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“There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:18). With those words, Paul finished his devastating summary of the wrath of God against the universal depravity of humanity (1:18–3:18). God is a “consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29), a phrase that summons the image of the sun. The sun is surrounded by a layer of plasma that reaches up to 5.4 million degrees Fahrenheit. Scripture reveals that God created the sun and sustains it every moment of its existence. Therefore, when Scripture says that God is a consuming fire, we must imagine that His wrath is hotter than the sun. God is more unapproachable than the sun (1 Tim. 6:16), for sinners cannot approach a holy God without being consumed by His wrath, unless God in His mercy extends the grace of the gospel in Christ.
As Christians, we live every day surrounded by people who have no fear of God. They are characterized by many other fears: death, blindness, public speaking, growing old, the IRS, dark alleys, spiders, and small, confined spaces. But God’s active wrath against sin does not cross their minds. Why not? Because God is invisible and seemingly silent about our wickedness (Isa. 57:11). The beginning of the grace of God in salvation is to move a sinner’s heart to fear the holiness and judgment of God. So, when God descended on Mount Sinai in fire and made the earth shake, even Moses said “I tremble with fear” (Heb. 12:21). In the same way, God must minister fear of eternal death before He can minister salvation.
How can Christians live faithfully in a culture that shows no fear of God?
1. Develop a healthy fear of God yourself.
Again and again in Scripture, God impressed on His servants a healthy fear of His majesty. Isaiah had a vision of the thrice-holy Lord on a lofty throne and responded with trembling: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isa. 6:5). Similarly, we dwell in the midst of people who do not fear God—and neither, at one time, did we. We still don’t fear God as we should. As Christians, we certainly must reject a servile fear of God, as if He were a cruel tyrant (Rom. 8:15). Romans 8:1 makes it plain that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Yet, it is still right for us as Christians who struggle daily with indwelling sin (7:15–23) to fear what that sin could do to our lives and what disciplines our heavenly Father might bring if we sin (Heb. 12:6). Therefore, let us work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12).
2. Fear God on behalf of those who don’t.
Faith is the eyesight of the soul, by which we can see invisible spiritual realities (Heb. 11:1). By faith, believers can see the holiness of our invisible God. We can also see the invisible hell to which our unsaved relatives, neighbors, coworkers, and friends are heading. Since there is no fear of God before their eyes, we must fear on their behalf, having our hearts wrenched with anguish over the destiny of the lost (Rom. 9:2), moving us to plead with the lost with great urgency (2 Cor. 5:20).
3. Let the fear of God drive away fear of people.
Not fearing God, our culture is becoming savagely aggressive in its hatred for Christians and biblical righteousness. Christians face secular zealots on all fronts and various ideals that run contrary to sound doctrine. They are every bit as committed to their idols as were the citizens of Ephesus who screamed, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” for two hours (Acts 19:34). If Christians do not fear God sufficiently, we will let the fear of humans cow us into shameful submission.
4. Seek to bring the lost to fear God.
John Newton put it powerfully in “Amazing Grace”: “’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.” Newton was fearlessly on his way to hell as a slave-trading wretch until a stormy night when he was spared from being swept overboard into the heaving waves of the Atlantic by a last-second change of orders from his captain. The terror of that experience drove him to read the Bible intensely until he found salvation in Christ. As evangelists, we need to see lost people come to a place of genuine fear for their own souls. That cannot happen without the law of God. We must clearly explain, based on God’s law, the eternal danger they are in so that they will flee to Christ for refuge.
5. Seek to bring the lost to peace with God.
Newton also said, “Grace my fears relieved.” We need to minister the hope of the gospel of Christ crucified and resurrected as the certain deliverance from fear of eternal death. We need to tell the good news of a heaven free from all death, mourning, crying, and pain (Rev. 21:4). We need to ask the Holy Spirit to move them from conviction of sin and fear to peace with God and joy (Rom. 5:1). Then we need to help them grow in the Lord, working out their own salvation with fear and trembling.
6. Stand in the breach for the nations.
Ezekiel 22:30 speaks of God searching in vain for someone who would rebuild the wall and stand in the breach for his guilty nation. God calls us as Christians to begin with ourselves: to purify our lives, to intercede with passion, and to be salt and light amid darkness, praying and laboring for change that is based on the gospel.