The Fear of The Lord Part 3

The Fear of The Lord Pt. 3

Audio for this sermon can be found here


Sin distorts everything.

Christians know this as axiomatic. We can see it everywhere – most in ourselves and the loss of the clear image of God reflected back.

God’s natural state is one of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

But humankind – created in that image, now often distorts love into lust and blind indulgence; joy into mere temporal happinesses; peace into chemically induced oblivion; patience into blind indifference; kindness into insipid acquiescence; goodness into cultural morality; faithfulness into agreements of convenience; gentleness into spinelessness and self-control into – well, that’s just off the radar screen.

We see it in art which is meant to elevate the soul and lift us up to the appreciation of beauty, purity and noble things – degenerate into depictions of chaos, ugliness, the profane and even the pornographic.

Music, given as a gift of God to cheer the soul and draw us into joy and beauty and inspiration gets used to incite hatred, violence and expressions of animalistic emotions and desires.

The physical intimacy of marriage which is meant to unify, comfort and delight in giving and receiving in the tenderest and most sacred and private of ways has been twisted into raw lust without regard for love, marriage, safety or sacredness. It has been made exploitative, public, harsh and cruel and rooted in self-gratification.

Tragically this distortive tendency creeps into the best of all of God’s gifts to us. And no less so in the great truths and doctrines of the Bible as well.

Think for a minute of the marvelous doctrine of election.

The Bible unfolds election as a revelation of God’s goodness in securing salvation for some when all deserve eternal condemnation. And then how God works in us to bring us to Himself when our natural, fallen disposition is to reject Him. This is turned by some into a notion of a God who creates only to condemn – and thus make election out as a curse instead of a blessing.

The very truth designed to give assurance to those who have come to Him that He has loved them always, is made abhorrent in our distortion of it.

Or think of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty over all things.

While we are meant to take supreme comfort in His loving superintendence over all circumstances and events for our good and His glory – this gets distorted either into some form of heartless and cruel fatalism or an attack upon individual freedom and will.

It seems that in the Fall, nothing God has done in goodness and grace has been left undistorted in the human mind – until the Spirit begins to open our eyes afresh to read and understand God’s revelation of Himself in His Word more accurately.

And nowhere is this more evident than it is in examining a doctrine like the fear of the Lord.

In our fallenness and sin-distorted reasoning, we look at those words “the fear of the Lord” and import into them notions of ruthlessness, implacability, perpetual irritation, pettiness, unpredictability, volatility and harshness.

Not a God to be awed at in His glory and wonder but cowered before.

So that God must be approached as though surrounded by a cosmic minefield and that we had better be constantly careful that we don’t tick Him off lest He explode at us in inexplicable rage.

And that, by keeping an endless list of revealed and even worse – secret and irrational rules regulations.

We all know what the Mona Lisa by Da Vinci looks like.

So when we see something like Botero’s “Fat Mona Lisa” – we recognize the distortion instantly.

And we would never fall for one as messed up as this.

But if we had never seen the original – we would easily take a distortion – no matter how bizarre – as accurate.

And it is just this way both with concepts of God, AND certain Biblical truths – like the fear of the Lord.

If we do not grasp them, if we do not see the World and truth through the lens of the Bible –  from God’s revelation of them – but instead through the lenses of myths, our own imaginations, lies or other distortions – no wonder people at times recoil from some Biblical truths.

As a side note here I’ll put in a quick pitch for an excellent book on this topic: Misreading the Scripture with Western Eyes by Richards and O’Brien. Well worth your time and money.

I hope by now in our study we’ve begun to disabuse you of some of the distortions that often accompany the doctrine of the fear of the Lord, if, you have suffered from them.

As cataloged above from Galatians 5, the winsomeness and sweetness of God ought to inform us just as much as His power, greatness, glory and holiness. In fact they are as necessary a part of His holiness as His righteousness, justice, sovereignty etc. We dare not lose any of His attributes.

This was manifested for us so wonderfully in the life of Jesus.

How He received sinners to Himself so readily and graciously, yet never sinned nor excused sin. How He was easily approached and loved by children. How He never stretched out His hand in divine judgment upon those around Him during His incarnation. How He was exposed to opposition, misunderstanding, resistance, foolishness and sin of all kinds on every hand – and yet from the very cross of His murder could exclaim “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The fear of the Lord we are after is reverential awe of this Redeeming Savior – NOT the irrational terror of a quick tempered monster.

As we have emphasized in our previous two visits to this topic – the fear of the Lord is primarily located in the idea of: Reverential awe.

That the more we discover of Him in Creation, the Word and the Incarnation; the more we are taken by His immensity, eternality, power, wisdom, knowledge, administration of all things, holiness, love, mercy and yes – and even His judgment – the more we are overawed at the vision of it all.

And then, that this God of all creation would come to this little planet in the middle of nowhere, take on the likeness of sinful humankind and die at our hands for our salvation!

Reverential awe is the ONLY fitting response.

As John Flavel would write: Behold the admirable condescension of Christ, that he would come into the heart of the vilest sinner, and not disdain to take his abode in that soul which hath been the seat of Satan, where he hath ruled, and every unclean lust hath been harboured!

There are two things wherein the admirable condescension of Christ appears. (1.) In taking union with our nature after sin had blasted the beauty of it. This was a marvellous stoop indeed. But (2.) that Christ should also take union with our persons, and take his habitation and abode in our hearts, after Satan and sin had so long inhabited and defiled them; that he should accept those members as instruments of his service; that very tongue to praise him that had blasphemed him, &c. yet so he is willing to do, and commands us to deliver them up to him, Rom. 6:19.

John Flavel, The Whole Works of the Reverend John Flavel, vol. 4 (London; Edinburgh; Dublin: W. Baynes and Son; Waugh and Innes; M. Keene, 1820), 160–161.

In fact, where we will end up today is by locating the fear of the Lord in a most unsuspected place.

I’ll come to that shortly, but let me remind you of the path we’ve been taking:

Gaining the Fear of The Lord

  1. Creation b. The Word c. His Acts

Our first look was at the wonder, expanse, order, beauty, symmetry and perhaps even the impossibility of the Creation in order to draw on the vastness, power and eternality of God.

Then we visited Ps. 139 in gaining a look at His being: All powerful, All knowing, and Everywhere present at once.

And so this morning we want to briefly rehearse some of His acts which ought to inspire this reverential awe – culminating in the Cross.

Now when I speak of God’s acts, I think it is useful to break them down into a few categories:

  1. Acts of Power
  2. Acts of Judgment
  3. Acts of Mercy

I won’t spend much time on Acts of Power since we already saw so much of that in Creation.

I would only call your attention to some additional acts along the same lines:

Especially His involvement in the affairs of mankind: Jer. 18:1-11; 2 Chron. 20:5-6; Job 12:9-25; Ps. 47:8; Isa. 14:24-27 are prime examples. But let me turn to only one of them: Job 12:9-25

Job 12:9–25 ESV / Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind. Does not the ear test words as the palate tastes food? Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days. “With God are wisdom and might; he has counsel and understanding. If he tears down, none can rebuild; if he shuts a man in, none can open. If he withholds the waters, they dry up; if he sends them out, they overwhelm the land. With him are strength and sound wisdom; the deceived and the deceiver are his. He leads counselors away stripped, and judges he makes fools. He looses the bonds of kings and binds a waistcloth on their hips. He leads priests away stripped and overthrows the mighty. He deprives of speech those who are trusted and takes away the discernment of the elders. He pours contempt on princes and loosens the belt of the strong. He uncovers the deeps out of darkness and brings deep darkness to light. He makes nations great, and he destroys them; he enlarges nations, and leads them away. He takes away understanding from the chiefs of the people of the earth and makes them wander in a trackless waste. They grope in the dark without light, and he makes them stagger like a drunken man.

God is at work in the nations – not just His Church – in all of human activity.

Second there is His provision for and the sustaining of all life – human and animal as so fully brought out in Job 38-39.

And 3rd, His divine appointments in Providence which Paul makes much of in Acts 17:26-28

Acts 17:26–28 ESV / And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for

“ ‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

“ ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

Such an account of God’s all pervasive power being exercised in the affairs of mankind is staggering.

But then we add to that, consideration of His various acts of judgment.

  1. Acts of Power
  2. Acts of Judgment
  3. Acts of Mercy

Remember the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden. It is frightful.

His cataclysmic judgment on human sin in the Flood.

The confusion of languages at Babel; the fiery decimation of Sodom and Gomorrah; the overthrow of the 7 kingdoms in Canaan after the iniquity of those nations had finally reached their limit.

Then we see individual outbreaks of His fury in all sorts of events, not the least of which is the striking down of Uzzah in 2 Sam. 6 when he dared to touch the Ark of the Covenant with his bare hand; The deaths of Nadab and Abihu for offering unauthorized fire before the Lord; the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira in the book of Acts for lying to the Holy Spirit; the striking of Herod with deadly worms for failing to give God glory for the response to his oration and the blinding of Elymas in Acts 13 for trying to buy the power to give the Holy Spirit to others.

In each of these we see glints of what God SHOULD be doing in judgment constantly – but what in His patience and forbearance He refrains from doing as He holds forth the opportunity for all to repent and believe the Gospel.

And in all of these we’ve not yet mentioned the pronouncements of the coming final judgment told to us by Jesus and enlarged upon the book of Revelation.

These ought to make us abundantly aware that while God is good and patient and astoundingly forbearing – we do not know when that will end and when there will be no more time to repent – and Jesus “will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” Rev. 19:15c

All of which leads us back to our final category:

  1. Acts of Power
  2. Acts of Judgment
  3. Acts of Mercy

Here, let me call your attention to an astounding verse: Psalm 130:4

Psalm 130:4 ESV / But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.

Now at first blush, one might wonder exactly how the concepts of God’s forgiveness and fear of Him come together.

But in truth, it isn’t very hard to grasp once we begin to think about it and consider what the Bible has to tell us about the nature of sin, the holiness of God, and the nature of a holy and just God who cannot ignore sin or let it go unaddressed.

As the verse directly preceeding this one states: Ps. 130:3

Psalm 130:3 ESV / If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?

If God were to call us into account for our sins just as the matter nakedly is: No one would come out alive. No one. Who could possibly remain standing when confronted by the blast furnace of His ineffable holiness?

So in what way does God’s forgiveness create a right fear of Him? Let me suggest 7.

With God there is forgiveness that He may be feared because:

  1. Forgiveness is an act of free grace, not an obligation

Beloved, this is so vitally important to grasp: God is under no obligation to forgive anyone, any of US, our sins.

Their is no law or principle He is bound to outside of Himself. Nor is there anything in His being which requires it.

Forgiveness is a personal choice, not a legal requirement.

God forgives sin solely at His own discretion. For you see all are guilty before Him and all of us justly deserve His holy judgment upon our sin.

So we read in Romans 3:10-18

Romans 3:10–18 ESV / 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.”

God would be completely just in consigning all of mankind to an eternal Hell – but for His willingness to forgive and redeem.

We ought to tremble at the thought of it.

If you are a Christian here today it is not because God owed you forgiveness – it is owing singly and entirely to His sovereign discretion in loving you so as to forgive you.

And at that, a forgiveness He offers to the World though the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

God owes no one forgiveness.

And yet so many have it today – only because of His mercy and grace.

With God there is forgiveness that He may be feared because:

  1. In His holiness, He cannot pervert justice

Once again we need to reckon with the fact that salvation is NOT, is not and never has been a cosmic version of ally ally in free.

Because He is infinitely and inviolably holy and just, He cannot simply dismiss or overlook sin. Justice MUST be done.

Yes, He forgives personally, but He is also the judge of all the earth. Bound by His own holiness and justice.

Say you were to rob a store of its cash: 2 Things have occured, you have sinned against the store owner, AND you have a committed a crime against the State.

And while to Owner may forgive you personally, that does nothing to satisfy the law and the State. Forgiven, you may still be subject to a just penalty.

In God, He is both the personally offended AND the judge of all the earth – the King of His Kingdom. And justice must still be met somehow.

This is why the cross becomes of infinite importance. For apart from justice being satisfied on our behalf, we may be forgiven – but still liable. Forgiveness does not erase or mitigate guilt.

Only in the Cross, only in Jesus paying the just penalty for our sins may we find relief from our guilt and just judgment.

God cannot – due to His holy nature simply ignore sin, even as He may personally forgive our offenses against Him.

And so in His infinite wisdom, grace and mercy He devised the plan to make sure His justice could be satisfied as well as our being forgiven – that we might be restored to Him – reconciled to Him – with the crimes of our sin fully met.

Tremble at the thought beloved – the impossible was made possible: 2 Cor. 5:21 only in Christ on the Cross.

2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV / For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

With God there is forgiveness that He may be feared because:

  1. Our sin is so great

Being as we are, we love to make light of our sin. We love to use phrases like: “Nobody’s perfect” and “I’m just human” or to borrow from Alexander Pope: “to err is human.”

We say “we’re all sinners” as though the universality of our sin somehow makes it less vile than it really is. As though if everyone in the world had the same fatal disease, that would somehow make it less fatal.

But how serious is sin really?

We never truly understand it until we look at the Cross. Until we realize that sin brings us under the just wrath of the Almighty God who cannot excuse it on any level – and who made the all-encompassing pronouncement: “the wages of sin is death.”

And not just physical death – death to God. Death to everything good and holy and blessed – because all goodness comes only from and in connection to – Him.

Hear to voice of torment crying out from the Cross in supreme agony of soul and body: “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”

The One who had known only perfect, utter and infinite bliss in union with His Father – bearing the weight of our guilt and our shame in His death.

That’s what sin costs.

And to have that penalty not just erased but utterly reversed in the granting of eternal blessings ought to make us tremble in awe.

With God there is forgiveness that He may be feared because:

  1. Of what it to took atone for our sin

What did it take to atone for, to pay the penalty for your sin and mine?

Nothing less than the brutal death of the eternal Son of God in our place.

No animal sacrifice could do what was needed.

No amount of good works by us could possibly make up for our rebellion, since we had owed Him total love and allegiance from the very beginning. To live perfectly would only be to do what OUGHT to be done – that can make up for nothing.

No angel could interpose himself.

No, our salvation required nothing less than a sinless, infinite sacrifice to deal with the depths of our sin and iniquity.

We ought to be struck with a holy awe that there was nothing other than the death of The Incarnate Son of God in our place that could do what was needed to save us.

And how do we know that for certain?

By Jesus own thrice repeated prayer in the Garden: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”  Mt 26:39.

With God there is forgiveness that He may be feared because:

  1. What love there was in the Father to send His Son for us

Ought it not send a holy gasp through our souls to contemplate what love the Father must have for us that He would devise and carry out such a plan for those who hated Him, rebelled against Him and still fail Him every moment of the day?

That so great is His love, that He would send His only begotten Son, that whoever would believe in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life.

Thank on it Believer. Think on it and stand in awe of a love like that.

What kind of love must that be? There is none like in all of humanity. None.

Stuart Townend’s words begin to make the inquiry:

How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss –
The Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.

Robert Murray McCheyne: “Learn the intense love of God for sinners. He spared not his own Son. Herein is love. He loved the happiness of his Son; but he loved the salvation of sinners more. He loved to have his Son in his bosom; but he loved more to have sinners brought into his bosom. He cast out his Son, in order to take us in. Oh! sinner, how will you escape, if you neglect so great a salvation?”


With God there is forgiveness that He may be feared because:

  1. What love and humility there was in the Son to come and die

What is the nature of Christ Jesus’ love for us, that He would submit Himself to this plan that we might be reconciled to the Father and made His own?

It’s transforming when we muse on it enough to fill us with awe once again.

That was the case with Samuel Trevor Francis as he stood on London’s Hungerford Bridge contemplating suicide. When all at once thoughts of the great love of Christ came flooding in only to send him off to pen the words:

“O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o’er His loved ones, died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth, watcheth o’er them from the throne!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best!
‘Tis an ocean vast of blessing, ’tis a haven sweet of rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, ’tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!

With God there is forgiveness that He may be feared because:

  1. What glories are ours vs the eternal torments we deserve

When we contemplate our sin, and the reality of our guilt before this holy God, and the display of His wrath poured out upon Jesus on the Cross – and THEN, go on to contemplate that no eye has ever seen, no ear has ever heard, no man has ever been able to even imagine the things God has prepared for those who love Him – except to know that there is no suffering in this present life that is worthy to be compared to the glory about to be revealed to us – by faith, we stand in fresh awe.

If this does not engender reverential awe in us, we are not yet born again.

We have not understood God’s holiness nor our sin aright.

But if by grace your heart has been moved in the consideration of these things this morning – then I plead with you to come and bow before the throne of the truly awesome God and His Christ – to confess your sin before Him, and cast yourself upon the mercy offered to you in the substitutionary death of Jesus on the Cross.

And my dear fellow Believer – commit today to strive to keep these things ever before your own eyes. To not let the reverential awe of this God and His salvation leave your thoughts.

For the fear of the Lord is the very beginning of wisdom.

Psalm 103:11 ESV / For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;


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