Concerning the Fear of God

And why we need to nurture it.

Michael Reeves, Rejoice & Tremble (Wheaton: Crossway, 2021).

This is as good a treatment of what it means to fear God as I think we are likely to see in this generation. Reeves distinguishes between sinful fear of God, which Christians should not have, and filial fear of God, which we must. The former leads us to turn from God, so that we flee His presence. Filial fear is coupled with love, and makes us turn to God with trembling and wonder. That we must fear God is abundantly clear from His Word, but this does not mean we are afraid of Him. Rather, the fear of God that Scripture calls us to seek creates a bond of wonder, adoration, and love between us and the Lord, and helps us increase in the likeness of Jesus Christ.

The lack of a proper fear of God has moral consequences, leading to moral confusion and a heightened state of anxiety. This is what we see in our world today, and it is “the fallout of a cultural loss of God as the proper object of human fear.” “It is completely understandable, but it is tragic: the loss of the fear of God is what ushered in our modern age of anxiety, but the fear of God is the very antidote to our fretfulness.”

Reeves explains that those who fear God as they should will not be afraid of Him. Rather, the fear of God leads to understanding God, to wisdom, and to increased love for God. He further explains, “True fear of God is true love for God defined: it is the right response to God’s full-orbed revelation of himself in all his grace and glory.” Such fear is a positive and life-enhancing experience, which begins in this life and continues even into eternity. “Right fear is at the heart of holiness, making the difference between hypocritical performance and genuine knowledge of God. It is part of the makeup of the heart that trusts God, which is why we read in Scripture of this fear moving or giving birth to faith.”

The fear of God is nurtured by contemplating Him as Creator, knowing Him as Father, and resting in Him as Redeemer. “Instead of being a consequence of any particular practices, the fear of God is a matter of the deeper orientation of a renewed heart – something that causes truly Christian behavior.” The fear of God must be nurtured in the heart, not merely throughout outward practices, patched on by a merely superficial obedience. Only the Holy Spirit can accomplish this work within us, and He “does this through the gospel, which preaches Christ.” Thus, believers need to hear the Gospel as much as unbelievers, and to hear it day after day after day: “When the awesome magnitude of Christ’s forgiveness, the extent to which he has gone to atone for us, and therefore the terrible gravity of our sin become clear to us—as they do best at the cross—the right, loving reaction is so intense, it is fearful.”

We can also learn the fear of God from our forebears in the faith, and Rejoice & Tremble is argued and supported both by Scripture and Christian tradition, especially the Reformers and the Puritans.

As Christians and the Church increase in the fear of God, they also grow to become more like Him – so much so that, in the new heavens and new earth, we may momentarily startle one another by our radiance.

This is an important book. It offers a solid corrective to much of the misguided and muddled thinking that pervades churches today, where most believers have been led to believe that we do not need to fear God, only to love and enjoy Him. Rejoice & Tremble shows us both why this is not so, and why we must learn to fear God properly if we are to realize increasing fullness of Him now and forever.

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