Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Do You Fear God?

For several decades our society has brazenly displayed the slogan on T shirts to auto windows, "NO FEAR."

David, in Psalm 36:1, makes it clear that this generation of sinners is not unique in their folly. "The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes." Perhaps this generation is even more brazen, for they have not only "said in their hearts," they have blazoned it in bold advertisement!

The second verse of Psalm 36 goes on to describe the infatuation of this generation with itself, and the pursuit of self gratification, "For he flattereth himself in his own eyes, until his iniquity be found to be hateful." Paul, in writing to the Romans, repeats the words of Psalm 36 in Romans 3:18, following eight verses from the Psalms and Isaiah. He begins the sobering description of humanity in verse 10: "As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one." The remaining verses mix well with the cesspool of wickedness found at the close of Romans 1. The awful judgment of God upon these things seems to have little effect on many, for the Scripture declares of this crowd at the close of Romans 1:32, "...but have pleasure in them that do them."

It used to be that we heard such comments as "How could a loving God send anyone to an eternal hell, a place of torment for eternity?" only from the cults and those not professing Christianity. What is alarming to me is more and more the absence of the focus, among those professing to be at least evangelical Christians, of the notion of "the fear of God." The "fear of God" is being smothered, watered down, disregarded and, for some, even denied! God has become the "friendly helper," the "lover pursuing us," "the one who will save the whole world," who is made in the imaginations and expectations of human dreams -- anything but a God of judgment! All of this is not done without the inclusion of Scripture, but mixed with just enough human logic to make this 'god' palatable and tolerant.

There is yet another factor that ironically weighs heavily in this shift. It is the fear of peers and "theologians," and those polished writers who have become respected, admired, read, embraced, and quoted for their "deep insights." To dispute with them, or disagree with them -- and who would think to be so "judgmental" as to call them "heretics"?? -- well, that would be so "unkind" and "divisive" is the common thinking. What a bit of irony, that man would fail to fear God, but fear his own peers!

Numbers 11 illustrates and contrasts the responses of a group who feared man and two men who feared God. The twelve men who were chosen to spy out the land were the best of the stock from each of the twelve tribes. All twelve saw the same people, the same cities and the surrounding areas, along with the fruit of the land. Ten of these men allowed their imaginations, and then their exaggerations, to feed their conclusions, and then divorced these conclusion from all the past provisions, rebukes, and promises from God, ultimately succumbing to the fear of men. Two of these men, Joshua and Caleb, remembered all that God had done. They saw the blessings and the judgments of God, and they feared God above all, even above the entire multitude of likely over a million people. They sought to persuade these people to fear God rather than men. What is sad is that, even after the judgment of God upon these peoples, it does not appear that a revival took place. There was only sorrow for the consequences of their sin, and in their apparent "change of mind" they were again judged of God.

The fear of God is not fed by what we do not know about God. It is not that we are in the dark, wondering about what God might do to us, since He is so mighty, powerful, and we don't know what He might do next. Rather, we fear God because what of we do know and are told about Him in His Word, the Bible! The fear of God is fed by Truth! It is fueled by faith! It is both the imaginations of our minds and the exaggerations of our experiences and perceptions that destroy our faith, and corrupt our minds, leading us into the fear of men.

This fear of God for the Christian is not a terrorizing, nor a paralyzing sort of fear. Yet it does bring us to a holy trembling when we read of such passages as in Hebrews 10: 26-31. Consider for example, "....For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries." Verse 31 says, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God." Again, in Hebrews 12: 25-29 note a couple of phrases: "....let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and fear: For our God is a consuming fire."

If we doubt, disregard, disobey, and fall into unbelief, we should be terrorized by the above passages, and run to the Cross of Christ in brokenness and repentance. The truths of these words should not only drive us to repentance, seeking mercy and forgiveness, but these truths should serve as holy preventatives to sin and to the temptation to doubt or disobey. Paul reflects this when he declares to the Corinthians, in verse 27 of chapter 9 in his first epistle. "But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection.... "

"How do you do this Paul?" we might ask. He tells us how in Galations 2:20: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me." Now, completing I Corinthians 9:27: ".... lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway."

Did Paul fear God? Indeed he did, and it motivated him to holy living! This illustration is a sound rebuke to those who would argue in defense of some of the popular preachers, teachers, theologians, and writers who are abandoning, neglecting, along with modifying, what they once taught. Men once sound in the faith can be deceived!

It is my opinion that one of the ways the disregard for, and now the abandonment of, the teaching of the fear of God has come through the churches is the new methods and teachings in evangelism. Take a clear look at the Apostle Paul's letter to the Romans, as he begins his first written evangelistic crusade. His text is not John 3:16. Of course we know that "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son...." But Paul tells us that this love from God cannot be understood nor experienced until the world recognizes "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold [i.e., suppress] the Truth in unrighteousness." (Romans 1:18, emphasis mine) How this refusal plays itself out in deterioration and debauchery is found in the verses that follow. It is not a pretty scene.

No human being can comprehend in any measure the love of God until they have been keenly aware of the wrath and judgment of God. It is on the "forgiven" side of Calvary that love is comprehended and experienced. Let me remind us that even in the Proverbs we are told, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." (Proverbs 9:10) Note that it does not say, "the love of God is the beginning of wisdom."

Again, in 2 Corinthians 5:11a: "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men...." And yes, Paul does go on to state in verse 14, "For the love of Christ constraineth us...." Note that Paul does not say that it is the love of Christ that is to be used to persuade men to salvation. Paul has experienced the love of Christ, and is living on the "forgiven" side of the Cross.

There is another illustration that has profound truths for evangelism. It is the record of the first convert to Christianity, and his very brief but Biblical effort of evangelism. His first effort appears to be a failure, but only the Lord knows how many his testimony has brought into the Kingdom. The record of these events is recorded in Luke 23: 39-43. Two criminals were hanging on two crosses, one on each side of our Lord Jesus. Both had been placed there "justly," as the one testified. All three had been sentenced to die. It was the bitter and unrepentant criminal that spat out the words, "If thou be Christ, save thyself and us." It was the yet unforgiven, criminal evangelist that stated these profound and most important words, in the form of a question that the whole world needs to answer, "Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly: for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss."

What a confession! How glorious the forgiveness, and the peace! What the unrepentant criminal did not see and recognize. The truth was that since Jesus is The Christ He did save the dying criminal. And only by not saving Himself from death could He save anyone! Jesus could not save a man who wanted only to escape the consequences of being caught in sin. This was the error of Esau. He was sorry that he lost his inheritance, and not repentant for his sin. He like Cain, was angry at his brother, and in his anger sought vengeance rather than repentance. The Bible calls him a fornicator (Hebrews 12:16). It would appear that this term refers to his spiritual fornication.

One last illustration comes from a scene in the book of Revelation. It is John, the "beloved," who calls himself loved of God, who sees the Lord in all His glory. Does John go running to the throne and give Jesus a "big hug"? Never! He says, "I fell at His feet as dead...." It is then that the Lord tells John "fear not...." (Revelation 1:17) This response from God is not a rebuke to John, but a response for John to now listen and write. Be assured, John wrote what he saw and what he was told in the fear of the Lord.

May the Lord have mercy upon the Church of today, for the Scripture tells us that "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God...." (1 Peter 4:17a)

A servant of the Lord who "fears God,"

Lyle Kropf
September 7, 2009