Is fearing God an archaic concept that is being rightly abandoned by the modern church? The question deserves a book-length answer. But permit me to use these few brief paragraphs to offer a skeletal response.
We know that the fear of God played an integral role in the Old Testament economy and in the life of Israel. But don’t we find a different perspective with the coming of Christ in the New Testament? After all, one of the more famous encouragements given by Christ was: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom” (Lk. 12:32). And then we have the Apostle John’s well-known precept: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love” (I John 4:18). It sounds as though fear is related to immaturity, if it is not the very expression of sin, and therefore should be banished from the Christian’s experience. But John’s words have reference to the fear of God’s condemnation and judgment—something the believer has escaped because Christ bore it in our stead.
However, despite the fact that the New Testament accurately depicts the Lord Jesus as being both meek and gentle, God in all three of His Persons is yet to be “feared,” that is, highly respected and reverenced. Believers may properly regard their Savior, the Lord Jesus, as both a Friend and Brother, but to believe that such a relationship opens the door to a casual, buddy-buddy relationship devoid of awe, veneration, and reverence is a serious error. Solomon’s admonition is still true: “Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few” (Eccl. 5:2).
We would need only one command in the New Testament to recognize that fear of God is not an anachronistic concept for the church in Century Twenty-One. But the New Testament has more to say on the subject. “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:18). Note that Paul’s blanket condemnation of sinners in the church age is that they fail to fear God. “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (II Cor. 7:1). Notice that the rich promises granted the church do not provide a reason to cease fearing God but are the basis on which that fear is to be exercised. “And be subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (Eph. 5:21). This verse confirms both the deity of Christ and the reverence that continues to be the due of every member of the Trinity. “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12b). That God is the object of this fear is evidenced from the next verse: “for it is God who is at work in you” (v. 13a). “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (II Cor. 5:11a). This verse informs us that godly fear is a proper motivation for our witnessing of the gospel. “Fear God” (I Pet. 2:17b). Peter states the duty of the New Testament believer as succinctly as it is possible to do.
God is immutable, ever holy and transcendent. He is still worthy of and still requires the awe, reverence, respect, yes, and fear of believers. That fear extends to every Person of the Trinity. A casual or cavalier attitude toward the Lord is not an evidence of great faith or of privileged intimacy but of arrogant, self-deceived sin. Does God treat us as beloved sons and daughters? Does Christ treat us as brothers and sisters? In both cases, yes. But we must never forget that the fact that they do so is an expression of unimaginable grace. Does God speak to us directly and personally through His Word, face-to-face, so to speak? And do we sometimes enjoy the intimate, inexpressible bliss of His presence? Yes. But there remains a transcendent truth: “Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For You alone are holy; for all the nations will come and worship before You, for Your righteous acts have been revealed” (Rev. 15:3b, 4). Yes, love the Lord, but never forget to honor and praise Him for who He is with godly fear.
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