It is quite common for believers today to play down concepts such as the fear of God, or at least to ignore it, minimise it, or seek to explain it away. “Oh it does not really mean fear” we are told. And at the same time we are downplaying this concept, we are awash with phrases like, “God is awesome”.
Now God most certainly is awesome, but that term has been so bandied about and so trivialised, that it means next to nothing. When someone gets handed a can of Dr Pepper they proclaim “Awesome!” Someone buys a new video game and says it is “totally awesome!”
We have robbed this word of its force and proper meaning, so to apply it to God is now almost a meaningless exercise. Yet our God is totally awesome, in the proper sense of the word – so much so that a godly fear of his person should be upon all of us.
Our God is full of majesty, holiness, purity and glory. So we should be filled with awe, reverence and respect for the God with whom we have to do. Yet that is rarely the experience of most believers today. God is their buddy and pal, someone who smiles gently from heaven at all they do, and exists merely to answer prayer or get people out of a jam.
The God of the Bible has been reduced to a celestial Jeeves who basically exists to meet our needs and satisfy our desires. The holy God of the Bible who struck terror in the hearts of men is largely absent in today’s church. As an example of how fearful our God really is, just try this simple exercise: start jotting down every text you see where someone is falling prostrate before God in the Bible.
There are plenty of these cases, found in both Testaments. It seems every time a mere human encountered the presence of the living God, he could only fall on his face in holy terror, and hope he could survive such an awesome encounter with a holy God. That is certainly in marked contrast with what we find in today’s churchianity.
There are obviously many great saints who have spoken of such truths. Many could be appealed to here, but let me focus on just one. Jerry Bridges, who was recently out here in Australia, is a leading authority on discipleship and Christian living. He is no wild-eyed zealot but a respectable bible teacher working for a respectable organisation (the Navigators).
His hugely important 1978 volume, The Pursuit of Holiness is a modern day classic which has sold in the millions. Here I simply want to offer some crucial quotes from his equally helpful 1983 book, The Practice of Godliness. In his chapter on “Devotion to God” he says a number of vital things which bear repeating today:
“It is impossible to be devoted to God if one’s heart is not filled with the fear of God. It is this profound sense of veneration and honor, reverence and awe that draws forth from our hearts the worship and adoration that characterizes true devotion to God. The reverent, godly Christian sees God first in his transcendent glory, majesty, and holiness before he sees him in his love, mercy, and grace.
“There is a healthy tension that exists in the godly person’s heart between the reverential awe of God in his glory and the childlike confidence in God as heavenly Father. Without this tension, a Christian’s filial confidence can easily degenerate into presumption.
“One of the more serious sins of Christians today may well be the almost flippant familiarity with which we often address God in prayer. None of the godly men of the Bible ever adopted the casual manner we often do. They always addressed God with reverence. The same writer who tells us that we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place, the throne room of God, also tells us that we should worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, ‘for our God is a consuming fire’ (Hebrews 10:19 and Hebrews 12:28-29). Paul, who tells us that the Holy Spirit dwelling within us causes us to cry ‘Abba Father,’ also tells us that this same God lives in ‘unapproachable light’ (Romans 8:15 and 1 Timothy 6:16).
“In our day we must begin to recover a sense of awe and profound reverence for God. We must begin to view him once again in the infinite majesty that alone belongs to him who is the Creator and Supreme Ruler of the entire universe. There is an infinite gap in worth and dignity between God the Creator and man the creature, even though man has been created in the image of God. The fear of God is a heartfelt recognition of this gap—not a putdown of man, but an exaltation of God….
“In our day we seem to have magnified the love of God almost to the exclusion of the fear of God. Because of this preoccupation we are not honoring God and reverencing him as we should. We should magnify the love of God; but although we revel in his love and mercy, we must never lose sight of his majesty and his holiness….
“The truly godly person never forgets that he was at one time an object of God’s holy and just wrath. He never forgets that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—and like Paul he feels that he is himself the worst of sinners. But then as he looks to the cross he sees that Jesus was his atoning sacrifice. He sees that Jesus bore his sins in his own body, and that the wrath of God—the wrath which he, a sinner, should have borne—was expended completely and totally upon the holy Son of God. And in this view of Calvary, he sees the love of God.
“The love of God has no meaning apart from Calvary. And Calvary has no meaning apart from the holy and just wrath of God. Jesus did not die just to give us peace and a purpose in life; he died to save us from the wrath of God. He died to reconcile us to a holy God who was alienated from us because of our sin. He died to ransom us from the penalty of sin—the punishment of everlasting destruction, and of being shut out from the presence of the Lord. He died that we, the just objects of God’s wrath, should become, by his grace, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.
“How much we appreciate God’s love is conditioned by how deeply we fear him. The more we see God in his infinite majesty, holiness, and transcendent glory, the more we will gaze with wonder and amazement upon his love poured out at Calvary. But it is also true that the more deeply we perceive God’s love to us in Christ, the more profound will be our reverence and awe of him.
“The psalmist caught this truth when he said, ‘If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared’ (Psalm 130:3-4). He worshiped God with reverence and awe because of God’s forgiveness. In our practice of godliness, then, we must seek to grow both in the fear of God and in an ever-increasing comprehension of the love of God. These two elements together form the foundation of our devotion to God.”
I can’t really add anything more to that, so I won’t, except to say, amen and amen.