In the days of the Judges, there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6) . If you want to know what it looks like to live in such a time and place, look around. Just as it was then, there is no fear of God now. And I don’t just mean out there, in the world. The statement in Judges 17:6 was said about God’s covenant people… The people of God did what was right in their own eyes. The people of God did not fear God. It is terrifying to think that the church in America is in a similar place in our day. We do not fear God. We aren’t even sure that the fear of the Lord is a good thing. We want a therapist god that speaks in hushed tones, not the God that thunders at Sinai (Exodus 20:18-21). We want a god that is sensitive to our feelings, not the God that is a consuming fire (Hebrews (12:28-29). That said, because the One True God loves his people He will teach us to fear him yet again. The following is a glimpse into how the Lord introduced me to this blessed fear.
For years I had lived as a hedonist, a pleasure-seeker. Inflamed passions drove me to do whatever seemed good at the time. And while the Lord had saved me and radically changed me, I underestimated the deception and power of remaining, indwelling sin for the believer. Our sins are fully and finally forgiven the moment we first believe, yet that is also when the fight against sin begins. It took time to learn to put my desires in the backseat and let the word of God drive (I am still learning). One of my most helpful teachers has been the fear of the Lord.
As mentioned in the first post in this series, at the time of my conversion to Christ I had been immersed in sexual sin for about a decade. And while all of my sins were and are forgiven, sin has consequences. It was as if I was brought to new life in the bamboo forest of my sin, where I had to learn how to cut it down and dig my way out. That is what repentance is… the cutting away of the sinful flesh on the path of obedience to God, enabled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Looking back, the fear of the Lord has served to burn down significant portions of my sin forest in order to get me going in the right direction.
I had been a Christian for a little while and was in a relationship that I knew was not honoring to God. Even so, I kept with it for months, the conviction mounting day by day. I KNEW with crystal clarity that the Lord would have me move in a different direction. Toward the end of the relationship, there was a week or two where God might as well have spoken audibly… My conscience was alive and kickin, but I pressed through the wall of conviction and went back to her anyway. I woke the next morning feeling like the roof had caved in on my chest. So I opened my Bible – for the first time in a while, because nobody wants to read the Bible when they are in sin – seeking relief from the overwhelming sense of guilt. I would not necessarily recommend the “drop and flop” method of Bible reading (just open to a page and start reading), but on that day the Lord had a message for me. My eyes hit the page at 1 Thessalonians 4:3:
3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.1 Thessalonians 4:3-8
Needless to say, I did not get the relief I was seeking. Just the opposite… the Lord added bricks of conviction and now I was terribly afraid, primarily of God himself. The relationship ended before the sun set that evening and I drove home with an urgent need to confess my sin to Christian friends in Knoxville, coupled with a horrible fear that they would kick me out of the fellowship, and worse yet, that the Lord was kicking me out of the kingdom.
The next morning, Paul and I drove the 45 minutes to the Smokies in silence. I told him we needed to talk and it was urgent. I hadn’t slept much the night before and was still gripped with fear… The Lord is an avenger… whoever disregards, disregards not man but God… I had knowingly sinned against God and didn’t know what that meant but expected the worst. My voice quaked as I confessed my sin to Paul. He listened patiently as I confessed lying to him about the nature of the relationship over the previous few months. I awaited the verdict of condemnation.
Paul responded intently… “Chris, look at me when I say this.”
I looked with great shame.
He said, “With everything I have been forgiven with, you are forgiven.”
And that was that. Yet again, the good news of the forgiveness of my sins in Jesus Christ was ice water in the desert of my soul. How could God love me like this? I wasn’t sure, but I believed him.
The lesson for us all is that the fear of the Lord is good and necessary for growth in the Christian life. And not only at the beginning of the Christian life. It is true that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of the true knowledge of God (Proverbs 1:7), but the same man who wrote that statement also said that the fear of the Lord is just as crucial all the way through to the end:
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.Ecclesiastes 12:13
Without the fear of the Lord we cannot know God in the first place. It is the holy primer to the everlasting paint of the gospel. And without the fear of the Lord we will not continue in obedience in response to the gospel. It humbles and purifies, breaks down and sets free.
Don’t be a fool. Fear God.