The ABC of Wise Living
Fear can be a restrictive, negative emotion. The fear I experienced on my first – and only! – roller coaster ride meant that I’ve never risked another one. Fear limits us and can stop us from doing certain things or enjoying certain experiences.
And yet, we are continually urged in the Scriptures to fear God. So, fearing God doesn't limit us in any way. It's not bad for us. In fact, fearing God is basic Christianity. It's the ABC, the very beginning of how to live as a wise Christian: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10). Don't you find, like me, that you can trace back many of your bad decisions, mistakes and sins to an inadequate fear of God? To a failure to take His Word seriously?
We need to ensure that we recapture a biblical vision of fearing God if we're to live wise, holy and obedient lives. But what does it mean to fear God?
The beauty of fearing God
To fear God means that we take Him seriously and worship Him with reverence and awe. It means that we don’t fear others (Matthew 10:28) and that we shun sin and seek to obey the Lord. Fearing God is a beautiful, wonderful thing. Indeed, one of the very reasons we are forgiven is so that we can fear God: “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:4).
Now, of course, we’re not to be petrified of our loving heavenly Father. We know that God has come near in Christ and we can enjoy the love of Father, Son and Spirit. God is for us, not against us. And as Christians we don't have to fear condemnation from God (Romans 8:1). But in recognising these wonderful truths we shouldn’t forget God’s transcendence, majesty and holiness.
In contrast to the beauty of fearing God, not fearing God is ugly. That’s why Paul describes the unrighteous in Romans 3:18 by saying, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” I find it sobering to ask myself how often it could have been said of me, that there was no fear of God before my eyes. Like, for example, when I foolishly had a same-sex relationship a number of years ago.
Fear God to enjoy intimacy with Him
If you've ever been fearful of another person you will know that fear drives a wedge between people. If someone were fearful of me (I don't think I’m a scary person!) then we couldn't possibly enjoy a close friendship.
Amazingly, the opposite is true when it comes to our relationship with God. A properly understood fear of God doesn't limit us or have a negative effect on us. No, it transforms us for the better. Indeed, fearing God is the key to enjoying true intimacy with Him: “The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear Him, and He makes known to them His covenant” (Psalm 25:14).
Friendship with God. True intimacy. We cannot experience this unless we fear Him. Isn't that all the motivation we need to grow in the fear of God?
Although difficult, it is worth examining our lives and asking if we're currently fearing God. For example, if we click onto that website, or swipe onto that app, or start that relationship or become too emotionally dependant on another person, what is that saying about our reverence towards God? Surely, if we fear the Lord, we would not dare do what displeases him and we would not dare run from the love He has lavished upon us. Would we?
We need to examine our lives all the more as this basic Christian truth can feel so alien. My tentative observation is that, in general, many UK churches are quite good at proclaiming that our God is love (which is, of course, true). But are we perhaps neglecting to teach that our God is also a consuming fire? (Hebrews 12:29)
The problem doesn't just lie in a failure to teach this basic Christian principle. We also have to navigate false teaching. For example we must remember that those who urge us to abandon God’s clear and consistent commands on sex and relationships are simply not fearing God. If we want to live wisely we will tremble at God’s Word, not seek to rewrite or ignore it.
So, do you want to live a wise, holy life? Do you desire an intimate friendship with God? Hopefully your answer is the same as mine: Yes! If it is, then in light of these truths, why not examine your life and see if you find a humble and heartfelt reverence for God? If not, you could pray with me, “Lord, please teach me to fear you.”
This article was first published in the Summer 2017 edition of "Ascend", the TFT newsletter