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An Analysis of the Fear of God

What has happened?
Why is the fear of God no longer preached or practiced today? Is it because the Bible is silent on the subject? No! As a matter of fact, one thing is abundantly clear: The entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation is filled with commands to fear the Lord. But this is not something that most of God’s people understand today. Thus a brief survey of some of the biblical material which teaches us to fear God is necessary.

 

The Old Testament
In the Old Testament, the fear of God was viewed as the fundamental attitude of the believer to his God. The fear of God was honored and practiced by prophets, priests, and kings throughout the entire Old Testament. Indeed, King Solomon declared, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7).

 

The New Testament
When we turn to the New Testament, the fear of God is taught from Matthew to Revelation. It is not negated, lessened or down played in the New Testament in any sense whatsoever.
In the Gospels, the fear of God played a significant role in the life and teachings of Christ.

Stop being afraid of those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul. Instead, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

The fear of God was preached as part of the early Church’s proclamation of man’s duty to God.

As it continued to be built up and to live in the fear of the Lord, it kept increasing in numbers through the encouragement of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 9:31)

In the Church Epistles, the Apostle Paul viewed sanctification as taking place in the context of the fear of God.

Since we have these promises, dear friends, we should cleanse ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit by perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 7:1)

The Apostle Peter in the General Epistles commanded all Christians, “Fear God” (I Peter 2:17). Even in the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, heaven itself is filled with the glorious hymn that all nations should fear the Lord.

 ”Your deeds are spectacular and amazing, Lord God Almighty.
Your ways are just and true, King of the nations.
Lord, who won’t fear and praise your name?
For you alone are holy,
and all the nations will come and worship you
because your judgments have been revealed.” (Revelation 15:3-4)

 

Historic Christianity
Since the golden thread of the fear of God runs through the entire Bible, the fear of the Lord has always been a vital part of the historic Christian understanding of God. It does not matter what period of Church history we study, people were taught to fear the Lord. From the Apostolic Fathers to the Pilgrim Fathers, the fear of God was part of fundamental Christian belief and practice.

Our Puritan and Pilgrim Fathers delighted in the fear of the Lord. They were a “God-fearing” people and the high moral and ethical lives they led was a direct result of their fear of God. The necessity and nature of the fear of the Lord filled their hymns and theological works as well as their daily lives.

 

Something Has Happened
Obviously, something has happened to change the way people think about God. People today no longer fear God. How has this come to pass? What has happened to the fear of the Lord?

 

The Sad Answer
Historically, it was during the late 18th Century and prominently in the early 19th Century that a drastic change took place in the way the average person viewed God. Before the last part of the 18th century, the average person living in America generally held to a Puritan view of God, which they inherited, from their Pilgrim Fathers.

The God of the Pilgrims was a mighty God who was “tough” in the sense that He was aggressive in rewarding saints and punishing sinners. The Almighty Jehovah was not a wimp or a pushover. He was a righteous and holy God who would not let sin go unpunished. He was Holy as well as Loving.

In short, the God of the Pilgrims was a God who was worthy to be feared. He was mighty to save and mighty to judge. This God held all men accountable for the way they lived and would one day judge all men for their sins. He was enthroned in the Heavens and laughed at the puny efforts of rebel sinners to throw off His sovereign rule (Psalm 2). His justice would be fully vindicated by His divine judgment on the Last Day. To the Pilgrims, hell was not an empty threat and heaven an empty dream. To them there was a hell to shun and a heaven to gain. This was the soul and substance of the Gospel. Salvation made sense only upon the assumption of the fear of God.

 

The Great Awakening
It was in this context that the greatest revival in America’s history took place. During the Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards preached his famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God.” Revival broke out in his church that day, and, before it was over, it turned America into the church-going nation it is today.

Have you ever heard preaching like Edwards? Given today’s man-centered theology, we are more likely to hear a sermon entitled, “God in the Hands of Angry Sinners!” No wonder we do not see true revival today. In Edwards’ day, people in general believed that God would indeed punish men for the evil they do. They firmly believed that there was going to be a Day of Judgment. This meant that sinners must prepare to meet their God.

Now, to be sure, the Pilgrims did not deny the love of God. They had a profound understanding of the love of God that far exceeded the “cheap” love preached today. They understood that the wrath of God was the black velvet pillow on which the jewel of divine love shined its brightest. Without the wrath of God, divine love becomes lifeless like a diamond on white paper. This is why in Scripture God’s wrath always forms the context of His love.

In the third chapter of John’s Gospel, we find the most well known verse in the Bible.

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him would not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

The love of God in the gift of His only Son remains the core of the gospel. But what is the context of God’s love? It is the wrath of God that rests upon unrepentant sinners.

The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who disobeys the Son will not see life. Instead, the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36)

But what if you do not fear the wrath of God? Then you will not appreciate the love of God. This is why cheap grace and cheap love are so popular today.

The fear of God is not limited to conversion. It is the foundation of holy living. It is a sign of spiritual maturity and depth in the Christian life. The lack of it is a sign of spiritual immaturity and shallowness.

 

Conclusion
What has caused a major shift in the way we think of God? What happens when a nation or a church no longer fears the Lord? Iniquity will abound and lawlessness will prevail. The only real and lasting cure for all the violence and crime in modern society is a return to the biblical understanding of the fear of God.

This is an excerpt from Fearing God by Robert Morey

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