Whatever became of the fear of the Lord? We have become so comfortable with sin that our fear of judgment has been lost. Punishment and consequences seem to have no governing effect. Cheap grace has made holy living a squishy concept, not the normal way of life for far too many believers. It is time we rediscover a holy fear of the Lord.
Going Deep // Focus: Exodus 20:18-20
When the people heard the thunder and the loud blast of the ram’s horn, and when they saw the flashes of lightning and the smoke billowing from the mountain, they stood at a distance, trembling with fear. And they said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen. But don’t let God speak directly to us, or we will die!” Moses answered them, “Don’t be afraid, for God has come in this way to test you, and so that your fear of him will keep you from sinning!”
I sometimes wish that God would show up like he did on Mount Sinai—peels of thunder, flashes of lightning, the whole nine yards—and just scare the bejeebers out of us. We have become so comfortable with sin that our fear of judgment have been lost. Punishment and consequences seem to have no governing effect. Cheap grace has made holy living a squishy concept, not the normal way of life for far too many believers. We have virtually no fear of the Lord and no fear of sin.
God showed up on Mount Sinai as he gave the Ten Commandments to Moses, and from the camp around the base of the mountain, the Israelites watched the fireworks with fear and dread. So great and awesome was the divine display that when Moses returned, the people pleaded with him to be their go-between with the Almighty. They had witnessed God’s unsurpassed holiness from a distance and knew they could never stand before him because, at their best, they were fundamentally unholy.
In reply, Moses said something quite interesting: “Don’t be afraid, for God has come in this way to test you, and so that your fear of him will keep you from sinning!” What? Don’t fear, God is just showing you how to fear. And that fear will keep you safe.
To understand Moses’ confusing statement we need to distinguish between two types of fear:
- The first fear is that which comes from our sense of guilt, and the punishment it deserves. This type of fear may be a conscious awareness of unworthiness, but even if the fear is subconscious, it still has a tormenting result in our lives. This type of fear leads to all kinds of bondage, insecurity and harmful behavior to assuage it.
- The second kind of fear comes in the form of respect. It recognizes the complete authority of God over our lives, and his complete justification for holding people to account who violate his right to rule. This fear of the Lord is healthy, whether conscious or subconscious, and promotes an attitude of belief in, love for and complete trust of God.
Both fears can motivate righteous behavior: the first fear for a time; the second for a lifetime. The first type of fear is what the Israelites had, even though Moses had called them to the second type. Their fear at this point was short lived, for after Moses returned to the mountain for further instruction in the law, and lingered there for several days, the people’s fear abated and they did the very thing the law commanded them to eschew: they built an idol, a golden calf, and worshiped it, indulging in all kinds of wanton behavior as they did. (Exodus 32)
And as a result, the punishment they feared when Moses first came down came upon them. Their fears were justified.
So I guess wishing God would show up with peels of thunder and flashes of lightening wouldn’t be that effective after all. Apparently scaring the bejeebers out of us is short-lived, because it scares us into the wrong kind of fear.
God wants us to live in holy fear—the one that comes from a mature knowledge of his holiness and a respect for his right to lovingly rule our lives. It is that kind of fear that is the best motive for holy living—and the surest way to the blessings God longs to shower us with. That kind of fear comes not from peels of thunder and flashes of lightening, but from a surrendered heart.
Holy Spirit, lead us into a holy fear of the Lord.