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.