The foundation of the furious longing of God is the Father who is the originating Lover, the Son who is the full self-expression of that Love, and the Spirit who is the original and inexhaustible activity of that Love, drawing the created universe into itself.1
In today’s society fear has a negative connotation which lead many people to believe that fear is a quality of sin, taboo, and/or a result of corruption. To a certain extent those claims may be true, yet the heart of Proverbs 1:7 paints a different picture. Without fear directed toward God true conversion, fellowship, and worship cannot be obtained. A low view of God will always hinder an individual in truly seeing the fullness of God. Without a sense of healthy fear there can be no attribute in man toward God that would reflect honor, respect, and majesty. For this very reason A. W. Tozer writes in the Knowledge of the Holy:
Perverted notions about God soon rot the religion in which they appear. The long career of Israel demonstrates this clearly enough, and the history of the Church confirms it. So necessary to the Church is a lofty concept of God that when the concept in any measure declines, the Church with her worship and her moral standards declines along with it. The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.2
A Fear that Trembles:
Before we dive into a more approachable lens of fear let me comment in all frankness that true fear of the Lord is not without its terror and anxiety. True fear of God is always accompanied with the understanding of God’s holiness, infinite worth, and amazing power. These qualities are not to be taken lightly and those, biblically, who encountered the Lord did not approach Him in joy, gladness, or glee rather in terror of death, judgement, and self-awareness.
Israel, after fleeing from Egypt and receiving the Ten Commandments, encountered the living God and were shaken to their core. They attended to the awesome power of the Lord through the parting of the Red Sea and witnessed His monstrous might within the mountains. Their approach to Him during the acceptance of the commandments was not filled with cheer rather trembling; so much so that Israel was unwilling to communicate with Him directly. Exodus 20:18 – 21 ESV says:
18 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” 21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
Another glimpse of terror which was witnessed within the encounter of God was through the prophet Isaiah. A man called to be God’s spokesperson among the nation of Israel questioned His own mortality when he came face to face with the almighty Creator God. Isaiah’s response was not one of cheer rather trembling to the point of death and being awakened to the holiness of God and the wretchedness of his own being. Isaiah 6:4 – 5 ESV says:
4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “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!”
A Fear that Embraces Him:
Just as Isaiah realized his sin and understood his filthiness in the mist of a infinitely holy God the Lord’s response was to atone for Isaiah’s sins by placing a coal on the lips of His prophet. Though it would be a correct response to fear and tremble in the mist of the Creator God it would also be a correct response to pursue the Creator God in Christ Jesus for the sake of redemption. When believers lack the understanding of pursing God when caught in sin they lack an understanding of the power of the Gospel. Though we are to fear God we are, also, to look to God for redemption because “salvation belongs to the Lord.”3
Christ has bore the penalty of sin on our behalf so that “we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus.”4 If in our fear of God we cower away from engaging the Father through the blood of Christ then we have nullified the work of Christ on the cross and the power of the resurrection. We have emptied Christ of His power (though He is not powerless in reality) by the lack of confidence we embody by pursuing our own means toward sanctity. Yet when we stumble and engage in the redeeming work of Christ we communicate, by our actions, that the work and person of Jesus Christ is sufficient for our justification as well as our sanctification. Healthy fear and Gospel truth should lead us to run to Him; not away.
Now the fear that we have is not a fear of guilt that we want to please Him or die (though that is true), rather our fear is through the rebirth, or regeneration, of the heart to cherish and treasure Him for all that He is worth. Our fear is not of punishment, for there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,”5 rather our fear of God is rooted in the joy that can only be found in Him alone. For this reason John Piper writes in Desiring God:
Christian Hedonism depends on the open arms of God. It depends on the readiness of God to accept and save and satisfy the heart of all who seek their joy in Him. . . So if God loves us enough to make our joy full, He must not only give us Himself; He must also win from us the praise of our hearts – not because He needs to shore up some weakness in Himself or compensate for some deficiency, but because He loves us and seeks the fullness of our joy that can be found only in knowing and praising Him, the most magnificent of all Beings. If He is truly for us, He must be for Himself!6
Though both reactions are essential in responding to God, both are incomplete without the other. Our fear of God should not hide us from God rather expose our inner being to Him so that we may be conformed to the image of Christ.7 The Gospel, the work and person of Jesus Christ, is the means of our justification as well as our sanctification. To fear God is to have a right understanding of who He is, and to understand that He must remain highest priority in our life. Where there is a lack of fear, or reverence, toward the God of the universe there is a lack in one who is in tune with their purpose and their Creator.