25 June 2017
A study on the proper fear of God by John Dugas
Grace Bible Church, Tulsa
Full Audio Message
Most of us have seen shows or cartoons where a person is being influenced by a little angel on one shoulder and a little devil on the other—both whispering in the person’s ear. That is a silly attempt to explain the influences that a person experiences which pull in different directions. For the person who does not truly follow Christ, David said in Ps 36:1 that transgression—sin—speaks to the person from within his own heart. While he is lying in his bed at night, sin is advising him, plotting his path in wickedness. Sin counsels his conscience.
So you can see how some people would come up with a little devil on the shoulder. With devilish desire, sin tries to advise the conscience. At times the conscience may resist, thinking about the consequences or what other people will think. That is pictured by the little angel. But the battle isn’t between a little devil and angel. Sin within the person’s heart battles their conscience. He tries to convince himself to go for what he really wants. His conscience is no match for sinful desires. Without faith, he can’t fear God rightly.
A lack of faith leads people to respond to God in ways contrary to the fear of the Lord. This morning we will begin looking at three ways in which unbelievers respond to God. We will see how each way falls short of true fear of the Lord. Unbelievers may respond to God:
- with no fear of Him
- with empty religion
- with “Unbelieving Anxious Dread”
A COUPLE NOTES: I want to take a little extra time talking about the first fearful response, so we’ll take up the remaining two next week. Also, the most common expression of unbiblical fear is the fear of man. Since the Bible has a lot to say about that, we’ll study it separately in a later lesson.
While these responses are typical of unbelievers, I want us consider whether there are still remnants of unbelieving fear in our hearts as we strive to grow in godly fear. Because the principle of sin is still within us (Rom 7:23, 25), part of the sanctification process is to identify the leftover effects of that sin principle. We should then consider each of these to see if there are areas requiring change within our own hearts and then submit ourselves to God’s Spirit to bring about the needed changes.
Returning to Ps 36, David laments that some ungodly men and women have no fear of God. Literally, he says they have no dread of God, which they should have because of their sin against God. Because they don’t fear God, they choose to not listen to Him or His word. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, David exposes what goes on in the inner man.
This person’s sin flatters him so much that he can’t see his own sin. Or, if it’s pointed out to him, he isn’t moved to hate it. He sees his sinful behavior and responses as justified. I see bits of this leftover in my own heart. I can become sinfully angry with someone and I convince myself that because I think I’m right, that my response is justified, even though the Bible would call it sinful.
While I and other believers fight against this sinful thinking, David explains that the wicked person actually yields to it. He uses deceit to get his way, he loses what wisdom he had, he stops doing good to others, he lies awake at night planning how he will get his way and he doesn’t learn to hate his evil thinking and plotting. Sin is the voice in his head that plots his course. Sin is his companion and his counselor. He has no fear of God.
Turn now to Proverbs 1. Solomon presents wisdom here as if it were a lady who calls out to people, especially young people, encouraging them to follow God’s path of wisdom and the fear of the Lord (read vv. 25-30). Lady Wisdom exposes the cause of their predicament. They chose NOT to fear the Lord. And one day they will find themselves in some sort of trouble. They will be in great fear of calamity. She points out that the very thing that they dread will come upon them. The calamity itself will befall them but they will have the added pain of worry and anxious fear which will eat them up on the inside. In that day, she will even mock them for rejecting God’s ways.
This idea of ‘dread’ describes how the person shakes within, how their inner man trembles. That is what it looks like to be in dread of something. They fear calamity, disaster causes them to panic, they have great dread, even terror. This can be a subtle gnawing anxiety deep inside. Such is the lot of those who choose any way other than the fear of the Lord. They will dread disaster or calamity and it will come upon them anyway.
When I was a kid, I used to think that if people could only see the miracles that God can perform, they would come to believe in Him. But Scripture shows us that such is not the case—at least not without God giving the person faith. For example, in Ex 9:30, God had already afflicted Egypt with seven plagues which prompted Pharaoh to call for Moses and promise to let the people of Israel go if Moses stopped the hail.
Unfortunately, a person can be deeply affected by God’s greatness and yet not come to fear Him. Knowing this, Moses replied that he knew that Pharaoh would go back on his promise because, “as for you and your servants, I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God.” You can imagine Pharaoh listening to sin within his own heart as it counseled him to do his own will.
We’re talking about people who have no fear of God. But some of them will go so far as to try to convince themselves that there is no God. There is no God to fear. This atheism is getting a lot of attention these days. Look at Ps 53:1-5.
Why do some people try to convince themselves that there is no God? They don’t want to be held accountable for their evil deeds. So they talk about various reasons within their own heart and mind, trying to persuade themselves that God does not exist. If He doesn’t exist, then it doesn’t matter how they behave. But God really does exist and He will one day put the wicked in great dread. David is probably describing a military scene where God turned a fearless army into those overcome with dread. The place in their heart that ought to have been filled with a godly fear of Yahweh will go from being empty to being filled with terror, dread, and panic.
People who do not fear God can even be found in churches. The early church often met weekly to partake of the Lord’s Supper and share a meal together. But there were abuses in some of the churches which led to separating the meal from the Lord’s Supper. For example, in Jude 12-13 we learn that believers were tolerating ungodly people in this love feast and that it was corrupting the saints. Jude remarks that those ungodly people “feast with you without any fear”. They behaved sinfully in the love feast and had no fear of God or consequences.
There’s a fascinating story about how God dealt with people in Israel because they did not fear Him properly. Turn to 2 Kgs 17. Remember that the northern tribes of Israel had turned away from fearing God, so He gave them over to captivity by Assyria. Assyria then carried Israel’s people away and then transplanted people from Babylon and other areas into Israel. Look at v. 25 to see what happened. They spoke to the king of Assyria saying that they didn’t know the customs of the God in that land. So he sent one of the Israelite priests who had been carried away, back to Samaria to teach the people “how they should fear the Lord” (v. 28). So did that solve the problem?
Look at v. 29. Sounds pretty bad doesn’t it? Well, what do you think of what comes next? Look at vv. 32-33. A mixture of Yahweh worship and pagan god worship, covering all their bases! So what did God think of this? I mean, the author said they “feared Yahweh” (v. 32). Look at vv. 34-41. God views it as not fearing Him at all! He won’t stand for being on par with other so-called gods. He demands exclusive worship.
There is a sense in which people can be said to fear Yahweh but if they live in disobedience to Him, they do not really fear Him. Why not? To truly fear Yahweh means to fear Him alone. We must fear Him the way in which He prescribed in His word.
So does it really matter if we fear God? Do we really have to fear Him the way He told us to? The Lord promises judgment upon anyone who refuses to fear Him or refuses to fear Him the way He told us to (Dt 28:58; Mal 3:5).
If you are a believer, let me ask you, do you see any of this unbelief lurking in the corners of your heart? Sure, you have faith in Christ’s work on the cross to save you from your sins. But do you find that there are times when you listen to the leftover bits of sin in your soul that try to counsel you to sin? Do you listen when it tells you that you have every right to be angry or worried? Do you listen to it plot out how to get your own way?
Repent of those things and submit yourself to the fear of the Lord. When sin starts advising you, shut it down! Flee to the Scriptures and ask them, “how does God want me to respond?” Choose the fear of the Lord.