teaching and instruction on the fear of God, most believers do not fear the Lord, and, frankly, their lifestyles demonstrate as much. If we feared the Lord, we would be mindful of offending or disappointing Him, or in any way provoking Him to exercise discipline against us. If we feared the Lord, we might tremble for our country, as Jefferson did, since we are an increasingly sinful people, and God is a just and all-powerful God.
When the only affection we nurture toward God is love, we aren’t likely to obey Him as we should. And when we fail in obeying God, we not only miss out on the full and abundant life He wants us to enjoy, but we demonstrate that we don’t really love Him at all (Jn. 15.10).
But why should believers fear God? Apart from the fact, as we have seen, that we are commanded to fear God, we should consider the very nature of the Deity. As Asaph points out in Psalm 76, God is powerful to overcome all adversaries (v. 3). He is majestic beyond all description (v. 4); wrathful toward those who oppose Him (vv. 5, 6; cf. Rom. 1.18-20); and able to subdue and punish those who arouse His anger (vv. 7-9). The writer of Hebrews reminds us that, as our loving heavenly Father, it pleases God to discipline His children from time to time, and, since no discipline is ever pleasant, we should regard the very prospect of discipline with a certain amount of fear (Heb. 12.7-11). If we do not fear the discipline of the Lord, then we will be more inclined to indulge those behaviors that provoke God’s discipline against us.
More than awe
Sometimes people want to reduce the fear of God to a kind of reverential awe. That’s a component, to be sure. But the fear God commands is more than awe, although it includes that. The fear of God is a healthy dread of what the powerful, majestic, and holy God might do to demonstrate His indignation and impatience with recalcitrant sinners such as we.
But besides the fact of God’s commandment to fear Him, as well as His worthinessto be feared, there are the many benefits that accrue to those who nurture and sustain a healthy fear of God. Nurturing the fear of the Lord opens wide doors of opportunity to enjoy full and abundant life in ways that, apart from the fear of the Lord, we can never fully know.
To be sure, in fearing God we do not leave off loving Him. These are two sides of the same coin. Our love for God can only grow as we nurture fear of Him, because the enormity of His everyday grace becomes even more starkly evident against the backdrop of our own unworthiness, and of what we deserve at the hands of our holy and just God.
If you love God, truly love Him, you will want to fear Him as well; for as we shall see in this series, these two seemingly opposite affections create a healthy tension in the soul, where righteousness and abundant life can flourish.
1. Why do you think the fear of God is neglected in churches today?
2. Is there something about us, about the kind of beings we are, that needs to fear God? Explain.
3. How can fearing God help us grow in love for Him?
Next steps – Conversation: How do your Christian friends understand the fear of God? Ask a few of them. How do they experience the fear of God? What effect does fearing God have in their lives?
T. M. Moore
What does it mean to know the Lord? How does knowing the Lord relate to fearing Him, and to enjoying full and abundant life in Him? Our book, To Know Him, addresses these and other questions concerning our relationship with God. Order your copy by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.