I've been missing something in my spiritual life lately, and this weekend I regained a piece of it. I see its importance and understand why its absence has left me crippled and discontent.
I don't fear God. At least, I realized I wasn't fearing God, and I pray that lapse will not soon be repeated.
The Apostle Peter wrote, “If you call on Him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile...” (I Peter 1:17). Point: fear is an appropriate response to God in the heart of the redeemed Christian—not the ONLY response, but one of the ingredients in the mix of thoughts, motives, intentions, and emotions that make up genuine communion with the Father.
Indeed, the absence of the fear of God is the mark of an UNbeliever (Psalm 36:1).
What do we call that lack of fear as it shows up in saved people? Spiritual fearlessness? The inability to see, or maybe the art of denying, how one's behavior offends God? Blindness to spiritually precarious attitudes? Faithless disregard of God's promises to judge and discipline?
This fearlessness festers in a grumbling heart, extinguishes passion for prayer, douses compassion for the lost, minimizes lawlessness, and shrugs at rebellion. It holds hands with lovelessness, faithlessness, and forgetfulness.
I think we are suspicious of the promotion of the fear of God. We think it will produce Pharisees who glory in their own obedience. In reality, it produces Publicans who fall at a distance, beat their breast, and cry out for God's mercy (Luke 18:9-14).
I can only think of one or two worship songs that touch on topics that promote the healthy fear of God. Why is this? Why do we sing so much about how GREAT He is then only apply that greatness to the things we want Him to do? Why do we sing about holiness without grasping how defiled we are, and how much in need of cleansing?! Maybe we don't know how to fear God corporately? How can a church that “gives God a handclap!” even speak of fearing God without sounding trite? I can picture it now: “Hey everyone! Let's take a moment and fear God! Just tremble, right where you are! Wow! Wasn't that great? Now turn to the person sitting next to you and tell them you're glad they're here!”
As for church, it is the preaching of the Word that ought to impress us with God's right to judge, and the reality of our doom apart from the justification He freely gives us in Christ. The Word made plain will cause us to “Rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11) and lead us to celebrate how His infinite love and grace brought us salvation at the cross.
This is a sobering reality. And deep. One can hardly begin speaking of the fear of God without also beginning the long list of qualifying statements explaining what this fear is and isn't. But suffice it to say, “The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever” (Psalm 19:9). We will fear God in heaven. We will love Him, and know Him, and be face to face with Him, and perhaps Jesus will meet us with an embrace when we arrive. But we will never cease to fear Him. Perhaps some of the tears He will wipe away will be tears of regret over our life's careless disregard for His holiness? How gracious His promise that we will not be put to shame in His presence (I Peter 2:6).
We find no backpedaling in the Scriptures over the fear of God—no qualifying, no minimizing, no soft-selling. But we do find it very clearly stated: the redeemed fear; the unredeemed have no fear. The redeemed are saved from His wrath because of Christ. The unredeemed will perish for eternity.
Let God bring a revival of holy fear in my heart, in my family, in my church, in my ministry. And let my friends and family who do not know Jesus move from the eternally dangerous place of spiritual fearlessness to the safety and security of the fear of God in Christ.
Here is one recent worship song worth considering: