Fear of God

I’ve read quite a few comments on Facebook today stating that because of this vote in NC regarding gay marriage, that “God wins”. That’s true, but totally unrelated. Had the amendment not passed, God would win. If our next president was gay, God would win. If the entire country were to become the most god-hating, wicked, immoral nation on the planet – God would still win. Remember when Joshua met with the commander of the army of the Lord (many ppl believe this is a Christophany)? What did he say when Joshua asked him if he was for Israel or their adversaries? “NO.” What? That doesn’t make sense – what do you mean “no”. He then clarified the answer by saying that He’s for the Lord. (Joshua 5:13-15) God is not “FOR US” but for Himself. He is “for” those who are in His adopted family – purchased through the blood of Christ, but that’s because those who are in His family share His interests and seek to glorify His name.

The beginning of the Bible opens with God creating and proclaiming what is good, and man chooses to rebel against his Creator and plunge the rest of humanity into the effects of the fall. Death, disease, hatred, malice, immorality, pain, fear, all of these things come from the fall – all of them can be attributed to the sin of the first family – and even in this – God wins. 1400 years later, the entire earth has become wicked and hostile toward not only God but to themselves. God chooses one man named Noah and his small family to build a boat so that He can judge the whole of the earth. Noah and his family build that boat, God populates it with the creatures He chooses to save, and he then brings the flood which wipes out all the land-based animals on the planet. The ensuing flood and geologic changes transform the entire landscape, creating mountain ranges, burying vast mats of vegetation which then become our coal seams. At the end of the flood, vast inland seas are created and when those inland seas finally burst their temporary constraints they create deep and wide valleys and canyons. Days turn into months, months turn into years and the water finally subsides enough for those that God has spared to walk on dry land. Even in all that destruction, God wins.

The Israelites are God’s chosen people – born through adversity from a man of deep pagan roots. God spoke to Abraham and he trusted in God, leaving his former life and following after Him in the wilderness. His son Isaac had two twin boys, one was named Jacob (meaning “he cheats”) who later was named Israel. He had 12 boys who were the heads of the 12 tribes of the nation of Israel. They, through sin and deceit sold one of their brothers into slavery and God orchestrated his path until he was the prime minister of all of Egypt. His position allowed the infant nation of Israel to find a home in a safe place. That safety only lasted for a short time and they were made to be slaves in Egypt. God raised up Moses to bring them out – provided 10 plagues on Egypt to make the Israelites (now nearing 2 million people) abhorrent to the people of Egypt and they cast them out. Through another miracle at the Red Sea God delivered them finally from the reach of the Pharaoh. God wins.

That nation, now delivered into the wilderness to learn about the proper worship of their God who had delivered them from that bondage in Egypt, saw the physical manifestation of God’s glory day and night in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. At times they heard directly from God whose first premise was that they will not worship anyone or anything other than Himself and that they would not fall into idolatry. Sure enough, in the first two years with God actively interacting with them directly they not only built idols of gold to worship, but openly rejected Him, and his ability to deliver them from their enemies into the land He had promised to them, and wanted to return to Egypt, even into slavery, because they didn’t trust the God who could split the sea and who has proven His power over all of life and nature before them. All but two of those people died in the wilderness, never setting foot in the promised land. Even Moses, whom God had chosen to lead and instruct them sinned against God and was not able to enter into the land. God still wins.

The people then moved into the land, destroying the wicked nations that were occupying it. God fought for them and led them in battle, wiping out the inhabitants and setting their borders. He provided for them a fertile land that was prepared for them – a nation that they needed to merely occupy. Sure enough, one generation after Joshua and they fall into idolatry. God still wins. God allowed nations to remove them from the land and place them under slavery again, then provided deliverance for them time after time, giving them judges to rule over the people and to bring them back to worship Him. Every time a judge would die the people would rebel. God still wins.

Finally they ask for a king to be like the other nations. God allows them to have the finest looking and most worldly qualified king they could want. He rebels against God and ultimately runs a failed administration. God provides for them the man who He desires to be king – He trains him in the wilderness, sets him in power. The people flourish under him and under his son, Solomon, who was born through sin, deceit, and murder, but Solomon can’t honor God consistently and breaks God’s laws time and time again. Immediately after Solomon’s death the nation of Israel splits in two. God still wins.

Over the next 330 or so years the nations struggle with God’s rule. There are wars and troubles, and times of great restoration, but ultimately God strips them off the land due to their repeated forays into idolatry and rejection. God still wins.

God restores them to the land and then after a 400 year silence His Son, Jesus, comes onto the scene. Jesus fulfills the law, never sinning even once. He teaches the people, heals nearly every sickness and disease in the whole region, and ultimately is killed because the people He came to save wanted a conquering king, not a humble servant. God still wins.

Jesus is resurrected, proving that everything He said was true – hundreds of followers become thousands. Thousands become hundreds of thousands. Hundreds of thousands become millions. There are deep persecutions laid upon the church. Nearly all of Jesus’ inner circle of followers is martyred in one way or another and many more follow. 300 years later the Roman emperor Constantine legalizes Christianity and that’s where the church begins to encounter even more trouble as the political battles for which is the “true” church begin to take place. God still wins.

1050 years later, God’s word is finally becoming translated into common languages so the people can break free from the oppression of the Roman Catholic church. The RCC responds by killing the translators and burning their manuscripts. God still wins. This continues until a German priest finally translates it into German and distributes it. The protestant reformation of the church begins and, along with it, the birth of thousands of Christian sects. Each one thinks it to be the “one true church” and many are good but even more are very, very bad. Numerous sects become whole religious institutions. Today we see that present in the main bodies of the church -Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc. Due to issues associated with denominationalism numerous “non-denominational” churches erupt. Christian “nations” like France, England, and Germany become post-Christian and their influence wanes. America is born and now its Christian influence is waning. Other countries like China and India are beginning to eclipse the USA in their Christian influence – to the point where Christian missionaries from China are starting to hit the US borders. God still wins.

This up coming election has no influence on whether God wins or not. He is the alpha and the omega – he controls all of nature and all time. He controls nations and laws and weather and even our personal situations. God owns it all. God always wins.

After [the re-dedication of the restored temple] had been done, the officials approached me and said, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken some of their daughters to be wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands. And in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost.” As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloak and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled.

~ Ezra 9:1-3

Can you say that you have the same fear of God that Ezra displays here? The Jews, God’s ‘chosen people’, were a people group “set apart”. they were to be holy to the Lord and that included a list of 603 civil and ceremonial laws that separated them from all the people around them. At the heart of many of these laws was the provision that they were not to mix with other people groups – not out of some sort of supremacy, where they thought that they were pure and the rest of the world was impure (though that did happen), but because mixing with other people meant a combining of families, traditions, and – eventually – religions. It would water down their faith and reduce their “different-ness” in the sight of those who were not part of this chosen people group. In light of this revelation that the people of Israel, now in captivity or dispersed when Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had captured the land promised to them by God, had opted to forsake their heritage and inter-marry with the people in the lands that they were now inhabiting, Ezra reacts with furious repentance.

Was he angry at the people? No, he was reacting in fear of God. Tearing your clothes and pulling your hair is a sign of anguish and humility – he is, on behalf of the people of God, humbling himself before the Lord. He didn’t sit and ponder its implications for a while, or discuss it over dinner, he immediately recognized what this news meant to the people of God and he reacted as he would if his children had been murdered before him. This is the dedication that he has toward God – that he knows God, the heart of God toward His people and what God required of them, and in that knowledge, he has also grown to love and respect God and the power that God has over all of His creation. This is the same God who spoke and the universe leapt into existence, who created the earth to be inhabited, then created its inhabitants and placed man on the earth, created in His image, to rule over this world and everything on it. This same God then selected a certain people group, promised them land, fulfilled this promise under the pretense that they would serve Him according to His laws – and when they had separated themselves from this promise, He did as he said He would do and allowed in other rulers to oppress them and eventually remove them all from the land. And here they stand, on the precipice of finally coming back into the land – the temple that they had built to this God who is finally delivering them from the captivity and oppression that they’ve experienced for the last 70 years was coming to an end, and he finds that the ‘People of God’, had been sinning against God even more while they were being punished for their sins against Him. This is the God that Ezra is reacting to – this is the God that Ezra is in fear of.

In the rest of this chapter we learn that because of his public call for repentance and humility, most of the people followed in repentance and, when God’s answer to them came that they should separate themselves from the wives they’ve taken, symbolizing their repentance of their allegience to foreign gods, they follow through, despite the pain that will cause them.

Dear Christian, are you in tune with God to the point where you know what He despises in your life? Do you know the God who, through the death of His Son on the cross on your behalf, has purchased you? Do you react in the same manner as Ezra when you see people outside of the church sinning against Him? Is your heart broken when you see people in the Church living in sin? Do you collapse in repentance when you see sin in your own home or in your own life? Our nation, our churches, our homes, and our lives need a good solid injection of the fear of God. To understand not only His loving-kindness and long-suffering, His love and mercy, but also His power and glory, His justice and severity. With a proper understanding of these things, no one will want to sin and our hearts will be broken for those who we see who live in open rebellion against God. Resolve today to ask God to fill you with fear and respect for Him and to prompt you on to transform your own life, your own home, your own church, and, as a result, your own nation to honor the God who has redeemed us all. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Will you do the same?

Why is it that I do the things that I do? Fear of God. In one way or another, everything we do is related to our fear of God. From the most pious legalist who reads their Bible 87 times a day and stands in fiery indignation over anyone who can’t hold to their standards of holiness, to the atheist who responds to their conscience and occasionally helps people outside of their own natural character, and everyone in-between. All of this, is from the fear of God.

So, what is the fear of God? The Bible sure has a lot of references to it. While the exact phrase “fear of God” is used only eight times in the ESV, references to fearing God appear over 100 times throughout the Bible. Adam, in the Garden while hiding himself and trying to cover his sin, said “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself” (Gen 3:10). In Genesis 8:15, Sarah, after initially laughing when she heard God tell her husband that she, at nearly a hundred years old, would bear a son, lied to God because “she was afraid“. I think one of the greatest portions of text on this subject comes from Isaiah chapter 6:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!“ ~ Isaiah 6:1-5

What an awesome and horrifying image! To stand before the throne of the King of Glory, the God of all creation, and to see His power and majesty? How can you not cry out with Isaiah in that same place and ask God to forgive all of your sins? The same can be said for people who God has chosen in the past as heralds of His message to the people. Each of these people have heard directly from God on a specific subject and they were called to go and tell everyone about it. Those experiences produced in them a fear of God that led them, through the rest of their lives, to follow Him as they had been called.

So, what about those of us who haven’t seen God’s throne room directly or heard from Him audibly? How are we to fear Him, or even to know to fear Him? God has revealed Himself to us in two different ways. First, He has placed into our hearts His law (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10, 10:16), as well as “eternity” (Ecc 3:11) which R.C. Sproul explains in his Reformation Study Bible as: “The heart knows that history is not meaningless, but is frustrated in its efforts to discern the pattern of events”. Second, God has also revealed Himself to us in nature:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. ~ (Romans 1:18-20)

So, if all of us know about God, and He has revealed Himself to us, how should we respond? Jesus, who said that He was the Son of God and then proved it when God the Father raised Him up from the dead (Acts 13:30; Romans 1:4), has told us clearly:

I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! ~ (Luke 12:4-5)

So, how does that translate into our lives? The atheist or agnostic, who outwardly rejects the “notion” of God as one rejects butter for their baked potato still acts morally in relation to the law of God that He has placed into their hearts along with the understanding that God really does exist and that there will be a day in which they will have to account for their deeds. They, much like a religious “seeker”, who attends church for the experience and to stamp their “religion” card as they live their lives in their own sight, do so because they too have eternity in their hearts and know that there must be something more than we can see in this life in store for them. Everyone, in one way or another, finds ways in which they can appease their guilt which God has provided as a gracious gift for us. Everyone has a fear of God in them in one way or another. Most people seek to fill this fear with a religious experience – something that they can do “for God” to appease Him. God has made Himself very clear through the Bible – you are wholly destitute before God (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:23), and there is nothing we can offer Him (Psalm 51:16), but He has provided a way for us to be reconciled to Him (John 3:16-18). Most people, however, reject that offer in favor of a god of their own making – one that will enable them to keep their pet sins while religiously judging the pet sins of others. That’s the case with Islam, Mormonism, Hinduism, etc.

How should a saved Christian respond to this fear? As everyone should – with reverence toward the King of all eternity, with fear and trembling before the God who will judge all in the last day, with awe-filled wonder at the might He displays and the works of His hands. When I feel a desire to sin: a lustful thought that I allow to linger little long, decisions made based on my desires instead of prayerful consideration, thoughtless words laid out before others, what we take in through our eyes on television or our ears through our music, or even how we respond to those we love the most – our spouses or our children… In those times, where is the fear of God before my eyes? Every act, every word, and every thought is already weighed in my mind before it comes out and each response is a choice. All of these are seen in relationship to how much I desire to have my thoughts expressed, or my desires fulfilled. The struggle is a battle between my own pride and how much I fear God. Who, at that moment, is more important to me? That is the battle that ultimately decides what I will and will not do. I am confident that even in the atheist, the agnostic, the religious “seeker” (Mormon, Muslim, Catholic, Evangelical Christian, Hindu, etc), and the converted and transformed Christian – in everyone the battle is the same.

It is my prayer that my daily walk would open up with a direct and firm understanding of the God of the Bible – who stands strong and unmoving, yet cares enough to shape my life into the likeness of His Son, and that everything that I think, do, and say would be a reflection of that God who is working in my life and what He has done for me. May all of you focus a little more on your fear of God today, and may you think a little harder on why you are choosing to act in the way that you are.

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(e.g., John 1 or God's love)