The Fear of God (3)
Praise the LORD!
Blessed is the man who fears the LORD,
Who delights greatly in His commandments. Psalm 112.1
Who fears the Lord?
Because God is the gracious and faithful Provider of all our needs, and because apart from His steadfast love and mercy we would not even exist, we fear Him, for we know that we do not deserve any of His largesse, but only His wrath. Fearing Him we show that we are grateful for His bounty and confident in His steadfast love, that He will not remove these from us. We give thanks for His goodness and humbly beseech His continuing favor and blessings. Fearing Him, far from leaving us withdrawn from and cowering before the Lord, finds us smack in His very Presence, participating in the pleasure with which He takes pleasure in us.
It seems incongruous, I know. And this is as it should be. For fearing God and so knowing His pleasure is a great mystery. They are relating properly to God who, having come through faith in Jesus Christ to know the Father, understanding that they have been delivered from His eternal wrath and are daily lavished with His undeserved blessings, now live in love for and fear of Him.
What characterizes such people? That is, how can we know those who love and fear the Lord? And how can they maintain this right focus and intensity of fear as the starting-point for a heart that engages all the affections as God intends?
More to the point, how can we be sure that we love and fear the Lord?
The psalmist offers this additional insight: they fear the Lord who delight in His commandments. The reference here is clearly to the Law of God – the Ten Commandments and the statutes, precepts, and rules which guide us in the blameless life of love for God and our neighbors (Lk. 1.6; Matt. 22.34-30). Paul insists that the Law of God is holy and righteous and good (Rom. 7.12), and it is appropriate for those who delight in the God Who gave such laws to delight in His Law as well. Delighting greatly in God’s Law brings us more fully into the knowledge of God – His holiness, justice, and mercy – and thus provides us with ample reasons both to fear and love Him.
Delighting in God’s Law
But what does it mean to delight in the Law of God? We should note that the word delights is, in the Hebrew, a participle, and thus intends to describe the character of a person, rather than something he or she might do on occasion. So one who delights in God’s Law does so at all times, in every situation, and not simply as a religious exercise appropriate, let’s say, to corporate worship or private devotions.
How can we thus delight in God’s Law and demonstrate that we fear Him and delight in Him?
Well, in the first place, we cannot delight in what we do not know. From time to time, Susie and I have enjoyed a wonderful dinner of rice, black-eyed peas, and chicken livers, swathed in bacon. Prior to marrying Susie, I would never have thought that such food could delight my palate so richly. I remember, as a child, seeing my mother and grandmother enjoy a lunch of liver, onions, and bacon from time to time. And I recall vowing that I could never eat such horrid smelling food. It took marrying Susie for me to learn otherwise, and to take delight in this and many other foods – except, of course, eggplant – which I would otherwise never have known.
If we would delight in the Law, therefore, we must first come to know it. And if you are married to the Lord through the grace of His Son, you’ll receive what He sets before you for the nourishment of your soul, and will find it to be not the onerous burden you suppose, but a means to growing in the fear and love of God.
For many believers, this will be a new experience – like sitting down to chicken livers for the first time. In the contemporary Church, we have become persuaded that the Law of God is not for us. We’re “under grace” rather than “under the Law.” We fear that keeping the Law might turn us into legalists or detract from the gracious salvation we know through Jesus Christ.
But once you begin to read, study, and meditate on the Law of God, you will discover such clear guidance in loving God and neighbors, such profound wisdom and beauty, and such a wealth of common-sense instruction on maintaining a just and orderly society, that you will not be able to help yourself.
As you develop a taste for God’s Law your delight in it will grow. And as your delight grows, you will show that you fear the Lord as He intends. God has told us in His Law that He will discipline us when we ignore, transgress, or otherwise disobey His Law. And we know that would not be a pleasant experience (Heb.12.3-11). And given that the Law is so holy and righteous and good, we delight to obey it, and thus demonstrate that we fear God even as we delight in Him.
The righteous person delights to meditate in God’s Law, day and night (Ps. 1), and he finds no contradiction whatsoever in the salvation which we receive by grace through faith and the salvation which we unpack through obedience to the gracious Law of God. It is the great burden of the Spirit of God, Who dwells within us, to bring us into the fear of God by teaching us His Law and enabling us to keep it (Ezek. 36.26, 27; Rom. 8.5-8; Phil. 2.13).
Doing the Law
But it doesn’t stop in merely reading and meditating on the Law.
As we begin to delight in studying the Law of God, we will delight even more in obeying it. We will learn to say with the psalmist, “Oh how I love Your law!” (Ps. 119.97) and the Law will become such a source of joy to us that we will hasten to add, “I delight to do your will, O my God” (Ps. 40.8). In doing the Law of God, we walk in the paths of love for God and neighbor that mark out the course of divine grace as it flows through us. Rivers of living water will issue from our words and deeds as the Spirit of God fills, teaches, and empowers us to obey the Law of God (Ezek. 36.26, 27; Jn. 7.37-39). We will discover depths of transforming grace and power that we have never known before as we work out our salvation in fear and trembling by submitting to the work of God’s Spirit as He teaches us His Law (Phil. 2.12, 13).
They who will not delight in and walk in the Law of God show that they neither fear nor love the Lord Who saved them for this purpose (Eph. 2.10).
The Law of God is not a burden to be grudgingly learned and obeyed. Instead, it marks the course of full and abundant life to all who delight in it (Lev. 8.1-5). They who fear the Lord will nurture and manifest that fear by delighting in His Law. Loving God and fearing Him thus go hand in hand, through the joyful, consistent, increasing study and practice of the holy and righteous and good Law of God.
1. How would you describe your attitude toward and familiarity with the Law of God? On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 = Greatly Delight, and 1 = I’m not sure, what number would you assign yourself? Why?
2. What could you do, starting today, to begin delighting in the Law of God, so that the Spirit can work within you to will and do of God’s good pleasure?
3. We do not keep the Law in order to be saved, but because we are saved. Explain.
Next steps: Look up all the passages cited in today’s article. Taking them all together, write a brief description of what you think your attitude should be toward the Law of God. Seek the Lord in prayer to guide you more fully into that attitude, and to strengthen your soul for fearing the Lord.
T. M. Moore
Your soul in the Kingdom of God
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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.