Reason #11: Fear of God

Oops.  This must be in the wrong file.  We’re not supposed to talk about this anymore.  Isn’t this all puritan and fear-mongering?  God is love, so we, like, shouldn’t have to be afraid of Him, right?  That fear stuff is so 18th century.

Oh. Except that it’s not.  As I mentioned in the last section, God is the judge.  Jesus himself will judge each person for their deeds, and those who do not turn from their lifestyles of greed and selfishness and invite God to change them will have to face Him on that day.  That’s scary.

Do you ever wonder what God will say to you?  What would He say if you saw Him today, right now?  What would you say?

A lot of Christians like to reassure themselves that once I’m saved, I’m saved, so I don’t have to worry.  Well, that’s true, if you’re really saved.  And what is salvation?  I’m not going to delve into this too much here, because that would also require many books of discussion, and we’d still not all agree or understand it.  I just want to point out what Hebrews says in chapter 10.

Heb 10:26, 27:
For while we are willfully sinning after the receiving of the knowledge of the truth, a sacrifice no longer remains for sins, but some fearful expectation of judgment and a zeal of fire going to consume the adversaries.  (NT Transline)

The passage goes on to say a few more sobering things about people who have known something of God but have departed from Him, and ignored what they heard.  One of my former pastors once said, “I believe that salvation is permanent, but I’m not going to test my theory.”

That about sums it up.  I’m quite confident in God’s salvation, and have little fear of death (at least, while sitting in this chair).  None of us really knows what happens after we die, or how God will speak to each of us, or what kinds of rewards He will give to all the various people.  What is clear is that not everyone in heaven is given the same thing.  And our deeds will be judged.  I don’t know how all of that works out (and neither does anyone else…), but I do know that I don’t want to meet God and hear Him talk about my lifetime of unbridled lust and perversion, going all the way into my elderly years.  There are elderly men still going to strip clubs, renting porn at the store, and looking at magazines (come to think of it, an elderly man runs one of those magazines, and seems to be enjoying himself, at least publicly…but I digress again).

I don’t want to disappoint my Creator.  I don’t want to hear about all the plans and hopes He had for me that I failed to meet, because my soul was continuously compromised by sin and selfish lust.  Because I didn’t care about the exploitation of women that my actions helped sustain.  I don’t want God to recount all the times He called to me, trying to turn me back, but I didn’t listen because I had to see the next month’s update on my favorite porn site.  It sounded like the best one yet!

I don’t want to hear God quote me a dozen times saying, “I’ll give it up next year.”  I don’t want to arrive in His presence and feel like I’ve never been there before.  I don’t want to hang my head in shame before Him.  I want to look into His eyes and see His pleasure with me.  One of the best quotes from a great movie called Chariots of Fire expresses this perfectly.  It’s a film about two men running in the Olympics.  One of them is a Christian, and someone is trying to convince him to go on a mission to China.  But he replies, “I believe God made me to be a missionary to China.  But He also made me fast.  And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

What a great awareness it is to know God’s pleasure with us!  To arrive in heaven knowing we have completed the tasks set before us.  To know God has completed His work in us, that we are holy and righteous in His sight.

The fear of God isn’t a negative thing.  It’s a positive.  I don’t have to fear the eternal separation that awaited me before salvation.  But I do fear missing out on the great things He has made available to me.  Two biblical examples demonstrate this, one on each side.  You can read the whole stories for yourself to get the details.  Esther and Jonah are a study in contrast between two people who perceived their lives before God in different ways.

Esther was faced with a choice.  Either she could go before the king and risk death, but do so to save her people from a mass slaughter, or she could preserve her safety and hope God saved the people some other way.  Her uncle Mordecai sums it up as follows:

Esther 4:14:
For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, and you and your father’s house will perish.  And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this.”  (NAS)

Mordecai had faith, and knew God would somehow save His people.  But God’s first choice was to use Esther, and if she shrunk back in fear, her whole life after that would be a life of regret.  Of wasted opportunity.  The question was, who does Esther fear more?  The king, who could execute her, or God, who would judge this decision, possibly more than any other single decision in her life?  Esther chooses God, and risks her life to save her people.  She puts their lives before her own, a Christlike quality.

This is part of what it means to fear God.  It makes us fearless in the face of evil in the world.  The world cannot touch us, and God alone can save us.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, it says in Proverbs.  Part of that wisdom comes when we realize that to fear God is to not fear anyone, or any situation, on earth.  Fear of God produces courage.  We need not fear loneliness, or success, or what life will be like if we give up our addictions and false comforts.

Jonah, on the other hand, did not fear God, so much to the point that he actively disobeyed a direct command from Him.  Jonah was told to preach to a non-Jewish nation, full of idolatry and evil of all kinds–Assyria, who had conquered much of the world at this time and would later conquer Israel.  He didn’t want these evil sinners to be shown any mercy from God, so he flees.  As we all know, God catches up to him using a rather unique aquatic encounter.  Check out Jonah’s language after he obeys God when given a second chance, and the Assyrians repent:

Jonah 4:2
Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country?  Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.  (NAS)

After this Jonah even asks God to take his life!  First off, God’s mercy is amazing, because this nation did not “deserve” any of it, from what we can tell.  Yet God shows them mercy, and offers them a chance to repent.  Even more incredibly, they take it and the city repents.  God likewise, as is His nature, relents and does not destroy the city.
Jonah can’t stand this, because he wants the city to be judged.

His own judgmental heart toward these people is stronger than his fear of God.  Now, God is merciful to him too, because the rest of the book is God trying to teach Jonah something about His nature and authority.  It’s profound.  This story reveals to us something of how God relates to individual people and whole nations, and how great is His mercy.  But it also shows how He reacts to disobedience, in this case from one of His own prophets.  Jonah finally does obey, but as we see here, he doesn’t like it.  But imagine if he hadn’t obeyed, the second time.  What would God have said to him then?

What will He say to us, if we live a lifetime of sin and compromised Christianity, if there is such a thing?  I want Him to say good things.  What can be greater than pleasing the Creator?  And what can be more scary than arriving before Him, uncertain of the response we’ll get, because our shame follows us to the grave?  How much sin does it take before your spirit becomes lukewarm for life?