CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Love, Fear, and God

Nov 19, 2013

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).

Image of The Practice of Godliness: Godliness has value for all things
The Practice of Godliness: Godliness has value for all things by Jerry Bridges Amazon logo

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.

[1274 words]

13 Responses to Love, Fear, and God

  • The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. Proverbs 9:10

    Many people don’t fear or respect ANY authority. Parents, teachers, the Police and traditional authority figures are now challenged at every opportunity and that is a flow on effect of the lack of fear of God.

    Jo Deller

  • Police and traditional authority in some countries haven’t exactly done much to cover themselves in glory in recent years, what with all the financial backhanders, abuse of peaceful protesters, harassment of law-abiding motorists and other internal corruptions. However, I do understand what you mean. There is little to no belief in God, in many people’s minds, so they simply do not fear what they don’t believe in.

    The new-agers are always banging on about how we shouldn’t allow religion to use the fear of God to control us. They don’t acknowledge God in a personal way, but simply a “Source of Everything”. Their thinking is that religion and Bibles are controlling-tools; that we should fight to be free of fear and eventually claim the role of God ourselves. They actually believe that we ARE gods. I recall in one forum seeing someone’s fairly decent Christian response (it wasn’t mine) absolutely attacked outright by the forum mod, with the vicious question “and who is this god you talk about?” (God with a small g).

    There is a huge movement to wipe out the “fear of God” from people’s minds; a move towards a kind of “we don’t need no god to run our lives”. mind-set.

    I rather liked Mr Bridges’ quote that you gave, beginning “There is a healthy tension that exists in the godly person’s heart…..” Yes, and what’s more it is something that can be felt and appreciated. I don’t consider such a thing as “control” in a negative sense; but the new-agers think it’s mind-conditioning.

    Chris Dark

  • Many people don’t fear or respect ANY authority. Parents, teachers, the Police and traditional authority figures are now challenged at every opportunity and that is a flow on effect of the lack of fear of God.

    Quite correct, Jo. They consider themselves to be their own gods, and therefore do not recognise the God of the Universe, neither do they respect His authority over them, or reverence Him as a Person.

    John Angelico

  • There is a huge movement to wipe out the “fear of God” from people’s minds; a move towards a kind of “we don’t need no god to run our lives”. mind-set.

    Quite right Chris – it’s mostly within the church itself. It seems they are unable to reconcile a God of wrath and judgement according to the new covenant.

    Dameon McManus

  • Thank you for this IMPORTANT reminder of what ‘awe of God’ truly is from a biblical perspective. It’s shocking that we do not fall on our faces at the mere THOUGHT of His Majesty, and stay there WORSHIPING Him BEFORE we pray. We refer to and petition our HOLY, HOLY, HOLY GOD as if we were ‘BFF’s’.
    Mary Ann Wright

  • For me, at least part of the fear of God consists in being careful to, once having found forgiveness and entry into his presence not to lose sight of it again by thoughtless and careless pursuit of fleshly and selfish desires which so eagerly crowd at the door of consciousness and the place of decision making.
    Thank you for keeping us on our knees, “the height of a bended knee” as Terry Talbott so aptly put it in one of his songs from many years ago.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  • Interestingly, I was having a online discussion with an atheist who was trolling a Christian newspaper site, quietly passing himself (?) off as one who supported the particular Christian article, yet was throwing in a doubt here, and a twist there, into the debate. And the way I drew him out as to show his real colours was on this particular topic… the need for the fear of God. After admitting that He didn’t believe in the saving grace of Jesus Christ he ended with something like “I refuse to believe in a god whom I have to fear”. Ultimately those who do not fear Almighty God, are not submitted to Him nor to His son Jesus.

    Garth Penglase

  • Hi Bill,

    The Bible gives us a great definition of “fear God”

    It comes from Proverbs the first part of that verse
    prov 8:13 The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.

    Now putting this into a way that works for me, if you hate something, you love the opposite, which is good, therefore to fear the Lord is to love good, work towards good, work towards doing good, even though there is no one good but God. This does not mean that we should not work towards building in ourselves God/ Christ like attributes.

    So in my mind, the fear of the Lord is quite a positive thing, something of great value to work towards, rather than something to be run away from. After all, the Lord wants to draw us towards him.

    Anyhow, that’s just my thoughts on the subject, hope they help.

    Neil Waldron.

  • Jo, I would add to your and Chris’ comment that for the very same reasons you are saying that men do not respect authority, it is hard to respect or trust many in authority… Because men have forgotten God, they have no fear of God, nor understand that as one in authority they will answer to God for that level of authority, much of authority is corrupted. We live in a time most men prefer evil over good, when most authority in the West is questionable… governments, councils, police and even church leaders, you’ll find many who are as corrupt as how we view the rest of the world, if not moreso due to their clandestine nature – under the table business dealings, backroom deals in politics, fraudulent $billion transactions and misuse of police and martial power with illegal incarcerations and killings happens daily.

    When the people of the world lose their fear of God they fall into the grave sin of unbelief and become as the residents of Sodom & Gomorrah and surrounding cities who were “…arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.”

    Garth Penglase

  • My husband and I had had several “run-ins” with people on this issue who should have known better. One was a senior bible college lecturer and the other was a Pastor. Both in Brisbane. It was bizarre their logic. We could not understand HOW they could have got to their point of view. We both came to the conclusion that they clearly couldn’t be spending much time reading the Word. What other explanation could there be? Thanks for saying what you did.

    Sharon Stay

  • Thanks Sharon. Sad to hear, but not unexpected sadly.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • When we sing ‘How Great Thou Art’ we remember the stars, the rolling thunder, God’s power displayed throughout the universe etc. Try singing this while watching an out-of-control bushfire or some other awesome manifestation of nature’s power. Yet His power is greater. The Psalmist says ‘Who will not fear You O Lord among the gods?’
    In a more vernacular mode Bob Dylan sang ‘Do you ever wonder just what God requires?/Do you think He’s just an errand boy to satisfy your wandering desires?’ (from ‘When You Gonna Wake Up?’)

    Terry Darmody

  • And where is Bob Dylan now?
    And what about those who just cracked that porn ring you told us about in the next article, Bill, are they to be trusted to share God’s utter hatred of sin that will give them the strength to desire to exterminate that kind of stuff altogether? I doubt many would be able to withstand the pressure, let alone temptation they are being exposed to in that kind of work without it.

    “therefore, work out your own salvation in fear and trembling, knowing it is God at work in you both to will and to do according to His good pleasure.”
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

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