Speaking of the ‘Fear of the Lord’ has often left me confused or lost, contemplating, ’I understand fearing God in the Old Testament, when the dividing wall of separation was firm, but what about now that the veil has been torn and we’ve been given the grace of Jesus? Is He to no longer be feared? And if He is, what does that look like?’ As I began to search for answers, the Lord brought the following illustration to mind from my own life.
Soon after I had earned my driver’s permit in high school, my dad had a heart attack at work and was taken to the emergency room. Not knowing the circumstances, my younger brother and I arrived home from school to an empty house. My mom called to inform us of dad’s situation and told us to wait for our older sister to pick us up later that evening.
As the dinner hour approached, our hunger grew, which meant we began to plot. For some reason, still unknown to myself, my dad’s car was parked in the garage. My brother and I both knew where the hide-a-key was and I knew how to drive, I mean after all, I did have a driver’s permit! What would it hurt to run out and get some food for ourselves before our older sister came home? As you can surmise, we were brilliant children!
Our plot birthed a plan, and before logic was considered I was driving toward Taco Bell, with an award winning grip (10 and 2) on the wheel. Pulling up the driveway in triumph, we thought we had pulled off the world’s greatest food heist. Well, that is until my older sister came out the back door with her ear to the phone, “Oh, never mind mom, I found them. . . driving dad’s car UP THE DRIVEWAY!” Never had a triumphal meal smelled so nauseating. Dragging myself from the car, my sister thrust the phone in my hand, “Dad wants to talk to you.” DAD?! Oh, no, not dad!!! He just had a heart attack! This may kill him!
“Hello. . .,” I managed to whisper into the phone.
“I can’t believe you took the car out like this!!! . . . “ I could hardly blame him for his anger. It was born out of his fear for my safety, lack of sense, and disregard of the law.
Not long later, stomach growling, I found myself slumped in a waiting room chair at the hospital, dreading the inevitable – facing my dad. I wasn’t afraid of his anger as much as I was dreading his disappointment. Heart racing, the moment of truth came as I was led down a long corridor to my dad’s sick bed.
Hugging the doorway, I let everyone enter before me. But unforgotten, from the bed, an arm extended, searching for me, “Shannon. . . “ Gulp. Here it comes, the moment of truth. Inching my way toward my father, I clearly saw his broken body monitored by machines, tubes and wires. The guilt nearly consumed me, as the tears began to flow. Making eye contact in that moment, my heart melted into a puddle of mush as the eyes reflecting back to me didn’t hold condemnation or anger, but love. The searching arm found me, pulling me into an embrace – an embrace I knew I didn’t earn, or even deserve, “I love you, Shannon.”
My father decided that the guilt I carried was heavier than any punishment he could mete out. But, yes, I did have consequences for my actions as I had to wait an extra year to get my driver’s license. I reaped what I sowed. . .
When we search scripture there seems to be a process in understanding the proper fear of the Lord . First, we see it endures forever – it didn’t fade with the onset of Jesus’ grace: ‘The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever Psalm 19:9a. The ‘fear of the Lord’ has different meanings for those who belong to the Lord by faith vs. those who haven’t surrendered their lives. When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior – become truly born again (taking His righteousness on ourselves), our fear changes from one of condemnation and judgement, to one of reverence and awe. It will be a frightening day for those whose names are not written in the book of life; they will be judged according the to law, which kills. ‘Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.’ Revelation 20:15
I too would have faced the law if my father hadn’t extended grace. I had clearly broken the law, which required just punishment. But instead of living in fear of the law, I feared hurting my father, a man whom I loved and respected. In the same way, I hold a greater fear of hurting the Lord with my unrighteous acts, than I fear the law. I’m a law breaker, and we both know that, but as I allow HIS righteousness to cover me, I never want to hurt Him purposefully. Which brings us to the next truth.
Beloved, we need to know the Lord’s Word by studying it! ‘Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD’ Psalm 34:11. Understanding the Word is something that is taught, but not merely as a college textbook, but as a living document. Who will teach us? Where do we learn? ‘For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart’ Hebrews 4:12. The mind and soul in and of themselves can’t understand the Word, it must be read and studied through the power of the Spirit – that is where true life flows. The Spirit speaks to us through the Word to divide between what is of ourselves and what comes from our own soulish desires. He is the true teacher! He convicts and refines us. We can’t make ourselves righteous anymore than we can understand God’s truth apart from the Spirit. Both are works of the Lord.
‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction’ Proverbs 1:7. Those who have yielded themselves to the Lord’s instructions, will not continue in willful sin (Hebrews 10:26-27). Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands” John 14:15. The mark of a believer will be a heart to keep the Lord’s Word – we will fear hurting Him by our disobedience. We’ll do what we can to make ourselves right before Him – through repentance and seeking to live in His truth. A pharisee will fear man more than God by his outward appearance and self righteous acts, whereas the man of God will fear the Lord in his heart above all. ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.’ Matthew 10:28
The early church in Acts 9:31 shows us a glimpse of these truths, ‘Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouragement by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.’
Imagine if the church today, sought as a body, to live the precepts of scripture out of love and obedience with a Spirit led heart to please our Lord. He is our good, good, Father who has given us everything. It begins with me: Do I fear Him?