Who is the man that fears the LORD? Him shall He teach in the way He chooses. (Psalm 25:12)
From the very beginning, Satan sought after what rightly belonged to God – the worship and adoration of the people of the earth and of the angels. Since then, he has tried to pervert and misrepresent everything that God has provided and put in place, and human emotions is a rich and fertile field in which he works with great results. Top of the list, of course, is the matter of fear of the Lord – a reverential acknowledgement of the awesome power and holiness of God which leads us to worship God completely for who He really is. Fear of the Lord is like pure incense that drifts constantly to God. It is the greatest of all human responses because it establishes right relationship, and this is the reason why Satan has reproduced it in his evil counterpart which we simply call fear.
Fear is the second most powerful human emotion, and fear of the Lord is a crucial element of loving God.
Ask anyone, and they will readily confess that fear can either motivate us to accomplish the most impossible things or paralyse us utterly and completely and render us incapable of even the simplest response. It is for this reason that Satan has not only created this powerful counterfeit, but also works constantly to subvert the reverential fear of the Lord in every believer. He will either seek to turn it into his brand of fear, or he will deceive us into complacency. Both of these bear looking at in the context of today’s verse.
The basic truth is that Satan will first seek to keep us from coming to salvation. If that fails, he will then do what he can to prevent us from both becoming firmly established and reaching spiritual maturity. We should never fool ourselves into thinking that once we are saved, he will back off and leave us alone. If anything, he will turn up the heat and increase the pressure of the assault. The righteous – pure and reverential – fear of the Lord is critical to our life in Christ and to our growth, which is why Satan will always target this in every believer’s life.
We should keep in mind that the enemy’s preferred strategy is deception. Why launch a concerted, out-and-out and very visible attack when he can accomplish his purpose by simply by perverting what we believe? From a strategic perspective it makes perfect sense. For this reason, he will try to deceive us into believing that fear of the Lord is the kind of fear that carries his brand. It is a negative and insidious kind of fear that slowly erodes our faith and our assurance of our position in Christ. We begin to see God from a skewed perception – a God of judgement and punishment only. We begin to fear Him not because He’s righteous and holy, the awesome God of the universe, but as a cruel and merciless dictator.
The moment we begin to see God in this light, it’s a sure warning flag that Satan has been at work. Of course, he can’t really achieve deception without our cooperation, even if it is simply through ignorance. So we need to take note of the fact that this kind of fear in relation to God is the beginning of a slippery slide away from Him. It is crucial that heed the warning and take steps to rectify it. True and righteous fear of the Lord is only possible when we see God as He truly is – a God of mercy as well as judgement, a God who may chastise us but only because He loves us completely. If our view is lopsided, the only ‘cure’ is immediate action – digging into the Word and building a complete and balanced picture of the true nature and character of God.
The other tactic we should look out for is that of complacency. This is perhaps the more dangerous, because it so often masquerades as biblical truth, and human nature happily subscribes to it and even helps it along. The flesh is wired for self-gratification. By nature, we don’t enjoy hard truth or difficult spiritual principles that don’t pander to our desire for comfort and ease. This is why the current teachings that focus on God only as unconditional love are so readily accepted and promulgated. We don’t want to see the side of God that brings judgement as a natural consequence of our behaviour. It’s nicer to spread the blanket of ‘no condemnation’ that simply covers up these hard truths and requires no effort on our part to acknowledge our sinfulness and go through the often heartbreaking process of real repentance and transformation. The moment we find ourselves thinking that everything’s okay because God loves us unconditionally, is the moment we need to apply the handbrake. This kind of spiritual complacency prevents us from ever entering into the place of righteous fear of the Lord.
Today’s verse gets right to the point. Unless we learn to fear the Lord in the right way, we will never live in real relationship with Him. We can spout platitudes till the cows come home, but our perceived relationship with Him will be built on a fundamental lie, one which will determine the course of our journey. A wrong fear puts us on the wrong path, pure and simple. This does not negate the very real truth that God wants to walk with us, to teach us, to provide revelations of and through His Word. Nor does it deny the reality that He does, in fact, love us so much that He gave everything, including Himself in the person of Christ, to enable us to enter right relationship with Him.
Like everything else in our Christian walk, what we receive from God is in direct proportion to what we give or yield to God. His desire remains, and He remains faithful to His desire, but He will never circumvent the spiritual principles He has put in place to govern His interaction with His people. Fear of the Lord is the foundation principle that determines every single interaction we have with God. Yes, we may come boldly to throne of grace, but only because Jesus has already paid the price and not because God loves us so much that He’s willing to overlook our wrong perceptions.
We were never put on this earth to gratify our own importance through the God of the universe loving us totally and completely. Our fundamental purpose is worship – to live a life that brings glory to God. We are empowered to do so by grace – His willingness to make us His dwelling place, and to live and work in and through us. We cannot even begin to describe or define the incredible privilege this involves. However, God does not diminish Himself by this choice. It does not alter the truth one iota that He is a God who is utterly holy and deserves our worship. The word worship implies humility, yieldedness, and surrender to a higher and greater will. This is the natural outworking of a reverential fear of the Lord which is the heart of our interaction with Him.
If we desire that God teaches us, the fear of the Lord is the place to start. If we struggle to enter into and understand the Word, we need to look at the condition of our relationship with Him. If we feel that God is ‘far away’ and we don’t hear from Him, the place we must look first is to examine whether or not we really do fear Him. Perfect love does, indeed, cast out all fear, but this is the fear that the devil or man instill in us. This verse never relates to the fear of the Lord which is a righteous attitude to a holy God.
The Bible says that we love God because He first loved us, and this is an irrefutable truth. But the awesome reality of God’s love for sinful human beings must contain the revelation that it is utterly undeserved. It always must bring a revelation that He is a holy God who must be feared in a righteous and humble way. If our love for God does not contain the fear of the Lord, it is not the right kind of love. It becomes one based on our own desires and perceptions, and is, in fact, rooted in pride. To love God on our terms and in ways we find pleasing or comfortable, denies who He really is. It also denies the reality that without His infinite grace, we would have no opportunity or right to love Him and have relationship with Him.
It is a simple fact, to which many Christians will testify, that God will and does teach us and speak to us. Verses that a few years back we struggled to understand now come to life. We learn truths we never saw, and find ourselves slowly transformed. This is the desire of God. He wants to teach us. If we truly want to learn from our Father, we must desire the fear of the Lord. This is the beginning of all spiritual wisdom. The wonderful thing is that, if we ask Him for it, He will begin to teach us that too. A basic truth in our relationship with God is that we cannot do it. Everything is beyond our human skill, ability, or knowledge. All that is required is a willing heart, and He will do the rest.
Lord, forgive us for the times that we have misunderstood what it is to fear You, or have inadvertently subscribed to wrong teaching which leads us into complacency. Help us to desire to fear You in the right way. Instill in us the desire to love You in righteous awe and reverential fear. Teach us and empower us, that we may learn from You and bring glory to Your name which You have so graciously shared with us.