Fear of God

We have forgotten that it is a “fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31 KJV). The idea doesn’t play well in our culture. It didn’t some 300 years ago, when Edwards preached on the theme – and the reality of ‘the fear of God’ sparked a Great Awakening.

New Testament believers don’t have to approach a burning mountain, mid-day blackness, a deafening piercing sound like a trumpet, thunder and lightning as Israel did. They begged for it to end. We have not been called to Sinai, we have a new covenant (12:18-24). But the bar is not lower. Israel, despite the awesomeness of the dreadful encounter, refused to heed and experienced judgment. So we are warned, “How shall we [then] escape if we neglect so great a salvation?”

We are living between the times – Christ has come, as a lamb, to receive our due wrath for us; but he will come again as a lion. “Yet once more will I make to tremble, not the earth only, but also the heaven.” There is coming a final shaking, and everything that is merely made will fold. Only the unshakable things will endure. And then he urges, “Let us serve God with thankfulness in ways that please him, and always with reverence and holy fear, for our God is a consuming fire” (12:25-29). The writer of Proverbs reminds us, “Better a little [of this world’s wealth and comfort] with the fear of the LORD, than great wealth with turmoil. Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred,” (Prov. 15:16-17 NIV). Note the pairings: fear and love; wealth with turmoil and a fattened calf with hatred contrasted with ‘little’ and ‘a meal of vegetables.’ The implication is that true wealth is the individual with a healthy fear of God. Where God is feared, others are loved.

The path to decadence and backsliding is the loss of reverence; and the gate to revival is a restoration of the fear of God. Peter reminds us that when we call upon the Father, we should remember that he judges without partiality. He urges us to live in fear or reverence before such a God (I Peter 1:16-18). The psalmist declared, “My flesh trembles for fear of You, And I am afraid of Your judgments” (Psalm 119:120). Jeremiah, knowing that Judah will soon disappear as a nation, due to their sins, asked them the question of God, “‘Do you not fear Me?’ says the LORD. ‘Will you not tremble at My presence …” The root of the sin that drove the abominations, the rebellion, and their lack of repentance was the absence of the fear of God. Jeremiah presents God as the Creator and manager of nature who “placed the sand as the bound of the sea, by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass … though its waves toss to and fro, Yet they cannot prevail; Though they roar, yet they cannot pass over it” (Jeremiah 5:22). The one who controls the force and fury of nature will soon loose wrath on Judah – but they do not tremble at such a prospect.

We live in a nation that no longer fears God. And in a church, that does not model reverence for the world around us. “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 and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God …” (Deuteronomy 10:12). This is not an Old Testament matter. Peter urges, “Fear God” (I Peter 2:17). Jude, the brother of Jesus warned that infiltrators had penetrated the fellowship of the church and virtually were undetected. He called them ‘spots’ in the love feasts, dangerous apostates. The word is spilas, the term used to cause a ship to spill its contents, a hidden ledge of rock, a reef just under the surface of the water over which the sea dashed. The term was used of men who by their conduct damaged others morally, wrecked them. Their most telling mark was that they “feast with you without fear.” They came to the table of the Lord with a lack of reverence. The fruit of their irreverence was that they served themselves. The absence of the fear of God renders them impotent, as empty clouds with no hope of rain; as autumn trees void of fruit, twice dead and rootless (Jude 1:12). Jude gives the image of these men as being blown about by the winds, an inference of the spirit world.

John Murray says, “The fear of God is the soul of godliness.” Jerry Bridges in his wonderful book, The Joy of Fearing God, says “the fear of God is the animating and invigorating principle of a godly life. It is the wellspring of all godly desires and aspirations.” Murray calls it “… the reflux in our consciousness of the transcendent majesty and holiness of God.”

  • This teaching is from The Praying Church Handbook – Volume I – Foundations. Find this publication at: www.alivepublications.org.

  • This teaching can also be found in one of our new ebooks, Fear of God and Prayer, ready to download to your mobile device.

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