Saturday, August 22, 2009

The fear of the LORD

"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction." (Proverbs 1:7)

"The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'" (Psalm 14: 1a)

"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is insight." (Proverbs 9:10)

"The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him,
and he makes known to them his covenant." (Psalm 25:14)

You cannot even begin to know the LORD until you fear Him.

So, what is this fear of God, this prerequisite to knowing the LORD?

"The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
and perverted speech I hate." Prov. 8:13

To come to know the LORD, we must fear Him, and this fear manifests itself in hatred of evil...in repentance. Repentance is that great change of mind in which we come to agree with God in His assessments, first and foremost of the sin in our own hearts and lives. Much like Isaiah, when he found himself at the foot of the throne of the Most High, when we encounter God, we cry out, "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!" (Is. 6:5)
"The principle thing meant in the Scriptures by the fear of God, is a holy solicitude or dread lest we should offend God by sinning against him. Now, if a man do truly fear to offend God, and if he habitually dreads the thought of sinning against him, this will surely tend to his avoiding sin against him. That which men are afraid of they will shun....Fearing God and observing to do all his commandments, are joined together as necessarily arising the one from the other....And in any person whatever, just so far as the fear of God reigns, just so far will it lead its possessor to avoid sin and to aim to be holy." (Jonathan Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits.)
"For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And if the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?" (1 Pet. 4:17-18)

"Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire." (Heb. 12:19-20)

And yet, one can't help but wonder, where there is dread, how can there be love. I'm not inclined to love with wholehearted abandon that which I fear, that which holds the power to destroy me. And yet that is what God requires: "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." (Deut. 6:5) The thing that holds me back from loving what I fear is my sin. My horror comes from knowing, like Isaiah, that I am unclean. If I face God in this condition I will be lost, undone. The love and willing servitude cannot come until, like Isaiah, my "guilt is taken away" and my "sin atoned for". (Is. 6:7)
"But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God." (Heb. 9:11-14)
"Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in the time of need." Heb. 4:16

And so now, through the sacrifice of Christ which cleanses us from all sin, we find boldness to run to Him rather than away. We find ourselves hiding from His wrath within the safety of the Rock He has cleft for us. Rather than hiding from Him - we hide in Him. Our worst nightmare has become, through Christ, our place of our greatest comfort and rest.

"Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him! Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing. Come, O children, listen to me, I will teach you the fear of the LORD." (Psalm 34:8-11)
"Does it strike you as strange that we should be encouraged to fear and hope at the same time and in the same person? 'The LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.' (Psalm 147:11) Do you hope in the one you fear and fear the one you hope in? It's usually the other way around: if we fear a person, we hope that someone else will come and help us. But here we are supposed to fear the one we hope in and hope in the one we fear. What does this mean? "I think it means that we should let the experience of hope penetrate and transform the experience of fear. In other words, the kind of fear that we should have toward God is whatever is left of fear when we have a sure hope in the midst of it...The fear of God is what is left of the storm when you have a safe place to watch right in the middle of it. And in that place of refuge we say, 'This is amazing, this is terrible, this is incredible power; Oh, the thrill of being here in the center of the awful power of God, yet protected by God himself! Oh, what a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God without hope, without a Savior! Better to have a millstone tied around my neck and be thrown into the depths of the sea than to offend against this God! What a wonderful privilege to know the favor of this God in the midst of his power! " And so we get an idea of how we feel both hope and fear at the same time. Hope turns fear into a trembling and peaceful wonder; and fear takes everything trivial out of hope and makes it earnest and profound. The terrors of God make the pleasures of his people intense. The fireside fellowship is all the sweeter when the storm is howling outside the cottage." John Piper, from The Pleasures of God.

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