Fear: What is It? Part I
There is so much talk these days in regard to fear. It seems so common given the increasingly lawlessness of our day – riots, bombings, beheadings, murdered law- enforcement officers, and Covid-19. A fearful person may be given a label of “panic attack,” stress disorder,” and or phobia. Fear has been called an emotion, a physiological reaction (“stress response”), a “psychological” reaction, and a “protective” mechanism. For all these reasons and more, this series: Fear: What is it and the Bible unpacks and contrasts the cultural approach to the term with God’s Word.
If all the above is true, what do we do with the Bible’s teaching that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). In contrast, the same verse reads: “but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” The Bible teaches that there is a “right” fear, or said another way there is a way to fear biblically.
Fear is often defined as dread, worry, and distress. It is a reaction to God’s providence (people, situations what people call life) and to Him. This point is vital because it points to the spiritual nature of fear. Theology is involved and every person lives out his theology as a good or bad theologian. It is decidedly spiritual and relational.
Fear is an inner-man/heart activity. Yes, synapses and nerves are stimulated and the brain and its various areas are involved. Symptoms and signs occur and are experienced and felt (see below). But fear defines a way of thinking and wanting in response to what a person does not want but believes will occur. It may be a reaction to not getting what a person wants.
Fear, both godly and ungodly, focuses on God’s providence usually termed “life” from the person’s standpoint and not God’s. It is a reflection of what the person wants or does not wat rather than on what God has ordained. Thinking and wanting occur in the inner-man (heart) and in the brain (the outer man). As a result, the person reports various feelings some of which are physiologically related. This results from the inner and outer man relationships. The heart (inner man) is connected with the body so that bodily responses occur throughout and feelings follow. As a consequence, the person feels fearful because he is!
Fear has a subject, an object, and motivation. The subject of fear is the person himself often divorced from a relationship with God. The object of fear is that which is out there and what it represents to the person. When we speak of fear’s motivation, we must remember that the term fear describes a specific way of thinking about God, self, and life. The motivation of fear is self; it is often protection which may result from good stewardship with respect to potential danger. God blesses good stewardship. The desire for protection may also result from guilt and take the form of escape, avoidance, and what I call the fig-leaf function (Proverbs 28:1; Genesis 3:7).
In our psychologized world, most people think in subjective terms – feelings and emotions. The idea is conveyed that feelings “just are.” We are told that feelings and emotions are part of the human composition. However, emotions almost defy definition. You chose the one you want. However, most agree that an emotion has a cognitive, subjective, and internal and or external activity. The activity is associated with physiological changes that can be measured in the brain and on physical examination (elevated pulse and heart rate, elevated respiratory rate, and skin and bowel changes to name a few).
Psychology places so-called emotions in the brain. They label emotions as purely physical but agree that thinking and wants influence the reaction. It is said by some (not the secularist!) that God gave man the capacity to fear and to be angry. If that is true, and I believe it is, man also has the capacity to fear and to be angry God’s way. That leads us to the question concerning Adam who was to guard and police the Garden. The first talking animal recorded in history began to “bad-mouth” God and Adam did not become angry. Adam did not use his capacity to be angry God’s way.
Man was born with the capacity for concern rightly understood. Adam was given the command to guard, protect, and nurture the Garden and his wife (Genesis 1:28—30; 2:15. Man was born with the capacity for godly stewardship and concern for God’s world as prophet (speak and accept truth), priest (broken and contrite heart – no sin was in the Garden so Adam would offer himself from his heart), and king (by an act of the will, Adam would obey out of love for God). He was to be concerned about the things that God was concerned and in the way that God was concerned. .
I don’t not agree with the concept that worry or anxiety is an emotion and that it is a normal for man to worry. Man was not born with the capacity to worry but with the capacity to view God, himself, and God’s world from God’s perspective. Jesus and pre-fall Adam define normal. Sin ushered in a new dimension in the life of man. God judged Adam and with him all mankind born of ordinary generation. Man did not think God’s or desire what God desired. He took center stage and inverted the Creator-creature distinction. Therefore, man reinterpreted God’s original revelation according to the mantra of for me, to me, by me.
Rather, worry/anxiety is sin. It is never commanded. Rather, God gave the command not to worry or be anxious for anything (Matthew 6:24-24; Philippians 4:4-9). Worry is an activity of the whole-person (inner – the heart – and outer man – the body including the brain) in which the person’s focus on self and on what God is not doing or should be doing according to the person’s wants. At its core is unbelief. Undressed and exposed, worry is an expression of idolatry and the worrier is an idolater at the moment he or she is worrying (noticed the verb form).
In contrast with worry, anger and fear, whatever we want to call them, are both commanded. Anger is an expression of God’s righteousness and justice and to be reflected in the believer. God is angry every day (Psalms7:11). God is the angriest Person but His anger is always directed toward His glory and achieving His purposes (Genesis 18:25; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10). Man’s anger is tainted by a self-focus and does not achieve the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20). Therefore, Paul cautions the people to be angry God’s way and not to sin in their anger (Ephesians 4:26).
1. Define terms such as fear, worry, and anger. Fear and anger are commanded. Worry is not.
a. Write out your thoughts.
b. What would be God’s reasoning?
2. What are the subject, object, and focus of each?
3. Record the events and people when it is easy to be fearful. What was your focus and how did your relationship with the Triune God influence your response?
Two Basic Types of Fear: Sinful and Ungodly: Part II
I continue the series: Fear: what is it? Should Adam have been fearful (God’s way) when the serpent entered into the Garden and interacted with his wife? There was no sin on earth at that time. Adam was still able to thin God’s thoughts and desires what God desired and acts accordingly. He did not. It is interesting that Adam’s reaction is so often ignored until he eats from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We assume that Adam knew how to be angry and fearful God’s way but for whatever he did not exercise that capacity. That is not to say that lack of fear of the Lord and lack of godly angry was a sign of covenantal unfaithfulness. Rather, God gave Adam the specific command in Genesis 2:17: But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when eat from it you will surely die. He chose to eat and he and mankind were judged by God.
Ungodly, sinful fear became part of mankind’s repertoire of responding to God, himself, and life. Ungodly fear was manifested by running and hiding. Adam and Eve attempted to first hide from each other and then from God. They lost sight of that fact that God was Creator, Controller, Owner, and Possessor of His world. They were living in God’s word as His enemy. They were “squatters” arrogantly and ignorantly infringing on God’s territory. In one sense, their response of fear was correct. The Triune God is not some non-existent something or a celestial teddy-bear. He is the Lord of lords and King of kings who deserves reverence and awe. But they did not comprehend those truths. Fear of God should have drawn them closer to God with a proper mindset and position before Him. Fear of the Lord was exchanged for sinful fear. Their ungodly fear was rooted in ignorance and arrogance. They did not know God and they did not know themselves!
As a result, mankind though and desired as a fugitive. Major aspects of man’s fallen nature and condition were darkness and deadness. Darkness was in contrast to light and truth that helped them to properly focus on God and self. Deadness was in contrast to life that is in Christ by the Holy Spirit. Man was faced with the presence of godly fear and ungodly or sinful fear. Man continued to have the capacity to fear but that capacity was affected by sin. Man was very much aware of his sinfulness and guilt as were Adam and Eve. They had been naked and unafraid (Genesis 2:25). There was no sin and nothing to hide or attempt to hide. They were able to give loyalty and devotion to God and to each other.
After their sin, they were naked and afraid (Genesis 3:6). Fear changed clothes so to speak. Sinfully fearful people view God, self, and others completely different. Prior to sin, Adam feared and reverenced God. He had concern for God and His command. We don’t know how long that desire lasted. We are not told. After sin, Adam and Eve adopted the fig-leaf function of life in order to hide (Genesis 3:7). They tried to hide from self, each other, and God. They were unsuccessful. Mankind was not designed by the Creator for that activity and lifestyle. People including believers are still running and hiding from God and they are unsuccessful. So much energy is expended with so little return. The person’s life is more complicated and unrewarding (Proverbs 13:15b).
Sinful or ungodly has three outstanding opposites. It is diametrical opposed to fear of the Lord which is God’s kind of fear. It contrasts biblical love and trust. It is distrust and is often manifested by the person attempting to take matters into their own hands. He does that actively. For instance, the person who fears illness may do any number of things such as take all types of health-helps or make frequent trips to the doctor. The person who seeks success and avoid poverty may engage in any number of services in order to win approval or gain an advantage.
1. Post-fall, man changed. God did not. How does fear fit this picture?
2. At the root of sinful fear is what?
3. Sinful fear has at least three opposites. What are they?
4. Determine in your heart that you desire to please God. Write it out and reflect on it several times throughout the day. Use a pencil to check when you have.
Manifestations of Ungodly Fear: Part III
In Part III of the series: Fear: what is it? I evaluate the subject of ungodly fear. Ungodly fear is ungodly because the person is focused on self and away from God. It makes a statement about God’s love (1 John 4:18: There is no fear in love. but perfect love casts fear. For fear has to do with punishment and whoever fears has not been perfected I love). God does not intend His people to be burdened by sin including ungodly fear. God’s love has many purposes one of which is turn a person’s thinking and wanting from self to God with the purpose of honoring and pleasing Him. He loved His people into the kingdom and gave alight and life – a different way to view Him and self. The believer no longer hides, puts on the fig leaf, or tries to fashion God or something else into an object that is accessible and friendly. Others fear being in the presence of God as taught in the Old Testament because of punishment and repercussions (Genesis 16:31; 33:3; Exodus 20:19-21).
Fear is ungodly when the person fails to acknowledge and accept God’s love of him and Christ’s cost of going to hell on the cross. It is wrong because and when the person trusts self and not God. The object of a person’s fear (thoughts and desires about him and his circumstances) is on self and another person to avoid trauma to self. The person may fear temporal things – the now and ignore the eternal (Matthew 10:28/Luke 12:4-5; Gen 12:13; 20:2; 20:26:7). A person may be so focused on things he can’t change that he ignores things that are his responsible and he can change (Proverbs 3:21-26).
There is so much in the Christian life that God has equipped believers to do and are held responsible for doing them. Failure to do those things because of sinful fear (wrong thinking and wanting) is an attack on the gospel message. It is an attempt to undermine God’s love. When one’s thinking and wanting is fearful and it is focused on and motivated by self-interest, it is an ungodly fear. What the person doesn’t want to happen for his own benefit is controlling him rather than the love of and for God.
John pinpointed the center and core of ungodly fear. It is the inherent knowledge that God is God and He will judge. Paul wrote that the knowledge of God as real, Creator, and Controller is suppressed but unsuccessful, (Romans 1:18-23). In similar way, man attempts to suppress the idea of judgment in general and God’s judgement, in particular (1 John 4:18-19). He fails to know God as he ought; he fails to know God as Creator, Controller, and Judge and reality of hell.
Moreover, he fails to know God as Lover par excellence. Some characteristics of ungodly fear include the false assumption that something must be added to the necessity of saving faith for salvation. Depending on the motto – faith plus works equals a right standing before – places a burden on the person that he can’t keep try as he might. Salvation is of the Lord. Ungodly fear is a result. The wicked lazy servant thought he knew the master (God) and out of fear hid the money. He denied the goodness, mercy, and love of God (Matthew 25:24-30).
Ungodly fear often is manifested in times of God’s providence that are unpleasant (Philippians 2:14-17). The person grumbles and complains and asks such questions as: “why me” and “why now.” The person questions and may condemn not only God’s goodness but His wisdom as well. Ungodly fear may result in a “shrinking back” from God. Jesus Christ, the Lover and Savior of the person, is discarded at the altar of self. The person functionally denies the joy and beauty moving toward God. Rather, he embraces the spirit of bondage and chains to himself to self all under the guise of fear (2 Timothy 1:7).
Ungodly fear instills in the person uneasiness such that he is “on the move.” He is not satisfied. He is always on the move but away from God. It is as if he is looking over his shoulder. He does not know and appreciate that there is no condemnation for those in Christ (Romans 8:1). Rather, he runs and hides full of guilt: Proverbs 28:1: The wicked flee when no pursues but the righteous are boldness as a lion. It is so easy to blame the presence of fear on so-called physical problems. Guilt should drive a person to God and saving soothing grace. Here the Holy Spirit is telling us that guilt drivees fear. The answer is not distancing oneself from God but moving toward Him who is Judge AND Savior/Deliver. Proverbs 10:24 speaks in similar terms: What the wicked dreads/fears is what will come upon him but the desire of the righteous will be granted. The wicked have fears some of which are hidden! 1 John 4:4:18-19 gives God’s answer to the problem of guilt and ungodly: love because fear involves punishment and God’s perfect love casts out fear.
1. What are some consequences of ungodly fear?
2. The person who is sinful fearful makes several statements about God: His love, judgment in Christ, mercy, and wisdom. What are they? See 1 John 4:18-19
3. What is the put-on for ungodly fear?
The Essence of Fear: Part IV
We continue the series: Fear: What is it. The heart of fear is control. Control is the issue: God’s or mine? Therefore, the issue of control is spiritual, theological, and personal. Foundational to fear and control is knowledge, trust, and love. Godly fear is the dominating awareness of the reality of the ever-present God who has something to say about every thought, desire, and action of mine.
It describes in human terms the God of the universe and the person’s response to him. Godly fear embraces God and His control. The believer knows and embraces several non-negotiable facts so that He knows and often acts on the truth that God is trustworthy. The issue of control is settled. The Triune God is (Jerry Bridges, Trusting God, page 18):
• infinite in wisdom – He knows what is best for Him and the believer;
• perfect in love – He wills what is best;
• completely sovereign and powerful – He brings wisdom, love, and power together for His glory and the good of the believer.
In contrast, sinful or ungodly fear is an uncertainty about who is watching and in control. It focuses on the person who works hard at control. It is that reaction to God and the circumstances that produces fear of man, circumstances, or fear itself that hinders believers from loving God and his neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40). It is motivated by self, for self, to self as he considers himself in relation to God’s providence. It focuses on me and my loss. The sinfully fearful person is asserting his wants and will over God’s. He does not want something to happen and focuses (is fearful – remember fear is thinking and wanting) on his results not on God/s good control. He does not reverence God. He reverences himself. He thinks he does not deserve, let alone want, what he thinks God may have ordained for him. His trust is a self-trust and love in terms of loyalty, affection, and devotion is toward self.
The Bible does not paint a pretty picture of the sinfully fearful person. In Romans 3:18 (quoting Psalm 36:1), Paul asserts that unbelievers have no fear of God. They do not reverence God or His word. Therefore, these people live as if there is no death or life after death. Today is all that matters. On the other hand, people are always “looking over their shoulder.” In their heart of hearts, people know that there is judgment and an eternal destiny. God has placed eternity in the heart of everyone (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Since the fall and even among believers, the greatest fear (remember fear refers to a specific type of thinking and wanting) that man has is fear of death, dying, and judgment (Hebrews 2:14-17; 9:27; 1 Corinthians 15:54-57; 1 John 4:18-19).
Since the cover up by Adam and Eve in the Garden, people continue to attempt to hide from God, others, and self in a variety of ways. They ignore and they get busy or they take to the bed. They run from people and neglect responsibilities; they take medications to remove bad feelings; and or they engage un activities such as sleep or play. Some may even work all the time doing anything “to get their mind off of things.” It is interesting that a term such as “getting my mind off of it” helps. That phrase and others like it point to the inner-man activity of thinking and wanting and add clarity to the cognitive (thinking) and the subjective aspect of feelings associated with fear.
Some people are overly concerned (fear) with the temporal more than eternal (Genesis 25:29-35; 12:13; 20:2, 1; 26:7; Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:4-5). Consequently they live in the now lacking a vertical reference, an eternal perspective, a focus on God’s god control, and a godly focus which is fixing their eyes and heart of Christ. Notice the examples in Genesis. They include Esau the epitome of sensual, now living and the patriarchs Abraham (twice) and Isaac. It is so easy to focus on the now for me rather than pleasing God! In all of the examples, the person had a preoccupation and focus (again thinking and wanting) on what he wanted to happen that might (Esau) or what might happen they did not want to happen (Abraham and Isaac). The self focus was marked contrast to desire to please God. The simple fact that God is in the problem had no impact on even the patriarchs at least at that moment (Romans 8:28-29).
The Bible tells us where ungodly and sinful fear leads. The most common term for this type of fear is fear of man (Proverbs 28:1, 14; 29:25). Throughout the Book of Proverbs, the author labels far of man with trust in self. Again this points the major issue of far – control. To live in God’s world, whether acknowledged or not, your way by trusting in yourself is futile. We have to be careful here. You might sake: is there room for self-confidence? It depends on one’s definition. Paul tells us to boast only in the Lord and the cross (1 Corinthians 1:31; 2:2; Galatians 6:14). In effect, he is telling believers to fear the Lord!!! Paul trusted himself to the degree that he had entrusted himself to honoring God by serving Him (2 Corinthians 4:1, 16-18). God’s control was good and trustworthy!
Moreover, as I have noted, the author of the book of Ecclesiastes knew that people are born with eternity in their heart (Ecclesiastes 3:11; 7:22-23). They inherently know that they die once and then there is judgment (Hebrews 9:27). The power of death is the law and its demands and man’s arrogance to keep the perfect law perfectly (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). In their arrogance and ignorance, all unbelievers are their own lawkeeper in varying degrees. They can never be certain if they satisfy justice. They seek to be better lawkeepers but according to their laws and their standard for keeping the law. The person responds to the idea of eternity and destiny with an innate fear of death.
Jesus is the answer to this particular aspect of life: He lived and died perfectly so that the power of death was broken. He was in and is in control! His control is best! He released those in bondage to death, sin, self, and Satan (Hebrews 2:14-15). Now the believer and only the believer can live without sinful or ungodly fear. He is free to live as one whose chains have fallen off and is free to love God and others! He is a slave to righteousness rather than unrighteousness (Romans 6:16-19).
1. Define fear. Fear has what kind of orientation?
2. Define ungodly or sinful fear.
3. What does it look like and what are some consequences?
4. Where does fear of the man lead? Proverbs 28:1, 14; 29:25
God’s Answer: Part V
In this past of the series: Fear: what is it, I evaluate God’s answer for sinful fear. One of God’s answers for ungodly fear is thinking, desiring, and doing the most loving thing in spite of feelings. That means pleasing God is to more important than pleasing and seemingly protecting self. In this way the believer is imitating Christ who came to do the Father’s will (John 4:31-34). This approach to life is fundamental for all Christians. It is the way of life, light, and truth.
The loving thing is that which honors God via trusting and obeying His will as given in Scripture and applied to the person in his situation by the Holy Spirit. It means fulfilling responsibilities out of love and thankfulness for Christ in you the hope glory and the indwelling Holy Spirit (Colossians 1:27; Romans 8:5:5; 8:9-11). It means developing the fear of God in contrasts to fear of everything but God: man, consequences, people, guilt, and unpleasantness.
Only the believer can get victory in any situation especially this one. Victory is defined God’s way: Victory is defined as overcoming. The once-for-all victory for every believer came as Jesus lived perfectly and died perfectly on the cross as the Perfect Sacrifice. The debt had been paid in full and all hostility between God and man has been removed. Daily victory for the Christian means becoming more like Christ. He does so by being controlled by biblical principles rather than the agony – including fear – of and in the problem. Victory means using what a person doesn’t like as his instrument for growth into Christlikeness. Victory is pleasing God by doing the right thing even when it seems, and feels, impossible and one would rather than seek relief.
The believer is to realize – think correctly – that fear just isn’t. It does not have a life of its own. It roots somewhere. It is produced and the person produces it. Therefore the person who fears sinfully must repent of poor stewardship of his thinking!
The person responds in his situation based on his relationship with God in Christ. He produces fearful thinking. He has never learned or jettisoned the truth that he is not a victim to that which is outside of him. It may seem or the person may “feel” as if that which is outside of him produces fearful thinking and physical symptoms and signs. O the contrary, he is fearful that something will occur that he does not want and he can’t control. Control is a key issue and it is exposed in the heat of the situation not because of the situation. He is so fearful that he believes and acts as if “can’t” please God. In reality, he is self-absorbed.
Therefore, he and only the believer can, puts on love and trust beginning vertically with a commitment to pleasing God no matter the circumstances and feelings. This correct vertical reference controls him horizontally: to others and the situation. The truth sets believers free (John 8:31-32). He has convinced himself that he is fearful and that he can’t do the loving thing. He stops himself with a big whoa! The fact is this: he can please God. God says so and He has implanted a new motivation center in your new heart at regeneration (John 3:3-8; 2 Corinthians 5:9, 14-15). The desire to please yourself by saving your child when you did think you could is similar to the Holy-Spirit implanted and energized desire to please God. Not only can you please Him but you must and you will as His child!
Be ready to face you programmed patterned way of thinking and wanting that is chiefly characterized by: “I can’t so I don’t.” Unbelievers change and life-saving work. They overcome “fear.” Yet they don’t please God because their motivation is wrong. The believer is changed so he change thinking and wanting and actions will follow. He can and will re-focus on doing the loving thing that he knows God requires. He has been studying Scripture.
He will consider the “fear experience” and plan and work toward a “love experience” by substituting love for fear in any conversation and any thoughts. He takes the phrase: fear is experienced – and recasts it: I am sinfully fearful in specific situations. He names those situations being as specific as he can. The response of fearing or loving repeats itself and gets stronger. As the motivation to protect self – selfishness – is replaced by fear, love, and trust of God, the person will be pleased and joyful that his bondage is being undone.
He will remember that ungodly fear is introspective with self is at center stage with the goal to please him. Godly fear is God-focused with the goal to please Him. Life is simplified. Willfully, cognitively and actively the person steps off his throne (he wasn’t his!) and recognizes God’s rightfully place. He puts God and others ahead of self.
There is wisdom in recognizing the cyclical nature of fear. Fear, godly or ungodly, produces fearful responses which become patterned. But as did Jesus, responding to God’s providence is a response to Him. Pleasing God irrespective of any situation and person for His sake is counterintuitive according to the culture but it is the way out of the deadness and darkness of a self-centered world. Fearing and trusting in God in lieu of self brings an increasing appreciation and enjoyment of life as the believer anticipates heaven.
1. Make a list of those things and people you have neglected and perhaps abandoned out of fear.
2. Include on the list the truth that you are responsible for fear: producing it, responding to it, and continuing it.
3. Then, repent of the fear itself, the excuse for it, the patterned response, and the heart from which it flows.
4. Using such Scripture (Psalm 56:3-4; 1 John 4:18-19, and 2 Timothy 1:7), write out a plan for being responsible beginning with the two most pressing issues.
5. Implement the plan.
6. Record the results.
God’s Answer Defined: Part VI
Reasons for its Lack
I continue the series: fear: what is it by turning to fear of the Lord, the only proper fear. There are 150-175 explicit references to the phrase fear of Lord in the Old and New Testament and there are with hundreds of illustrations illustrating of its significance. The term fear is referenced some 700 times. It is as if God knew that man would face the issue of fear. He gave us all we need for life and godliness in this area including what life is and how we should then live.
There are several working definitions of fear of the Lord. Fear of the Lord has a personal and a Godward reference. It is my constant awareness of God’s presence and power in my life that motivates me to trust Him and to obey. The awareness is a dominating awareness of who God truly is in Himself, that this is His world, and that He has something to say about every thought, desire, and action of mine and every creature. It is the dominating awareness that God is and this is His world. As a result, I know He has something to say about everything I think, desire, and do. Fear of the Lord enables me and you to act on the non-negotiable truths that God is powerful, purposeful, and good.
There are at least two aspects of fear of the Lord and they can be characterized under the rubric of the Lion and the Lamb. First, fear of the Lord is characterized by a dread, trembling, an even terror before God. Picture you in the jungle alone with weapon. The mighty lion roars. He gets your attention! The focus of dread and terror is on God as holy and the mighty Judge of the world and its creatures including you and me. The Lion in the jungle takes no prisoners. Someone may say that everyone and many animals is the lion’s victim. With God, there are no victims. He is the just Judge because He is holy and righteousness. This aspect of the fear of the Lord is an acknowledgement that God is the Just Judge and I am a recipient of His wrath. As a result, I ask: what will happen to me now and eternally. Fear of the Lord has both a temporal and eternal perspective.
A second aspect of fear of the Lord is an acknowledgment and constant remembrance that honor, awe, veneration, reverence, and respect of and before God. This adoration and respect are due Him. To give it is both a duty and a blessing for the creature to give it. It focuses on who God is, what He deserves, and the use of my thoughts, desires, and actions to properly fear Him. Fear of the Lord is acknowledges the whole Being of God and inherently what God deserves and what He will receive in eternity from all His creatures. There is a Lamb side to this aspect. The Lamb does not roar. His gentle, humble beauty is awesome but it is a powerful magnet. Fear of the Lord brings together both the Lion and the Lamb.
The definitions are comprehensive and focus on the essence of God AND my response. It is based on the non-negotiable truth that God is the Seer and Examiner. He examines the paths and ways of every one of His creatures. All things are laid bare to Him (Hebrews 4:12-13). God will judge the secrets of a man’s heart so that nothing in all of life is hidden from His eternal scrutiny. Every thought, desire, and action has a relationship to Him and He has something to say about every person and his thoughts, desires, and actions (Hebrews 4:13; Psalms 11:4; 33:13-15; Prov. 5:21-23; Jeremiah 16:17; 23:24; 32:19; Daniel 2:22).
There two basic reasons for the lack of the fear of the Lord in a person. They are not mutually exclusive but different sides of the same coin. One reason is a person’s view of God. When a person esteems God lightly, he holds or considers God to a lightweight. He has low view of God. This may be due to ignorance of who God is based on false teaching. Or it may be that the person has had troubles and he does not like the way God’s handling of His world! He pictures God as a debtor God who owes him and can be manipulated; a decorative God who is a lightweight and does not deserve all of me; a degraded God who is not so big so that I can give His my works as my own savior; and a dullard God who is too hard to please so anything will do. God is pictured as a domesticated and be pulled down to the creature’s level.
A second basic reason for lack of fear of the Lord is a high view of man. Here the person is self-focused, self-trusting, and is wise in his own eyes. The Bible calls these people fools not simply foolish. They are either competing with God or grumbling and complaining or both.
God removes the fig leaf that begun in the Garden post fall. This is to the believer’s benefit but it is so often neglected. Man attempts to hide that which can’t be successfully hidden. Sadly and ignorantly, man continues to attempt hide from God in a variety of ways. But at the last Judgement every creature will stand naked before God in an amazing courtroom scene (Matthew 12:33-37; 25:31-44). In the end, every person will know the true person and the true self. How futile it is to attempt to hide!
A general overview of the Old Testament gives several main points regarding fear of the Lord. It is commanded and the fear of man is condemned (Leviticus 19:14; 25:17, 36, 43; Deuteronomy 6:2, 12; 10:12; 25:18; Joshua 4:24). Therefore, every believer can and will fear the Lord joyfully, properly, and gratefully. The fear of the Lord is learned and for the believer, the learning comes through the Law which is a reflection of God’s wisdom and power (Deuteronomy 31:11-12; Exodus 20:18-21; Psalm 34:11; also see the New Testament’s comments on the Law in Romans 7:12; 1Timothy 1:8-11).
Obedience is a sign of fear of the Lord in the Old and New Testaments. Those who fear the Lord are lovers of God and others. Matthew 22:37-40 summarizes the Law and the prophets: love of God and love of neighbor. The command is a manifestation of fear of the Lord.
Paul wrote in Romans 13 that love is the fulfillment of the Law and loving one another out of love for God and His love of the believer is a continuing debt (Roman 13:8-10). Jesus and John make this same point (John 14; 15, 21, 23; 1 John 5:3).
1. Define fear of the Lord.
2. What does the definition mean to you?
3. What are the key ingredients of fear of the Lord?
4. How does the metaphor of the Lion and lamb help explain fear of the Lord?
5. How are you learning fear of the Lord and what has been the results?
Fear of the Lord: Part VII
Significance for Life and Life after Salvation, part a
Fear of the Lord has a cognitive or perceptional side. It involves knowledge – pure and true – of God and self, Biblical truth is foundational to develop fear of the Lord. Biblical truth is also the interpretative grid for the person who fears the Lord. In those ways, God, people, self, and God’s providence will be rightly interpreted. There is an ethical side to fear of the Lord that is summed up in one word: obedience. Fear of the love flows from proper knowledge and results in its proper application. The person who fears the Lord desires to obey as a testimony of his love of God and God’s love to him. He finds the command to obey is not irksome or burdensome (1 John 5:3-4). Only the regenerated person loves the law and lawkeeping which is on the basis of the indwelling Holy Spirit and not his own efforts (Psalm 119:97-104). Only Christ, redemptively and perfectly, and the believer, non-redemptively and imperfectly, understands and uses the law as a lamp and a light (Psalm 119:105). The believer as did Christ hides the law in his heart so he would not sin – be proven covenantally unfaithful (Psalm 119:9-11).
Biblical truth is properly applied and in that way the believer imitates Christ. Isaiah 11:2-3 gives a succinct picture of the genesis and the results of fear of the Lord in Jesus Christ and by implication for the believer who is in Christ: v.2-3: The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding; the Spirit of counsel and power; the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord – and he will delight in the fear of the Lord… Fear of the Lord is something given – it is a gift. It is supernaturally given and applied. It was a necessity for Christ to live as the Messiah and honor the Triune God as He completed His earthly mission. It was necessary for Him to be covenantal faithful and to live as the great Adam, greater David, and the true Israel and true temple. In a word, without fear of the Lord, no one will or can live a godly, God-pleasing life.
Let’s go back to Mount Sinai and the given of the Decalogue (Exodus 20:18-21). Moses went down and spoke to the people all the words that God had given him (19:25-20:1). He listed the Ten Commandments. At the completion of delivery them, the people had an amazing, unsettling sensual experience which introduced them to true far of the Lord. They saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpets and saw the mountains in smoke. These people had experienced supernatural activities of God in the past (the plagues in Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, the presence of God in the wilderness, God’s provision for them via the manna and quail) but this sensual experience seemed to get their attention!
Fear of the Lord was not a new topic for the Israelites. As I mentioned in section IV, it was commanded and the fear of man is condemned (Leviticus 19:14; 25:17, 36, 43; Deuteronomy 6:2, 12; 10:12; 25:18). But now at the foot of the mountain the people trembled with fear and stayed at a distance (Exodus 20:18). Their view of God led them to try and stay away – to distance themselves from God. Their fear was self-focused and was far of the Lord. It contrasts Moses’ response at the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-6). He moved toward the burning bush but at stopped at the voice of God. Properly, after hearing God speak, Moses hid his face because he was afraid – reverent fear of God. Moses feared God out of ignorance which was the teaching of the day – to look God at God meant death (Genesis 16:13; 32:30; Exodus 3:6; 33:20; Numbers 12:8; Deuteronomy 34:10; Judges 6:22; 13:22; Isaiah 6:5).
Moses also feared God out of reverence. He had and continued to experience the presence of God and not die. At this point, he, through the Holy Spirit, encouraged the Israelites as recorded in Exodus 20:20: Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be you to keep you from sinning.” Moses gave a reason for the giving of the Ten Commandments: they are a piece of God’s mind and Person. They were given as a vehicle to keep the people from sinning. Sinning is not simply an action or inaction. It is the presence of evil and darkness and it is in direct contrast with God who is light, life, and truth. The Ten Commandments were given so that the people would develop fear of the Lord which honored God and was a great benefit and blessing for the people. Fear of the Lord via the Ten Commandments was one of God’s means to keep His people sinning.
Fear of the Lord does not keep God’s people from Him. It draws them closer to Him but in a proper way. God is approachable and calls His people to come (Matthew 11:28-30; 14:27-29). But there is a proper way to come. Nadab and Abihu thought God was just like them and could be approached any way they deemed properly (Leviticus 10:1-3). They came as unclean and unholy and they were destroyed. God is holy and His people are to be holy (Leviticus 10:10-11; 1:44-45; 1 Peter 1:6). If God could be approached in any old way, we would not need Jesus, the prefect Sacrifice and High Priest. Jesus modeled fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2-3) and the Spirit imparts it into His people.
1. How does Psalm 119 help understand fear of the Lord?
2. What did Moses teach the Israelites on Mount Sinai regarding fear of the Lord? How well did they learn the lesson?
3. How does the command to be as I am holy as I am holy fit with fear of the Lord?
Fear of the Lord: Part VII
Significance for Life and Life after Salvation, part b
Fear of the Lord is a “salvation grace.” The believer is inclined to more and more please the Triune God in thought, desire, and deed. It is essential to growth in Christ. It grows out of the Father’s love of His child and it is founded on the knowledge of who the Triune God is and what He has done. It is the most logical thing to do but only the believer can properly fear the Lord.
If there was no God there would be no fear. Once God enters in to the picture so does fear. God is to be feared and that fear will be godly or ungodly. Post-fall, the capacity to fear properly was lost. A godly fear of God was lost so that man ran and hid from God or attempted to ignore Him – to suppress the truth about himself and God as an idolater (Romans 1:18-23).
Man was designed to be in God’s presence eternally. Sin made man unworthy and unacceptable to be in God’s presence and live. God did not change but he did change man – from a rebel, enemy, self pleaser in Satan’s family and kingdom to a child in God’s family and kingdom (Colossians 1:13).
The significance of the fear of the Lord is partly related to the fact that fear of the Lord is the soul of godliness (John Murray in Principles of Conduct). Fear of the Lord focuses on the awesome majesty of a holy God. This principle and capacity to fear God is a created capacity in man. But sin has distorted that capacity. In its place is man’s futile and feeble attempt to hold down or suppress the facts of life: God is Creator and Controller and deserves every person’s full allegiance and respect. Fallen, sinful man said no – I am taking that prerogative for me. As a result, there is no growth in Christlikeness, only rebellion bolstered by ignorance and arrogance. It is not a pretty picture. Fallen man may fear God but as a Judge as one may fear a roaring, uncaged lion or the approaching tornado. Where there is no proper fear of the Lord there is no growth n Christlikeness. There is only growth in the likeness of Satan. The process of progressive sanctification – growth in holiness – is short-circuited. God is dishonored and the person can expected trouble and misery.
God commands fear of the Lord directly but also by the command: fear not. This command is often repeated throughout redemptive history: Deuteronomy 31:8-9; Joshua 1:6-9. In those passages, Moses gave a put-on for ungodly and sinful fear: be strong and courageous. The words refer to inner-man strength – a strong-hearted, undivided heart fully attuned to honor God and depend and trust of Him. Joshua and all believers are people who are too fear God rather than fear of man or consequences of entering into God’s providence. The command was not a suggestion and it was based on the presence of God. Godly fear involves the awareness of the presence of God.
In the New Testament, we find this same command but under different terminology. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus rebuked the people and the disciples for their lack of faith: unfaithfulness; saving faith was not demonstrated (Matthew 6:30; 8:26; 14:27; 16:8; 17:20). The disciples were faced with faith and trust issues ranging from concern for the source of supplying their needs, a raging sea, sighting Jesus thinking He was a ghost, failing to understand the hypocrisy of the Pharisees which included their teaching, and failing to heal a demon-possessed boy
All of the examples and many more are concerned with the presence and control of God – His power and goodness. The issue: post-fall, who do you love and trust? Several places in the New Testament give us the answer. Paul (2 Timothy 1:7) and John (1 John 4:16, 18) give valuable insight that speaks on the topic of fear.
2 Timothy is Paul’s last letter before his death. He was passing the baton to Timothy God’s chosen agent to receive the baton. Timothy was reported to be timid – fearful – and by definition self-focused. The culture might say he lacked “self-confidence” or he had low self-esteem. Paul would have none of that psychobabble. If he did lacked anything it was a God-confidence because he focused on self and not the God of his new self (2 Corinthians 5:17). Timothy was a new creature in Christ. He was in union with Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. He was not alone (shades of Joshua)! In verse 7, Paul wrote what God had done for and to Timothy: For God did not give us a spirit of timidity but of a spirit of power, a spirit of love, and of self-discipline. Paul gave Timothy and us another antidote and put-on in place of sinful fear. Timothy was to look away from self to his God. God owns him so he must own God (Psalm 34:8). Paul could summarize these three features as fear of the Lord!
In 1 John, John the apostle of love gives his treatise on love beginning with 3:1-5;3: 3;1-3; 7:7-12, 16-19; 5:3). God is love is fact (4:8). If there was no God there would be no love. God is love and believers live because Jesus came to unlovely and by human standards, unlovable people (Romans 5:6-10. Believers love because they have been loved. As a result, the Holy Spirit indwells the believer (v.13; Romans 5:5). As a result, the believer has boldness on the judgment day because had been cast out. Fear involves punishment and perfect love drives out far (v.17-18). If the believer stills manifests sinful fear as patterned living, then the love of God has not permeated his heart and the accomplished one of its purpose. The problem is not the Lover, God, or His love but the believer.
1. The Bible covers far from the perspective of fear not and the perspective of far the Lord. From our previous blog, write out your definition of fear of the Lord.
2. In what situations are you tempted to sinful fear in contrast to fear of the Lord?
3. What will fear of the Lord look like in those specific situations?
4. Keep a record of those times and the Scripture you used to focus of trusting God vs. trusting yourself?
The Book of Proverbs: Part VIII
In the next next parts in the series: fear: what is it, I move to the book of Proverbs to fund characteristics of fear of the Lord. God orients and motivates His people to fear Him. This motivating activity is of God. It is His gift like the gift of saving faith. Both have a human-activity side. Since the fall, man has no natural inclination to fear God in a godly way. But God gives the believer a new heart and with it a singleness of heart by the indwelling Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5; 8:9-11; 2 Corinthians 4:5-6).
God has approached the subject fear from several vantage points. One important area is by way of contrasts. The fear of the Lord is contrasted and is mutually exclusive of fear of man, trust in self, and love of self. Fear involves control: God’s or the person’s; knowledge: biblical truth or personal truth derived from the culture; love – God’s love answers the basis for sinful fear as given in 1 John 4: God sent Christ who removed condemnation and guilt and with it punishment; and God’s presence – Immanuel was alive and well in the Old Testament and now in Christ the true Immanuel, the true temple, and the new Jerusalem. The issue now is applying these facts to our daily lives.
The book of Proverbs gives some characteristics of the person who fears the Lord, trusts in the Lord and who fears man and trusts in himself. Let’s look at some of them and then we will develop a working definition of fear of the Lord.
Proverbs 1:7: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Wise people fear the Lord. Fools do not fear because they are too busy trusting in themselves. They view God as insufficient, inferior, and inconsequential. Wisdom and knowledge include an understanding of basic biblical truths and the application of those truths in a patterned way of life. . Wisdom, knowledge, and fear of the Lord are linked and are a whole. These three singularly and as trio lead to and manifest a healthy respect and admiration for the awesomeness of God. God is viewed by the believer in a completely different light than Satan views God. Fools follow Satan and hate wisdom and knowledge because they hate God.
Proverbs 2:5: then you understand the fear of the Lord and find knowledge of God. In verses 1-4, the writer proclaims the truth that fear of the Lord is something to be diligently and voraciously sought, found, and learned. It is attainable and it is given. Verse 6 says that the Lord is the source of wisdom. Fear of the Lord leads to knowledge of God Who is wisdom and gives wisdom. We learn that godly fear is properly vertically-focused. It is what wise people do. They look upward with an eternal focus and in that way ae of earthly good. Fools do the opposite. These facts indicate that ungodly fear is thinking and wanting that is self-focused and wrongly other-focused. It is sinful.
Proverbs 3:7: Be not wise in your eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil. In Proverbs 3:5-8, the author continues a contrast of fear of the Lord and trust in the Lord with trust in self, wise in own eyes, and leaning on one’s own understanding. Simply all people need God’s wisdom. Everyone knows God or at least facts about Him (Romans 1:18-23). In response to this innate knowledge, the unbeliever attempts to suppress the truth of God to himself and the world. Only the believer has godly wisdom and with it fear of the Lord. Sinful fear is a matter of control: the person’s or God’s. Fallen man left to self, even as a believer still looks to self, is for self, and by self. He is self-reliant. This is a patterned lifestyle of wanting and thinking. It follows Satan’s approach to God, self, and life. Life is lived as a matter of choices: God or self. Sinful fear looks to self. It is foolish and carries its own consequences. It may give the impression of being in control but it is a false reality.
Proverbs 8:13: The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil; Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. Wisdom is fear of the Lord and in this passage is summarized as hatred of evil – in self and in others. The wise person, the true God-fearer, hates what God hates. What does God hate? The writer of Provers gives what God hates in summary form (Proverbs 6:16-19). God hates proud people. Pride and its diverse manifestations was first evidence in heaven with the angels and again in the Garden with Adam. Sinful pride can be summarized as self pleasing in lieu of pleasing God. The individual has replaced God as an object of worship with himself. He has placed himself on par with or even above God. He is a fool. The wise man fears the Lord. He does not trust himself.
Proverbs 9:10: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. The verse is a repeat of 1:7. It combines knowledge and wisdom. The fear of the Lord is a result of and moves a person to intimacy, fellowship, and knowledge of God and with God. This knowledge results in further trust in the Lord – His presence, His power, His promises, His plan, His purposes, and His provisions.
Proverbs 10:27: The fear of the Lord prolongs (adds years to) life, but the years of the wicked will be short. Fear of the Lord is a sign of and results from harmony with God. Being in sync with God means thinking His thoughts, desiring what He desires and acting accordingly. The believer can do this because God brought him into His kingdom, His family, and His school. As a result of good teaching and training, the believer can expect a blessed life. This does not mean a problem-free life. If that was true, God would be treating the believer better than he treated His Son! This same truth is taught in 3:2 (for they will prolong your life many year and bring you prosperity) and 19:23 (The fear of the Lord leads to long life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble). The believer has the assurance of eternal life but there is a promise for the present life: rest and sleep at night (Proverbs 3:24). Life is simplified when one properly fears God.
Proverbs 14:16, 26-27: v.16: A wise man fears the Lord and shuns evil but a fool is hot headed and reckless. v.26-27: he who fears the Lord has a secure fortress and for his children it will be a refuge; The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a man from the nares of death. The wise man fears the Lord and is cautious and prudent. He, in contrast to the fool, stops and considers things from God’s perspective – he asks: what does the word of God say and he searches the Scripture and applies truth as wisely as he can. Fear of the Lord leads to confidence (secure fortress) and security (Psalm 27:1; 46:1).
1. How do you define fear of the Lord?
2. How do knowledge, wisdom, and fear of the Lord work together?
3. What significance does your definition of fear of the Lord have for you morning to night?
The Book of Proverbs, Continued: Part IX
Proverbs 15:16, 33: Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil; The fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom and humility comes before honor. Verse 16 seems counterintuitive. It highlights the importance God places on fear of Him. Great wealth itself is no threat to one’s spiritual welfare. For the love of money is a root of all evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with great pangs (1 Timothy 6:10). The person may focus on getting wealth and enjoying it for himself. He is not wise and turmoil and affliction follows.
Fear of the Lord leads to a proper use and respect of money. Joy and contentment comes only with a proper view of self and of God. Verse 33 seems to touch on an under-recognized truth: in one sense, the believer is taught into or disciplined into the Kingdom of God. Remember that knowledge, wisdom and love are intertwined with fear of the Lord. As a result humility develops in the believer. Honor as the world defines it is diametrically opposed to how God defines it. The author is equating fear of the Lord with salvation. Therefore he links knowledge, wisdom, salvation, and humility.
Proverbs 16:6: Through the love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil. The only way that sin can be covered and guilt removed is via the shedding of blood. But is not the blood of an animal or the person’s own blood. The truth about sin, God’s mercy, and His truth is displayed at the cross. The author sums up all of those truths with the phrase fear of the Lord which could by summarized as salvation. Salvation is the only way people can and do turn from evil to God. There is a double turning: from sin, self, and Satan and to God.
Proverbs 22:4: Humility and fear of the Lord brings wealth and honor into life. This verse is a summary statement of the effects and benefits of righteous living a theme runs throughout the book of Proverbs and can also be summarized as fear of the Lord (Proverbs 21:21: He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity, and honor).
Proverbs 23:17: Do not let your heart envy sinners but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord. Psalms 37 (verse 7) and 73 (verse 3) caution the reader against envy especially of those who are wicked. If a person envies sinners he has no fear of the Lord. Irrespective of what may be happening to and by another, the believer is to fear the Lord. There is an eternal destiny for all. In addition, salvation is not simply for the eternal because eternal life begins now at regeneration (John 17:3; Romans 6:9-10). Be zealous for the fear of the Lord – and your salvation – as God is and jealous zealous for His name (Exodus 20:5).
Proverbs 24:21-22: Fear the Lord and the king, my son, and do not join with the rebellious, for those two will send sudden upon them, and who knows what calamities they can bring. These verses address authority, a proper response to it, and those who are wishing to overthrow rightful authority. It should remind the believer of John 19:11 and Romans 13:1-7. God gives rulers and authority and the king’s heart is in the Lord’s hands (Proverbs 21:1). Respect authority because the rulers have been put in place by God. This approach to ungodly authority such as in Rome is addressed by Peter in 1 Peter 2. Responding in a God-honoring authority is a direct result of fear of the Lord.
Proverbs 28:14: Blessed is the man who always fears the Lord, but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble. The phrase – always fears the Lord – suggests a dread in regard to sinning. The believer who fears God does not want to sin. It is a stench in God’s nostrils. The phrase denotes a forceful determination to please God daily. The person who has a hard heart against God is more interested in doing his will rather than God’s. He cares little about God. Me and self takes center stage. He can expect misery and trouble.
Consider these proverbs that address fear of man in contrast to trust in and fear of the Lord.
Proverbs 28:25: A greedy stirs up dissensions, but he who trusts in the Lord will prosper. Again the author presents two approaches to life. The greedy person is a getter who is never satisfied – for self, to self. As in James 4:1-3, where there is disunity, division, and strife, there is always pride that may be manifested overtly or covertly. I that house there is misery. The God-truster is one who fears the Lord and is dependent on a relation with God not stuff. True riches are found only in Christ. The riches may or may not be physical and material but God always provides for His saints.
Proverbs 28:26: He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks is wisdom is kept safe. The believer is one who evaluates himself and his understanding through biblical truth rather than his ideas of wisdom. He wants God’s wisdom and truth. He desires freedom he has tasted the goodness of God and His wisdom. He puts off his thoughts and desires to the degree that they conflict with God’s truth (Isaiah 55:6-11). He desires and works at bring his ways in line with God’s ways. He grows as a student of the Word. Wisdom points the way, lights the way, and brings the believer home. Wisdom divorced or devoid of biblical truth leads only a complicated life (Proverbs 13:15 b).
Proverbs 29:25: Fear of man will prove to be a snare but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe. The author contrasts the way and consequences of two mindsets and lifestyles. What is fear of man? It represents the fear-trap. Fear of man is a sinful pattern of thinking and wanting in regard to self and in relation to others and outcomes. The person wants some from another such as approval and is devastated when it does not come or appears it won’t come (John 9:22-23; 12:42; 16:2; 19:8). People engage in all types of activities to get. The have substituted self for God and believe they deserve special treatment. It is a snare and trap that leads to greater bondage the more it is pursued. The snare and bondage is depicted in Proverbs 5:21-22.
1. How may you grow in the fear of the Lord and what significance would it have in your life?
2. There is closeness such that being in Christ – union with Him – is considered a blessing and privilege.
a. It also carries with it duty as captured in Psalm 56:3-4. Commit the verses to memory.
b. When David was tempted to be fearfully sinful, he trusted the Lord because he feared Him. Because he feared God, he trusted Him. David had a proper view of God, himself, others, and circumstances. He looked beyond the present and the situation to the God of the circumstances. David was able to please God. How do you relate to David?
3. Read Psalms 27:1 and 46:1: what do you learn and fear of God –godly fear and fear of man – a type of sinful fear. How do the words fit Jesus’ call to not fear, it is I?