Monday, June 15, 2009

Jerry Bridges on the fear of God (2)

Here's some highlights from a fantastic interview with Jerry Bridges about the fear of God from Matthias Media's The Longing. He reflects on why Christians should fear God and how to grow in the fear of God.

If Christianity is essentially a personal relationship with God, why should believers fear Him? Isn't God safe to be around if you are a Christian?

It all depends. It might be safe to be around a nuclear reactor in some circumstances; but it can be dangerous in others. I don't think we should ever be afraid of God in the sense of being afraid of something wild and unpredictable like a tornado or of a sadistic bully who terrorizes his victims. It's not that kind of fear. God is not irrational or malicious. In fact, the passage which I often use to teach the fear of God is Exodus 14:31. There we read that when the people saw what God had done to the army of Egypt, they feared the Lord and put their trust in Him”. So to fear God is to be in awe of God. It means to know God as the sovereign, all-powerful One.

Perhaps a good working-definition of the fear of God is something like this: to truly fear God means to be in awe of God's being and character as well as in awe of what He has done for us in Christ. When you put these two ideas together, you have an absolutely sovereign Creator of the universe who punishes those who resist Him, and yet loves us and sends His Son to die in our place. Surely that's good reason to fear or reverence Him. ...

Why is it that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom? Why not the love of God?

Because I believe that the fear of the Lord is the most fundamental attitude that we can have toward God. In fact, in my own prayer life I have several Bible verses that I pray over frequently. I have them in what I call 'priority-order'. The most important is marked #1, the second #2, and so forth. The one that comes at the top of the list is Psalm 86: 11: “Give me an undivided heart that I may fear Your Name”. Having a deep reverence for God is absolutely fundamental as I read my Bible. I mean, is it ever possible to overestimate the importance of God? I think the question answers itself. Our responsibility is to remain continually in awe of God. We must reverence Him for who He is and what He has done for us in Christ.

Once you have established your respect or reverence for God, then your next priority is to grasp the love of God. That's number two in my mind. ...

Is the fear of God a proper motive to which we can appeal in stimulating Christian growth and ministry?

Oh, absolutely! Again, to me it's primary and fundamental. We must start with a reverence for who God is. This is why I strongly urge people to read through the whole Bible every year. We need to be constantly saturating our minds in God. You can't think about God in the Old Testament without being struck by His awesome sovereignty and holiness. Think, for example, of how He crushes the Assyrian army in Isaiah 37. He strikes 185,000 of them dead in one night without firing a shot. Now that's awesome. The more you read of biblical history the more you think, “Wow, this God plays for keeps”. We need to cultivate this mindset because this is reality. This is how the real world works; God visits His judgement upon His enemies sooner or later.

Christians need to know this deep in their souls. Even though we know that our sins are forgiven through Jesus Christ and that we are perfectly righteous in Him, we must never forget that we cannot fool around with God. He treats sin seriously. A man I once knew said: “I know that having lustful thoughts for women is wrong, but God will forgive me”. This man hadn't realized what it means to fear God. ...

If fear is such an essential part of our spiritual experience, how do we cultivate that ‘awestruck’ attitude that Bible says we ought to have?

Well, I would suggest three things. First of all, I think we should pray like the Psalmist who asked the Lord, “Give me an undivided heart that I may fear Your Name” (Ps 86:11) and then claim the promise of Jeremiah 32:40 where God says, “I will inspire them to fear Me”. Say to the Lord, “O God, You have put this fear in my heart. Please cause it to grow.” Ask the Lord to help you to grow in reverence.

Second, I think that we need to read the Old Testament frequently if we want to grow in the fear of God. Even if we can't participate firsthand in God's great acts of power like the parting of the Red Sea, we can still re-live them by sharing in the original story. They took place in time and space. They were real events and we can share in them.

Third, another profitable course would be to read some great books on the nature of God. Here I am thinking of A.W. Tozer's The Pursuit of GOD and The Idea of the Holy. Another good book is The Holiness of God by RC Sproul. Sproul's great strength is that he has devoted his whole ministry to emphasizing the holiness and awesomeness of God. ... These are the sort of books that drive people to their knees.

from The fear of God: Talking with Jerry Bridges, highlights mine

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