Fearing God: Wholehearted Obedience
15 October 2017
A study on the proper fear of God by John Dugas
Grace Bible Church, Tulsa
Full Audio Message
Wholehearted Loving Obedience
Our last few lessons in this series sought to help us deal with our fear of people. Fear of people is one of the main culprits that prevent us from fearing God. We learned that we need to love people more and need them less. We must stop viewing ourselves as needing our “love cup” filled by other people. When we need other people to fill us, they will control us. Our happiness is in their control. Ed Welch offers a helpful image to correct our thinking. He says that we should view ourselves not as love “cups” but love “pitchers”. “We are overflowing pitchers, not leaky cups” (p. 179). A pitcher’s purpose is to pour out. Biblical love gives, serves and meets the needs of others.
You’ll recall when we started our study on the fear of God, we looked at how Solomon taught his son about wisdom. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (Prov 1:7; Prov 9:10). So when we come to the end of Solomon’s life, what do you think he says to wrap it all up?
Ecc 12:13 “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.”
As a person approaches the end of their days, you’d think they would see the great equalizer among men as death. But not for Solomon. MacArthur explains, “Judgment/retribution is the real equalizer as Solomon saw it” (MacArthur Study Bible, p. 922). Because of that, we absolutely must fear God.
We’ve looked at one positive aspect of fearing God so far. A necessary part of fearing God is to trust Him. This morning, we will take up another positive aspect, that is, how do we understand what the fear of God is? Another necessary part of fearing God is to obey Him.
God says a lot about obedience as a vital part of fearing Him. So, we’ll take a few lessons to cover the main passages. Obedience gets a bad rap. People see it as something negative rather than the positive attitude that it is. For Jesus, doing His Father’s will was His food (Jn 4:34). Obeying His Father is what sustained Him and nourished Him. It’s what He delighted in, just as we delight in eating delicious food. Indelible Grace sings a song by William Cowper, Love Constraining to Obedience. In the chorus they sing, “To see the Law by Christ fulfilled, to hear His pardoning voice, changes a slave into a child and duty into choice”. So I want us to learn to view it this way. Fearing God is wholehearted loving obedience. Obedience should be something we delight in.
Why is obedience viewed so negatively? God’s word is authoritative. People don’t want someone telling them what to do, even if that someone is God. Obedience seems too restrictive. It keeps me from pursuing those things I think will make me happy. Do you see the connection to the fear of people? God’s word tells me to serve others but I want others to serve me. I think I know best as to what will make me happy and other people need to do what I feel I need.
Also, I want to be free to pursue my hopes and dreams. That may mean that I don’t have time for obeying God. But it also may mean that my pursuit of those things goes contrary to what God tells me to do or not do. So why do you have to bring the fear of God into this?
Here is why we must bring the fear of God to bear upon our thinking. It is because of what Ecc 12:13 warns, “For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.”
It is at this point that good terror-fear reminds us that it really does matter whether you obey God or not. He will bring every act of ours to judgment. Is this only an OT warning? Paul warned in 2 Cor 5:10 “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad”. Sounds a lot like what Solomon said!
And just a few verses later, Paul explained how things will be very different for those who are truly saved. In 2 Cor 5:17 he wrote, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature [creation]; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come”. I want to talk about how those new things—a new heart, being indwelt by the Holy Spirit—change the way we think about obedience.
What does it mean to fear God? What should be our perspective on obedience?
I. Obey Him out of love and with your whole heart (vv. 12-15).
After Moses recounted the time when God had given the tablets of stone the second time, he asked the people, “what does the Lord your God require from you”? This helps us develop what all goes into fearing the Lord. God’s people must hold Him in awe and submit to Him. That will be essential to all that follows. We are to walk in all His ways. We must allow God to define how we live our life. We must be devoted to His will. We are to love Him. We must love God totally and have affection only for Him. This requirement to love Him keeps obedience from being cold compliance. You know you are growing in the Lord when you WANT to obey Him.
Next, we are to serve the Lord our God. We serve Him in worship and in our day to day life. Moses adds a couple descriptions to how we must serve God. Our service must be with all our heart and with all our soul. When I desire changes, we put our all into obeying Him.
Obedience is written all over that, but if we missed it, Moses mentions it directly. We must keep the Lord’s commandments and His statutes (authoritative commands and laws). We must obey what He has told us in His word.
What is the picture behind the word for ‘keep’? The basic idea is we exercise great care over something. We obey God’s word with great care. Prov 4:21 teaches that God’s laws are to be kept in the heart. It is also used in the great care taken to guard something, such as tending a flock (Gen 30:31) or a house (2 Sam 15:16). Keeping something also means that we guard it because we cherish it and it is precious to us (Ex 22:7; Gen 41:35; 1 Sam 9:24).
Moses adds that obedience is for our good. While there is a sense in which it is wise to follow God’s commands, keep in mind that the context here is about the fear of the Lord. God will do good to those who obey Him, but He will chastise or punish those who do not. Look at some reasons why we must trust Him in vv. 14-15.
As Creator, the Lord owns everything and that includes you and me. We owe our all to Him. But God went so far as to show His special love for His people Israel. God chose them out of all the peoples of the earth and set His love on them. If you are a believer, God chose you out of all the peoples. Shouldn’t we respond to God’s special love by obeying Him with all our heart and love?
II. Devote yourself wholly to the Lord (vv. 16-19).
Circumcising your heart describes removing from your heart any affection other than Yahweh. Positively, it describes being tender toward Him, open to Him, responsive to Him and obedient. Stiff-necked is the opposite and it refers to being stubborn, rebellious, unwilling to obey the Lord.
Then Moses gives more reasons for fearing the Lord in vv. 17-18. First, He describes how Yahweh is supreme. He “is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God”. Meditating on God’s greatness is a good plan for growing in holy fear. But Moses continues describing God’s character. The Lord “does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.” The greatness of God moves Him to care for the needy in society. Our mighty God stoops to show tender, caring love to His creatures, especially His children. What great and awesome love!
This is an important aspect in fearing God. We must rest in the truth that our Father loves us with tender, fatherly affection. He protects us and seeks our good (v. 13). He meets our real needs and cares for us when we hurt. When others sin against us, His Spirit grieves for us and prays for us (Rom 8:23-27). Have you realized that? When others sin against you and you groan over it, God’s Holy Spirit also groans for you and is moved by compassion to pray for you.
Believers should then be moved by God’s love by imitating Him, showing tender care for the needy. In v. 19 Moses commands them, “So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
III. Cling only to Him (vv. 20-22).
Moses repeats the command to fear God and to serve Him. Then he adds two more commands that help us see that obedience is not outward legalism or cold compliance. He says that we are to cling to the Lord. What a beautiful picture of loving faith in the one who is our Father. It describes a personal, intimate clinging to God as the one who loves us and the one we love more than anything.
Think of a small child walking with her father in unknown territory and she clings tightly to his hand. Her fear of the outside world drives her to cling to the one who can protect her. Our faith must be like that little child’s faith. Our faith must be simple and total. Our faith must be in God alone but be a total trust in Him. That is, we don’t trust in Him plus other things and neither do we trust in Him only partially (reserving part of our trust for our own abilities, such as worry). Clinging expresses a robust faith and a deep trust in our Father.
What does it mean to swear by His name? It expresses that there is no one greater. This is what God Himself does, swearing by Himself since He can swear by no one greater (Heb 6:13). We recognize that there is no one greater than our God, the one we fear and trust.
Fear the Lord. That means to obey Him out of love and with your whole heart. Devote yourself wholly to Him. And cling only to Him.