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A Delightful Fear of God

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
August 31, 2023 12:01 am

A Delightful Fear of God

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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August 31, 2023 12:01 am

A true encounter with God's grace in the gospel cannot leave His people unaffected. His awesome goodness and love should cause our hearts to quake. Today, Michael Reeves shows why the fear of the Lord is a delight for Christians.

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This right fear of God, it is not the gloomy flip side to joy in God.

It is a way of speaking about the sheer intensity of the saint's happiness in God. Our joy in God at its purest is a trembling and wonder-filled, yes, fearful joy. For the object of our joy is so fearfully wonderful. What do you think about when you read in the Bible that God is to be feared?

Does it immediately bring to mind a fearful joy? Many Christians would say no, perhaps even thinking that fearing God was something exclusive to the Old Testament, and now we don't need to fear Him, we simply love Him. Well, I'm glad you're with us today on Renewing Your Mind as Michael Reeves delves deeper into the Bible's description of a godly fear of the Lord. This message is from Dr. Reeves' new series, The Fear of the Lord, which is available this week in its entirety for your donation of any amount at Our love for God and our fear of God are far more closely connected than you might think, so here's Dr. Reeves to explain. We're going to move on now to consider the right fear of God that Scripture commends.

C.I. Scofield once called the fear of God a phrase of Old Testament piety, and so it was. However, the fear of God is not a phrase of Old Testament piety only, for the fear of God is quite explicitly a blessing of the new covenant.

So speaking of the new covenant, the Lord promised through Jeremiah, Jeremiah chapter 32 from verse 38 to 40, the Lord says, And they shall be My people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them, and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts, that they may not turn away from Me. So what is this fear that the Lord will put in the hearts of his people? Well, unlike that devilish fear we've seen that would drive us away from God in dread, this is a fear that keeps us from turning away from God. And if we want real clarity on what this new covenant blessing means, the Lord goes on in the next chapter, Jeremiah 33, to explain this fear in words so striking they overturn all our expectations of what the fear of God is. Jeremiah 33 verses 8 and 9, the Lord promises, I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against Me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against Me.

And this city shall be to Me a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth, who shall hear of all the good that I do for them. And they shall fear and tremble because of all the good and all the prosperity I provide for it. So this is not a fear of punishment, quite the opposite. In Jeremiah 33, the Lord promised to cleanse them, forgive them, do great good for them, and they fear and tremble precisely because of all the good He does for them. So here is not a fear that stands on the flip side of the grace and goodness of God. Here is the sort of fear Hosea describes when he prophesied how the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to His goodness in the latter days. This is a fear that, as Charles Spurgeon put it, leans towards the Lord because of His goodness. Let me show you another surprising example of this fear from when the Lord appeared to Jacob at Bethel in Genesis 28. And listen again to this. Once again, the Lord utters not one word of threat, only promise after promise of grace.

Listen. Genesis 28, verse 10. Jacob left Beersheba and went towards Haran, and he came to a certain place and stayed there that night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep.

And he dreamed. And behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie, I will give to you and your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and the east and to the north and to the south. And in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land.

For I will not leave you until I've done what I have promised you. Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it. And he feared and said, How awesome or fearful is this place?

This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. See, the Lord promises to bless and increase Jacob, to be with him, to keep him, never to leave him, to fulfill all his good purposes to him. And in the face of pure goodness and absolute grace, Jacob fears. Looking at the biblical evidence, John Bunyan concluded that those who have no faith will have no true fear of God. Those who have a devil's faith will have a devil's fear. Those who have a saint's faith will have a saint's fear. And this godly saint's fear, Bunyan explained, flows, he said, from a sense of the love and kindness of God to the soul, from some sense or hope of mercy from God by Jesus Christ. Indeed, he said, nothing can lay a stronger obligation upon the heart to fear God than a sense of or hope in mercy.

This begets a true tenderness of heart, true godly softness of spirit. This truly endears the affections to God, and in this true tenderness, softness, and endearness of affection to God, lies the very essence of this fear of the Lord. So clearly, the fear of God is not at all what we, with our culture's allergic reaction to the concept of fear, expect. It is instead, as Spurgeon said, the sort of fear which has in it the very essence of love, and without which there would be no joy even in the presence of God. And in fact, the closer we look, the closer fear and love look in Scripture. The closer fear of God and love of God seem. And sometimes the fear of God and love of God are put in parallel. For example, Psalm 145 verses 19 and 20, we read, he fulfills the desire of those who fear him. He also hears their cry and saves them.

Here's the parallel verse, the Lord preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy. Now, that fear and love are so alike is not obvious to us, because we so easily misunderstand love. Because love is a word that is banded around in our culture. So I love sitting in a cozy armchair reading a good book.

I love a good laugh with my friends. I love many things, and I can blithely assume that love for God is just more of the same, as if it means nothing more than a perhaps vague preference. You know, some enjoy pudding, I enjoy God. But my love for each thing is different because love changes according to its object. Let me try to illustrate with three true statements. I'm going to say three true statements.

I do mean each of these. But as I say them, I hope you will slightly wince, though they're each true. I love and have affection for my dog.

I love and have affection for my wife. Number three, I love and have affection for my God. Each of those statements is true. I mean each one, but saying them like that just together should make you wince. You know there's something terribly wrong if I mean exactly the same thing in each.

You sincerely hope there is a difference between each thing, and there is. The love is different in each because the object of the love is different. The living God is infinitely perfect, overwhelmingly beautiful in every way. And as such, we do not love Him aright if our love is not a trembling, overwhelmed, yes, fearful love. In a sense then, the trembling fear of God is a way of speaking about the intensity of our love for God.

It is love for God as God. So the right fear of God then is not the flip side to our love for God, nor is it one side to our reaction to God. So it's not that we love God for His graciousness and fear Him for His majesty. That would be a lopsided fear of God. We also love Him for His holiness and tremble at the marvelousness of His mercy. True fear of God is love for God defined. So the biblical theme of the fear of God helps us to see the sort of love that is fitting for God. It shows us God does not want passionless performance or a vague preference for Him. To encounter the living God means we cannot contain ourselves. He's not a truth to be known unaffectedly. He's not a good to be received listlessly. Seen clearly, the dazzling beauty and splendor of God should cause our hearts to quake.

And having got that far, we must ask this question. Is fear the most helpful word then for this right response to God? Because we've seen this fear of God is a most positive thing. But it's hard for us to see that given how negatively the word fear is perceived. And so no wonder Christians today tend to prefer substituting words like awe, respect, reverence in place of fear. So is there another word that might capture this better for today? Well, let's start with one of the words used for fear of God in scripture.

There are two main words, and this is the one that gets us to the heart of the issue here. In the Old Testament, the same word can be used for both right and sinful fears. Same word.

It can be used for anything from bone-melting dread to ecstatic jubilation. Same word. So it's used negatively in Isaiah 33, 14. The sinners in Zion are afraid. Trembling has seized the godless. But the very same word is used positively in Jeremiah 33, 9, which we read earlier.

They shall fear and tremble because of all the goodness and all the prosperity I provide. Same word. So what is the common feature that means one word can be used to describe two very different experiences? Well, as both verses show, the word suggests a physical experience, an experience of weak-kneed trembling, of being staggered. Now, I can tremble in quite different ways. I can shake in terror as a soldier might under heavy fire.

But I can also quake in overwhelmed adoration, as when a bridegroom first sees his bride and his knees are knocking. So if we are to be faithful to Scripture's presentation of the fear of God, we need to use words that encompass that spectrum of both positive and negative experience. It helps us to see the common feature of those fears, trembling. It shows us that the fear of God is no mild-mannered, reserved, limp thing.

It is a startlingly physical, overpowering reaction. And as such, respect and reverence are simply too weak and grey to really stand in as fit synonyms. Or is a better fit, but even it doesn't quite capture the physical intensity or the exquisite delight that leans toward the Lord.

In fact, the other words can be actively misleading. For example, if we just use the word or, we'll tend to think of fear only as a reaction to God's transcendence and power, but not a reaction to His graciousness. Whereas we know fear clearly is also a reaction to His graciousness. We'll take the word respect.

Respect is right. We do respect God, of course, but it's a strange word to use as a response to God's love. And so it's an unbalanced substitute for the word fear.

Or similarly, reverence can sound quite stiff and unresponsive. So it's not that these are wrong words. It is simply that they're not perfect synonyms for the fear of God.

They capture only a part of what the fear of God is. And perhaps it's best to recognize the shortcomings of all words. Now, the word fear has its baggage, to be sure. But it's well established, and there really is no one word that can adequately and completely replace it. If people are to appreciate how the fear of God is distinct from all other fears, synonyms alone won't do.

It needs to be unfolded. It needs to be taught. It needs to be unpacked from Scripture so that people understand it. Now, speaking of the happy thrill, the exquisite delight of this fear is, again, surprising language. But Scripture shows that just as the fear of God defines true love for God, so it defines true joy in God, for the fear of the Lord is a pleasure to believers because it is about enjoying His fearfully lovely glory. Proverbs 28, verse 14 says, blessed or happy. Blessed, like God, is the one who fears the Lord always. God is blessed or happy, and the one who fears the Lord always will be blessed or happy.

Nehemiah prays, Nehemiah 1, verse 11, O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, to the prayer of your servants, who delight to fear your name. So this right fear of God, it is not the gloomy flip side to joy in God. It is a way of speaking about the sheer intensity of the saint's happiness in God. It helps us to see the sort of joy that is most fitting for believers. Our delight in God, our joy in God is not intended to be lukewarm, and one day it will not be lukewarm anymore. Our joy in God at its purest is a trembling and wonder-filled, yes, fearful joy. For the object of our joy is so fearfully wonderful. We are made to rejoice and tremble before God, to love and enjoy Him with an intensity that is fitting for Him.

And this pairing of joy and fear can be seen when two famous wise statements are put next to each other. One of these statements speaks of the whole duty of man. The other statement speaks of man's chief end. Both are about the purpose for which we were made. The first statement is from the book of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes 12 verse 13, the preacher concludes, The end of the matter, all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. The second statement is from the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which tells us, Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

They're describing the same truth. When the preacher in Ecclesiastes calls us to fear God, he's calling us precisely to that enjoyment of God that Westminster calls the chief end of man. For the nature of the living God means that the fear which pleases Him is not a groveling, shrinking fear. He is no tyrant. It is an ecstasy of love and joy that senses how overwhelmingly kind and magnificent, good and true God is, and which therefore leans on Him in staggered faith and praise.

I love that. What a glorious description of the fear which pleases God. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind, and that was Michael Reeves from his series, The Fear of the Lord. This week is the first time that we've featured this series on Renewing Your Mind, and the first time that we've offered the complete eight-part series for donation of any amount. This offer ends tomorrow, so I encourage you to visit to request your copy, along with the accompanying digital study guide. Your support fuels the expansion of Ligonier's teaching library with new series like the one you heard today. So call us at 800-435-4343 or visit What happens to the Christian when they rightly fear God? Despite what some may think, it doesn't mean they become cold and stiff. Michael Reeves joins us tomorrow to explain the benefits of fearing God, here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-08-31 03:23:00 / 2023-08-31 03:30:58 / 8

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