I saw a post on Facebook a few weeks ago where a preacher was urging pastors to teach on the “fear of the Lord”. His argument was that many Christians do not fear God, and thus many are not repenting of their sins. This criticism was met with fervent rebuke from the Christian community. After seeing the response to his statements, I felt led to write my own post on the fear of the Lord.
One of the pervasive problems in the church today is that Christians rarely take time to sit down and study the Word of God. As a result, many Christians do not even know what the Word of God says, outside of some verses they see every now and then at church. Many attend church on Sunday, and get on with their lives the rest of the week. Every Sunday, pastors preach messages intended to lift you up and give encouragement and advice on getting through hard times. These are good messages, we all need encouragement. This, however, should not be the sole message of the church.
The Gospel, is the “Good News” that Jesus sacrificed His life for us so that we could be saved from the consequences our sins. What then are we being saved from? What is the consequence of our sin that we need to be saved from? We can find our answer in numerous passages in the Bible. Below are just a couple:
8 But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. - Revelation 21:8
43 And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: 44 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. 45 And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: 46 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. 47 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: 48 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. – Mark 9:43-48
I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty terrifying. If this is the consequence of our sins, then no wonder we need to be saved! Where is this preached today in church? Many churches will never mention hell, or even sin or repentance for that matter. Where is the fear of the Lord? Where is the fear of judgment and hellfire? Pastors like to talk a lot about God’s grace and love, but they rarely, if ever, mention God’s judgment and wrath. It is because of the pastors and their weak sermons that the church perishes and cannot escape their sin. Why would people feel convicted to repent and turn from their sin if they think that they are eternally saved; that there is no fear of judgment for their sins? Proverbs says it like this:
By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil. – Proverbs 16:6
Preaching God’s grace is good. God is a gracious God who loves us so much that he came to die an agonizing death for us on the cross. But this alone will not convict people to turn from their sins, and God’s promise of grace and forgiveness is not for everyone. God’s promises of grace and forgiveness of sins are for a select group of people – those that are born again. Unbelievers, or those who refuse to repent from their sins will not receive God’s grace. Instead, they will be met with judgment and thrown into Hell. This is not politically correct, but God doesn’t care about political correctness. He wants our obedience and for us to turn from the sins that he died for us to be forgiven from.
Some people will be saved by God’s grace; a homeless man who has lost everything may respond to a Christian’s kind actions of selflessly clothing and feeding him. A widow who has just lost her child in child birth may be moved by the compassion and love of the church who prays with her and helps encourage her. However, the Bible clearly states that with some, you save with fear.
22 And of some have compassion, making a difference: 23 And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh. - Jude 1:22-23
As Christians, we are supposed to fear God, else we will be tempted to slip back into sin. This must be avoided at all cost, because if we slip back into sin, our punishment will be even worse:
For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. - 2 Peter 2:21
Because of the fear of God and the understanding of the consequence of sin, we are instructed to cleanse ourselves:
1 Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
This shows us that there is action we need to take beyond simply “believing” in God. We must cleanse ourselves. That means that we need to diligently seek out sin and our lives, and repent from it. We need to turn from our sin and stop the sinful behavior. We cannot make excuses for sin. In the verse below we can see again that we are commanded to work out our own salvation:
12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. – Philippians 2:12
This one specifically says to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. If you look up the Greek worlds Fear and Trembling, you will find the words Phobos and Tromos. Phobos is the root of the word phobia, and means extreme fear or terror. Tromos is the root of the word tremble and means to tremble with great fear. As you can see, we are supposed to be terrified of the consequence of our sins, and in that terror, work out our own salvation so that we do not receive the penalty for our sins that we deserve.
The promise of God’s grace is for true born-again Christians who repent from their sin. Contrary to the popular message of “once saved, always saved, Hebrews 12 informs us that that we can actually fail the grace of God:
15 Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; - Hebrews 12:15
In conclusion, we are to fear God and God’s judgment. In fact, Proverbs 9:10 states the following:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.
Once we understand that there is a penalty for our sin, and that Jesus died on the cross in order to save us from the penalty of sin, we are to make the Lord Jesus Christ the Lord of our lives, to be baptized and born again. The conviction of sin, and the fear of the penalty of sin should move us to repent from our sins for the remission of those sins. Pastor’s should preach the mercy, grace and love of God. They should also preach on sin and the judgment and fear of the Lord in so people truly understand what is at stake, and to spur us into action to diligently seek out sin and repent. But as the Bible states in Timothy,
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; - 2 Timothy 4:3