Is the Fear of God a Lost Doctrine in the Church? Part 1

As a young boy who attended church in the sixties, I remember often hearing someone described as a God fearing person. At that time, for someone to be characterized in this manner was certainly not unusual. However, after attending Bible preaching churches for the last thirty five years, I could count on my hand the number of times I have heard this phrase used to describe someone who is a Christian. Furthermore, after hearing literally thousands of messages preached by many different Godly men, I cannot remember ever hearing one sermon preached specifically on the fear of God.

Perhaps the greatest evidence that the fear of God is a lost doctrine in our churches is that today America can no longer be called a God fearing nation. What a statement when the Ten Commandments were removed from display in all public buildings! What a prophetic commentary is the continual debate to strip “One Nation Under God” from the national pledge and to erase “In God We Trust” from national currency.  This nation is radically concerned about offending anyone except the Almighty Creator of the Universe. Even more alarming–our families have not finished reaping the devastating consequences.

Carl Zimmerman, a Harvard University sociologist, studied the rise and fall of major empires in world history, and traced what happened to family units in each empire. His book Family and Civilization concludes that families go through three phases. In each case study of the third phase, right before the empire collapses, families accept the following as the norm:

  • Increased, easy causeless divorce.
  • Increased acceptance of adultery.
  • Alternate forms of marriage would arise.
  • A rise in juvenile delinquency.
  • The feminist movement would abound.
  • Women would lose their desire to birth children in light of a career.
  • Perversions of all kinds would arise, especially that of homosexuality.

In consideration of the post modern culture of our nation today, each item on that list has earned a check mark. This is the norm for the families of this nation.  Even within the church, reverence for God has been supplanted by concentration on politically correct demands for what we as individuals feel we deserve.  Politically and practically, America has lost its fear of God because the churches within America have lost their fear of God! I believe the only hope for the survival of our beloved nation is a passionate reinstatement of the fear of God upon the people of God in the churches of America.

It was only after reading (about twenty years ago) The Practice of Godliness, a thought provoking book by author Jerry Bridges, that I was confronted with the doctrine of the fear of God.  Since that time I have felt compelled to devote much time and study to the significance of this doctrine in the Word of God. I began to see that the fear of God is woven through scripture like a beautifully prominent thread in a stunningly fine garment. In fact I discovered that there are over 150 direct references and hundreds of indirect references to the fear of God in the Bible!

The urgency of this doctrine is highlighted when, at the end of his life, Solomon (whom God declared to be the wisest man who ever lived), culminated all of his vast understanding into one profound statement:

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.   Ecclesiastes 12:13

How could such a significant doctrine disappear from the teaching and preaching in our churches? Some would answer, “This is an Old Testament concept and therefore not relevant to New Testament Christianity.” Others might say, “We should not be teaching and preaching that we should be afraid of God.” Is the fear of God only an Old Testament doctrine and does it mean that we are to be afraid of God? These are crucial questions that I will address over the next few months in a series of articles on the fear of God.

In the remainder of this first article on the fear of God, I present a brief survey of some key passages throughout the Word of God that illustrate the compelling incentives promised to the person(s) who fear God.

1) Godly Character and Conduct is Rooted in the Fear of God

I believe that everyone would admit that there is a character crisis in America today. Why? In Romans 3:18, Paul explains the depraved nature of man by stating, “There is no fear of God before their eyes”. Theologian John Calvin stated:

All wickedness flows from a disregard of God….Since the fear of God is the bridle by which our wickedness is held check, its removal frees us to indulge in every kind of licentious conduct.

 Carl Zimmerman’s list confirms the validity of Calvin’s analysis.

In the Old Testament Solomon pronounces the solution to the character crisis:

By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: And by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil.                                                                                                  Proverbs 16:6

 Do we want our children to exhibit strong character and righteous conduct?  The answer according to Proverbs 16:6 is the fear of the Lord. Do we desire to conduct ourselves with integrity when we are under pressure to compromise?  The essential foundation of such behavior is the fear of the Lord.

2) Godly Communion is Rooted in the Fear of God

Do you long to experience intense awareness of God’s presence? Psalm 25:4 reveals that intimacy with God is reserved for the person who fears Him.

The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant.    Psalm 25:14

To whom do we tell secrets? We tell secrets to someone we are intimate with or that we trust. God reserves intimate communion for those who fear Him. Also, he further states that He will show them His covenant or He will show them His ways. Wow! What a tremendous promise to the person who fears God.

King David experienced deep intimacy with God.  His Psalms repeatedly disclose that this exceptional intimacy was experienced within the attitude and atmosphere of personal worship. Genuine worship invites the presence of God.

But as for me, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy: And in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple. Psalm 5:7                                                                                                                                                     

The psalmist declares that our worship is rooted in having a fear of God. We will worship what we fear! When a person exalts and gives highest priority to his career, he worships his career. If a person fears not having money, he will begin to worship money. If a person fears not having friends, she will begin to worship her friends. Likewise, a person who fears God will worship God!

3) Godly Wisdom is Rooted in the Fear of God

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.    Psalm 111:10

Behold, the fear of the Lord is wisdom;                   Job 28:28

 Godly wisdom can only be obtained through having the fear of the Lord. Without the fear of the Lord, men will act foolishly as if there is no God.

4) Godly Cheer is Rooted in the Fear of God

Many books are written from a humanistic perspective in an attempt to answer the question of how a man can obtain happiness in this life. How does God answer this question?

Blessed are those who fear the LORD, who find great delights in His commands.    Psalm 112:1

The word “blessed” means happy. God states that happiness or Godly cheer comes to the person who fears Him and delights in His commands.

5) Godly Protection is Rooted in the Fear of God

The angel of the LORD encamps around those that fear him, and he delivers them.        Psalm 34:7

 God states that He will hedge around those who fear Him and send forth His angels to protect and deliver them.

6) Godly Provision is Rooted in the Fear of God

O fear the LORD, ye his saints: For there is no want to them that fear him.     Psalm 34:9                       

 The person who fears God is a person who is content in God and has no want outside of the provision that God supplies to him.

7) A Forever Family is Rooted in the Fear of God

O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children forever!                  Deuteronomy 5:29

Before Moses and the children of Israel enter into the promise land, God passionately cries out to Moses; “Oh that they had such a heart!” What kind of heart does God long for the people to have? He fervently desires that they possess a heart that fears Him and therefore constrains them to obey Him. If so, He vows a good, prosperous, fulfilling life–that it will be well with them and their children forever!  Throughout Deuteronomy chapter six, God reiterates to the Israelites the urgency of fearing Him in order to receive His blessings and survive in the pagan land in which they are about to enter.

Perhaps at this point you are thinking, “But all that you have shared so far is from the Old Testament, is there anything in the New Testament about the fear of God?”  The Old Testament descriptively prophesies the fear of God in the New Testament era.

8  The Fear of God is Written in the Hearts of the Redeemed.

and I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me forever, for the good of them, and of their children after them: 40 and I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.                                                                                                     Jeremiah 32:39-40

God promises that under the new covenant the fear of God will be written on the hearts of the redeemed.

9) Jesus Delighted in the Fear of the Lord.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. 2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.                                                                 Isaiah 11:1-3

This passage is a reference to the Lord Jesus incarnate. As the son of God in human flesh, He delighted in the fear of the Lord! If we are to be like Jesus, we also should delight in the fear of the Lord.

10) Church Growth is Rooted in the Fear of God.

Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in number.                                                                                           Acts 9:31

There are numerous books written on church growth today.  It is a huge topic in pastor conferences.  However, in this passage the Bible singles out the key to church growth. It is not some program, gimmick or imagination of man, but rather the church multiplies as they walk in the fear of God and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. The fear of God actually attracts and converts new believers, whereas a lack of the fear of God stunts growth and produces lifeless, stagnant churches.

11) We Perfect Holiness in the Fear of God.

Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.                     2 Corinthians 7:1

God has specifically chosen Christians to be holy and before Him in love (Ephesians 1:4). How do we achieve holiness as a child of God? This passage says that we advance in holiness as we grow in the fear of God!

12) Our Daily Walk is Rooted in the Fear of God.

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.                        Philippians 2:12

The fear of God within the church today has been watered down to casual acknowledgement and warm fuzzy thoughts of God.  A true fear of God is so majestic, so overwhelming, so consuming that in our normal daily routine, we should be trembling at the very thought of Him.

I have just scratched the surface of hundreds of scriptural exhortations concerning the fear of God. What conclusions can we draw from this brief Bible survey on the fear of God?

1) To be devoid of an understanding of the fear of God is to be ignorant of a major Biblical doctrine.
2) To lack the fear of God is to miss out on many spiritual blessings that God has reserved for those who fear Him.
3) The future of our families and our nation depends upon whether we as believers choose to live in the fear of the Lord.
4) It is vitally important to understand exactly what the fear of God entails.

In next month’s newsletter, I will continue the series on the fear of God and begin to address this important fourth statement, what is the fear of God?