This is the conclusion of a message I gave recently on The Fear of the Lord
Scripture talks extensively in both the Old Testament and in the New Testament about the fear of the Lord. Previously, I outlined how the Bible defines the fear of the Lord and its effects on humanity. Scripture warns strongly about presuming on God’s kindness and mercy but failing to repent, or come into God’s way of thinking.
Paul says, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men.”
The King James Version says, “Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.”
What does that mean? Paul writes this to the church in Corinth in the context of standing before the Judgment Seat of Christ. “We labor, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:10-11).
“Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.”
The Israelites made their God Jehovah into a golden calf, an image influenced by the Egyptian culture they’d lived in. They said, “This is the god that brought you out of Egypt!” We can laugh at those Israelites, after seeing what God did in leading them out of Egypt and parting the Red Sea, how could they possibly make God into something of their own idolatry?
Yet the American Church, richly blessed and living a life that much of the world dearly longs for, has formed Jehovah into a god in the image of the culture around us. We’ve fashioned Him to resemble a humanist, universalist Mister Rogers who calmly greets us in his cardigan sweater and tennis shoes with a smile and who never raises his voice. Heaven and Hell are as distant and negotiable as the Land of Make Believe. So what does it matter what is true about God? About His word?
You can make your Bible say what you want if you quote some scriptures and ignore others. And if you do that, you will eventually question the authority of the word. And when that happens, you’re in apostasy, you’ve fallen away and are in a terrible state – but you can invoke the name of your God to strengthen your cause and bolster your philosophy, and thus make converts “twice the sons of hell you are,” as Jesus said of the Pharisees.
Even if we aren’t preaching the holiness of sexual perversion, we can have strong convictions and Biblical standards and yet, have an area of our lives in which we want the Lord to stay out. We suppose somehow He’ll honor us for the good we do and look the other way in this one corner of our life. But the scriptures say that “The Lord requires truth in the innermost parts.” That place where your mind goes and wants to put a fence around is what He’s gazing at right now.
Proverbs 5 says that “the ways of a man are before the Lord, and He watches all his paths. His own iniquities capture him, and he’s held with the cords of his sin. For lack of instruction he will die” (vv. 21-23).
The Lord calls us into obedience and fear of Him to bring us into Liberty. And ultimately, into Life.
Sheldon van Auken in his book A Severe Mercy tells of wrestling with truth and coming into faith through his friendship and correspondence with C.S Lewis. Belief was one thing, but discipleship, Van Auken says, was another. “Though I wouldn’t have admitted it, even to myself, I didn’t want God aboard. He was too heavy. I wanted Him approving from a considerable distance. I didn’t want to be thinking of Him. I wanted to be free—like [my dog] Gypsy. I wanted life itself, the color and fire and loveliness of life. And Christ now and then, like a loved poem I could read when I wanted to. I didn’t want to be swallowed up in God. I wanted holidays from the school of Christ.”
It feels like in our culture, the more things are falling apart – loved ones dying of overdose, drag queens leading children’s library time, politicians cheering the legality of killing babies, consumer and national debt at an all-time high with little hope of a solution, the government spying on us – the more complacent our culture becomes. It’s as though we’re in a stupor.
HOW do we contend with the spirit of complacency, of lethargy, of spiritual apathy that has its jaws around this generation? How do we make people realize that they are under siege and that the enemy is in their midst and they are on the brink of doom?
You didn’t have to tell the people of Manhattan on September 11 that they were under siege. They wouldn’t have laughed you to scorn or told you that you were imagining things or scoffed at your fairytale, fable deity. On 9/11, life and death and eternity were in front of everyone’s eyes. Wall Street traders who obsessed over market trends and lagging securities indicators suddenly were shaken to their very core. The stock market seemed suddenly inconsequential. All that had been people’s worlds was shaken that day.
But somehow, the initial shock of every monumental event subsides. Life appears to stabilize and return to normal. People forget. Worse, a failure to respond righteously to these dire warnings has a tendency to inoculate us against the danger open before us.
Leslie Schmucker notes, “Jesus talks about hell more than he talks about heaven, in scripture, and He describes it more vividly…”
Jesus says, “”Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)
Schmucker said, “Jesus has to talk about hell because it is the fate that awaits all people apart from him. Because of Adam’s sin, we’re all guilty and deserve God’s eternal punishment. Contrary to popular belief, hell is not a place where God sends those who have been especially bad; it’s our default destination. We need a Rescuer or we stand condemned.”
Schmucker goes on to say, “The one truth that allows me to accept the justice of hell is the indisputable certitude of the goodness of God. While the notion of hell is difficult for me to grasp, Jesus (with nail-scarred hands) is worthy of my complete trust. His goodness causes me to look ultimately not to hell, but to the cross.”
Jesus said, “The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and now One greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will stand at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now One greater than Jonah is here.…” (Luke 11:31-32).
We have greater access to the word of God, to teaching, to study, than any generation before us. And in this nation, we have greater liberty to read, to preach, to proclaim and to pray. And how are we using it?
It’s so dangerous to be a Christian, a “little Christ,” and have little real fear of the Lord.
Do you know that the bible warns us that not all sin is the same? And scripture says that not all judgment is the same?
I don’t want to spend much time on this, but we know not all sin is the same because the Bible very clearly delineates between different sins. Under Levitical Law, there were sin offerings and guilt offerings. And then there were crimes for which there was no restitution, but only Capital punishment.
Likewise Jesus indicated that greater condemnation was reserved for certain people. The apostle James warned that teachers would incur a stricter judgment, which should give us pause.
So don’t let the unbelieving world tell you what your Bible says. “Don’t let anyone in fact, tell you what your Bible says without testing it yourself.
Every one of us here in this room is going to stand before a Judge. Each one of us must give an account for how we lived our lives. For those who know Christ, we will receive recompense for our deeds done here in the body, good or bad.
We sing the hymn “What a friend we have in Jesus.” (pause) I want Jesus to find a friend in me. I want to be someone whom He can count on. It says “the eyes of the Lord roam to and fro the earth, that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His” (2 Chron. 16:9)
No matter what is going on in the earth. When the Lord looks around His creation, is He sorry He made the world? In Genesis it says He was, just before the time of the flood. Jesus said the last days will be like the days of Lot and the days of Noah…When He looks around His world. When He looks around His church – those who bear His name – I want to be the one person who will not let my Lord down. Who will not spurn my Creator in that one area of my life. I want Him not to be sorry He created me.
I think we’re so casual with our God, even as believers, we can start to treat Him like a machine. Like an it. Like a passport out of hell, and yet even be casual about HELL. We don’t stop to comprehend it. What dread torture and terror has He saved you from? Are you, in fact, saved from Hell? Do you know that you can go to bed and end up in a nightmare from which you never wake up.
The Apostle Paul said, “The Lord’s kindness leads us to repentance.” Does it? Paul goes on to say, “But because of your hard and unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. God will repay each one according to his deeds.”
I think it’s important to remember that Paul wrote his letters to the church.
Repent, change your mind. Confess your sins one to another that you may be healed. Why do we have to confess to one another? I think it’s harder to kid ourselves about the nature of our sin when we say it out loud. Tell your pastor, tell a mature Christian friend. My pastor often says, “If our sin is little, so is our Savior. It is only when we realize how great our sin is that we have need for a great Savior.”
Ask for more of the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13). Jesus said that if men, being evil in their hearts, still know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more will the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. We who are in Christ are sealed with the Holy Spirit. But we can continually ask for more of His manifest – or tangible – presence, more of His power, more of His heart, more of His intercessory groaning prayers.
Finally, pray for the spirit of the Fear of the Lord.
Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse,
And a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
2The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and strength,
The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
3And He will delight in the fear of the LORD,
And He will not judge by what His eyes see,
Nor make a decision by what His ears hear;
4But with righteousness He will judge the poor,
And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth;
And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,
And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.
Finally, I sense the Lord saying this.
In remembering William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army,
There was a time when two Salvation Army officers set out to found a new work, only to meet with failure and opposition. Frustrated and tired they appealed to the General to close the rescue mission. General Booth sent back a telegram with two words on it, “TRY TEARS.”
They followed his advice and they witnessed a mighty revival.
I believe the Lord is telling us to try tears. To weep over our own sin, to weep over the sin of our nation. To weep for the fates of our neighbors who do not know Him. When Jonathan Conrathe was here last month, he made the statement that if every professing Christian reached out and led four people to Christ, the entire world would be saved. The problem is, he said, that only 10% of the church is carrying on the Great Commission of Christ.
Ask Him to soften your heart and allow you to weep.
“We appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”
Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:1-2).
image credit: John on the Island of Patmos by Tobias Verhaecht