True godly fear is that fear of God that causes a man to reverence the Lord with holy awe and to worship Him in humble adoration. Godly fear is the profound spiritual attitude that dominates the heart and soul of the child of God who is conscious that he lives in the presence of the sovereign, majestic, infinitely glorious, almighty, perfectly holy God. The godly man knows he is under the solemn obligation to serve and live for this God. This God the god-fearing man desires with all his earnest longing to obey and to please. Godly fear stands in contrast to the fear of terror and dread. The fear of terror and dread is born of enmity against God. The fear of terror and dread causes a man to flee from the presence of God in dread of His holy and righteous wrath. It will cause men in the last day to cry unto the mountains and the rocks to fall on them to hide them from the wrath of God. The ungodly fear God with terror and dread. It is this fear that shall torment the ungodly in hell. Godly fear is born out of the love of God in the hearts of God’s elect. It is the fruit of the operation of grace in the saints of God. Godly fear causes men to come to God, to bow down at His throne, to worship and adore Him. Godly fear makes a man desire to be ever near unto God, to dwell in His presence, to know Him in all of His wonderful glory and majesty, greatness, and goodness. Godly fear causes a man to long to worship Him forever and ever in heaven.
Godly fear is the very heart of true godliness. The godly man is everywhere described in scripture as the man that fears the Lord. That man who is devoid of the fear of God is devoid of true Christianity. Scripture often uses the term “the fear of God” to describe the whole of true godliness.
In what exactly does this fear of the Lord consist? We said in our first article on this subject that much, even the majority of modern Christianity today is completely devoid of all fear of God. Yet the very heart of godliness according to the scriptures is the fear of God. It is urgent therefore that we ask the question, what does it mean to fear God? Do we really know what it means to fear and tremble before the Lord? Does our life manifest that we fear the Lord? In this article and the next I would like to examine some of the main characteristics of the fear of the Lord.
True godly fear is born out of a profound spiritual, conscious knowledge of who and what God is. Only the man who knows God truly as He has revealed Himself in His Word will fear the Lord. The true knowledge of God which engenders fear is of course a living, personal, spiritual, knowledge of God. One can have a dogmatic and intellectual understanding of the nature and being of God and of all His attributes and yet not be moved at all in his heart and soul with fear and awe before that God. The fear of God is the reaction of the man who knows that God is the Sovereign God, infinitely majestic, almighty in power and perfect in holiness. The man who truly knows who God is can only stand in holy awe and reverence before Him. There can be no other reaction of the godly man in the presence of God than that he falls down upon his face with fear and trembling in utter humility to worship and adore Him. The fear of God comes upon a man when he recognizes the great distance that there is between himself and God when he understands how infinitely great God is and how very small he himself is in the presence of that God. The fear of God is the only possible reaction of a man who knows what a miserable wretched sinner he himself is and what it means that God is the perfectly holy God. Even the angels in heaven stand in fear before the Lord. The seraphims are said to cover their faces and their feet in the presence of the Lord and to cry continually, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory.” The whole company of the redeemed in heaven shall forever fear the Lord, giving unto Him all praise and adoration saying, “Blessing and honor and power and glory be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne and unto the lamb.” Revelation 5:13 If the angels of heaven and the perfected saints worship the Lord in godly fear how much more then ought mere mortal men who are but miserable wretched sinners fear and tremble in the presence of the great and holy God!
As we said in our first article on this subject, it is without doubt true that the main reason why there is such a lack of the fear of God among us is that there is so little true knowledge of God. Modem day Christianity has changed the truth of God into the lie and the glory of the incorruptible God into the image of the creature. The many heresies about who and what God is which are so prevalent today have made God after the vain imagination of man. This god is not the true God Who has revealed Himself in the scriptures. This god is not worthy to be feared. There is no reason for men to fear him because his nature and being are not such that they would instill fear in the hearts of men.
The fearful God is the Sovereign God. From eternity to eternity He is God and God alone. There is no God beside Him. He reigns supreme over all. He has determined all things in His eternal counsel. He has created all things by the Word of His power. He upholds all things by His almighty word. He rules throughout all history. He rules over all nations and over every man individually. He rules over all of our life. He directs all things according to His own purpose and good pleasure. He declares the end from the beginning and from ancient times the things that are not yet done. He does all His good pleasure. None can resist His will. “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed . . . He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.” Psalm 2:1, 2, 4. He is unchangeable in His sovereignty. He is the sovereign God of predestination Who has before appointed the eternal place of every man according to His good pleasure. From eternity He has according to His wonderful love and mercy chosen some to an eternal life of blessedness with Him. In order to reveal His awful justice and holy wrath against sin He was pleased to determine others unto eternal destruction. He is the sovereign potter Who makes of one piece of clay a vessel of honor and another of dishonor. He sovereignly saves His elect through the wonder works of regeneration, faith, and sanctification. He reprobates the ungodly sovereignly in the way of their own wickedness. It is such a God Who is to be greatly feared by men. A god who is dependent on the will of men to realize His counsel and salvation need not be feared. Such a god is completely under the control of men and they can do with him as they please. Such a god changes according to the whim and fancy of men. He is not god at all and is not worthy of fear. To fear God is to know Him as the Sovereign One. To fear Him is to know that He is God and we are the creatures of His hand, made for His own purpose and glory. To fear Him is to know that our life is. completely in His control. He will do with us according to His own good pleasure. The god-fearing man knows that God is the infinitely majestic, great, and all-glorious God. The god-fearing man considers the vast creation around him and stands in awe and fear, knowing that his God is so great that He made it all by the word of His power. At the same time, He is infinitely greater than all His creation. So great is He that before Him the nations are as a drop on a bucket and as the dust of the balances.
The god-fearing man knows that God dwells in heavenly majesty that infinitely transcends all the glory of the earthly. Therefore. God is an awe-inspiring and fearful God. The god-fearing man knows that God is the God of all glory Who dwells not in temples made with hands, nor is He worshipped by men’s hands as though He needs anything. So glorious is God that man can never add anything to His glory. Such an awe-inspiring and fearful God is little known in much of modern day Christianity. The god that is worshipped by many today is very little more than man. He can be addressed as a mere man without the need for any sense of awe and reverence before him. He is dependent on man to add to his own glory as though he lacks something. He is characterized with many of the limitations and weaknesses of man. He is dependent upon the strength and numbers of men to accomplish his work and to glorify his name. How different such a god is from the fearful God of the scriptures.
The fearful God is the Almighty God. He is not a god who is limited by and dependent upon the will and actions of men. He is a God Who is infinitely more powerful than all the powers of the world. In fact, He is the God to Whom all power alone belongs. He is a God Who is able to do whatsoever He pleases. Nothing is impossible for Him. He is able to destroy all the wicked with one word of His mouth. He is not a god who needs to go pleading and begging with man to come to him. He is a God Who saves His people by the irresistible almighty power of His grace. He is able to cast down the most wicked rebellious man into destruction, or take that same man and cause him to believe on Him and seek His face.
The God Who is to be feared is the perfectly Holy God. He is holy in all of His wonderful virtues. He is the God of unfathomable love, of amazing grace and unchanging mercy. He is the true and faithful God. He is perfectly righteous in all His judgments. All of the virtues of God are characterized by perfect holiness. He burns with unchangeable love toward His people, and at once is a consuming fire to the ungodly. The fearful God is not a god who loves all men with an unholy affection that is characteristic of men. He is a God Who can and does love only those whom He has made holy through the blood of His Son Christ Jesus. None other than a holy man can be the object of His holy affection. He hates sin and the sinner with holy infinite wrath. He so hates sin that He will cast the godly sinner into the eternal fire of hell. He is not therefore a God who merely passes by sin or regards it lightly. Such is the god of most of what calls itself Christianity today. Such a god need not be feared. Before such a god, man can live as he pleases without any or much concern for his sin and iniquity. The fearful God of the scriptures is so holy that He could not allow the sin of His people to go unpunished. Rather than allow that sin to go unpunished He poured out His wrath upon His own beloved Son on the cross. So fearful and awful is His perfect holiness! Therefore the godly man who knows that he is a miserable, wretched sinner casts himself down in fear and trembling before God and pleads for mercy.
May God grant that we know God as the awe-inspiring fearful God that He is, and so tremble with true godly fear before Him.