Toward a Strong Soul (4)
…the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment… 2 Peter 2.9
Love of self
We have seen that the fear of God is the primary affection to nurture within our heart. The fear of God, together with love for Him, engenders every positive affection that conduces to stabilizing and strengthening our soul for a life of fruitful endeavor in the Lord.
But it is very easy to lose sight of the fear of God when love for self takes priority of place in our hearts.
Peter was very concerned about the presence of false teachers within the churches of northern Asia Minor. These were not outsiders who denied Jesus Christ and were seeking to woo others from their faith in Him. They were people in local churches who appealed to members of those churches to follow them rather than the orthodox pastors and leaders of their congregations. They preyed on and reaped a harvest of “unstable souls”, as Peter called them, and appealed to these vulnerable believers with the same enticements that appealed to them.
As we saw in our previous installment, that meant turning the faith of Jesus Christ into a self-centered free-for-all, as they encouraged people to seek the desires of the flesh as their reason for following Jesus. These people, and all who went after them, were not true Christians; rather, they were “dogs”, Peter said, unstable in their souls, and not children of God, whose true colors were coming out in their rebellion against the Lord.
We want to make sure this doesn’t happen to us.
No fear of God
A second characteristic of these false teachers, which they must have used in appealing to the unstable souls who followed them, was their lack of fear of the Lord. Their view of God was that He existed to allow them to pursue whatever mattered to them. He was not a God of judgment or wrath; therefore, there was no reason to fear Him (2 Pet. 2.9-13). We do not fear the God of grace; all He asks is that we love Him, they insisted.
Love Him, and live as you please.
Nor did they see any reason to take His Word at face value. They were ignorant of large parts of the Word and so fell into blaspheming by teaching things that were not true – such as, that God wants you to be happy and to have all your material desires fulfilled, and that He is not a God to be feared. Or that God accepts you just as you are and doesn’t require you to change. A hermeneutic of convenience took hold in these false teachers, which allowed them to make the Word of God say whatever they thought people wanted to hear.
This will always be the case where the fear of God is minimized, ignored, or denied. And those who do so are heedless of the judgment that awaits them in the Presence of the Lord.
Called to fear
Peter used the example of Balaam to refer to the false teachers of his day, and, by implication, all who followed them. Balaam, you will recall, was willing to curse the people of Israel if he could make some money out of the deal (Num. 22-24). Even though God kept telling him to bless Israel, so that he refused to condemn them, Balaam kept holding out the hope that he might yet find some way to satisfy the desires of those who sought to employ him (2 Pet. 2.15, 16).
People who do this, Peter suggests, are mad with lust and choose their peculiar view of God to gratify their desires rather than glorify Him. In the same way, these false teachers and their followers were willing to separate from the churches established by the apostles to pursue their own selfish interests. They didn’t fear the Lord, they were not sticklers for orthodoxy, and they knew how to appeal to people’s self-interest. They split the churches of Christ apart, and saw Him only as a means to their fleshly ends.
Fear and love
We don’t hear much about the fear of the Lord these days. But Paul says that believers are called to pursue holiness “in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7.1). You cannot have a strong and stable soul without the fear of the Lord being the first affection nurtured in your heart. It’s hard to see how anyone could be a sincere follower of Jesus Christ without being devoted to growing in holiness, motivated by the fear of God.
The fear of God is just that – dread of His might and power, and of what He can do to keep His people on the path of godliness (cf. Heb. 12.1-11). The discipline of the Lord is not pleasant, and we should fear coming under it. We should fear it so much that, rather than yield to the desires of our flesh, we earnestly seek the Lord and His good and perfect will at all times.
Only those unstable in their soul care nothing for the fear of God. The true Christian knows that God loves us so much that He will not sit idly by as we turn aside to indulge our flesh in things contrary to the Word of God. The fear of God, coupled with our love for Him, keeps sincere believers on the path of holiness. We will stabilize and strengthen our souls to the extent that we nurture fear of God to keep in check our natural, self-serving inclinations.
1. Why do we say that the fear of God is the primary affection to nurture in our souls?
2. How does the fear of God help to keep in check our natural, self-serving inclinations?
3. Suggest some ways to nurture the fear of God as a daily discipline.
Next steps – Demonstration: What will you do today to show God that you fear and love Him?
T. M. Moore
All the installments in this “Strong Souls” series are available in PDF 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.