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Concerning the Fear of God

Aug 4, 2019

When is the last time you heard a sermon or read a book on the fear of God?

Here is a little experiment you can conduct. Go to any Christian bookstore and try to find all the books you can on “the fear of God”. Let me help you out here: if you find one or two you will be doing really well. Sure, you will find a million books about overcoming fear and the like, but that is an altogether different topic.

I just did a quick search of online bookstores and found very few titles containing this phrase. Those that seemed to fit the bill were few and far between. I could only put together a very short bibliography:

Beeke, Joel and Paul Smalley, John Bunyan and the Grace of Fearing God. P&R, 2016.
Bunyan, John, Treatise on the Fear of God. 1679.
Bridges, Jerry, The Joy of Fearing God. Waterbrook Press, 1997, 2004.
Martin, Albert, The Forgotten Fear: Where Have All the God Fearers Gone? Reformation Heritage Books, 2015.
Montgomery, Mattie, Scary God: Introducing the Fear of the Lord to the Postmodern Church. Thomas Nelson, 2018.
Petrie, Alistair, In Holy Fear: Rediscovering the Fear of the Lord. CityHarvest, 2015.

Yes there would be some other titles that might fit in here. But there is not a lot on this topic. Worse yet, I must confess that I only own the first book on that list! I hope to immediately rectify that, and get those other five volumes real soon!

But here is the scoop: The sad truth is, almost no one is talking about the fear of God anymore. Few pastors preach on it, few authors write on it, and few Christians meditate on it. It is becoming a lost truth of Christianity. Yet the Bible is saturated with the idea from Genesis to Revelation.

I just did an online search of the NIV, and guess how many times the phrase the “fear of God” is mentioned? Guess how many times the phrase the “fear of the Lord” is mentioned? Guess how many times the phrase “fear God” is mentioned? Guess how many times the word “reverence” is mentioned?

All up 889 times! The first, 334 times; the second, 493 times; the third, 47 times; and the fourth, 15 times. That is nearly a thousand references to the fear of God. And other terms and phrases could also be included here. If the Bible speaks to this topic that often, then we all better start paying some close attention to it.

It seems that over the years I have penned at least four articles entirely devoted to this topic:

billmuehlenberg.com/2010/08/29/the-fear-of-god/

billmuehlenberg.com/2013/11/19/love-fear-and-god/

billmuehlenberg.com/2014/07/23/on-the-fear-of-god/

billmuehlenberg.com/2016/12/17/23182/

And I would have referred to this theme many other times as well. So why am I bringing it up here again? As is often the case, a number of things have all happened at around the same time which makes me think that this is not merely a coincidence, but a God-thing.

First and foremost, I am continually aware of my own deficiencies in this area: my own lack of the fear of God, of holiness, of taking God seriously, of keeping close accounts with God. I am all too aware of how far I have to go in these areas, and it bothers me that I am not so much further ahead, having been a Christian for so long. Yes I am far better than I once was, but I have such a long way to go.

Second, in my daily reading I again came upon a classic text in this regard. In Isaiah 6:1-5 we find these memorable and sobering words:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
    the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Third, a friend just posted a 25-minute video on the social media about the fear of God. I just watched it now. It is a compilation of great preachers and men of God speaking on this theme. Thus we find powerful and Holy Ghost empowered snippets from David Wilkerson, Leonard Ravenhill, Paul Washer, John Piper, Art Katz and Carter Conlon (plus a few others I did not recognise.)

This is the sort of video we all need to watch regularly and prayerfully. Indeed, you would be far better placed to stop reading this article now and go straight to the video instead: www.youtube.com/watch?v=su6VYvQN1Zk&feature=share

Image of Joy of Fearing God, The
Joy of Fearing God, The by Jerry Bridges Amazon logo

It is a life-changer. If it does not stir your soul and bring some much-needed conviction, I do not know what will. So do yourself a favour and watch it – as many times as is necessary. We just do not hear this sort of preaching any more. Yes a few pastors and teachers run with it, but they are clearly in the minority.

Let me offer a few closing thoughts on all this. From my perspective, most Christians in the West have lost this sense of the fear of God. Most are too careless about their obedience, their holiness, and their walk with God. They lack biblical balance. So they very much need to be reminded of these great biblical truths.

However we are all different of course. There are some Christians who are in a much different place. They might be overly legalistic. Or they might have no sense of assurance. They might question daily if they are even Christians. They might see God only as a dreadful judge and stern taskmaster. They might cringe whenever they think of God.

That too is an unbalanced picture of God and a lopsided Christian life. Such people need to hear about the wonderful grace, mercy, patience and love of God. They need to know about a loving heavenly father who cares for them deeply and tenderly. They need to see again the picture of the Father as told in the parable of the Prodigal Son.

So there is no one-size-fits-all Christianity here. Because we are all different, we all need different spiritual medicines at different times in our lives. But what I said above I believe is still more or less true: most Christians do indeed need to hear more about the fear of God.

We have far too many Christians in the West today who have a disrespectful and glib relationship with God. God is their pal, their buddy, their chum – or perhaps their butler. They have little or no deep reverence, respect and fear of God. They have a much too cavalier and fleshly sense of who God is.

So as always, we need to get the biblical balance right here. We need to proclaim the whole counsel of God. In a day of easy Christianity, cheap grace, and a watered-down gospel, we need to reclaim the fundamental truth of the fear of the Lord.

“Blessed is the one who fears the LORD always.” (Proverbs 28:14 ESV)

[1233 words]

11 Responses to Concerning the Fear of God

  • I tried to get through the YouTube but all the shouting I find difficult. When I listen to ‘the still small voice’ I hear the Word of God, His Word is Christ, the Holy Spirit whispers, confirms, inspires, reverence for God. Respect, love, devotion, dedication, service to others, these I offer as my sacrifice, my commitment to God, my Heavenly and Eternal Father. To reverence Him is to truly fear Him.
    The words of this hymn say it all, for me –
    “I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me,
    Confused at the grace that so fully He proffers me.
    I tremble to know that for me He was crucified,
    That for me a sinner, He suffered, He bled and died.
    Oh it is wonderful, that He should care for me
    Enough to die for me,
    Oh it is wonderful, wonderful to me.”
    I equate the love of Christ with the love of The Father who sent Him.

  • Thanks Harry. But there was very little “shouting” in those 25 minutes! Overwhelmingly it was just soft talking, pleading and gentle preaching and persuading. You might live a rather sheltered life when it comes to real hardcore preaching!

  • Thanks Bill. I’m glad you included that extreme of legalism which causes so many Christians to live in condemnation. I went with friends to see the new Pilgrims Progress which deeply moved all of us. One of the things that struck me from that allegory birthed in an obvious reverential fear of God was that the pilgrim is deceived into heading off the path to a mountain of legalism and judgement which nearly destroys him. I thought it was amazing how Bunyan could differentiate so clearly between obedience to God and legalism. It’s for all of us to find that balance for sure.

  • Ironic this topic is popping up as well as the same scripture verses. I have recently found A&o productions and great sermons on youtube. They are mostly Wilkerson, Conlon, and Voddy that I have actually been binge listening to. What have may offended me in the past with this type of sermon is now giving me such a sense of peace, comfort and conviction.

  • Thank you

  • Excellent that you have addresses this, Bill. I have often responded to the breakdowns in the American society as a lack of the fear of God (reverence, respect, etc). This selfish pursuit breeds rebellious lawlessness and, even though people attempt to sugar-coat selfishness as “compassion” it really is an abandoning of God in favor of man/self.
    Joy Dawson wrote an excellent book on the Fear of the Lord: Intimate Friendship with God: Through Understanding the Fear of the Lord.

  • I am very pleased that you mention Pastor Al Martin in your article Bill. Pastor Martin has an excellent sermon series on the Fear of God, which I presume the book is based upon. Thank you as well for the link.

  • May the fear of the Lord be not just studied but experienced. One trembles to ask for it, but Lord, may I have just a taste of what it means to fear you.
    It’s a timeless and timely message.

  • Yes Warren – I just read this moments ago:

    “We must never study God as we do other subjects that we seek to master. Rather, this great subject must master us. We may not study god the way a scientist studies a species of fish. We must study the Lord as his disciples.”
    Joel Beeke and ?Paul Smalley, Reformed Systematic Theology: Vol. 1.

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