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.

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