The fear of the Lord is a major biblical theme, both in the Old Testament and the New. Take a look at this small sampling of key texts:
2 Chronicles 19:7-9, “Now then, let the fear of the LORD be upon you. Be careful what you do, for there is no injustice with the LORD our God, or partiality or taking bribes." … And he charged them: "Thus you shall do in the fear of the LORD, in faithfulness, and with your whole heart…ESV
Psalm 34:11, “Come, O children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.” ESV
Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” ESV
Isaiah 11:3, “And his [Christ’s] delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.” ESV
Isaiah 33:6, “the fear of the LORD is Zion's treasure.” ESV
Matthew 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” ESV
Acts 9:31, “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” ESV
2 Corinthians 5:11, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.” ESV
2 Corinthians 7:1, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” ESV
Ok, so even with this small sampling, I trust you see it’s a major theme and a distinguishing mark of God’s people. So, is it a distinguishing mark of the evangelical church in the 21st century? I think not.
Why? I’ve been reading a book by a Brit named Iain Murray, Old Evangelicalism. He contrasts the current state of affairs to a former time, the time between Edwards and Spurgeon (early 18th to mid 19th centuries). It would certainly be overly simplistic and somewhat romantic to look at the time period and say that the “fear of the Lord” gripped people uniformly and consistently. Obviously there were periods and people who were more characterized by this godly fear, but who where they and why?
Murray argues that one of the themes in preaching that was characteristic of those people and times, and conspicuously absent in ours, is the preaching of the law with conviction. People were crushed under the demands of the law, smelled the stench of their sin, and pleaded for a gospel cure. Gospel truths were preached and preached powerfully, the so was the legal demands of God and the failure of man to live up to it; in fact, that is what makes the good news so good. The more we understand our sin and helplessness, God’s holiness and our deep offense against it, the more we appreciate the gospel as good news – great news!
It is in the law that we are given insight in the holiness of God like nowhere else, save the cross. Look again at Proverbs 9:10 above. Notice the combination of law in the first half of the verse with a knowledge of the “Holy One” in the second part of the verse. These two things go hand and hand, and someone who loves the “Holy One” will sing with the Psalmist, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” (Ps 119:97, ESV)
As Christians, we have tended to eschew the law, maybe for fear of becoming to legalistic or of painting the picture of God as a demanding God (though he is), or to keep things comfortable for us Christians – whatever the cause for our failure to preach the law, the effects are telling.
Last week, Bob preached a message on Genesis 18&19. The message stood out from typical evangelical preaching (i.e. the Rick Warren, Joel Olsteen type) for a couple of reasons. First, it was long – but I didn’t notice till after the service! It comes it at somewhere near 50 minutes I believe. Second, he preached passionately about God’s holiness as expressed in his hatred of sin, especially sexual immorality (which was pervasive in Sodom and Gomorrah). That’s law! Third, he didn’t shy away from speaking of God’s judgment and wrath. And finally, he offered Gospel. It was beautiful and compelling.
I think we need to return to studying, meditating, and obeying the law – for the good of the church, for the glory of God, and for the joy of those who love Him.