Fearing God – Confident Trust
16 July 2017
A study on the proper fear of God by John Dugas
Grace Bible Church, Tulsa
Full Audio Message
As we’ve been studying the fear of God, so far we’ve mostly dealt with what we might call the more negative aspects of fear. Unbelievers ought to have terror-fear. As unbelievers, they are not capable of the positive aspects of the fear of God. And because they do not have faith, their fear of God can be described using John Murray’s term, “unbelieving anxious dread”. Not every unbeliever experiences this. Some, in foolishness, tell themselves that there is no need to fear. Either God won’t do anything about their sin or there is no God to fear.
But believers also experience this terror-fear. On the one hand, we should fear God when we think about His holy, awesome, majestic greatness. But on the other hand, when we live sinfully and are unrepentant, we should fear the consequences that our Father in heaven will bring upon us to teach us to stop sinning. You should be afraid when you have good reason to be afraid.
Think about a little girl going to the park with her father. He tells her that she is free to run about and play, but he lays down some rules. She is not to go past a certain point so that he can keep her in his sight and she is not to go to the street. Let’s say that she decides to run across the street to pick some flowers she finds so pretty. Making a beeline for those flowers, she is suddenly scooped up by her father before she reaches the street. It is time to return home for Dad to apply some fatherly love. She should have healthy fear on the way home because she didn’t fear him earlier.
Our relationship to our heavenly Father is like that. But there are also some more positive aspects of fearing God that believers should experience. Remember that believers have received new hearts, so we are capable of experiencing everything from terror-fear to worship-fear (to use Ed Welch’s terms). For about the next 3 weeks, I plan for us to look at one of those positive aspects: trust.
Trusting God is a part of our faith in God. That’s why unbelievers can’t experience this. You must have faith. Faith is what enables us to trust God when we think about His greatness, when we fear consequences for our sin, and when we face the many sources of terror in the world around us.
You see, whenever a cause for fear intersects our life, we are presented with a choice. It is a sort of fork in the road. The road of faith leads to trust in the Lord even in the midst of the threat. The road of unbelief leads to trust in an idol that we hope will protect us from the threat.
Through the fear of Yahweh we will learn to no longer live in terror of some dread coming upon us. Instead, we will entrust our safe keeping to Him. Confident trust is anchored in God’s character. By faith we can both fear God and trust Him at the same time. It is faith that holds firmly to both fear and trust because of who God is. Our expanded new hearts know Him (Jer 24:7) and experience all of the richness on the spectrum between fear and trust.
I. Trust is a necessary part of fearing God.
In Ps 33:16-17, the writer points out that kings are not saved by mighty armies and armies are not saved by great strength or by great horses. God’s world works very differently. What makes the difference is fearing the Lord. Yahweh looks with favor upon those who fear Him. And the writer exposes the believer’s heart to show us what this believing fear looks like. Look at Ps 33:18-22.
Believing fear is made up of hope. This hope looks confidently to God’s faithful love to provide the help that is needed. Believing fear is also made of waiting for the Lord to provide that help. Faith is needed because God often doesn’t follow our timetable. We must wait for Him. Fear is needed because He is God and we must submit ourselves humbly to His timing and not become frustrated when He doesn’t act as soon as we want.
This fear is focused on God’s character. He personally is our help and shield. He doesn’t just dispense help. He is our help. He Himself is the shield. Picture God putting Himself between us and whatever threatens us. He did that ultimately when His Son took our sins upon Himself, standing between us and the wrath of God, absorbing it fully in our place. This fear rejoices in God as we think about who He is. This fear trusts in God’s reputation as that which is holy, not like the reputation of men. Godly fear can hope, wait and rejoice because it trusts God’s character.
Isaiah told about a future day when God will save the remnant of His people Israel and they will express their confident trust that “I will trust and not be afraid”. Why is that? They will explain that it is because “Yahweh Yahweh is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation”. They will use His personal name twice to emphasize His character. Yahweh is their covenant keeping God who is forever faithful to protect and deliver His people. Fearing God means that you trust Him. Trusting Him drives out all other fears.
II. Trust flows from an active faith in God’s character.
Let’s go back to that little girl in the park with her father. She should have fear to keep her from disobeying. That fear is centered in the fact that her father is greater than she is and capable of disciplining her. But there’s more to the fact that he is greater than she is. This time, picture the little girl playing and a big dog comes toward her barking and growling. What will she do? She’ll run into the arms of her father. Now remember that he is the same one who has chastised her before. But she still runs to him because he is the one who uses his “greatness” to protect her!
That is for me one of the most helpful pictures of the fear of God—a child walking hand in hand with their father. The child realizes how far greater their father is. The child fears him because he can deal out severe chastisement when needed. Yet it is to that same father that the child runs to when threatened. What makes the difference is two-fold: the character of the father and the trust of the child in that father’s character. That’s what I want us to come away with in our study of the fear of God. By faith we hold both dear in our hearts: fear and trust. In every man God inspires fear. In His children, He also inspires trust.
The fear of the Lord must embrace two ideas. First, the fear of the Lord must embrace or have a total commitment to a reverential awe for Yahweh. This results in humble submission to His will for us and in a vigorous pursuit of obedience to His commands. Second, the fear of the Lord must embrace Yahweh’s character. You can see the overlap between these two. The first point is a submission to His character traits of sovereignty, holiness, righteousness and justice. The second here embraces His character traits of love, compassion, mercy, grace, forgiveness and faithfulness.
What all of this means is that the man or woman who fears the Lord has a healthy fear of the One who is their Creator and Sovereign Lord, One who takes sin seriously. They also find in the Lord, One who is faithful to His promises and who protects His children. He is one who will chastise wrong doing so they fear him in that way. But he is one who will be their protector against harm and comforter when hurt.
Let’s close with a look at Psalm 31, so turn there with me. As I read, let’s watch for how David talks about his trust in the Lord, finding refuge in the Lord, trusting in the Lord’s character and how that will all be rolled up into the idea of fearing God in v. 19. Now, before we begin, keep in mind that David is being threatened by enemies of some sort and it seems that his greatest fear is that they will somehow put him to shame. But His fear in God results in great confidence [Psalm 31].
David uses the idea of taking refuge in God (trusting God) as a synonym for fearing God. So fearing God is not just a matter of terror-fear. A significant part of fearing God for believers is for us to trust Him. How can we trust Him? Because He is good.
Did his comment in v. 19 grab your heart, when He said that God promises to store up His goodness for those who fear Him? He is so good to us! His greatness instills in us fear. His goodness instills in us trust. Widen your heart to take all of this in because if you are saved, then your heart has room for fear and trust. By faith, terror grows into trust. Like that little girl running to her father when she is threatened, so we run to God because He is majestic and awesome and can protect us. We run to Him because He loves us with an unfailing covenant love.
By the New Covenant Jesus has made God’s unfailing love ours. At the cross, we see God’s severity and His covenant love come together. He punished Jesus for our sin so that we would never need to be punished. But in Jesus He forgave our sins. How good is our God!