One of the characteristics of God that we are given in His Word is that He is just. It is written, “The Rock, His work is perfect, for all His ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is He.” ([italics added] Deuteronomy 32:4 ESV); “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before You.” (Psalm 89:14 ESV). The definition of justice is the process or result of using laws to fairly judge and punish crimes and criminals (Merriam-Webster). And the definition of being just is: having a basis in or conforming to fact or reason; reasonable (Merriam-Webster). If God is merciful, loving, and just, then His justice is evident within Him to the equal degree that He is merciful and loving, among all His other characteristics–all of these comprising His nature of being holy.
Fear the Holy
We are told countless times in the Bible to fear God. Oxford Languages defines fear as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.” Fear without God is exactly this, but the fear of God produces wisdom, which, in turn, leads to life. Truly, God is One to be feared. In the words of Christ, “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed someone, has the power to throw that person into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:5 NASB). To contemplate the nature of God is to contemplate a Being with the destiny of your soul in His hands. To find oneself on the wrong side of such a Power is a terrible thought indeed. But, thank God He has done all that we will ever need to be saved.
Fear of the Lord is an understanding that God is not One to be taken advantage of or One to be thought of as a fool–we can lie to Him, but what good does that do? He already knows the truth. To fear God is to understand that He is different than us mere mortals and that His ways are far higher than we can comprehend. At the same time, fearing God is also knowing that God is a judge who has given us His standard of holiness through the law and will exact justice according to it. As it stands, the Law of God is unattainable of our own power–we can never attain the holiness and perfection that is God without Him. To fear the Lord is to realize the reality of our sinful nature and need and that all one can hope for in salvation is the mercy of God. To be held in the tension that nothing you can do can save you from sin and that we deserve God’s wrath; and the reality that God sent His one and only Son to take our place in that judgment. For those who do not believe in Christ, the question that must be asked is, “Is it worth it?” For those in Christ, the question we must ask ourselves daily is, “Is my life honoring the sacrifice of Jesus?”
What is the price tag of a person's life or the value of the life of God? The value that God deemed of our souls was enough for Him to lay down His own life to save them. Is such mercy just? How can God be so unjust to Himself to give up His holiness to take on our sin? To contemplate such a sacrifice should instill fear within our hearts of God’s goodness and hatred toward evil. This is the relationship of fear we are called to have with God: a humbling reverence and exaltation of His holiness. To revere is to regard with deep respect, encompassed with awe and wonder. Exaltation means to elevate in rank, power, or character–to lift high to worship and honor in adoration.
An all-powerful God willing to give up His own life to save those He loves is a Being worthy of our time and attention. But, do we believe? Christ did go to the cross, and Jesus did claim to be God–let us not be deceived. Thus, to do justice is to first look to the One who did it. Until our hearts fear God, we cannot begin to understand the depths of His love nor walk in the works He has set apart for us in Christ. Let us work out our salvation in fear and trembling because to fear God is to remember that we did nothing to deserve His infinite grace, yet, it also means remembering His character and that it was His plan from the beginning. “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13 NKJV).
A Fear that Humbles and Produces
God chastens those He loves. Because of Jesus, we know God loves all. Therefore, if we do not think God is chastening us or that He is working in our lives, we simply lack awareness of what God is doing. To be aware of the work of God’s hand in one’s life is wisdom, and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of its work. In all things, God has orchestrated an infinite, holy web that is interconnecting all things for His glory. If we fail to see God’s hand in something within our life, that does not mean God’s character has changed at all, or that we are justified in saying He is not good; instead, it simply means we lack the wisdom to see the interconnection of the holy web of God’s design. Christ truly is reconciling everything to Himself, and in all things, God is working for good. Even for those not in Christ, God’s judgment upon them is just and reasonable. We praise people with character, and we applaud when we see moments of integrity or acts of kindness. We respect people who are honorable, trustworthy, and kind. If such traits can be found in man and are honored, how much more so for the living God?
Even when we are saved in Christ, the fear of God prevents us from flippantly abusing His grace, and it is the fear of God that will stir us up to do good works. The fear of the Lord keeps us humble when walking with our God. Indeed, walking with Christ means being empowered and as bold as a lion, but it also means remaining in sackcloth and ashes because of our powerlessness apart from Him. It is Christ’s garment of righteousness we adorn, and to provide ourselves with any other attire is to replace God’s robes with our rags. As our reverence for God’s unfathomable holiness continues to deepen, our desire to sin will naturally die. Of course, as we continually cross the thresholds of the holy, new thresholds will present themselves that will only serve to increase our reliance upon God to endure and overcome. Such is the task of bearing our cross and dying daily–praise be to God it is by His power alone that we can succeed.
Nonetheless, God still calls us to be about His business and carry out the good works He pre-ordained for us to do in faith. A heavy imperative is given in the Old Testament: “Now as for you, son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for the house of Israel; so you will hear a message from My mouth and give them a warning from Me. When I say to the wicked, ‘You wicked person, you will certainly die,’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked about his way, that wicked person shall die for his wrongdoing, but I will require his blood from your hand. But if you on your part warn a wicked person to turn from his way and he does not turn from his way, he will die for his wrongdoing, but you have saved your life.” (Ezekiel 33:7-9 NASB). The passage talking about this “son of man”–though directly addressing Ezekiel regarding Israel–are in many ways prophetic of the Son of Man, Jesus, who was and is the watchman of our souls. But, if we are followers of Christ, then the Son of Man now lives in us, and we are one with Him–the imperative is now ours in Christ. To be covered by the Blood of the lamb, but still be required to warn the wicked… A paradoxical illustration of the fear of God.
The phrase itself, “fear God,” is a curious byword of what it means to be a Christian. To accept the eternal gift of grace, but still have to bear one’s cross daily. To walk in total freedom, but also be a slave to righteousness. To know God more intimately than any person, but still walk entirely by faith. Such is the journey of the one who fears God. As my pastor at Riverhouse church Jordan Verner recently preached upon: Jesus, being the incarnation of God, exemplified this reality of a unified dualism.
And it’s only in Jesus, by accepting His sacrifice, that our eyes can open to the fear of the Lord in Spirit and in truth. As Christians, we should never lose sight of who our God is: Jesus, the Word made flesh and the sword that the Holy Spirit gives. Christ came to divide households and wage war against evil; “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34 ESV). What is the purpose of a sword except to rend flesh and put to death one’s enemies? Jesus is the sword of heaven, and His one purpose is to cut our hearts. The Gospel is the good news given to us by God, but carrying our cross is anything but comfortable. If we have grown comfortable in this world of darkness, we have stopped growing. But, praise be to God that, in Jesus, even in our comfort, we are still more than conquerors–Christ’s sacrifice truly was that pervasive, but do we believe it? Because, if we believe, then we will readily put to death our comforts for gain in Christ.
Walking in the fear of the Lord is founded in humility because knowing and loving the living God means to be humbled. Who is like our God? What can I possibly write that could even convey but an electron of His majesty? All things will pass away, but the Word will not pass away; my life is but a vapor, here today and gone tomorrow. All the glory of man will be forgotten and lost in the sands of time, but God will remain unchanging and undefeated forever. And Christ gives us a promise: “Believe in Me, and you will live.” He takes our life–our little, vapor life–in exchange for His life–His eternal life. Who but Him can speak of justice? Who, except the living God, can truly be the judge and arbitrator of our souls? If I am condemned to hell by the judgment of this awesome God, then, most certainly, it is well deserved, and I have reaped what I have sown. But, God Himself has spoken, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:16-18 NKJV).
Jesus is our righteousness; He fulfilled the law. Jesus is the living Word; in Him is the truth of life. Solomon was wise, but a wiser than Solomon is here; Jesus is the fount from which wisdom flows. It is written, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8 ESV); and, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13 ESV). Is it not God’s will to give Himself to those who seek Him honestly, in Spirit, and in truth?
At the feet of Jesus, one finds true power. Not power as the world defines, but a power rooted in mercy. Christ could have annihilated the entire planet–the entire cosmos–with a wave of His finger, but instead, He continued to show love to His creation that was killing Him. It is one thing for a person to throw about their weight to demonstrate how powerful they are; it is another thing entirely, and far more terrifying, when Someone has full power and ability to destroy, and full justification to do so, yet shows restraint–even mercy. This is the grace of God, and the mercy God has shown at the cross through Jesus Christ is a door that no one can shut and a gift that no one can take away from you. The good news of Jesus is for all people, and man cannot bind it with the boxes he builds. So, let us fear God, and in fearing Him, find His love: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18 ESV). Amen.