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Do We Obey God Out of Fear?

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Enemies of God and Christians love to denigrate our faith and always look for supposed reasons to ridicule us. One such accusation, is that Christians are only believers because they fear what God would do to them if they did not believe. Is this true? Or, is it just a taunt?

It is true (but not in the unbelieving sense)!

Anyone who KNOWS God is real and does NOT fear Him is out of his mind! Also, fear of God is the beginning of the genuine Christian life. Look at the representative texts below that spell out the importance of this fear. As all of scripture is given by God, the texts are about God telling us what is required:

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever.” (Psalm 111:10)

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10)

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7)

Many pastors and teachers today water-down what ‘fear’ mean in these texts, by saying it simply means to have reverence for God. By doing this they change what God has said and produce lethargy in God’s people. The Old Testament Hebrews knew exactly what this ‘fear’ was, because the whole structure of their nation and the sacrifices spoke of it in detail. Today, there is no fear of God, even amongst Christians! If anything they laugh and irreverently speak of ‘Daddy’!

The true fear of God, the feminine noun yir’ah, means to have fear, terror, the recognition of something we should be in awe of, something dreadful (that is, inducing dread in the heart and mind). It also includes respect and reverence. The adjective-root, yare’, only underlines the main meaning of fear, and its second root, (also yare’) means to be afraid, to stand in awe. The idea of being respectful is secondary, for if one does not have fear of what will be done if he rebels, he will not stand in awe, or respect the Lord Once we fear the Lord God we will obey and honour Him, and pay Him due reverence. If not, we stand to be terrified, which is the proper main meaning of ‘fear’... quaking terror. Teachers who teach others that the word means less, are being sinful and misleading. They also make out that God is just ‘loving’ and has no wrath in Him. The result is always a weakened Church and badly taught believers whose view of God is small and trite.

Note the textual counsel – we cannot attain to wisdom UNLESS we have this fear of the Lord. Indeed, once we have this fear it begins our road of faith. Without it we are unwise and cannot make proper judgments about anything. After all, if we do not have wisdom we cannot understand what God says, because we are disobedient and do not follow His commandments as we should. This means we do not praise Him as we ought. One error quickly causes a landslide or many errors.

Those who reject this meaning are fools (Proverbs 1:7)! Fools hate wisdom and are guilty before God, they quarrel with genuine teachers and are often licentious when it comes to applying truth to everyday life. The word for ‘fool’ has a root meaning: to be perverse. This is probably why so many modern believers tend to have sympathy for homosexuals and Muslims. Indeed, scripture tells us that these people despise true fear of God and hold it in contempt (buwz - which means God is held in contempt). Such ‘Christians’ do not like being taught the truth by other men, even when those other men are called by God to their office. They actually hate true knowledge and so deliberately reject fear of God (Proverbs 1:29).

Without this actual fear, we cannot hope to have true knowledge of Him (Proverbs 2:5). This fear even allows us to live longer (Proverbs 10:27) and gives us confidence as believers (Proverbs 14:26). Fear is like a fountain of spiritual life (Proverbs 14:27). Scripture contains many allusions to this proper fear.

Does this mean that Christians must live in quaking fear of God daily? To ask such a question is to admit to ignorance! We must rightly fear a God Who can take our lives on the spot! Should an atheist fear a killer who hates him? Of course he should! He would otherwise be a fool. But, the fear of God is different, for it is a basis for obedience, and obedience to God has rewards of holiness, purity, love and peace in this life. The fear we should have is the same fear of crossing the line with parents, or with police. If we behave, we will not be punished! God requires this fear so that we will not just obey, but that we will have a real regard for His majesty and might, which, in turn, gives us benefits. How can we say we love God when we do not envisage His power and awesomeness? It is not possible!

The fear is what should always be in our minds, but when we live as we ought it recedes, giving way to love and peace. However, it must always be there, to stop us sinning as unbelievers do. God wants our good, not to discipline us! Even so, if we rebel or sin He WILL discipline - He is obliged to. And when He does, it is NOT to crush us, but to enable us to come back to a full relationship with Him again. That is what a Father’s judgment is supposed to do. And the less we rebel, the greater is our relationship and the more intimate it is. It all begins with fear. Have you read of God’s earthly judgments on the Hebrews and other nations? Does this not bring fear to your heart? If it does not, then you do not understand and still have no wisdom.

© December 2015

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Bible Theology Ministries - PO Box 415, Swansea, SA5 8YH
United Kingdom