The Proper Response

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Proverbs 1:7

Last week we learned that our path to salvation begins when we possess a proper fear of God. That can only occur when we hold a proper view.

Too many of us have such a small view of God that we can’t recognize our need to fear Him. We don’t revere Him; instead we place Him on almost equal ground with ourselves. We offer Him a nod on Sunday mornings, then spend much of the rest of our time ignoring Him.

Yet when we visited God’s throne room with Isaiah, we witnessed his profound response to seeing God’s glory revealed. He was terrified.

We often describe the fear of the Lord with words like reverence, respect, and awe. I’ll admit I’ve used those words myself to explain its meaning. But while those are all elements of fearing God, I don’t believe they encompass it entirely. Strong’s concordance adds these definitions for the word translated “fear” in our Bibles:   

“to be afraid, be frightened; to revere, respect; to be awesome, be dreadful, be feared” (Strong’s, 3772, p. 1512).

What Isaiah experienced reflects the rest of the definition. He witnessed something awesome, dreadful, utterly frightening, and he became completely undone.

Isaiah isn’t alone in his response. The apostle John, beloved disciple of Jesus and New Testament recipient of Christ’s saving grace, received a visit from his risen Lord while in exile on the island of Patmos.

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me . . . When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”  Revelation 1:12, 17-18

God’s grace doesn’t make Him a cuddly teddy bear. When you finally see His Glory unleashed, you will tremble. Perhaps, like John, you will fall at his feet as though dead. But the beauty of grace is evident in Jesus’ response to John. To those who recognize God as wholly other and worthy of honor, to those who in reverent fear choose to submit their earthly lives to Him in repentance and receive by faith the sacrifice that Jesus made for them, to those Jesus lovingly responds, “Do not be afraid.” And we needn’t be.

The fear of the Lord leads to life:  Then one rests content, untouched by trouble.  Proverbs 19:23

Through repentance and faith in Jesus, fear of the Lord propels us into His safe embrace. He becomes our Rock. Our Strong Tower. Our Shelter in the storm. Our Rest. We become His, but the question remains: What next? How does one respond to such a great gift of grace?

Abraham, father of our faith, provides our example. Acts 7:2-4 tells us,

The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran. Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.’

So he left . . .”

At the beckoning of God, Abraham left his people and his home to go to a land he’d never seen. Why would he do that? How could he so easily and completely abandon everything to follow this God? 

In the midst of a polytheistic culture that offered its worship to many gods, Abraham met the God of glory. Wisdom was born in him as Truth penetrated his heart, and he knew this was the One True God. Imagine the magnitude of such an encounter that would convince him that all he had ever been taught to believe was wrong. Like Isaiah, Abraham beheld something awesome that conceived in Him the fear of the Lord. 

Yet this fear did not send him running to the hills. It sent him chasing after this God he realized he simply could not live without.  Abraham’s fear of remaining distant from God surpassed his fear of approaching Him. He was compelled to follow, and the path led him smack dab into the blessing of God.

Abraham shares this experience with every great hero of faith recorded for us in Scripture.

  • Moses met God through the flames of a burning bush, and his encounter led him to abandon the safety of his desert life and challenge Egypt’s Pharaoh on behalf of God’s people.
  • Paul, guardian of Jewish law and zealous persecutor of the early church, came face to face with the glory of Christ on the road to Damascus. Blinded by the Light of Truth, he dropped to his knees in repentance and emerged from the encounter willing to follow Jesus to his death, suffering for the cause of the very One he had persecuted. 
  • Even the first Disciples shared this experience. They had been fishing on the Sea of Galilee when Jesus called to them, “Come, follow me.” How did they respond?  At once they left their nets and followed him. Mark 1:18

They each responded to the revelation of God in their lives with the same reaction: they left behind all that they had known to follow. Beloved, what has changed, that God would seek any less of a response from us?

How have you responded to the revelation of God’s glory, dear one? Have you surrendered everything to follow your Lord and King? If not, He’s waiting.

It Starts With Fear

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10

Whether we like the idea or not, Scripture tells us to fear God. The Bible repeatedly links our receipt of His blessings and promises with whether or not we have a heart that fears Him. According to Proverbs 14:27, fearing God propels us toward life:

“The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death.”

The word “fear” unsettles most of us. When we associate it with how we ought to feel about God, we often want to run from Him, not toward Him. The thought conjures images of an angry tyrant perched on a fiery throne looking to see where He can dole out judgment and wrath.

Yet we also discover in Scripture that God is love (1 John 4:16), and in that love, He offers mercy. Most of us can easily embrace those attributes; those aspects of God’s character hold a bit more appeal.  In light of that, we often choose to disregard Scripture’s warning to fear God altogether, tossing it out in favor of friendship with a very approachable and forgiving God.

Unfortunately, if we don’t begin by acknowledging that God is worthy of our fear, we can’t enter the safety of His love.

 “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; . . . But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him.”  Psalm 103:13, 17

Fear marks the beginning of our journey toward redemption. Do you fear Him?

I confess that for a long time, I didn’t. I heard so much about God’s mercy and grace that I couldn’t wrap my brain around the thought that I should fear Him. It didn’t compute with the image I had been given. I was told God was my friend.

As a result, I had a carefree attitude toward sin. I didn’t think it mattered much. After all, grace covers it, right?

Perhaps this is one reason why much of Christ’s church looks so little like Him today. Salvation doesn’t begin with grace; it ends there. Salvation begins with fear.

Let’s consider an example from Scripture that reveals a biblical response to God. The prophet Isaiah experienced the remarkable privilege of seeing God’s glory revealed.

“ . . .I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” Isaiah 6:1

Verse 5 records his reaction to what he saw.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Isaiah reflexively offered one singular response to His glimpse of God’s glory: sheer terror. He cowered in God’s presence, acutely aware of his own depravity for the very first time. God’s perfect holiness laid bare his own impurity, washing it in righteous light. He realized this Supreme Being had every right to smite him, and he declared himself ruined.

Praise God the story doesn’t end there. In response to Isaiah’s mournful cry, a seraph circling the Lord in worship took a coal from the altar and approached him.

With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”  Isaiah 6:7

Pardon purchased through the altar of sacrifice has a way of changing things. Isaiah no longer cowered, distraught over his condition. Instead, full of gratitude, he offered to stand boldly for the Lord.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”  Isaiah 6:8

A beautiful transformation took place within Isaiah’s heart, all brought on by his proximity to God’s presence. He saw God as He truly is and responded with:

  • Fear – He recognized his depraved state and saw that he deserved punishment.
  • Faith – He believed God’s promise that he had been pardoned, not by anything he had done to earn it, but by the grace extended to him by God through the altar of sacrifice.
  • Repentance – Gratitude gripped him and he no longer wanted to live for himself, but rather for the Almighty God who had chosen to extend His mercy and save him.

All three responses ushered Isaiah into God’s grace. Jesus extends the same grace to us by His sacrifice on the cross. Like Isaiah, we must believe in its power to receive it, but we can’t fully apprehend God’s grace without first possessing a proper, reverent fear.

Did the fear of the Lord mark the start of your journey? Do you hold an accurate view of God's greatness? Of His holiness? I hope so. Without it, you won’t truly repent, and without repentance, you miss salvation.

Yet the beauty of fearing God is found within this truth: Once we have a proper view of God and receive His grace by faith in sincere repentance, we need never fear anything else. We become His, sealed and tucked under the shelter of His wing. And all His awesome, terrible might no longer stands opposed to us. He exerts it for us.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of . . . Well, everything.