Rev. Kleyn is a missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America, stationed in Manila, the Philippines.
One way in which the word of God describes us as pilgrims is by referring to us as “sojourners.” We are those who are passing the time of our sojourning here on earth (I Pet. 1:17). We are simply traveling through this world toward our heavenly home.
A sojourner is someone who is away from home. He is either visiting or living in a foreign land. He is among strangers. He feels very much out of place. The customs, the way of life, the houses, the food, the language—they’re all foreign to him, very different from what he’s used to. He is an alien in that land and is usually eager to return to his homeland again.
That is what the believer experiences concerning life here on earth. He confesses: I am a stranger and a sojourner in this world, as all my fathers were! (Ps. 39:12). We are traveling in a foreign land. We do not hold citizenship papers here. We do not have a permanent home. We are simply passing the time of our sojourning. We are aliens and exiles who have no intention of staying here. We plan to move on and live elsewhere, for our spiritual eyes are focused on life in our heavenly home, the city which has foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God.
But how should we pass the time of our sojourning here on earth? What principle should guide us in spending and using up the time we have here below?
Since we are sojourners, perhaps we could conduct ourselves as tourists do when visiting a foreign land. Then we would race around and take in as many sights and experiences of earthly life as possible. We would be busy creating lasting memories of earthly pleasure and fun. We would record our experiences so that we can relive them, and even share them with others. And we would purchase to ourselves many souvenirs (earthly possessions). These we would treasure, clinging to them as though it were possible to take them with us to our permanent home in heaven.
Or perhaps we would take this approach. Since we are likely to be here for a while, then let’s at least settle in and make ourselves at home. We ought to learn the language and culture and customs of the world. We should teach these to our children. We should try to make lasting friendships.
Sadly, we often do these very things. Often we sinfully approach life as the ungodly do. “Live it up,” they say. “Take it all in! Accumulate wealth and possessions! Attain all the earthly success you can! Make a name for yourself! And be sure to indulge in whatever earthly pleasure is available and desirable—let nothing get in your way! This earthly life is all that there is, so make the most of it before it’s over!”
But what then should be the guiding principle of our pilgrim life? How should we pass our time here on earth? The Lord’s word is: “Pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” (I Pet. 1:17).
What is this fear? Ecclesiastes, in a strikingly similar passage, tells us it is the fear of God.
Solomon, who wrote that book, speaks as an elderly grandfather would to his grandchildren. By this time in his life, he has pursued everything one possibly can: riches, pleasures, work, wisdom, goals, joys, science, knowledge, success, possessions, and wine, women, and song. And he tells us it is all, of itself, vain. None of it has lasting value. None of it satisfies. None of it is worthy of being pursued.
That leads to the closing words of the book, where Solomon states (Eccl. 12:13): “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”
All our time on earth must be governed by the fear of God. Every minute and hour of every day. And every week and month of every year. The fear of God must characterize us in every circumstance and experience. We are not here to please ourselves. We are not here to create lasting memories. We are not here to heap up earthly treasures. We are in this world to fear God, and to do so every moment of our earthly sojourn.
To fear God does not mean fright. We do not go through life afraid that God might punish us, afraid we might lose His love, afraid that after all we might be abandoned by Him and thus not arrive in our heavenly home. We are not terrified of God, expecting that at any moment He might suddenly strike us down or send a great disaster because we have sinned. The wicked are, and rightly so, for they do not have Christ. We, however, belong to Him who has loved us unto death and has removed the wrath of God and thus all reason for this kind of fear.
The basic idea of the fear of God is reverence. It is respect and honor for Him who is worthy of all praise. To reverence God we must know Him. When we know Him, we are filled with wonder at who He is, and at what He has done for us. We are amazed by all this. We stand in awe of God and of His works.
There are ample opportunities, every day, to be amazed at our God.
Consider the creation that surrounds us, brought into existence by a spoken word. And even though it is now under the curse of sin, it is still displaying the beauty of its Creator. Consider, and stand in awe of God’s almighty power and glory.
Consider His providential hand in your life. His hand upholds and guides you so that all things serve your eternal good, even the great distresses of life, and the trek through the valley of the shadow of death. Consider, and stand in awe of His wisdom and goodness.
Consider His work at the cross of Christ. There He sent His Son to hell so that you and I will never have to face one moment of the wrath we deserve. Consider, and stand in awe of His marvelous grace and love.
Consider and meditate upon His word. See therein the beauty and sovereignty and grace and love of God. Consider that this God is your God. Consider and fear.
When we have such fear, it will affect our life. A sense of awe for God will mean that we do all things as before His face. We will live for Him.
The child of God who is mindful of and in awe of God’s almighty power will be humble before Him. The believer who reveres God because of His holiness will hate and turn from sin. The Christian who is amazed by the perfect wisdom of God, who makes not one mistake in all He does and sends, will gladly accept and submit to God’s will in his life. The saint who is aware of the unfathomable grace of God toward him will always and forever be grateful. The child of God who is in awe of the goodness of God in making him an heir of eternal life will not love the world and all that is in it, but will keep himself unspotted and detached from it because he has in view his home in heaven.
We do well to examine whether the fear of God is governing us. Who can deny that it is not always there as it ought to be?
Why do we so often depart from the ways of God? Because the fear of God is not before our minds.
Why do we at times pass the time of our earthly sojourn focused on ourselves and on the things here below? Because the fear of God is not governing our lives.
Why do we complain and moan about the ways in which God leads us? Because God is not in all our thoughts.
Why does our life frequently seem so empty and vain, without true meaning and worth? Because we are not living it in the fear of God.
Spend the time of your sojourning on this earth in fear. Fear God, for this is the whole duty of man!