The Fear of the Lord

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Our natural tendency is to be more concerned about the opinions and responses of others than about the favor of God. What is wrong with this tendency?

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men (2 Corinthians 5:10-11a).

We hear little about the fear of the Lord in our time, and it is hardly in evidence in the community of believers as a source of behavioral motivation. But even a superficial concordance study will reveal that the fear of God is highly prized not only in the Old Testament but also in the New.

Paul’s statement above makes it clear that the fear of the Lord is a solid component in his motivational structure. It is part of the reason that he suffered so much in the process of persuading people about the good news of forgiveness and newness of life in Christ Jesus. (Compare his statement 1 Corinthians 9:16: “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.”)

What does it mean to fear God? Consider Jesus’ words to the multitude that gathered to hear Him: “And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who after He has killed has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:4-5).

Although the living and omnipotent God is worthy of far more reverence than we accord to men, Jesus knows that our natural tendency is to be more concerned about the opinions and responses of people whom we can see than about the favor of God whom we cannot see. Jesus’ words remind us that succumbing to this tendency to play to the visible over the invisible is a serious mistake, because the consequences of disobedience to God are so much greater than the consequences of disobedience to men.

God’s authority is absolute, and our ultimate disposition is in His hands alone. Therefore, anything short of absolute surrender to His claims on our lives is a misguided attempt at autonomy, and this is a game we can never win.

But what are we to make of the apostle John’s familiar words in 1 John 4:18? “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” John has been describing the confidence we have in the day of judgment as believers in Christ, knowing that we are the recipients of the love of God. This love dispels the terror of condemnation and assures us that we abide in Christ because He has given us of His Spirit (4:13).

But John is not dispelling the need for a holy awe and reverence of God. Indeed, when he saw the glorified Christ in Revelation 1, John fell at His feet as a dead man. At that point, the Lord laid His right hand upon him and said, “Do not be afraid: I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Revelation 1:17-18).

The fear of the Lord not only means the cultivation of a reverential awe of God, but also relates to the mindset of a subject in a great kingdom. It is the recognition that the King has all power and authority in His hand, and that the subject’s life, occupation, and future are dependent on the good pleasure of the King. It is the ongoing acknowledgment of His sovereignty and the truth that our lives are in His hands. It is the foundation for wisdom because it leads to a sense of profound dependency, submission, and trust.

A deepening understanding that we are Christ’s bond servants should be part of our motivational structure (see Luke 17:7-10). It can draw us away from the folly of trusting in people more than trusting in God. “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh His strength, and whose heart turns away from the Lord... Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:5, 7). It is a fundamental spiritual blunder to be more concerned about pleasing people than about pleasing God, and to be more afraid of human disapproval than divine disapproval.

We would be wise to cultivate a holy fear, awe, and wonder before the magnificence, might, glory, and greatness of the Creator and Ruler of heaven and earth. Like John, when we see the glorified Christ, what we now dimly perceive about His powers and perfections will become much more clear.

Taken from Ken Boa’s Handbook to Spiritual Growth

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