The Fear of The Lord Pt. 1
Reid A Ferguson
Another topic which was suggested to me by several people was addressing “The Fear of The Lord.”
The phrase is found all through the Scriptures. And so you ask yourself what this is all about? And how does it fit with the Gospel and passages like: 1 John 4:18 ?
1 John 4:18 ESV / There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
We’re Christians. We’re joined to God in Jesus Christ who has died for our sins. How does living in God’s love and acceptance square with notions of fearing God? What gives?
These are good and right questions. And I hope to give us some light on it from God’s Word. And I am going to follow this outline:
The Fear of the Lord: 1 – Why Should I Care? 2 – What it isn’t. 3 – What it is. 4 – How it is obtained. 5 – What are its benefits?
1- The Fear of the Lord: Why Should I Care?
There are a number of good reasons for spending time on this topic.
1st off is the frequency with which it’s mentioned in the Scripture.
The phrase “fear of the Lord” itself is used more than 30 times. When you add to that other similar phrases like fearing God or God-fearing and the like – you have well over 100 instances.
So it is a theme that pervades Scripture – both the Old and New Testaments.
The Holy Spirit didn’t inspire that many mentions by accident.
2nd, The nature of some of those references catch our attention.
Proverbs 1.7 for instance reminds us how the fear of the Lord is the very beginning of true wisdom.
Proverbs 1:7 ESV / The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Wisdom we are aware, is the skill of walking rightly with God in life.
Then we confront a passage like Deut. 10.12-13
Deuteronomy 10:12–13 ESV / “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, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?”
We are met with the emphasis God Himself places upon this idea when addressing His people.
This is the supreme thing the Lord requires of His people – to fear Him.
To fear Him – which in some way also encompasses walking in His ways, loving Him, serving Him with all our hearts and souls and keeping or treasuring His commandments and statutes.
That is a pretty powerful call.
When it is all said and done, what does God require of His people most?
To fear Him. This needs to be understood.
Or consider Peter’s summary after telling the saints that the will of God is that we should silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. Which he then exhorts us to do by living as free people, not using our freedom as an excuse for sin, but living as servants of God – and so 1 Peter 2:17
1 Peter 2:17 ESV / “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”
Peter asserts the normal Christian life includes the fear of the Lord.
These are just a few of the compelling passages that require us to reckon with the fear of the Lord.
3rd, we read in several places that the absence of the fear of the Lord is the defining feature of the lost.
Romans 3:9-18 uses it as the summary description of all outside of Christ.
Romans 3:9–18 ESV / “What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
In Genesis, when Abraham was excusing his lie about Sarah being his 1/2 sister to Abimelech – he said the reason he lied was: Gen. 20.11
Genesis 20:11 ESV / Abraham said, “I did it because I thought, ‘There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’
Abraham’s reasoning was clear – people with no fear of God are people who would live without accountability for their actions, and thus do whatever they want.
While he was wrong about Abimelech in this case, he was right in principle.
When there is no sense of accountability among people, all restraint disappears. And where there is no sense of ultimate accountability, we lose even the most basic morality; indeed, we have no basis FOR morality itself. After all, who is to say anything is truly right or truly wrong, except in each individual’s eyes? And if there is no ultimate accountability to anyone or anything above ourselves – then who cares what we do?
So why should we care about this issue of the fear of the Lord?
Because Scripture addresses it so often.
Because Scripture places such emphasis upon it.
Because a lack of the fear of the Lord is the signal mark of those who are Godless and lost.
2 – The Fear of the Lord: What it ISN’T.
Before we venture too far, let me take just a few minutes to take some errant notions of the fear of the Lord off of our plates. For sadly, we can develop ideas of this concept from less than reliable sources.
1 – The Biblical fear of the Lord is not the slavish fear of the pagan. That is what drives ritualism and the idea that we need to keep God happy through a complex system of rules, regulations, rites and ceremonies.
It flatly ignores Scripture like Matt. 9.13
Matthew 9:13 ESV / Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Or Hosea 6.6
Hosea 6:6 ESV / For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
It treats the God of the Bible like the false gods of idol worshippers.
2 – The Biblical fear of the Lord is not walking with God like He is perpetually testy and irritable. Tiptoeing around an infinite minefield where He is liable to explode at any moment or is constantly cantankerous and easily upset.
The fruit of the Spirit – the inherent disposition of God is JOY! In His presence is fullness of joy David proclaims.
God’s natural disposition is beautifully outlined for us in Gal. 5 – Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This is His very nature.
We do not serve the God of the Perpetually Provoked. The approach to His throne is not paved with celestial eggshells.
3 – The Biblical fear of the Lord is not like living with one who is irrational.
Yes, there are times when His wisdom and understanding so outstrip our highest abilities that we are left confused – but that is not because He is capricious or irrational. His decisions are all wise and fully in keeping with perfect wisdom and holiness: Even when we do not understand.
4 – The Biblical fear of the Lord is not owing to His being petty or punitive.
Just, yes. But justice which also offers grace to all in the preaching of the Gospel.
Love, as His Word reminds us, covers a multitude of sins. When we fall, He does not kick or abuse His own, but seeks us out like He did Adam even though we are so ready to hide ourselves.
His desire is always that we would run to Him in our failures and sins, so that we might find mercy. Heb. 4.15-16
Hebrews 4:15–16 ESV / For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
When do I need mercy most? When I’ve sinned. That is my time of need!
And where do I find that sympathy and mercy? Drawing near to His throne in faith.
The fear of the Lord is not a slavish fear rooted in trying to appease an intractable, irritable, cranky, unappeasable, irrational, petty or punitive God.
These are all wicked distortions which put us off from the true fear of the Lord and it’s blessings.
3 – The Fear of The Lord: What it is.
Let me do my best to give you 2 definitions. 1, is somewhat comprehensive, and the other is shorthand for it.
And I am going to draw this first and foremost from where the Bible itself begins – with God’s self- revelation.
1 – The Fear of the Lord is: A right perception of God that produces a heart and mind governed by a fitting response to the revelation of God in His Creation and Word regarding His; Nature; Position; Word and Acts.
A RIGHT perception of God – Understanding Him as He really is…
A perception so overwhelming, it evokes a response that matches the revelation of Him we receive in Creation and His Word…
As we fully come to grips with His Nature, His Position – or I might say His rights – His Word and His Acts.
We’ll unpack these as we go.
But if we want a handier, briefer definition – we could possibly boil it to down to this:
2 – The Fear of the Lord is: Reverential Awe.
A sense of Him which brings us to revere Him, but to stand in a pure awe, inspired by His greatness, goodness, transcendence and glory.
Which leads us then to the big question – how do we get there?
4 – The Fear of The Lord: How it is obtained
The obvious question is: If the Bible places such importance on this issue – how do I get there?
I don’t know about you, but I do not – without thought and effort – walk around all day in the reverential fear and awe of God.
We tend to think of Him in a far more detached way.
For some that may be more of an experience of intimacy or closeness – which is right and good as well. But we can get overly familiar too – in the sense that familiarity can breed contempt.
But awed? Amazed? Stunned? Overwhelmed? Drawn out of ourselves in wonder? Feeling the need to bow low in reverence?
How little those concepts enter into even into our worship of God, let alone our daily thoughts and experience of Him.
This comes home to us in our day when so much of modern – so-called – worship music can be categorized by the phrase “Jesus is my boyfriend.” Sentimentalism devoid of anything like what might inspire awe in the heart and mind.
Who today writes lyrics like Walter Chalmers Smith?:
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.
Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice like mountains high soaring above
Thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.
To all life Thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish, but nought changeth Thee.
So what can be done here? How can we recapture this rightful and necessary aspect of the Christian life?
I believe the Bible gives us 3 primary ways to do this: Only one of which we’ll be able to touch in this morning. But here are the 3.
a. Creation b. The Word c. His Acts
All 3 confront us with God’s nature such that a speechless, reverential awe is all we are left with. One which then ought to fill our hearts and minds so as to govern all of life.
But an awe which must be intentionally pursued.
Why? Because as Romans reminds us – since the Fall, the human condition is one which suppresses the knowledge of God.
Paul gives this concept to us in 4 key phrases:
English Standard Version Chapter 1/ who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
English Standard Version Chapter 1 / For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him
English Standard Version Chapter 1 / because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!
English Standard Version Chapter 1 / And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God
We come into the world suppressing the truth about God through our unrighteousness – especially in ignoring our own consciences.
Being made in His image to reflect Him – when we sin, we obscure that image.
We fail to give Him His proper honor as God or live in thankfulness for the life, world and station as His image-bearers He has given us.
We then turn God into something we prefer honoring, serving our own desires above serving Him.
And in the end we simply do not acknowledge Him for who and what He is – and the absolute rights He has over us as His creation.
This being the universal tendency of our fallen nature – we need to fight against it so that He holds the right place in us once more.
This requires exposing ourselves to Him in the fullness of His revelation as much as we can. For such is our fallenness that we do not retain the consciousness of His glory even after repeated experiences of it.
We are just like the Israelites who saw miraculous plagues God used to deliver them from the Egyptians; marched through the Red Sea on dry ground; were led by a pillar of fire by night and cloud in the day; ate manna every day; and standing in the sight of Mt. Sinai where there were thunderings, lightnings and angelic trumpets blasting – still coaxed Aaron to make a golden calf for them: Because a small, movable, tangible god pleases us more, stretches us little and scares us not at all.
But Scripture calls us back to ponder a God of such glory, grandeur, immensity, power and unrestrainable freedom – that it makes the soul tremble.
And it does this by its very opening line: Genesis 1:1
Genesis 1:1 ESV / In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
- Creation is the first way we begin to catch an awe inspiring glimpse of our God. And how often we forget it.
Have you ever been asked, or asked yourself what the most important verse in the Bible is?
The answer is simple and incontrovertible: Genesis 1.1
Genesis 1:1 ESV / In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Why would I say that is the most important verse in all the Bible? Because apart from it, the rest of the Bible makes no sense whatever. And all of its claims, including those of Jesus, the incarnation, His death and resurrection have no context.
If this is not God’s world, created by Him for His purposes then mankind means nothing, the Fall means nothing, the promise of redemption means nothing, salvation means nothing, morality and justice mean nothing, and eternal life means nothing. All are just happenstance events in an eternal, impersonal universe which always was, and will be, and which has no rhyme or reason to it.
Take away Genesis 1.1 – and you take away all notions of truth and reality. We can construct whatever reality our randomly assembled synapses burp up, and no one can tell us differently. And life can only mean whatever we imagine it to mean. Then it’s gone.
This is why in fact so many wish to have it just that way, and why Christians must always fight for the truth of the first revelation: That God created the heavens and the earth.
Give this up – and you give up all reality as God reveals it.
Seek to plumb its depths, and you begin to confront an awe that begins to restore the soul in a most magnificent way.
Here, is where reverential awe – where the fear of the Lord begins. Just where the Bible begins. And that is no accident.
It is interesting to note that the single most used means of self-identification of Old Testament saints was: They served the God who made the heavens and the earth. This differentiated them from all other people and religious groups.
The very thing Paul bring his hearers back to on Mars Hill in Acts 17.
What is Gen. 1:1 begging us to do? To consider the magnitude of the universe. The complexity and impossibility of life. The wonder of a world made for human habitation. The variety, beauty and splendor of the flora and fauna which surrounds us. The provision for enjoyable human life in the cycle of rains and multiplicity of grains, fruits, vegetables. The improbability of the delicate mix of cosmic conditions needed to sustain life here.
The reality of our living on a ball of dirt twirling at 1000 mph, while hurtling through space at around 66,000 mph in an elliptical orbit around a star which itself (with us) us is moving at over 480,000 mph, to make its 225 million year trip of 1 galactic rotation. All of this within a galaxy which itself is moving through the universe at somewhere near 1.3 million mph.
And our galaxy, the Milky Way is moving at this rate of speed through a sea of more than 100 billion other galaxies.
Now, when you say: God created the heavens and the earth – you are saying something!
Who is this God? WHAT is this God? That he could merely by desiring it make all of this come to be? And administrate it!
Who or what is this God who not only brought all of this into existence, but who sustains it and who could walk on every atom of it like each were a planet of their own – and simultaneously at that?
And this beloved is the God we pray to. The God who made us.
No wonder David must exclaim: Psalm 144:3
Psalm 144:3 ESV / O Lord, what is man that you regard him, or the son of man that you think of him?
Or Job to cry out: Job 7.17
Job 7:17 ESV / What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him,
This is the God we sin against. This is the God we accuse of not ordering our lives rightly. This is the God whose name we take in vain. This is the God who we think is not big enough to meet our problem or needs. This is the God we ignore most of the time. This is the God we find it too difficult to get out of bed to worship. This is the God whose Word we neglect to read. This is the God who we question when we see injustice, experience hardship or don’t get our own way. This is the God we blame for not intervening in our affairs just the way we want.
Indeed, this is the God who made mankind alone in His image. The God who took on human flesh to redeem us from our pitiful, hateful wicked rebellion against His rights as God and in the face of His love, holiness, justice and glory. The God who loved so that He sent His only begotten Son, that whoever believed in Him might have ever lasting life. The God who has promised Heaven for those who trust Him, and Hell for those who persist in their rebellion against Him in refusing to believe in His Son. The God who makes a new heavens and a new earth. The God who died on Calvary’s cross for sinners.
The God whom Job said – when getting a view of this very creation in His day: Job 42:1-6
Job 42:1–6 ESV / Then Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
This is the God who says to you – come unto me all you who are weak and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
The God who said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Christian – take heart. This is your God.
You need to recover the big-ness the majesty and power of this God. Especially in times of trial and temptation.
This God is bigger than your weaknesses. Bigger than your physical ailments or disabilities – no matter how severe. Bigger than American politics, climate change, terrorism or global economics. He is bigger than your past, your future and every aspect of your present. Bigger than your depression. Bigger than your cancer. Bigger than your marriage. Bigger than your eyesight, your hearing, your arthritis, your erring children, your loneliness, your boss, your retirement or any situation you find yourself in today or may face in the future. And above all – He is bigger than your guilt and shame and sin.
When I am facing my darkest hours – I need a God who is so far above all these things so that these things themselves are dwarfed by comparison, and my heart can be brought to rest in the midst of it.
It is my habit in those seasons to seek out books, Scriptures, sermons and music that focuses my soul back on a big, BIG God in whom I can trust.
This is the heritage of every Believer. But oh how easily these things can eclipse our vision of Him if we do not purposely strive to recover it.
And Unbeliever today. This is the God we call you to bow the knee to. To give up your foolish rebellion against and yield to. To acknowledge His right of supremacy over your life and see and believe.
Come and be reconciled to Him today. This great and awesome God – personally calls to you to become His child. To have your sins forgiven on the basis of Jesus’ substitutionary death on the Cross.
To become your Lord and King.
To give you new life in Jesus Christ.