God scares me to death.
I don’t make that remark flippantly. Or irreverently. Or as hyperbole.
I state it deliberately.
God literally scares me to the point of mortifying sin and self. And that’s a good thing. Not a bad thing.
Fearing God is not a popular notion these days. You don’t see a lot of best-selling books about it. Or seven-part sermon series. Or TV evangelist fear-fests.
We’re afraid of fear.
People prefer thinking about God as a gentle Father. Or a Friend. Or a Savior. Or a Healer. Or a Prayer Granter. And certainly He is all those things.
But the same divine attributes that make Him such an amazing Father, Friend, Savior, and more are the very characteristics that make Him worthy of fear.
He is omnipotent. Omniscient. Omnipresent. Holy. Jealous. Infinite. Self-sufficient. Just. Sovereign. And yes, wrathful.
After all, this is the God who struck a man dead for simply trying to keep the Ark of the Covenant from falling off a cart! (1 Chronicles 13) Of course, they were disobedient for putting the Ark on a cart in the first place. But the bottom line is: God is holy, God is powerful, and God is wrathful—a combination that certainly evokes fear.
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10)
Fear has all kinds of benefits. I just mentioned wisdom. The Bible also connects the fear of the LORD with understanding, praise, instruction, avoiding being a fool, departing from evil, honor, humility, good counsel, might, stability, strength, treasure, and salvation.
Fear is a lot like the sensation of pain. Pain might be perceived as a negative. Until you realize that pain tells you to remove your hand from a hot stove. Tells you to go see a doctor when something’s not right. Keeps you from doing something stupid like jumping off a tall building or grabbing a live wire. Were it not for pain, many of us might be dead.
Fear has helped me “depart from evil.” God reminded me as He did Job in Job 28:28: “And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the LORD, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.”
I remember a time in my life when I had fallen into the grip of sin that had a particularly strong hold on me. I could feel it sapping my strength, leading me away from God, and enslaving my mind, will, emotions, and spirit. For about a month I was in a free fall. Then for about the next three months, God unleashed the longest string of bad things that I can recall ever happening to me. Rapid fire. Almost daily. It brought me to my knees. There was no doubt in my mind that God was taking me to the woodshed, getting my attention. Scaring me to death.
“For if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13)
“Therefore, put to death whatever in you is worldly: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5)
Many translations use the phrase “put to death.” I like the King James: “mortify.” It captures the feeling of being scared to death, “mortified.” Which is precisely what the fear of the LORD should properly do.
The fear of the LORD should make us scared to death to sin. That’s OK to say, all you who can’t conceive of a wrathful God. Remember, that fear, like pain, can be a healthy thing, often, the most gracious thing He can do.
Growing up as a kid, I was scared of my Dad. He had a temper. And I didn’t want to set it off. I did a few times. Like the time he told me to clean up my mess in the garage, and I let him know that I would get around to it when I was good and ready. I didn’t exercise a lot of wisdom on that one. And he gave me a dose of understanding. And trust me, he mortified my rebellious attitude.
My heavenly Father gave me a lesson I won’t forget. I won’t forget the pain and fear I experienced. But I dropped that sin cold turkey, and don’t plan on testing God on that one again.
I’m sure there are a few reading this who think I have a warped sense of God. Like He’s just sitting around waiting for us to mess up so He can zap us with a punishment. First of all, if we are His child, it’s not punishment. It’s discipline. Discipline has as its objective to bring about repentance and restoration. Punishment seeks only vengeance and judgment. God punishes those who are not His children. He disciplines those who are. Hebrews 12:4-11:
4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
The fear of the LORD is designed for our benefit, not His sick pleasure. If you think of God only as the forgiving, merciful, gracious, long-suffering Father, you are the one with the warped view of God. God has many dimensions. He is merciful, yet wrathful. Long-suffering, yet angry. To be friends with, yet to be feared.
And make no mistake, when the Bible says fear, it means fear. Scared to death. Don’t water it down. It’s not just respect. Not just reverence. Fear. The kind of fear that makes you drop that sin like a live wire.
A few years ago there was a popular slogan floating around pop culture that said, “No fear.” It was hip to pretend that you were afraid of nothing. There was even a clothing line called “No fear.” How foolish. Fear isn’t a thing to fear. Fear is a thing to embrace.
Why don’t we fear God like we should? Often, it’s because He is long-suffering. He doesn’t always zap us the minute we sin. There’s a principle in Scripture called the “Law of the Harvest.” Its tenets are: 1) You always reap what you sow; 2) You reap more than you sow; and 3) You reap later than you sow. It works both in the positive and negative. Sow a kernel of corn. You will reap several ears—a few months from now. Slip into sin. You’ll reap the whirlwind—maybe not right now, but soon enough. Satan uses that delay to fool us. We think we’ve gotten around God. But the discipline is coming. And praise God for it. Without it, we might just keep our hand on that hot stove till we’re fried. So be afraid. Be very afraid.
But look carefully at what God said, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” It’s the beginning. Not the end-all. It’s an immature believer who goes through life doing the right thing only because of the fear of consequences. That’s a good start. But go beyond fear as a motive. Let love be the end motive. As a boy, fear may have been my main motive for obeying or serving my Dad. As I grew up, love became my motive. Today, my earthly father is in Heaven. But oh, how I love him, and what a privilege it would be today for me to go clean out his garage.
There was a bumper sticker a few years ago that said, “Know God. No fear.” Clever, but not the best theology. Sure, God can remove illegitimate fears about this life and of the fear of death and hell. But to truly know God is to know fear. And ironically the fear of the LORD brings peace that passes understanding. Let God scare you to death. And in the process, He will lead you to life.