First, Fear Him

Yes, fear Him. 

Loving God (2)

You, Yourself, are to be feared;
And who may stand in Your presence
When once You are angry?
Psalm 76.7

Teach me Your way, O LORD;
I will walk in Your truth;
Unite my heart to fear Your name.
Psalm 86.11

Fear? Really?
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, and the foundation from which works of love flow toward our neighbors. As we have seen, God our Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, and holy Lord is worthy of all the love we can direct to Him, all the time. Every Christian knows this, and no small part of effective discipleship involves cultivating that frame of mind and disposition of heart which leads 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 in order to love Him, we must follow His directives, and love Him from within the framework of love He has commanded.

And loving God as He would be loved begins in fearing Him.

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 may think we can 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 echoed the same instruction, insisting that the fear of God is that which defines and sustains our quest for holiness and a life of good works (2 Cor. 7.1).

Now 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 on the basis of 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 sectors of the believing community today we have concluded that fear is not a proper affection for conducting a relationship with God.

Obviously, if God’s Word is to be trusted, that conviction is wrong.

Why fear?
Let’s do a thought experiment (Einstein did them, and look where it got him!). Let’s imagine you are in your home, in a favorite room in your home, relaxed and at ease, and well-satisfied with yourself. Can you see yourself sitting there in your favorite chair? Lookin’ good.

Now imagine that the ceiling of that room suddenly dissolves, and you see, descending toward you, a light so bright you cannot bear to look at it. Smoke begins to fill the room, but for some reason, you can’t move. You’re frozen to your chair, as the light continues to descend, and grow brighter, filling the room around you, and the smoke grows thicker and more ominous. The room is beginning to shake violently.

Suddenly, you see what appears to be the outlines of a throne. The light seems to be stationed there, radiant as glowing jasper, too brilliant to gaze upon, and descending closer, ever closer. As your whole body begins to tremble uncontrollably, you hear loud, deep, surrounding voices proclaiming,

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
The whole earth is full of His glory!”

How do you respond? Do you say, “Oh hey, Daddy! Come on in! What fun!” Or do you feel more like saying, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Is. 6.3-5)? Or, “And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead” (Rev. 1.17)?

Yeah. Me, too.

Because of the neglect of 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 churches and our country, 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 – or what we may think of as love – we aren’t likely to obey Him as we should. And when we fail in obeying God, we miss out on the full and abundant life He wants us to enjoy. Fear Him first, then obey Him and love Him. That’s the order God Himself commands.

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 God. 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, 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 simple awe, although it includes that. The fear of God is a healthy dread of what our 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 worthiness to 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. When all the affections of our heart are united in the fear of God, then we will know joy, compassion, love, and peace in ever-increasing measure.

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 wonder and 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.

You will only love God, truly love Him, when you fear Him as well; for these two seemingly opposite affections create a healthy tension in the soul, where righteousness and abundant life can flourish unto good works of love.

For reflection
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 – Preparation: Seek the Lord in prayer. Praise and thank Him, until joy rises within you; then ask the Lord to help you fear Him as you should.

T. M. Moore

For additional insight to the contemporary relevance of God’s Law, download the three studies in our Scriptorium series, “The Law of God: Miscellanies” 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.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore