Part Two of Two
Most of us know that Jesus told people not to have fear. Often. Recently I attempted to count how many times in the gospel accounts Jesus said ‘fear not’, ‘don’t be afraid’, or something along those lines. I gave up.
I had no difficulty counting how many times Jesus told people to fear, however.
I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. (Lk.12:4,5; see also Mat. 10:28)
There it is, right there in the middle of a conversation about Pharisees, secrets being shouted from rooftops and sparrows.
I love the habit Jesus has of inserting the deeply profound and mysterious into the basic conversations of life. My immediate somewhat impulsive response is: “Oh really Lord? I may inadvertently imitate a Pharisee some time, or be less than careful what I whisper. And I’m still wondering about God’s reluctance to forget a single sparrow. But being more afraid of God than someone who wants to do me serious harm? That’s a pretty big deal and You make it sound like something I need to remember if I want to avoid some fairly undesirable fallout. Umm…think I’m gonna need more than a little help here!”
Every message I’ve ever heard preached about fear reinforced that Christians aren’t supposed to be afraid. Of Anything. (Well, apart from women in tight skirts and bright lipstick….then you should run, right??) I mean, after sin, fear is just about the worst thing you can have going on. Fear is bad. Full. Stop. Some even say fear is sin. “Be bold, be strong, for the Lord Your God is with you!” isn’t meant to be just a happy-clappy chorus (or is it?)
Yet here’s Jesus telling us that the very One who has promised to do away with all fear, should Himself be feared. To add to the conundrum the Bible even says God takes pleasure in those who fear Him (Psalm 147:11).
So, how are we supposed to do this ‘fear God’ thing?
‘Tis grace that taught my heart to fear…..’ we sing…..regularly. Well, fortunately for us, this is where the grace comes in. Apart from grace we humans are incapable of fearing, or reverencing God, without also fearing God’s judgment.
There was quite a lot of God-fearing going on under the Old Covenant. Leaders and prophets alike exhorted the Israelites to fear God, but their fear was law-based. They lived with a dread that this sovereign, mysterious God might open up the ground to swallow them or suddenly strike them dead if they failed to obey Him. It was the kind of fear that caused worshipers to write:
My flesh trembles for fear of You, and I am afraid of Your judgments. (Ps. 119:120)
That was the age of law-inspired fear. Strangely, that fear didn’t prevent Israel falling into idolatry. However, it was the best God’s people had available to them, and it was certainly better than the lawlessness of the nations round about them.
But the law was an intermediary, a temporary provision, a method of moral instruction, until the grace that would come through Christ would be revealed (Gal. 3:19-25). The law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
Enter Jesus, bearer of a New Covenant. He didn’t just say we need to fear God. He said He would show us ‘whom you should fear’. The word means to ‘show by example’. Jesus demonstrated to us this God who desires to be feared, provided us with the grace to fear Him and taught us how to fear Him properly.
Without sin, Jesus had no need to fear God’s punishment. Yet He feared God.
…who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear… (Heb. 5:7)
In fact Isaiah prophesied that the Christ would actually delight in fearing God:
The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD. His delight is in the fear of the LORD…. (Is. 11:2-3)
Jesus showed us a fear of God that was centered on New Covenant Spirit and truth worship, not Old Covenant fear of punishment. He provided us with the grace to reverence God for Who He is, not fear Him for what He may or may not do. Without that grace we are, all of us, too intelligent, too wise, too brave to fear God!
Evidence of the lack of the true fear of God is all around us. Some fear a god who delights in spreading terror, unjust punishment, and mass murder. That is not the God Christ reverenced. Some others who call themselves by the name of Christ fear a god who delights in a gospel of condemnation, hatred and hypocrisy. That is not the God Christ reverenced either.
It was not always so:
Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied. (Acts 9:31)
The first Christ followers walked in both the fear of the Lord and the encouragement of the Holy Spirit. They reverenced God’s unmatched holiness while resting in the Spirit’s assurance that their sin had been fully accounted for.
If we try walking in the fear of the Lord any other way than with the comfort of the Spirit we will end up worshiping a false god. It is a rare and precious thing to walk in the fear of the Lord combined with the grace of the Holy Spirit’s assurance that, through Christ’s blood, we may run boldly into His awesome Presence without dying.
And it is a common and profoundly arrogant thing to believe we have no need to reverence this God who, being all powerful, could blow us away like the dust that we are, yet chooses instead to be Love to us. No human mind can understand such a God. No human mind should presume to undervalue such a God either.
The Bible hints that the fear of God and the glory of God go hand in hand (Lk. 5:26, 7:16, Acts 19:17). We pray fervently for the glory of God to manifest among us. Perhaps it doesn’t manifest as often as we wish because we prefer the glory without the fear.
No fear? No glory.
Lord, grant us the heritage of those who fear Your Name! (Psalm 61:5).
Related Post: No Fear? Part One
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2015 and beyond. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.