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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Fear God

I have often heard it said that a Christian should have no fear of God.  I have mixed feelings when I hear that for it is one of those truths that can easily lead to false conclusions unless the statement is clarified. 

John indeed says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment.  But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” (I John 4:18 NKJV)  It is true that every Christian can have fear banished from his life.  

A few verses later John says, “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.” (1 John 5:3 NKJV)  This freedom from fear is available to any Christian living a faithful and dedicated life, one who is observing all the commandments of God, who truly repents when he does transgress, who puts God first in his life in every respect.  Such a person fears neither man, death, nor the judgment. 

Paul was such a man.  Near the end of his life he says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:7-8 NKJV) 

One is also reminded of the stories of the early martyrs of the church who rather than deny the faith allowed themselves to be burned at the stake during the Roman persecutions.  These men and women were fearless and their love perfected. 

It ought to be the goal of all Christians to have this kind of faith in God and love for God that would lead us to become martyrs too if need be.  It is ours for the taking but we must first conquer ourselves. 

Paul told those who were already Christians at Ephesus to “put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness.”  (Eph. 4:22-24 NKJV)  

We know that this is not always easy to do.  Paul said to the Corinthians, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ.  I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal.” (1 Cor. 3:1-3 NKJV) 

Did the Corinthians at this stage of their lives have anything to fear?  Were they guilty of unforgiven sin at the time Paul wrote the letter?  The book of First Corinthians is a book that lists sin after sin for which Paul rebukes them. 

In the second letter to the church at Corinth Paul speaks of their repenting.  He says, “Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance.” (2 Cor. 7:9 NKJV)  He goes on to say, “Godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation." (2 Cor. 7:10 NKJV)  It sounds much like repentance was a requirement for their salvation meaning, of course, that there was a period of time in which these Christians were not in a saved state, a time when they had sinned but had not yet repented.

Another example of the same sort of thing was Simon the sorcerer as found in Acts 8 where Paul tells him, “You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God.  Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you.”  (Acts 8:21-22 NKJV)  

Thus the point to be made is that this freedom from fear, this perfect love that casts out fear, is not for all but only for a certain class of Christian--the totally dedicated and faithful one, the obedient one.  It is a goal to be sought after but also a goal that is obtainable by all if they are willing to make the necessary commitment and sacrifices in their lives. 

The subject also needs to be looked at from another angle.  I know of no man who holds a position of authority whose authority will be respected and honored unless there are some negative consequences to be suffered for disobeying the rules he establishes.  Law without punishment for its violation will not be obeyed and thus practically speaking ends up being no law at all.  

A teacher who will not discipline those who disobey the classroom rules will have utter chaos in the class.  A boss who is not obeyed is really boss of no one, a boss in name only.  In our own country we have laws against illegal immigration.  Those laws have no teeth behind them thus are disobeyed so that we have millions of illegal immigrants in our country.  There must be some fear of authority for there to be any authority and that fear only comes if there are real consequences for disobedience, for breaking the law. 

There are those who want to emphasize reverence for God over godly fear.  We should reverence God but how can there be reverence for God without Godly fear?  It is said that God is like our earthy fathers whom we love and obey and whom we do not fear.  What?  Kids obey Mom or Dad without fear?  

A family where children have no fear of breaking the rules is a family where the children run amuck, who are out of control, disrespectful, disobedient.  Every parent worth their salt has some kind of punishment for their children who break the rules.  Yes, the kids love their parents but the fear of punishment also plays a major role in their obeying the rules.  Is it any different with us in our relationship to God? 

We do not run around as children in stark terror of our parents but certainly we have a fear of pushing them too far by breaking their rules knowing that consequences will follow if we do.  So it is in our relationship with God. 

Those who speak of reverence for God rather than fear of God often leave out, so it seems to me, the element of godly fear.  If asked to define reverence they would use words like respect, honor, deference, and veneration but too often leave out godly fear.  Godly fear is an essential element of true reverence for God.  This kind of fear is not a contradiction of 1 John 4:18.  In fact, godly fear leads to the banishment of the fear described in 1 John 4:18 for it leads to a faithful life. 

Observation of life shows us many who have no fear of God whatsoever.  The fact that a man has no fear of God does not prove he is a man whose love has been perfected.  Many who lack fear of God are atheist and godless men.  They are those who should fear God but who do not. 

What does the Bible say and teach about fearing God?  Noah is the earliest man we read about in the Bible of whom it is said he had godly fear.  In the book of Hebrews, the eleventh chapter, the chapter known as the faith chapter, it is said of Noah that, “by faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household.”  (Heb. 11:7 NKJV)  You can interpret that any way you want but what I get out of it is that Noah was afraid not to build the ark.  Why, because he believed God.  

A man who believes God today concerning what he has had to say about the judgment to come and eternal punishment and orders his life accordingly will simply be following in the footsteps of Noah who acted out of godly fear.  

Moses in recounting the events at Mt. Sinai says the people spoke to him the following words at that time, “Now therefore, why should we die?  For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God anymore, then we shall die.  For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?” (Deut. 5:25-26 NKJV)  They were fearful for their lives because of what they were seeing and hearing.  What was God’s response? 

Three verses later God says, “Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!” (Deut. 5:29 NKJV)  God is saying that his people ought to fear him for their own good.  Has that changed today? 

There is an interesting passage in the book of Jeremiah dealing with this subject.  God speaking says, “They shall be My people, and I will be their God; then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them.  And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me.”  (Jer. 32:38-40 NKJV)  The fear of God is for our good and will help keep us faithful for that is what God is saying. 

God makes it clear that fearing Him is not an evil thing as some seem to feel that it is today.  Some talk like they think God is just Big Daddy.  That kind of thing is very disrespectful.  God is not one of us.  He is not a man.  When we see God we will be on our knees.  We do not bow down to men.  “As I live, says the Lord, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.”  (Rom. 14:11 NKJV, see also Isa. 45:23)  Being in God’s presence is not like going to grandfather’s house.  

The Psalmist says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Psalms 111:10 NKJV)   Solomon said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” (Prov. 1:7 NKJV), “is a fountain of life, to turn one away from the snares of death,” (Prov. 14:27 NKJV), “by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil.” (Prov. 16:6 NKJV) 

Just a few more verses from the Old Testament before turning to the new.  What is the whole duty of man?  Solomon concluded in Eccl. 12:13, NKJV, that it was and is to “fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” or as the old King James version put it, “this is the whole duty of man.” 

What are the blessings to those who fear God?  “The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them.”  (Psalms 34:7 NKJV)  “Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints!  There is no want to those who fear Him.”  (Psalms 34:9 NKJV)  “Surely his salvation is near to those who fear Him.” (Psalms 85:9 NKJV)  “For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him.” (Psalms 103:11 NKJV)  “As a father pities his children, So the Lord pities those who fear Him.”  (Psalms 103:13 NKJV) 

Finally, and then we move to the New Testament, Psalms 89:7, NKJV, “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, And to be held in reverence by all those around Him.”  One wonders, has that changed?  Was it ever meant to change? 

Well, how about the New Testament?  We can have no higher authority than Jesus who said, “I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell: yes, I say to you, fear Him!”  (Luke 12:5 NKJV)  Paul says we are to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12 NKJV) 

There is an interesting passage found in 2 Cor. 7:11 where Paul is recounting how they had repented at Corinth after his first letter admonishing them and he says this, “For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner:  What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear … “ and he goes on.  I have a question.  What were they afraid of?  Was there some godly fear?  Was there fear of condemnation?  

Remember Solomon said in Proverbs, “by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil.” (Prov. 14:27 NKJV)  That is to say by fear of the Lord one repents. 

Paul says we are to perfect holiness “in the fear of God”.  (2 Cor. 7:1 NKJV)  One of the reasons Paul gave for preaching the gospel, in his own words, was “knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” (2 Cor. 5:11 NKJV)  The writer of Hebrews says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Heb. 10:31 NKJV) 

Peter, in fact, commands us to fear God.  He says, “Honor all people.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honor the king.”  (1 Peter 2:17 NKJV) 

The last verse I will use is Rev. 14:6-7, NKJV, “Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth--to every nation tribe, tongue, and people--saying with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.’” 

I believe the Bible is as clear as it can be that man is to fear God.  Call it godly fear if you will for that is what it is.  It is the kind of fear that helps a man stay faithful.  It is the fear that Noah had and that we all ought to have.  The foolish man is the man who does not fear God.  Such a man lives for himself and fears not to disobey God. 

In Rom. 3:18, NKJV, Paul says of those who he has been describing as sinners, talking about their nature and what they had done, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” 

Yes, reverence God but also understand what is included in that--godly fear.  Godly fear, as stated in the beginning of this article, can lead a man to that state described in 1 John 4:18 where fear is banished for love has been perfected--perfected by the kind of faith and obedience that Noah and Abraham had.  “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.”  (1 John 5:3 NKJV)  Such a man ceases to fear for he is faithful to God.  He would fear to be unfaithful.   

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