In this 3-part blog series, we’re looking at the elements of spiritual preparation and maturity. Two weeks ago, we talked about repentance. Last week, we looked at confession. Many people do not make a distinction between repentance and confession. However, what I’m presenting here is a progression of steps one takes when turning away from sin and turning towards God. While all the steps or elements may occur seamlessly and immediately, they are distinct acts of what’s generally call “repenting”. The final part in this series is to fear the Lord.
I’m not sure there’s anything more difficult to understand or to achieve/maintain balance in than to fear God. What does it mean to fear God? Who should fear him and how should he be feared? In the first chapter of Nehemiah, he prays…
O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.Nehemiah 1:11
Do you see the paradox in that verse? “Lord, be attentive to the prayers of your servants who delight to fear your name.” How many people do you know delight in the things that cause them great fear? Most people abhor or avoid the things they fear, not run to and delight in them.
The Bible is very clear that men are right to fear God, for he is both awesome and fearsome. God is omnipresent (infinite presence), omniscient (infinite knowing), and omnipotent (infinite power). He is awesome, he is holy. His holiness is so pure that he cannot tolerate sin in his presence, nor should he. God’s judges against sin and promises to pour his terrible wrath out on all who commit sin (which is everyone). Whether you are a believer or unbeliever, there is nothing in the universe more fearful for sinners than the almighty, Most-High God!
Yet, the servants of God are instructed to delight in fearing his name. How do you do that? And how does this affect our turning away from sin and turning towards him?
We first must fully comprehend and accept the truth of God’s terrible wrath against every sinner. I think there’s a natural tendency, even in sharing the gospel, of minimizing God’s judgment and wrath that people don’t fully understand or feel the weight of that threat. Repentance doesn’t often come without some motivation and fear is a great motivator. But then once we accept that truth, we must also conclude that (according to the Bible) the only place to escape God’s wrath is by turning to God Himself. We run past the promises of God’s wrath into his promises of grace; love, mercy, and forgiveness. Once we truly experience the fullness of his grace, we’re bound to become one of “saved” servants as Nehemiah describes.
Is that it though? After the initial experience of salvation, do we just prance around delighting in God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness? By the look of many churchgoers, you would think that’s the case, but Nehemiah’s call is for servants to delight in fearing the Lord. In other words, we’re to live continually in fearing the Lord, but with complete joy.
There are many verses in scripture that help us to process this paradox.
Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.”Proverbs 28:14
This verse (and others like it) helps to keep our hearts in check by fearing the Lord. It’s a warning tp guard against possessing an arrogant or uncaring spirit. Isaiah 66:2 tells us that the Lord looks to those who tremble at his Word. Do you tremble when you read the Bible or hear the Word taught? Does it bring you delight? If not, then your heart is hard or maybe owned by another.
28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.Hebrews 12:28-29
We’re called to worship our great God, who loves us so completely and thoroughly, with grateful hearts – but also with reverence and awe for our God is a consuming fire (vs 29). The point is our worship should not be offered superficially or with poor attendance (which is my great fear for many modern Christians). If we do, on the oft chance of when we do come to church, we will find that our worship is not acceptable to Him.
Don’t allow the tension between God’s great love for you and the instruction to fear him to confuse you. Look at it this way. The Christian’s walk with Christ is on a path whose starting point is love and forgiveness. The motivation that keeps us moving down the path is the hope of our final destination; a place of complete joy, wonder, and awe! Our fear of God are the curbs along the way that keep us on the pathway. Don’t jump the curb!
To close out this blog series, it is only through repentance, confession, and fearing God that we can be successful in turning away from sin and turning towards God and truly experience the joy of his victory on the cross. What is the Lord asking you to turn away from today?