Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Thou Shalt Fear & The Fear of God

Thou Shalt Fear
By R. C. Sproul

I recently heard a young Christian remark, "I have no fear of dying." When I heard this comment I thought to myself, "I wish I could say that." I am not afraid of death. I believe that death for the Christian is a glorious transition to heaven. I am not afraid of going to heaven. It's the process that frightens me. I don't know by what means I will die. It may be via a process of suffering and that frightens me. I know that even this shouldn't frighten me. There are lots of things that frighten me that I shouldn't let frighten me. The Scripture declares that perfect love casts out fear. But my love is still imperfect and fear hangs around.

There is one fear, however, that many of us do not have that we should have. It is the fear of God. Not only are we allowed to fear God, we are commanded to fear Him. A mark of reprobation is to have no fear of God before our eyes.

Luther made an important distinction concerning the fear of God. He distinguished between servile and filial fear. He described servile fear as that kind of fear a prisoner has for his torturer. Filial fear is the fear a son has who loves his father and does not want to offend him or let him down. It is a fear born of respect.

When the Bible calls us to fear God it is a call to a fear born of reverence, awe, and adoration. It I a respect of the highest magnitude.

Luther's distinction is comforting to me. It is important to know the difference between servile and filial fear. These are different kinds of fear. But they are also different kinds of fear.

The unbeliever may experience the way of the wicked who flees when no one pursues him, or the pagan who trembles at the rustling of a leaf. These are types of servile fear. The unbeliever has far more to fear than he is usually ready to acknowledge. It is a fearful thing indeed to fall into the hands of the living God who reigns as a consuming fire.

The paradox is this: Although the unbeliever has "no fear before God," he is still said to flee at his shadow. Perhaps this means the unbeliever's fear is subliminal. He wills not to have God in his knowledge; he suppresses the truth of God that is plainly manifest to him. But suppression does not destroy knowledge, which gnaws away at the uneasy conscience.

The filial fear the believer has differs from the fear of the unbeliever but it is fear nevertheless. We are called to fear Him and keep His commandments. We are called to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. It is because God is a loving Father to us that Luther spoke of filial fear. It is an analogy drawn from family life. Some people have a hard time even thinking of God as "Father" because of the horrible abuse they suffered from their earthly father's hands. God is a Father who never abuses His children. But he does punish them. He chastens those whom He loves. It is wise for the child of God to fear the corrective wrath of the Father.

I loved my earthly father deeply. In fact, I idolized him. I was secure in his love as he was constant in showing affection for me. I feared him in the sense that I didn't want to disappoint him or let him down. I had the "fear" of respect for him. But I also feared his wrath and discipline. Even though, in general, I didn't want to disappoint him or grieve him, nevertheless I often disobeyed him. That meant facing his discipline.

I was spanked as a child. The instrument used for this purpose was a wooden spoon. (I remember hiding it on one occasion when I knew I was in trouble.) It was always my mother who wielded the wooden spoon. Never my father. My father never spanked me. Yet I feared his discipline far more than my mother and her spoon. When my father disciplined me, he always announced it to me by saying, "Son, we have to have a session." That I meant I had to follow him into his office, close the door behind me and sit in a chair in front of him. He wouldn't raise his voice. He would calmly tell me what I did wrong and why it was wrong. He instructed me in such a way that I was devastated. He always ended the session with a warm embrace. But talk about the conviction of sin ... whew!

I had a football coach who had hands the size of catchers' mitts. When we got out of line he would stand in front of us and place his hand on our shoulders. As he rebuked us he would begin to squeeze our shoulders. When he did that to me I could hardly keep standing. During my days in seminary I went through a difficult period. I went to Dr. Gerstner for counsel. When I told him what I was experiencing, he made the simple comment, "The Lord's hand is heavy on you right now." I immediately thought of my football coach. I had vivid memories of a heavy hand on me.

When God puts His heavy hand on me it hurts far worse than any punishment wrought by my football coach. This is not to suggest that God is "heavy handed" in the pejorative sense. But His hand of discipline can be heavy indeed. It would be far worse, of course, if I screamed at Him, "Take your
hands off me!" ... and He did. If God ever took His hands off us, we would perish in an instant.

One of the most poignant episodes of the judgment of God occurred in the Old Testament case of Eli. Eli was a judge and priest over Israel. He was, for the most part, a godly man. But his sons were wicked and profaned the house of God. Eli rebuked them but did not fully restrain them. God revealed to Samuel that He would judge the house of Eli (1 Sam. 3:11-14).

When Eli persisted in asking Samuel what God had said, Samuel finally told him. When Eli heard the words, he reacted with godly resignation (v. 18).

What seemed good to God was to punish the house of Eli. Eli recognized the word of God when he heard it because he understood the character of Him whose word it was. A god before whom we need to have no fear is not God but an idol made by our own hands.

The Fear of God
by J. Gresham Machen

‘And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him, which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell’ [Matt 10.28].


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