In one of the Bible’s shortest sentences, the apostle Peter exhorts New Testament Christians to fear God. The fear of the Lord is just as much needed in this age of grace (John 1:17) as it was under Moses’ Law.
The fear of the Lord was seen to be properly present among the believers in the early years of the Church Age. And this verse gives us two important insights about fearing the Lord:
As we saw (above) at the beginning of the Church Age, the fear of God is still to be part of our relationship to Him at the end of Church Age. In other words, to fear God is for the entire Church Age, just as it was for the the Old Testament people of God.
But wait, aren’t we told to love God? Certainly! That, said Jesus, is the first and greatest commandment (Matthew 22:38). But the Bible from beginning to end also charges the believer to fear God. The two, love and fear, are not incompatible. My late father was a wonderful man. I loved him very much. But I also held in my heart a wholesome fear of crossing or disobeying my dad. If I did so, I knew that I would incur his disfavor, and possibly some well-deserved discipline. Why? Because he loved me and wanted me to grow up to be a man of character and integrity. Likewise with God, it is perfectly normal and biblical both to love Him and to fear Him. In fact, if you do not fear God, you will miss out on many of the blessings we will now look at in Scripture.
Let it be established right now: we learn to fear the Lord by reading the Scriptures, the Bible, the Word of God Almighty. It contains many illuminating accounts, especially in the Old Testament, of men and women not fearing God and deeply failing God as a result. And the apostle Paul, writing to Christian believers, said that these accounts from the Old Testament were “written to teach us” (Romans 15:4). May the Lord teach us to fear Him with deep, godly reverence as we examine the Scriptures.
The fear of the Lord has a wonderful effect: it “turns [us] away from evil” … “keeps you from sinning” … helps us to “shun evil” … and helps us ensure that “evil is avoided.”
How does this work? Quite simply. We take heed to truths like these in God’s word:
Notice, interestingly, that all five of these verses are from the New Testament, clearly written to believers in this age of grace. Christians must never lose sight of the disciplinary, corrective side of grace: “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:11-12).
By repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, we become born-again children of God. As we “continue in His goodness” (Romans 11:22), we have confidence and security in heaven as our future home. But that confidence is not a permission to let down our guards against sin. We quoted five Scriptures above that spoke of the fear of the Lord as a strong motivator to shun evil and live a godly life.
Sad to say, we see very little of this in America today. Many rulers lead according to their adamant political biases, or swayed by the latest poll, or influenced by rich donors to their campaigns. Hardly ever, though, do we hear a candidate declare that he or she intends first and foremost to “rule in the fear of God.” Yet that is precisely what God demands.
I must mention, happily, that in America’s run-up to the 2016 elections, I heard one prominent candidate openly declare on national TV, “I am a Christian first,” and only then did he list his political leanings.
This verse helps us understand clearly why sin is rampant in ungodly cultures — “there is no fear of God before their eyes.” For example, look at the USA in 2016. Homosexual conduct is no longer condemned. To the contrary, in today’s society it is widely accepted as normal. Innocent, unborn babies are routinely and savagely executed in the womb, yet this is deemed a “woman’s right to choose,” with no regard to the unborn babies’ right to life. Large percentages of young people today, propagandized by godless movies and TV shows, consider it strange if you don’t engage in premarital sex. Many more examples of wickedness could be given.
As the Psalmist declared, we “have a message from God” explaining these things. And that message is that the sinfulness of the wicked is linked to their having “no fear of God.” If actions have no consequences, “why not indulge” is their thinking. Sadly, they will find out too late that sinful actions do have consequences with God.
The famously wise King Solomon closed his book of Ecclesiastes with a summary of “the whole duty of man.” And that was to “fear God and keep His commandments.” Isn’t it interesting that Solomon, in rendering all those 12 chapters down to one succinct closing, focused on our need to fear God. There is no downside to the fear of the Lord; it only leads to blessing.
I love to learn, even in these my senior years. I covet the Lord’s instruction. My wife and I read the Bible through together, out loud, about once each year. We've both been saved for many decades, yet we are blessed at how the Lord allows us to learn new things continually from reading God’s Word.
One precondition for all of us who try to walk in the Lord’s ways is to fear Him. If we do so, the Lord says, then “He will instruct [us] in the ways [we] should choose.” Walk in the love of God and the fear of God, read His Word faithfully, and listen for the voice of God’s Holy Spirit guiding you — “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you” (Psalm 32:8).
Do the Lord’s angels protect every living person? The Bible doesn’t say that. It does say that “angels [are] ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). And our psalm more specifically tells us that the angel of the Lord encamps around and delivers those who fear Him. Those who fear the Lord experience God’s protection and deliverance.
Do you want to be a believer known for having godly wisdom and knowledge? Then fear the Lord! For that is the “beginning of” both wisdom and knowledge. Without a reverential fear of the Lord we tend to focus more on ourselves, our needs, our thoughts and plans rather than the Lord’s. Do you want to grow knowledgeable and wise as God defines those things? Then fear the Lord.
Short, sweet, and simple: “The Lord…will bless those who fear [Him].” That’s a promise from the One who always keeps His promises.
Do you want to please the Lord? Do you desire to have Him delight in you? Then fear Him. God is not looking for “self-made” followers. He desires men and women who will crucify and deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24). God wants to make us “new creations…in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17), committed to loving God, serving Him, and yes, fearing Him as an obedient child fears his father.
A wonderful promise to the God-fearing is that the Lord will add length to their lives. This is smilar to one of the Ten Commandments: “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—“so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth” (Ephesians 6:2-3). The wise Christian honors and respectfully fears both his natural father (and mother) and God the Father in heaven. What a wonderful way to add blessed years to our lives on earth.
Fear the Lord and live that out in front of your children. A life so lived by the parents will provide a secure fortress and refuge for their children. Do you love your children and wish the Lord’s best for them? Then be sure, Dad and Mom, that you model for them a life of both loving and fearing God.
We Christians have the blessing of living in a dispensation of grace, not under the Mosaic Law. But we have already read that the grace of God demands a godly life (Titus 2:11-15). And at the end, not just the lost, but all of us (“we must all”) stand before the judgment seat of Christ. The Lord will evaluate “the things [we have] done in the body, whether good or bad.”
In the light of that unavoidable appearance before the Lord’s judgment seat, the apostle Paul says, “…we know what it is to fear the Lord.” And that entirely appropriate fear of God drives us to “try to persuade others” to turn from their sins to a forgiving Savior.
And having yourself come to Jesus in repentance and faith, having been washed from your sins by His blood (Revelation 1:5), and having made “every effort…to be holy” (Hebrews 12:14), you will one day hear those glorious words from Jesus: “Well done, good and faithful servant…Come and share your master’s happiness” (Matthew 25:21).
I would not normally close a message on a “heavy” note. But our theme, “The Fear of God in This Age of Grace,” is worthy of a final warning from the New Testament writer to the Hebrews. The warning is to us, to Christian “brothers and sisters” (vs. 19). The warning is for believers not to “deliberately keep on sinning” (26). If we do, the inspired epistle reminds us, “The Lord will judge His people” (30).
Any careful reading of these few verses should help reinforce in us a godly, reverential fear of the Lord. He does not take deliberate, sinful wickedness lightly; it took the life of His Son to redeem us from it! God loves us so much that He was willing to pay the supreme price in the death of Jesus His Son “to redeem us from all iniquity” (Titus 2:14). Then it is our duty not only to love God with all our hearts, but also to live in a godly fear of the Lord that motivates us to “make every effort…to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
In sum: Love God and fear God. Receive His Son Jesus in faith and repentance as your Lord and Savior. Read His Word, the Bible, and commit your life and your ways to Him daily. With the Lord’s helping grace, pursue godliness and shun evil. And at the end you will surely hear the Lord’s words: “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
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©2016, James H. Feeney.
Pentecostal Sermons and Bible Studies
by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.