Under the terms of this covenant, there were material blessings promised (long life, material prosperity, protection from enemies) as well as spiritual blessings. The material blessings of Canaan are tangible pictures of invisible spiritual realities of which we cannot yet conceive—eternal life in the presence of God. The psalmist can say of God’s people under the terms of this covenant, “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments! His offspring will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed” (Ps. 112:1–2). Those who fear God (acknowledge that He is all-powerful, holy, and sovereign) and also believe His promise to deliver them from His wrath (trust in a coming Messiah) will be blessed. God has so promised.
With the coming of Jesus Christ, God’s people can properly understand how wonderful blessings arise from the fear of God. As Christians who are members of the new covenant (foretold by Jer. 31:31–34 to supersede the old covenant), we know that our inability to obey His commandments once condemned us. Now these same commandments are written upon our hearts. There is a full and final forgiveness of sin. We who once were God’s enemies are now His friends (Rom. 5:1–10). With grateful hearts, we now desire to obey God’s commandments, and we will receive the blessings promised to us when we do so. There are promises of a long life (Prov. 10:27; Eph. 6:2–3), answered prayer (James 5:16), peace with civil authorities (Rom. 13:1–7), and even deliverance from heresy and Satanic deception (1 John 2:18–25).
God’s commandments reflect His intrinsic holiness. Our inability to obey His commands reminds us of why the holy God is to be feared. We know the biblical record. We have read of God pouring out His wrath and fury upon His enemies in the days of Noah (the flood) and in the plagues sent upon Egypt. We have read of a final judgment yet to come (Rev. 6:12–17). But we also read of God pouring out His wrath upon Jesus Christ, sparing us from the wrath that is to come. In this moment, Paul tells us, the love and justice of God meet (Rom. 3:21–29).
At the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ, we find the answers to our original questions about the “fear of the Lord.” Yes, God is to be feared—not just respected—even by a Christian who trusts in Jesus Christ. God is holy, righteous, and powerful. But we are sinful, we deserve His wrath, and we are weak and frail. Were it not for the cross, we too would be consumed by the wrath of God and would receive all the threatened curses. The very thought of life apart from Christ’s cross stirs fear, terror, and awe. Since God is love, in the God-man Christ Jesus He took our sins upon Himself, removing them from us as far as the east is from the west. While we fear God because of who He is, we need never fear His approach because His wrath and anger toward us have been turned aside at Calvary.
The fear of the Lord remains, then, a great source of blessing. Knowing that Jesus was punished for my sins in my place reminds me both that God is to be feared (He takes sin seriously) and yet is love (of which the cross is the sign). Now that my sins are washed away, I can obey God, knowing that He is pleased with my pitiful efforts because I am accepted in the person and work of His Son. This is how all His promised blessings become mine—because I fear the Lord having found forgiveness through the cross of Jesus Christ.