Skip to comments.The Fear of the Lord
Posted on 04/25/2008 2:34:56 PM PDT by Gamecock
In verse 9 of Psalm 19, we read that "the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever." The comment on this verse in the once popular Scofield Reference Bible is typical of statements that are still too commonly made, I'm afraidand not only in consciously dispensationalist churches. Scofield's comment is this: "The 'fear of the Lord' [is] a phrase of Old Testament piety."
Now, what does such a comment imply? That "the fear of the Lord" is a phrase of Old Testament piety is obviously true and undeniable. But one fears that the implication of the comment (and indeed the reason for making it) is that "the fear of the Lord" was a characteristic of Old Testament piety as distinguished from New Testament piety. I want to remind you that that is false and to be rejected clearly and vigorously.
Was it another of those Gospel commands that will apply in the future kingdom agewhen, according to classic dispensationalism, an Old Testament piety will again be in orderwhen our Lord in Matthew 10:28 commanded us to fear the God who can destroy both soul and body in hell? Was our Lord himself practicing merely Old Testament piety when his prayer in Gethsemane was "heard for his godly fear"as the Revised Standard Version translates Hebrews 5:7? (The Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich lexicon translates the Greek noun here as "reverent awe and fear.") Isaiah 11:3 had prophesied that the messianic shoot from the stump of Jesse would "delight in the fear of the Lord."
Isn't it the very essence of man's total depravity in every age, according to the apostle Paul, that "there is no fear of God before their eyes" (Rom. 3:18, quoting Psalm 36)? The repentant criminal asked the other criminal in amazement at Calvary: "Don't you fear God?" (Luke 23:40). When our Lord wanted to indicate the character of the unjust judge in a parable, he did so by saying that he "neither feared God nor cared about men" (Luke 18:2).
God's people, on the other hand, are described in the New Testament as those who are "living in the fear of the Lord" (Acts 9:31). The risen and ascended Christ has poured out his Spirit upon his church, and, as we have seen from Isaiah's prophecy, the Spirit of Christ is the Spirit of the fear of the Lord. As John Murray wrote in Principles of Conduct (p. 229), "The fear of God is the soul of godliness.... If we are thinking of the [marks] of biblical piety [notice: biblical piety, not just Old Testament piety] none is more characteristic than the fear of the Lord."
You would think that simply studying a concordance would keep any Christian from thinking that "the fear of the Lord" distinguished Old Testament piety from New Testament piety. The mother of our Lord praised God that "his mercy extends to those who fear him" (Luke 1:50). The apostle Paul called upon Christians to "make holiness perfect in the fear of God" (2 Cor. 7:1 RSV), to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12), and to "be subject to one another in the fear of Christ" (Eph. 5:21 NASB). The apostle Peter urged them to "love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king" (1 Pet. 2:17), and to "live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear" (1 Pet. 1:17).
Now, if you look at these verses in the New International Version, you will see that the word "reverence" is used in some cases instead of "fear." And there is good reason for such a translation, because there are two kinds of fear that appear in the Bible. That is brought out in Exodus 20:20"Moses said to the people, 'Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.' " Here a contrast is drawn between being afraid (don't do it) and properly fearing God (do it).
There is that fear that is not coupled with love and trust, and therefore can lead only to terror and despair. James tells us that the demons believe that there is one Godand shudder in fear (Jas. 2:19). The day will come when "the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man" will hide "in caves and among the rocks of the mountains," and will call to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?" (Rev. 6:15-17). The writer to the Hebrews speaks of covenant breakers, apostates, for whom "no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God" (Heb. 10:26-27).
Need I point out that this is not that fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10), that is the soul of godlinessthat fear of the Lord in which the messianic Son of David delights? In Psalm 19, where we began by noting Scofield's comment, David is rejoicing in the law that produces fear of the Lord. I am reminded of the title of Jerry Bridges's excellent book, The Joy of Fearing God (published by WaterBrook Press in 1997). I recommend that book to you. John Rosemond, whose advice on parenting is syndicated in many newspapers, says he learned something from Bridges's book about the proper attitude of the child to the parent: that fearing one's parents and knowing that they love you are not incompatible.
What a grave error it would be to imagine that the new covenant, in contrast to the old, has replaced the fear of God with the love of God. That would be as contrary to the New Testament understanding of the proper response to the God of holiness and mercy as it would be contrary to the Old Testament understanding. Before you hastily assume that there is a tension between fear of God and love of Godor between fear of God and faith in Godmeditate upon the truth of Psalm 130:3-4, "If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared."
Yes, praise God, the word of 1 John 4:18 is true: "Perfect love drives out fear." But it is the dread of eternal torment that love drives out, not reverence and adoration before God's majesty. In the song of Moses and of the Lamb, we hear, "Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy" (Rev. 15:4).
And so there is good reason why the NIV chooses to use the word "reverence" to speak of that fear that is a godly fear, a proper fear. That fear is the rich convergence of awe in the presence of the eternal Godthe Creator of the universe, the holy Lawgiver, the righteous Judge, and the merciful Saviorand a consciousness of being in his presence every moment. There is the convergence of awe, reverence, adoration, honor, worship, confidence, thankfulness, love, and, yes, fear.
We must not omit the element of fear from our understanding of that proper reverence that the Bible commands us to have. To test the patience of our holy God, to willfully disobey his revealed will, should be to us a fearful as well as a hateful thing, because it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:31). We have seen that it is the very essence of the depravity of unbelieving men that "there is no fear of God before their eyes."
Sometimes it seemsincredible though this is going to soundthat having no fear of God is the root sin of the evangelical church in America today, the root cause of its moral flabbiness and ineffective witness! Although it is certainly too strong to say that there is no fear of God, it does seem that there is too often very little fear of God.
A few years ago, certain prominent televangelists were making the headlines with the discovery of their blatant sins of financially defrauding trusting supporters and engaging in immoral sexual behavior. And now, once again, the president of the National Baptist Convention has begun a prison term for racketeering to the tune of 4 million dollars and pocketing thousands of dollars entrusted to him for rebuilding burned-out churches in the South. The question that immediately comes to mind is, "Don't these men fear God?" They were ministers of the Word of God, what the New Testament calls "men of God," and yet they were living (until they were caught) like children of the devil! And after asking whether such "Christians" fear God, one must go on to ask whether they can really believe in God and be guilty of such detestable hypocrisy.
Jerry Bridges writes: "There was a time when committed Christians were known as God-fearing people. This was a badge of honor. But somewhere along the way we lost it. Now the idea of fearing God, if thought of at all, seems like a relic from the past" (page 1).
Well, the term may seem terribly old-fashioned, but let us pray that the Spirit of Christ will make us a God-fearing people. Then, fearing God, we shall have no one or nothing else to fear. As we read in Isaiah 8:11-13,
The Lord spoke to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people. He said: "Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread, and he will be a sanctuary."
32. The Last Judgement 1689 CONFESSION
God has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness, by Jesus Christ, to Whom all power and judgement is given by the Father. In this day not only the apostate angels shall be judged, but also all people who have lived upon the earth. They shall appear before the tribunal of Christ to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds, and to receive according to what they have done when in the body, whether good or evil.
The end of God’s appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of His mercy in the eternal salvation of the elect, and also His justice, in the eternal damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. Then shall the righteous go into everlasting life and receive that fullness of joy and glory with everlasting reward in the presence of the Lord. But the wicked, who know not God and obey not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast aside into everlasting torments, and punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.
As Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there will be a day of judgement, both to deter all men from sin and to give greater consolation to the godly in their adversity, so also He will have the date of that day kept unknown to men, that they may shake off all carnal security, and always be watchful, because they know not at what hour the Lord will come. Also, so that men may be affected in such a way that they ever say, ‘Come Lord Jesus, come quickly!’ Amen.
THE REASON FOR THE LACK OF GODLY FEAR FOR THE REPROBATE;
(Thomas Brooks, “The Unsearchable Riches of Christ”)
“Watch your life and doctrine closely.” 1 Timothy 4:16
Heavenly doctrines should always be adorned with a
Ministers must preach Christ as well in their lifeas in
their doctrine. They must not be hot in the pulpit, and
cold and careless in their lives. The lives of ministers
oftentimes convince more strongly than their words;
their tongues may persuadebut their lives command.
What is it, which renders the things of God so contemptuous
and odious in the eyes of many peoplebut the ignorance,
looseness, profaneness, and worldliness of those who are the
dispensers of them. Unholy ministers pull down instead
of building up. Oh the souls who their lives destroy! These,
by their loose lives, lead their flocks to hellwhere they
themselves must lie lowermost!
Wicked ministers do more hurt by their livesthan
they do good by their doctrine. Every minister’s
life should be a commentary upon Christ’s life!
“Be an example to all believers in what you
teach, in the way you live, in your love, your
faith, and your purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12
WE HAVE A LIBERAL GOSPEL WHICH IS NO GOSPEL.
MEN LIKE A FEEL GOOD ,TICKLE MY EARS PREACHING AND THERE WILL BE MANY RIDEING A PEW STRAIGHT TO HELL.
AS I ONCE HEARD,”BEING AT CHURCH ON SUNDAY DOES NOT MAKE YOU A CHRISTIAN,ANYMORE THEN SITTING IN A GARAGE MAKES YOU A CAR”!
Excellent post. I don't know how many ministers-good ministers-try to excuse the "fear" of God by saying it means "reverence". As this author points out, there are a few times that is what it means but not most of the times. Most of the time, even in the New Testament it means fear.
I think of it like this-God has put His Spirit in us to walk in His statutes and obey His ordinances. We are to be perfect even as our Father is perfect and He has given us this means. Every time we sin, we willfully grieve or quench the Spirit that God has given to help us. God promises to chastise us to bring us back into submission. In the final analysis, God expects us to do what is right and when we fail it's our willful disobedience to His Spirit.
It would be in God's prerogative to strike us down like Ananias and Sapphira for disobedience. I think fear of God is a very healthy thing since you can then understand God's love and patience.
This is an interesting topic. The reprobate never has fear of the Lord simply because the fear of the Lord is the beginning of godly wisdom. I believe when the scriptures talk about fear of the Lord, in most cases, it is in reference to believers. This author seems to be right on target that probably the reason the church has all the problems it does is that we really don’t have a healthy fear of God.
AMEN! Great essay from the OPC.
Suppose if you will that in the beginning there was a personage, a being.
This being had consciousness, intellect and self awareness as is evident in most advanced life forms however so much more so that we are incapable of comprehending the extent thereof.
Then in the process of inward and outward contemplation was The Word perceived.
The Word, a thought, an utterance, a label, used to convey and describe thoughts, emotions, objects, events.
The Word, a brilliant, thundering everlasting epiphany, primeval, and chief delight.
The Word. The very means by which I am able to convey this message and by which you are capable of receiving it.
This being, perceived and acknowledged that The Word empowered Him to contemplate and order all those things discovered both inward and out.
The Word was the sure, the firm foundation upon which rested continuity of recognition of the things which were perceived.
This being, (I am going to call Him God from this point), discovered and perceived everlasting precepts of what we term the sciences.
The immutable laws and principles of mathematics, physics, etc.
He realized the capability of creation, intelligent design and much like an architect or an engineer formulated and planned their existence.
(The Torah, The Book of Genesis, describes the creation of things before their actuality.)
Because God was all that there was He ordered these things from his own being, they were constructed by Him and of Him.
That is to say, we are formed of His substance.
Energy/matter localized by perception and observation birthed the concepts of time and space.
But The One yet resides beyond and within these constructs. He is in all and all is within Him, (except the unknown.)
It has been claimed that space is empty. But there can be movement or conveyance of energy except there be a medium upon which it might propagate.
What I’m trying to say here is that there is a God, we are his constructs and whatsoever He wills concerning us, our existence, shall come to pass.
We can not hope to thwart His desire or purpose and would be foolish to even consider doing so.
Ps. 130 is da BOMB, and anyone who doesn’t fear God just isn’t paying attention, IMHO. Good post, by and large, and thank you for it.
Us Reformers believe this is so. There are many others who believes God has given up some of His sovereign control to man so that man can make decisions.
Man has self will and agency to make choices, to choose and order his own destiny. We are much less “hard-wired” than the animal kingdom and therefore are accountable for those choices.
From Him that is given much, much is expected.
He that sins with a greater degree of knowledge and understanding receives a greater condemnation.
But I think that the Spirit retains some degree of desire and purpose concerning the sons of men and will yet act on their behalf
Not to get off on a tangent of man's free will, but earlier you stated it was God who ordered and destined man. Now you are stating that man chooses and order his own destiny. Bringing this back onto the subject of the fear of God, it would seem to me that if God ordered my destiny I would have a lot less to be fearful for than if I ordered my destiny. In fact, knowing myself, I really don't wish to order my destiny. I would rather leave my destiny in the hands of God. Wouldn't you?
I just had something to say and I’m glad I had the opportunity to do so.
Make what you will of it.
I could care less.
Amen, Harley! Luther said the same thing. (But I like your accent better.)
Distilled version of this article:
Q. “...don’t these men fear God?”
It has been claimed that space is empty. But there can be NO movement or conveyance of energy except there be a medium upon which it might propagate.
I apologize somewhat for my remark in #13.
I do care or I would not have made the initial post.
We control our own destiny to the extent that we are willing to pursue it.
Realizing that persistence and diligence to education and work ethics will in time allow us to reap the benefits thereof, is akin to laboring in our own garden. Toil will in time allow us partake in the yield of our labor.
Conservatism is about accepting and taking personal responsibility for your wants and needs.