His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of the warrior; the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love- Psalm 147:10-11 NIV
There was a time in the not so distant past when all Christians and even most non-Christians agreed God was so unique, superior and different from humans that He should be honored, respected and regarded with a healthy dose of trepidation. As a result, most Christians did their level best to do what the Bible said. Some were so intent on obeying God’s commands they wandered into legalism and created a whole bunch of crazy-town rules around God’s commands to ensure no one broke a single one of God’s directives.
That is called legalism.
Legalism is terrible. Legalism inevitably leads to a cranky judgmental attitude, mean-spiritedness and pride. Legalism has never made anyone more like Jesus.
That being said, the one good thing that can be said about legalism is at its core legalism understands we can and do offend God with our spiritual flippancy and lack of attention to the things of God (Hebrews 2:1-3).
Legalism is not the biggest problem in the church today. These days, most people (even many professing Christians) tend to see God as just a slightly better, smarter and more evolved version of themselves. They believe God just really digs them no matter what they do or don’t do. This mindset causes people to view God as a non-judgy buddy or a benevolent gift-giver rather than as a holy, perfect, sinless being, who is entirely unlike us. A being who dwells in unapproachable light (1st Timothy 6:15-16, 1st Samuel 2:2, Psalm 99:9, Daniel 2:21-22, Revelation 4:8)
Fear of the Lord is old school and obsolete.
This is a problem because when Christians lose their fear of the Lord they become dismissive about holiness and complacent in their faith. Spiritual complacency metastasizes into a cancer that negatively impacts every aspect of our lives. It impacts how we handle sin and how we treat people. It affects how we witness and the way we approach God (Proverbs 1:7, Deuteronomy 10:12, Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, Revelation 14:7, Revelation 19:5).
Our view of God colors our view of everything.
When someone sees God as a friendly Santa Claus in the sky sin just doesn’t seem like that big a deal (Genesis 6:5-6, 1st John 3:8). A soft stance on sin starts us down a moral spiral. All of a sudden taking advantage of others and treating people made in the image of God with contempt doesn’t seem like a problem (Leviticus 19:13-15, Leviticus 25:17). When our view of God is gets off-center men can start to believe it’s okay to mistreat their wives, pornography feels like a perfectly reasonable way to meet legitimate sexual needs and adultery becomes accepted. When the problems with sin are minimized exploitation becomes the new normal and gender becomes a choice we get to make rather than the will of God for our lives (1st Timothy 3:1-5, 1st Thessalonians 4:3-8, Malachi 2:14-16, Genesis 1:27). When Christians lose their fear of God telling others about Jesus feels pointless because God’s warnings concerning hell are tough to take seriously (Matthew 5:22-28, Luke 12:25, 2nd Peter 4:4-22). When our view of God is skewed greed feels like sound financial planning and church attendance becomes about having our needs met rather than giving glory to the one who made us. None of this is good or life-giving.
It’s mission-critical Christians get the whole fearing the Lord thing one-hundred-percent right. Truth-be-told, for Christians the fear of the Lord is not a cowering, panicky, menacing terror that prevents us from approaching God and having a loving relationship with Him.
This was once true.
Prior to the death and resurrection of Jesus the thought of approaching God was fearsome and scary and rightly so. Things tended to fall apart anytime sinful humans approached God in a flippant or haphazard kind of a way (Exodus 19, 1st Samuel 6:19, 1st Kings 19:13, Hebrews 12:18-21). People literally died. It was terrifying.
All that has changed. Thanks to Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, when God sees a Christian He sees the holiness and perfection of Jesus rather than the individual’s intrinsic sinfulness. Practically speaking, this means followers of Jesus can approach God with boldness and expect to experience love, grace, forgiveness, comfort and even relationship in His presence (Psalm 25:14, Hebrews 4:16, 1st John 3:2)
Fear of the Lord is less about being fearful of God and more about an accurate perspective on the greatness, holiness and majesty of God. When we fear God we understand what our relationship is to God (Psalm 96:4, 1stChronicles 29:11, Ezekiel 36:23, Isaiah 55:9). When we get all that right fear of displeasing God causes us to go out of our way to obey God. Fearing God means believing two things with all our heart:
- God is who He says He is.
- God will do what He says he will do.
People who fear God believe God sees everything. They read what God says about Himself in the Bible and believe those things are true and to be taken very literally. They know deep in their hearts that nothing in this world—including the inner workings of the human heart are hidden from God’s sight (Hebrews 4:13). They understand that God is merciful and they know He richly blesses every act of obedience and faith. They also understand God punishes deliberate disobedience. Fearing the Lord is understanding God is compassionate, merciful and good but in the words of C.S. Lewis—He is not safe.