Tuesday, June 9, 2009

the fear of the LORD (4b) fear on this side of the cross

It's easy to think we no longer have to fear God now Jesus has died for us.

Doesn't God say, "You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship"? (Rom 8:15) When Jesus died, he set us free from our deserved punishment and made us God's precious children (Rom 8:1-17).

Doesn't God say, "Perfect love drives out fear"? (1 Jn 4:18) God has poured out his love for us in Jesus, so we no longer need to be scared of his judgement (1 Jn 4:15-18).

These passages are talking about the slavish, cringing fear which Christians never have to feel again. When Jesus died, he freed us from terror of God's judgement.

But Christians are still encouraged to fear God.

  • Jesus tells us to confess him boldly before others: "do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. ... Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell." (Lk 12:4-7 cf Matt 10:26-30)
  • the early Christians lived "in the fear of the Lord" (Acts 9:31)
  • we're called to "purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence [fear] for God" (2 Cor 6:14-7:1)
  • because we will have to give an account before the judgement seat of Christ, we "fear the Lord" by courageously sharing the gospel (2 Cor 5:10-11)
  • Paul says, "work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Phil 2:12-13)
  • Christians are called to submit to one another, slaves to masters, and wives to husbands, out of "reverence [fear] for Christ" (Eph 5:18-21, 1 Pet 3:1-2, Col 3:22-24)
  • because we know God will impartially judge what we do, and because we were redeemed with the precious blood of Christ, we live our lives "in reverent fear" (1 Peter 1:17)
  • because we know the terrible judgement which awaits those who reject Christ, we don't turn our backs on him (Heb 10:26-31, 12:18-29)
  • even in eternity, absolutely safe from judgement, we will "fear God" and give him praise (Rev 14:7, 15:4, 19:5)

We don't need to fear God's eternal judgement if we trust in Jesus. But we still face God's fatherly discipline when we persist in sin (Prov 3:11-12, Heb 12:7-11). One day we'll stand before the judgement seat of Christ and give an account of our lives to him (Rom 12:9-11, 1 Cor 5:10, 1 Pet 1:17). On that day our ministry will be judged to be worthy or wanting (1 Cor 3:10-15).

To take sin lightly - to say, even deep in our hearts, "I'll do it because I know God will forgive me" - is to live as if these things were not true. It's to live without the fear of God.

The fear Christians feel towards God is not "servile fear", the fear of a slave for a harsh master. It's "filial fear", the fear of a child for a beloved father. Like a child who knows that her father loves her, who feels safe in his arms and runs to him when she's hurt; but who also knows that her father will discipline her if she disobeys, who respects him and doesn't dare to disregard his authority.

Do you remember the trembling, joyful fear of the Israelites as they stood on the other side of the Red Sea and watched the water curl and crash over the heads of Pharaoh's army? Do you remember how they put their trust in God with awed amazement at his terrible judgement and glorious salvation?

Here we stand, on the other side of the cross. We have seen God's just and jealous anger poured out on his only Son. We have seen God's heart break with the terrible cost of his love for us. We have seen judgement and salvation come together in one inconceivable, incredible moment.

How could we not trust and obey this God with everything that's in us? How could we not fling ourselves into his arms and nestle there, safe from his anger, safe in his love? How could we not serve him with trembling, joyful fear?

Well, it seems that what was meant to be a little series has turned into a very long one! I've learned a lot, and I hope you have too. Most of all, I hope you've been encouraged to grow in the fear of God. One more post - on what the fear of the LORD has come to mean to me - and I'll wrap it up!

images are from stock.xchng

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