“Though there is not always grace where there is fear of hell, yet, to be sure, there is no grace where there is no fear of God. For the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and they that lack the beginning have neither middle nor end” (John Bunyan).
Fear of the Lord occupies a significant place in the scriptures; it is “healing to the body” (Proverbs 3:8), “the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7), “the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10) and a “fountain of life” (Proverbs 14:27).
For those who fear the Lord, there is “compassion” (Psalm 103:13, “lovingkindness” (Psalm 103:11), “blessings” (Psalm 115:13) and “riches, honour and life” (Proverbs 22:4). Moreover, “salvation is near to those who fear Him” (Psalm 85:9) and “it will be well for those who fear God” (Ecclesiastes 8:12).
Why then, if fear of the Lord is so fundamental to our well-being, is it a subject rarely touched upon by teachers and preachers? Why is it that we are more concerned with aspects of doctrine that divide us rather than directing our attention to one of the great, objective, foundational truths of the Christian faith? Why is the Church more concerned with “social justice” than “fear of the Lord”?
The answer to these questions lies back in the Garden of Eden. Satan’s attack has always been directed at man’s relationship with God and his weapon has always been to deceive God’s people as to the Word.
“Did God say….” were the very first words attributed to Satan in the Bible (Genesis 3:1), thereby beginning his deception of Eve. “Surely, you shall not die” he said, contradicting what God has already told Adam. This is the demonic pattern of deception leading to ruin; first doubt, then contradiction, and finally disobedience.
The immediate fruit of Adam’s disobedience was exile from the presence of God. No longer was man able to enjoy the provision and protection, the friendship and fellowship, and the comfort and care of the Creator. Death and dishonour, toil and tears, sorrow and suffering became man’s lot. A supernatural seed of rebellion against the Word of God was planted in the flesh of man. Truly, Satan came to “kill and destroy” (John 10:10).
And so it has continued down through the ages to this day; because there is no fear of God in the Church there is no knowledge of God in the land. A nation of unbelievers is the outcome of apostate Christianity’s disregard for the integrity and sacredness of the Holy Word of God. The reverence that derives from a healthy fear of the Lord has been replaced with a coarse familiarity, with the result that Christians live their lives with little difference to those of the world.
Sin is no longer a word much in use; it has become unfashionable to speak about sin. Instead, we use the term ‘problem’. Thus, we no longer use words like ‘perversion’, ‘lust’, and ‘deceitfulness’. Instead, we have been deceived into accepting that these things are just ‘problems’. It is convenient to talk of such things as ‘problems’, because that means they require no response; we don’t have to do anything about them.
On the contrary, sympathetic governments fund costly programmes to help people to cope with their ‘problem’. If that doesn’t work, Parliaments pass laws to proclaim that these things, which God calls sin, are not sins at all, and are not even ‘problems’, but merely ‘alternative lifestyles’ that are to be celebrated. Thus, we have homosexual festivals, abortion on demand, no fault divorce and drug injecting rooms, all promoted and facilitated at the expense of a much abused public purse.
In recent years, we have witnessed the normalisation of things that are undoubtedly sinful in the eyes of God – homosexuality, abortion, prostitution, lying, adultery, fornication – the list goes on and on. The tragedy is that these things are sins, and the terrible danger of regarding them as anything else is that if they are not regarded as sins they will remain unconfessed, unrepented and unforgiven.
Sadly, if we look to the established, organised, visible Church for leadership in confronting these sins as sins, we will be disappointed. Generally, Churches have abandoned their historical role as guardians of our national moral outlook. In this day, they seem more to be instruments of Government, rather than of God. The gospel of the Church in these last days is now about ‘tolerance’, ‘diversity’, ‘inclusion’, ‘multiculturalism’ and all the other “wokeisms” with which we are afflicted. It is a gospel of ‘social justice’; it is also a “different gospel” (Galatians 1:6) of which Paul warned.
The prophecies of Jeremiah speak to these times about a “Church” that has abandoned the fear of the Lord as its creed. The prophets grieve God (23:9), and the land is full of adulterers (23:10). Even the prophets and priests are polluted (23:11). The adultery and deceitfulness of the prophets has set such evil examples to the people “so that no-one has turned back from his wickedness” (23:14). Elsewhere, Jeremiah brings a word from God; “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land; the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority. And my people love it so! But what will be the end of it?” (Jeremiah 5:30-31). Indeed, what will be the end of it!
As a nation, we are facing a very difficult time. The moral decline has led to an economic decline. Important social institutions such as schools, universities and hospitals are in chaos and unable to deliver any longer. Moral relativism has ushered in a new age in which everything abominable to God is not only tolerated, but encouraged. The abandonment of godly standards in our public institutions and public life will take the country into the pit. For, just as “righteousness exalts a nation” (Proverbs 14:34) the opposite is also true. The other half of that proverb says, “sin is a disgrace to any nation”.
So we must reap what we have sown. There is no escape from that. What this means is that each one of us will be thrown upon our relationship with God alone, with little or no help from a Church that is no longer seriously committed to God. We will have to learn to walk with God as individuals, to recover the truths that have been lost in generations of deception.
God holds the Church responsible for the state of the nation; the world, being ruled by Satan, is inevitably driven to wickedness, bestiality and every evil thing. But the Church is meant to be salt, which purifies and preserves, and light, which enlightens, to the world. The degraded state of the nation is a reflection of the state of the Church and the place to start in restoring the Church and blessing the nation is recovering that which has been lost – fear of the Lord.
Fear of the Lord is the outcome of a proper relationship with God; if we have a proper relationship, we will have a proper fear of Him. Fear of the Lord comes from seeing God as He truly is and seeing ourselves as we truly are.
Fear of the Lord does not mean being frightened of God; it is a fear that derives from a consciousness of His presence, for where there is no fear of God there is no presence of God. That consciousness of His presence induces a fear of doing the wrong thing, of being unfaithful or disobedient. It is as much love as it is fear; if I didn’t love Him so much I wouldn’t be fearful of letting Him down.
To know and love God as Father and Lord, is to be fearful of doing anything or going anywhere or participating in anything where He is not totally and unequivocally in absolute control. To venture outside the front door without first knowing that God is with me and I am doing something of which He approves, or going somewhere that is acceptable to Him, is dangerous and impossible for me.
Contrary to popular belief, fear of the Lord is not an exclusively Old Testament exhortation; Jesus said to fear God (Matthew 10:28), Paul said to fear God (2 Corinthians 7:1), Peter said to fear God (1 Peter 2:17). We cannot say that it has no relevance to us.
Fear of the Lord is not merely a fear of His righteous judgement and retribution, but a wholesome and healthy dread of displeasing Him, who is the object of our devotion and love, and the One in whom we trust for our lives in this world as well as the next. A proper fear of the Lord must influence the believer’s moral attitude and conduct. Its fruit will be obedience.
Fear of the Lord did not exist before sin. Adam and Eve lived in the garden and communed with God. There was no fear evident in their relationship with Him. After they sinned, however, they hid themselves from God in fear, lest their sinfulness be confronted by God’s holiness. Their fear was the natural and inevitable outcome of their sin.
So it is with every generation since that time. The natural and proper attitude of man to God must include fear. If we don’t fear God, it is because we don’t see Him as He is nor see ourselves as He sees us; we have come to disregard sin as sin.
When Jesus walked the earth in His carnality, the manifestation of His divine authority always produced fear in the witnesses. For example, when He raised the widow’s only son from death as He was approaching Nain, the response of the bystanders was typical:
“And fear gripped them all and they began glorifying God….” (Luke 7:16). This is the proper outcome of a confrontation with God; firstly fear, and then praise to God’s glory. The scriptures are replete with examples of those fearing the Lord.
The shepherds tending their flocks by night were surrounded by the glory of the Lord; “…and they were afraid with great fear” (Luke 2:9).
When the angel of the Lord appeared to Zacharias (Luke 1:12), “…fear gripped him”.
When Peter obeyed Jesus and hauled in the great quantity of fish from where he had been fishing all night for nothing, “…he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying ‘depart from me, for I am a sinful man O Lord’” (Luke 5:8). This is fear of the Lord; it acknowledges the sinfulness of man and the holiness of God.
Isaiah feared God. He saw God and immediately knew his own sinfulness. “Woe is me!” he cried (Isaiah 6:5). When the apostle John saw Him (Revelation 1:17), he “….fell at His feet as a dead man”. David ruled in the fear of God (2 Samuel 23:3). He had a proper perception of God and a proper perception of himself. “Keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins”, he cried (Psalm 19:13). Nowhere is David’s fear of the Lord more evident than in Psalm 51.
The early Church feared God and prospered as a result. “So the Church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up. And going on in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase” Acts 9:31).
In Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the coming of Jesus, the prophecy said of Him; “And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord. And He will delight in the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:2,3).
On the other hand, there are those, too, who did not fear the Lord.
The priest Eli was one, as were his sons, Hophni and Phinehas, and in 1 Samuel 4 we read of the outcome of their irreverent attitude to God.
Ananias and Sapphira did not fear God. The Word tells us that Satan filled their hearts to lie to the Holy Spirit. Their lives were instantly forfeited.
Psalm 55:19 tells us that Satan and his demonic colleagues do not fear God. That is not to say that they are not frightened of God; rather, they do not have that “fear of the Lord” which is the product of love for God and that manifests itself in obedience to God.
Paul tells us that there are Christians who do not fear God, but instead “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18).
It is important therefore, to take hold of what the Word is telling us about fear of the Lord. It is one of those things, fundamental to true faith, that God is seeking to see restored in His people. For that reason, Satan is directing his attack on Christians and Churches today primarily against the fear of the Lord, disdaining the notion altogether. This has led to the embrace of practices and attitudes and behaviours on the part of professed believers that are almost contemptuous of God and His Word.
Remember what Paul had to say; “Therefore beloved, having these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilements of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 7:1).
How do we get Fear of the Lord?
Whether or not we fear the Lord is up to us; Proverbs 1:29 says that each of us has a choice; but it is a choice that we must make if we value life with God and seek to find knowledge, wisdom and understanding. The alternatives are unthinkable.
“Then they will call upon Me, but I will not answer; they will seek Me diligently, but they will not find Me; because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord” (Proverbs 1:28-29).
Fear of the Lord is a quality that comes from a right relationship with God; it comes from seeing Him as He is; the eternal everlasting God, in all His power, glory and goodness. It also comes from seeing ourselves as we are;
“Like a mere breath” (Psalm 144:4), or “…the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil…” (Ecclesiastes 9:3).
Paul knew something of this. He was man enough to be able to say; “For I know that nothing good dwells in me….” (Romans 7:8).
He also knew from Psalm 85:9 that fear of the Lord is a key to salvation. He wrote to the Philippians “…work out your salvation in fear and trembling…”(Philippians 2:12).
Today, we tend to take our salvation for granted; we allow ourselves to believe that we can do what we like and yet still have peace, confident that calamity will not come upon us (Jeremiah 23:17). Jesus referred to this in saying to the scribes and Pharisees;
“Rightly did Isaiah prophecy of you hypocrites, as it has been written, ‘This people honours Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men’” (Mark 7:6-7).
The men of the early gatherings of God’s people knew better than to make the mistake of following the precepts of men. They knew that salvation is the product of “sanctification of spirit and faith in truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13) and that without holiness “…no-one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
Fear of the Lord is more than the beginning of wisdom; it is the beginning of sanctification leading to everlasting life. To that extent, it is crucial that we cast off our encumbrances and take hold of this fundamental principle, which is basic to a living relationship with Almighty God.
We too can seek to have that “…spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord…” (Isaiah 11:2) with which Jesus was imbued. If we don’t have it, we should ask God to it to us. We will know when we have it, because the fruit of fear of the Lord is obedience to His Word.