Defining the Fear of the Lord

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Friday, August 17, 2018 0 comments

by Charlie Wolcott

Fear is a topic we often preach and sing against. Some have said there are over 300 references in Scripture with something along the lines of “Do not be afraid” or “Fear not.” This is an important issue, because fear is usually a result of doubt, and doubt is a lack of faith. Anything not of faith is sin, so fear is a result of sin. However, there is one type of fear that must be embraced: the fear of the Lord.

There are many misconceptions about the fear of the Lord. There is one extreme that teaches we need to be terrified of God because he is dangerous and can hurt us. There is another extreme that we should be in awe and reverent of God. Let me set the record straight here: we need BOTH of these at the same time.

Too many people want a safe God, a friendly God. They want a God that is powerful enough to provide what they want, to protect them, and to cater to their desires, but they don’t want one who is sovereign over their lives let alone will discipline them. People love the idea that God is their Father, but they really do not consider what that means, or they did not have a good father relationship growing up.

A good father has multiple roles and I am going to emphasize just a few. He is to be a provider, a protector, the head of the household, the law-maker, and the enforcer of the laws. Many of us love the first two, but not many like the latter three. Those of us in the older generations had fathers who used a belt or a switch (a tree branch) to give us a spanking when we were bad. Some of you in the younger generation might have experienced this, others might not have. We developed a fear of our fathers, not because he was abusive (though if that was the case for you, this is not what I am endorsing by any means), but because we did not want to have to go through discipline. And most of use who endured such discipline turned out to be just fine.

Do we fear God? Do we honor and respect him as the God of the universe? Do we recognize that our own sin is deserving of his wrath and his vengeance? As children we often would brag about how great our dads were and get into boasting matches about how strong or how cool he is. Boys in particular generally idolize their fathers. They want to be like daddy. He is big and strong. When we get into trouble, daddy comes to the rescue. But when we are the trouble, daddy comes to deal with the issue. However, there is a huge difference between being disciplined by daddy and being punished by a judge. The same difference is what each person faces with God. The born-again believer faces God as Father, but the lost sinner faces him as Judge.

I’ll share four examples in the Bible (among others) of God dealing with his people, and sometimes in order to instill fear of him, he had to strike someone down. After the victory at Jericho, Achan stole some loot from the city when told not to. It cost Israel a battle and 36 men from the tiny town of Ai. God had him executed for it. Then when David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, he put it on a cart instead of on the shoulders of the Levites and when it began to tumble, Uzzah touched it with the intention of saving it. God killed him on the spot.

In the New Testament, God struck down Ananias and Sapphira for lying to God about how much money they were giving to the church. Then in Ephesus, when the seven sons of Sceva tried to ride Paul’s coattails and cast out demons in his name, the demons laughed them out of the house, leaving them bleeding and naked from the beating. In all four of these cases, the fear of the Lord came upon the people. We are not to take him lightly.

While God is a good God, that actually is the most terrifying truth in all Scripture according to Paul Washer. It should terrify us because he is good and we are not. For God to be good, he must execute the proper punishment for sin or he would not be a good God. We rejoice when the wicked receive their due; every story illustrates this when the villain is defeated. We need to recognize we are the villains of our own stories. We are sinful, treacherous, violent, evil people in our sinful nature. If we were to be dead honest with ourselves and follow the nature of our own sinful tendencies to their full conclusion, we’d make Hitler look like an angel. I can say that of myself. Apart from the grace and mercy of God, if he were to let me act and fully carry out the sinful tendencies I could have, I’d have the general population calling for my execution. Do you think you are not like that? Just examine your thoughts on the road towards other drivers and if you knew you would never get caught, what would you really do? You do not do it because of fear of getting caught (among other reasons). How many of you hit the brakes the moment you see a cop car, whether you are speeding or not? That is fear of the law. There should be a similar and stronger fear of God.

God is a dangerous God, yet he is good. He is perfectly consistent in his character and if we are his, he will protect us, but in that protection, he must kick out anything that would bring us harm. That includes our sinful nature and the baggage we bring. He is very gentle and yet firm in how he works it out of us.

God does not want fear-stricken converts who only worship him because of dread of what will happen if they don’t. He also does not want careless, casual converts who do not make him their priority. He wants people who will love him for who he is and what he does, but also honor and respect him, rightfully fearing his wrath against sin. Next week, I’ll take this idea and make it practical. How can we live in the fear of the Lord, and what are the benefits of living in such a way?

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