There is fear in faith.
As we pointed out last time, the fear of the Lord is the Old Testament equivalent of the New Testament concept of faith. And fear is reverence, awe, a profound respect; but fear as the fear of the Lord also contains the element of being afraid. The believer is afraid of displeasing God. There is a fear that faith produces and which is lacking in the unbeliever. Do we not even read in Philippians 2:12, 13? “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” The believer is afraid to sin against God.
Adam was deceived into becoming bold enough to dare to eat of the forbidden fruit and defy God. He lost his fear of the Lord wherewith he had been created. He no longer believed God to be the God that He is, and believing himself to be that which he is not, he sought his own glory in the conviction that, rather than punishment for his disobedience, he was going to be like this God whom he learned to envy and hate. When he no longer believed in God according to the truth wherewith he was created, Adam was no longer afraid of sinning against Him. He had no faith in God, and he had no fear of the Lord.
The beginning of wisdom is faith in God as the God that He is. The believer knows Him as a sovereign, almighty, unchangeable, holy, righteous and just God. He knows and believes that God is exact and demands nothing less than perfection. He knows and believes that God is everywhere present and all-knowing. He believes with the psalmist that he cannot hide from God’s presence, that every thought and secret of his heart and mind are open and known by God. He knows and believes that God hates all sin and is a consuming fire against all iniquity. He knows and believes that God is light and that there is no darkness in Him at all, so that He can have before His face none of the workers of darkness. He knows and believes that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!
The unbeliever does not fear God because he does not believe the above truth concerning God. O, indeed, unbelievers have fear. They fear men. They fear storms and pestilence. They wash their hands, fumigate their buildings, use their antiseptics, boil their water and rush for their “shots” to make them immune from this disease and from that. They build air raid shelters and fear the rain of death from the skies. They affix their lightning rods and take out insurance. Indeed, they have fear upon fear, and terror grips their hearts. The atheists in the fox holes (There surely were such in the last world war and there are such today.) may make their prayer to the heavens, when the bombs and shells begin to fall round about them. In their fear of death they may become suddenly very “religious”. But they fear death and not the Lord. They fear injury and trouble. At the very best, let us credit them with as much as we can, they live in fear of their gods; but the fear of God is not in them. In that light it can be said that they are afraid of a god, will seek to please that god, will strive to appease its wrath, will cry unto it for rain and safety, for food and health, but they are not afraid of Him Who ALONE IS God. Each sin which they commit, as an outgrowth and fruit of Adam’s original sin, is simply a declaration that they are not afraid of Jehovah the one and only true God!
When presently they shall know Him, when all the mists are rolled away and He appears in the glory and day of Christ, so that they cannot deny Him any more, they shall be gripped with awful terror! They shall call for the hills to fall on them and for the mountains to cover them. As Adam so foolishly did, so will they do. They will try to hide away from this God in Whom they would not and could not put their trust, Whom they continually denied and defied. But fig leaf aprons will not help. The trees of the garden will not prove to be a fire-proof wall between them and this Consuming Fire! The mountains and hills will not remove the terror in their souls nor insulate them from the fierce wrath of the Holy One of Israel! Faith in Him they did not have in this life, and in that day they will have no faith nor hope of safety from this terrible punishment which is upon them.
Before sin entered the world, God wrought His fear in Adam with the command, “In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” God wrought the fear of the Lord in Adam. God held before his eyes the terrible punishment of disobedience. And Adam, as a believer, was afraid of that God and afraid to disobey Him! Indeed, added to this is also his love to God, whereby he did not want to disobey him. But that fear cannot and may not be denied. And we do not understand the lie, nor the boldness and purpose of Satan in the temptation unless we see that his whole purpose was to take away that fear and to work within man the courage to come up against so great and glorious a God! Man must first be made to believe that God is not what He truly is. Man must be deceived into believing that his fears are unfounded and that to disobey will bring blessed dividends and rewards to man. And to combat that lie today, to make man walk the way of faith, we admonish, that is, we warn them of the dire consequences of their evil walk. The Scripture is full of such warnings. The law hurls at us the THOU SHALT NOTS from the mount with fire, smoke, a powerful trumpet blast, lightning and an earthquake! And if we believe in God, we will tremble at the thought of what becomes of us, if we run up against such an holy God. Faith never denies any of the truths of Scripture. But faith believes that God is a consuming fire and that everlasting terror awaits the ungodly.
What is more, faith expects that punishment to come from Jehovah the one and only true God. Faith does not simply believe in punishment. Faith does not try even to reason away the curse that is upon this earth. It does not try, as unbelief does, to find a reason for earthquakes and storms apart from this holy God. It does not expect salvation from death and curse in spite of and divorced from this God. All this is utter folly and evidence that such do not fear Him. They fear the curse, punishment, the storm, men and death. But they do not see all this, and they do not believe all this as the punishment of the one and only true God upon their sins. They wonder why calamities strike. They are puzzled that such a “good man” suffers so much affliction. They concede that all men must and will die, although they live in hope of extending his life a little longer than the modern average. Why man dies, they cannot say. Well, yes, they will say that his body wears out. They will find a natural reason for all that which occurs. But they do not believe and do not know all history in all its detail as the work of a sovereign and holy and righteous God. They simply do not believe in this God, and therefore they are bold and dare to rebel against His holy will. At one moment, when it is convenient they may speak of a kind Providence. And then before the words have made their sound, they are ready to ridicule the idea of a Supreme Being. And they want nothing of a sovereign God Who must be served always with all the creatures and talents and life that a man may have.
We said last time that it would seem as though Satan has more wisdom than those whom he has deceived. It only seems that way. He knows that there is one God, and he knows Who that God is. He knows that all the curse is in the world by the power and wrath of that God. But knowledge is not wisdom; and neither Satan nor his fallen angels have wisdom, nor even its beginning, for they do not have the fear of the Lord. In spite of all their correct and detailed knowledge of God, they still dare to go ahead and oppose Him. They still go their devilish way of rebellion. They tremble as they work spiritual wickedness. But they go ahead and perpetrate their evil nevertheless. They know that there is one God, and they believe, in fact, that He is God. But they do not believe in Him.
The fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom is faith in Him. It knows God and believes in God as He has manifested Himself in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son and our Lord and Redeemer. It knows and believes His holy wrath against sin, but it also knows and believes in a full redemption through the blood of the cross. He fears the punishment of sin and fears the God Who punishes sin. He is terrified to think of sin apart from and in denial of Christ. Although there is fear in faith, it is a fear that is conquered by the conviction of God’s love in Christ. John declares that perfect love casteth out fear, for in fear there is torment. Believing in God as He has manifested Himself in Christ the man regenerated by God’s Spirit is confident of God’s love to him. And knowing and believing that love he can have no fear of the punishment which he knows and believes that he deserves. He still fears to sin against God. You can still warn him of dire consequences, if he continues in sin, because he has assurance of belonging to Christ only by doing the works of Christ. If he did not fear and tremble when his sins rise up against him, he would not run to the cross with these sins. As the Heidelberg Catechism points out, in the measure that we know our misery, in the measure that we are aware of the spiritual disease that grips us, will we seek the Great Physician. Knowledge of the fact and belief that our God is a consuming fire is necessary for belief in Him as the God of our salvation. There is a gospel, a good news exactly because of these terrible realities of everlasting punishment and woe in hell for the sinner. And there is this good news only for those who, by the power of regeneration, fear this God and in love to Him desire to have His friendship and fellowship.
There is fear in faith, but there is also confidence in faith. And there is love in faith. Without it our faith is as a sounding brass and tinkling cymbal. It is worthless! It is nothing better than the reprobate shall have in hell when he can no longer deny that it is this one true God Who punishes and Who brought all that curse upon the world in His righteous wrath and hatred of sin and the sinner. In hell they shall know and believe that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:10, 11. No longer will they be able to rebel against this God. No longer shall they believe that it pays to disobey Him. No longer will they be bold and dare to think evil of Him. But they shall not love Him. And they shall have absolutely no hope or belief that they can ever come out of their everlasting torment.
They shall believe that Jesus Christ is Lord. They shall know God as He has manifested Himself in His Son. But they shall not believe in Him. They shall not, and they shall not be able to, put their trust in Him. They shall not even be able to call upon Him for pity and compassion in their hellish woes. They will know and believe that they have no right to any good and to any relief from Him. The tables will be turned completely. For the elect in the glory of heaven shall have absolutely no fear of the punishment of sin any more. They will know themselves as everlastingly safe in the arms of Jesus. Their fear will be one of wondrous, ever-abiding awe and amazement at the great, unchangeable love and grace of God. They will in profound and sincere respect and reverence before Him humble themselves in the dust with abounding thanksgiving. The reprobate however will no longer dare to oppose Him the agony of his suffering will take from him all desire to think an evil thought of Him Who sitteth on the throne. The believer will look forward in confidence to more and more joy. The unbeliever will cringe in the awareness of more and more terror. The believer will thank the living God for the gift of wisdom. The unbeliever will rue his folly and acknowledge it in everlasting shame. The believer who heeded the warning in the fear of the Lord will rejoice ever more. The unbeliever who laughed and ridiculed the truth of God’s holy wrath and punishment will weep forever more. Wise in this life, we will be wise everlastingly. A fool in this life is a fool everlastingly.
Once again, are your children to be trained to be wise or to be fools?