There is no ambiguity that the thrice holy God commands all men to fear Him. Be it his redeemed people or the Christless. The creature is to fear the Creator. For the non-believer in Christ he must fear the judgment of God while the believer must always remember what Christ accomplished for him by His vicarious death and victorious resurrection. We speak today in terms of the Christian fearing God “reverentially.” Rightly so, I believe. The believer must always remember that he is a sinner saved by grace. Even as a believer he still commits sins (praise the Lord of the imputed righteousness of Christ!) and he is ever being driven to that perfect life and cross of Christ. Yet, he understands that sin is affront to a perfectly holy God. Though he need not fear the condemnation of the Lord that Christ bore on Calvary, he must still stand in that same awe of the majestic holiness of the Lord. Charles Simeon states it this way:
[Never for a moment must we forget that we are sinners, deserving of God’s wrath and indignation. The circumstance of our having been forgiven by him, so far from removing all occasion for reverential fear, is rather a reason for the augmentation of it. We should “lothe ourselves the more because our God is pacified towards us;” for his very mercy shews how basely we have acted, in sinning against so good a God. If the glorified saints in heaven fall upon their faces before the throne, whilst yet they are singing praises to God and to the Lamb, much more should we on earth, who have yet so much corruption to mourn over, and so many evils to deplore. As for that kind of experience which some think to be warranted by their views of God’s faithfulness to his promises, and which others derive from a conceit of their own sinless perfection, (I mean, that confidence, on the one hand, which is divested of fear; and that familiarity, on the other hand, which is not tempered with contrition,) I cannot but regard it as most delusive and dangerous. It would be well, too, if some, who are not carried to these extremes of doctrinal error be not equally defective, through a captious abhorrence of all forms in external discipline and deportment. Many, from a zeal against what they are pleased to designate as Popish superstition, conduct themselves with sad irreverence in the worship of the Most High: and, if they feel not already a contempt for the Majesty of heaven, sure I am that they take the most effectual means to generate it in their hearts. Men, as sinners, should lie low in the dust before God: and though, as redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ, they are to put away slavish fear, they are never for a moment to divest themselves of that fear which is filial, but to “walk in the fear of the Lord all the day long.”]*
Even in such texts that speak of God’s love for his people, He still demands that they fear Him. Even these texts that speak of social justice still demand the fear of the Lord, ” “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the LORD your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen. Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven” (Dt 10:12–22).
There is no such thing as Christianity without the fear of the Lord. What about 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love”? The context demands that this passage be understood with the believer having no fear of the judgment of God because of the work of Christ and his faith in Him. This is evident from the previous verses that mention Christ as Savior of the world (v.14) and the confession of Christ from believers (v. 15) then comes the belief we have in God’s love us (v. 16 which is a reference to the death of His Son) which leads to the perfection of God’s love in us that casts out out fear of His sovereign and righteous judgment (v. 17). This all leads to v.18. and for that I will defer to Robert Murray M’Cheyne:
“There is no fear in love.” “Perfect love casteth out fear.”
(1.) The love here spoken of is not our love to God, but His love to us; for it is called perfect love. All that is ours is imperfect. When we have done all, we must say, “We are unprofitable servants.” Sin mingles with all we think and do. It were no comfort to tell us, that if we would love God perfectly, it would cast out fear; for how can we work that love into our souls? It is the Father’s love to us that casteth out fear. He is the Perfect One. All his works are perfect. He can do nothing but what is perfect. His knowledge is perfect knowledge; his wrath is perfect wrath; his love is perfect love. It is this perfect love which casteth out fear. Just as the sunbeams cast out darkness wherever they fall, so does this love cast out fear.
(2.) But where does this love fall?—On Jesus Christ. Twice God spake from heaven, and said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” God perfectly loves his own Son. He Sees infinite beauty in his person. God sees himself manifested. He is infinitely pleased with his finished work. The infinite heart of the infinite God flows out in love towards our Lord Jesus Christ. And there is no fear in the bosom of Christ. All his fears are past. Once He said, “While I suffer thy terrors I am distressed;” but now He is in perfect love, and perfect love casteth out fear. Hearken, trembling souls! Here you may find rest to your souls. You do not need to live another hour under your tormenting fears. Jesus Christ has borne the wrath of which you are afraid. He now stands a refuge for the oppressed—a refuge in the time of trouble. Look to Christ, and your fear will be cast out. Come to the feet of Christ, and you will find rest. Call upon the name of the Lord, and you will be delivered. You say you cannot look, nor come, nor cry, for you are helpless. Hear, then, and your soul shall live. Jesus is a Saviour to the helpless. Christ is not only a Saviour to those who are naked and empty, and have no goodness to recommend themselves, but He is a Saviour to those who are unable to give themselves to Him. You cannot be in too desperate a condition for Christ. As long as you remain unbelieving, you are under his perfect wrath—wrath without any mixture. The wrath of God will be as amazing as his love. It comes out of the same bosom. But the moment you look to Christ, you will come under his perfect love—love without any coldness—light without any shade—love without any cloud or mountain between. God’s love will cast out all your fears.*
And coming from a slightly different angle on the fear of the Lord J. Gresham Machen writes:
It is certainly an ignoble thing to be afraid of bonds and death at the hands of men; it is certainly an ignoble thing to fear those who use power to suppress the right. Even the fear of God might be degrading. It all depends upon what manner of Being you hold God to be. If you think that God is altogether such an one as yourself, your fear of Him will be a degrading thing. If you think of Him as a capricious tyrant, envious of the creatures He has made, you will never rise above the grovelling fears of Caliban. But it is very different when you stand in the presence of the source of all the moral order of the universe; it is very different when God comes walking in the garden and you are without excuse; it is very different when you think of that dread day when puny deceptions will fall off and you stand defenceless before the righteous judgment throne. It is very different when not the sins of other people but your sins are being judged. Can we really, my friends, come before the judgment seat of God and stand fearlessly upon our rights? Can we really repeat, with Henley, the well-known words: ‘Out of the night that covers me, black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul’, or this: ‘It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.’Is this the way to overcome fear? Surely not! We can repeat such words only by the disguised cowardice of ignoring facts. As a matter of fact, our soul is not unconquerable; we are not masters of our fate or captains of our soul. Many a man has contemplated some foul deed at first with horror, and said, ‘Am I a dog that I should do this thing?’ And then has come the easy descent into the pit, the gradual weakening of the moral fibre, so that what seemed horrible yesterday seems excusable today; until at last, at some sad hour, with the memory of one’s horror of sin still in the mind, a man awakes to the realization that he is already wallowing in the mire. Such is the dreadful hardening that comes from sin. Even in this life we are not masters of our fate; we are of ourselves certainly not captains of our bodies, and we are of ourselves, I fear, not even captains of our souls.It is pitiable cowardice to try to overcome fear by ignoring facts. We do not become masters of our fate by saying that we are. And such blatancy of pride, futile as it is, is not even noble in its futility. It would be noble to rebel against a capricious tyrant, but it is not noble to rebel against the moral law of God.Are we then forever subject to fear? Is there nought, for us sinners, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation? Jesus came to tell us No! He came to deliver us from fear. He did not do so by concealing facts; He painted no false picture of a complacent God who should make a compact with sin; He encouraged no flattering illusions about the power of man. Jesus did not leave the realm of divine justice as it was, and establish in opposition to it a realm of love. But He introduced unity into the world by His redeeming work. He died not to abolish but to satisfy divine justice and reconcile us to God. In the days of His flesh He pointed forward to that act; He invited the confidence of man by the promise of what was to come. In our days we look back to what has already been done; our joy is in salvation already attained; our boasting is in the Cross.Even the Christian must fear God. But it is another kind of fear. It is a fear rather of what might have been than of what is; it is a fear of what would come were we not in Christ. Without such fear there can be no true love; for love of the Saviour is proportioned to one’s horror of that from which man has been saved. And how strong are the lives that are suffused with such a love! They are lives brave, not because the realities of life have been ignored, but because they have first been faced — lives that are founded upon the solid foundation of God’s grace. May such lives be ours!Perfect love casteth out fear. But if it be our love which casteth out fear, our love is only a response to the loving act of God. ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins’. There is the culmination and the transformation of fear. ‘Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men’, says Jesus, ‘him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.*
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Pr 1:7).
“Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Co 7:1).
“And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God”
Soli Deo Gloria!
For His Glory,
*Simeon, C. (1832-63). Horae Homileticae Vol. 2: Numbers to Joshua (323). London.