One of the most severe indictments the Apostle Paul ever leveled against humanity is that “there is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:18). This statement has always been true of sinners who openly deny Christ, however, it is also increasingly true of many professing Christians. This is partly because many pastors not only avoid talking about the fear of God, but they also avoid talking about anything that would give people a reason to fear God. They avoid any mention of sin, hell, and condemnation. What’s more, they avoid all talk of the holiness, wrath, and sovereignty of God. This is happening not only in many mainline churches that abandoned the Word of God decades ago but also in churches that claim to affirm the historic confessions of the faith.
People don’t want a god of holiness and wrath, they only want a god of love and peace. They don’t want a god who hates their sin, they want a cuddly, teddy-bear god who’ll be their buddy. The reality is that people don’t want to fear God because they don’t want God in their lives. Some professing Christians don’t fear Him because they don’t actually know the God of Scripture, while they presume upon His grace to save them.
The gospel is the difference between being afraid of God and fearing God.
If we know the Lord, we fear the Lord, because He has put the fear of Himself into our hearts (Jer. 32:40). As Christians, we don’t have a servile, cowering, slave-like fear of the Lord. Rather, we have a filial, reverential, humble fear of the Lord. The gospel is the difference between being afraid of God and fearing God. It’s only when we come to fear the Lord that the Lord tells us to fear not. For when we know the love of God in Christ, the Spirit casts out all fear and instills in us love and adoration, that we might work out our salvation with fear and trembling and worship the Lord, coram Deo, before His face, with reverence and awe.
Dr. Burk Parsons (@BurkParsons) is editor of Tabletalk magazine, senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. He is cotranslator and coeditor of A Little Book on the Christian Life by John Calvin.