How to Develop a Healthy Fear of God
Topic: Sunday Sermons Scripture: Proverbs 1:7
What I want to do today, I want to invite you to turn to the book of Proverbs 1. We're going to have a concluding message on the theme of the fear of the Lord here this morning and specifically I want to give you a little help in terms of helping you develop a healthy fear of the Lord. It is one thing to say that the Bible calls us us to fear the Lord, it's another thing as a Christian to say, "Well, how do I help that? How do I cultivate that? How do I grow in the fear of the Lord?" And what you're going to find is that there are no secrets; there is nothing mystical about it and what Scripture has to say points us in a direction that we can shape our lives after.
You know, we're all still probably a little bit mindful of the news of the past week or so with our Supreme Court's ruling and I'm convinced the more and more that I think about it that the way for the church to respond is not to second-guess or complain about the constitutional issues, although there is legitimacy in that from a legal perspective, that doesn't do anything for the church or for the people of God to complain about that. I understand the anger and the righteous outrage that some feel but, you know, look, going forward anger is not a strategy for how the people of God can move forward and respond and be bold and confident. It's not enough to be angry about what's happening around us. Sooner or later and, frankly, sooner we need to move on to something that actually says, "Okay, here's where we go from there." And it's not enough, it's not a strategy to manifest despair and discouragement over the state of our country. If all that we hear is despair, if all that we hear is anger, if all that we hear is talk about constitutional issues, we're miserable men if that's all that we have to say in response to the situation and I want to set those things out of your mind for now and bring you back to the focus that you as a Christian and what the people of God need this day is a call back to the fear of the Lord.
As I said last Sunday, the reason that we are in this mess in the church, the reason that our country is in this mess, as it were, really has it's only secondarily about a legal decision. It's only incidentally about the rise of sinners asserting themselves and people surrendering to their agenda. Ultimately what all of this goes back to can be traced to one single root. It's like coming in and seeing a big bush that has just spread out and taken over your garden or your lawn and it's just a weedy, ugly thing. But if you pick up behind the weeds and you get down to it, there is one single root that is underneath all of it and if you pulled it up by that root, you would eliminate all of the problem. The reason that the bush has grown so big and has gotten so much out of hand is for one single fundamental problem, one single thing that has been abandoned and is the root of everything else and the root of it is that men have lost the fear of God. If men feared God, we would not be in this position. The church would not be weak and would not be proclaiming silly messages if the church feared God. All of it comes back to that. That is the beginning, that is the root of all of it. The absence of the fear of the Lord leads to the consequences that we see all about us and by a similar token, the presence of the fear of the Lord in your own heart and in your own life is the direction forward for you.
So we need to get past, we meaning the church at large, we need to quickly get past simply complaining about the state of the circumstances, complaining that we don't like what others have done, we don't like what the Supreme Court has done. We have to get past that in a hurry and get back to fundamentals. Why is it that we believe in God? Why is it that we believe in the authority of Scripture? And what does the Scripture point us to? It points us to an awesome, motivating, controlling principle of life which Scripture calls the fear of the Lord. Nothing else is going to help. No manner of political complaining is going to do the people of God any good whatsoever.
So we need to...this is actually. I am quite confident that this is actually a sanctifying opportunity for the church from God for us to encounter circumstances like this. It strips us of everything else but dependence on this one single book and what this book teaches us. Everything else was a false prop. Everything else was leaning on a broken crutch and now the broken crutches have been taken away from us and finally we will stand up and we will walk and we will stand like men because we are rooted on the foundation of God's word. We're not afraid of what the future holds. We're not intimidated into silence. We're not going to shrink back in fear as if somehow Christ has fallen off the throne, if now somehow the Supreme Court rather than God himself was running the universe. Why would we back down? What's happened in the past 2 weeks is our call to battle. It is our call to run to the front and carrying forth the banner of the word of God, that's exactly what we plan to do and that plays out in ways that we will see in the message here today. It plays out in very simple, practical, attainable ways for you and me, for little guys like you and me. We don't have to be afraid. There is a way forward and that way forward is for us to come back to the defining foundational principle of life which is to be the fear of the Lord.
Proverbs 1:7. I invite you to turn there with me if you haven't already. Proverbs 1:7 says that,
7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.
When a land finds that it doesn't know where to go from here, when the people of God find themselves discouraged and disoriented by change that has happened around them, come back to the beginning. Come back to the foundation. It's like a football team that has been on a losing streak. You go back to the fundamentals of blocking and tackling and you come back to the fundamentals and you rebuild those and the other things follow from getting the fundamentals right. For us as the people of God, we have to come back to this fundamental beginning that it is the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
So God's word, here's what I want you to see, there are so many things that I want you to see but what I want you to see and what I want you to know and what I want you to be utterly confident about is that God's word gives us all that we need to be able to move forward. There is nothing to be afraid of. There is no sense of inadequacy among the redeemed people of God for the life that lies ahead of us. We have an all-sufficient word. We have an all-sufficient Savior. We have an indwelling Spirit who is greater than the one who is in the world. We should be, of all people, displaying a sense of courage and confidence about what lies ahead and that very boldness and that very confidence will be our testimony, one of the accenting testimonies to the world that thinks that they have us on our heels. We're not on our heels. The people of God are never on our heels when we are resting in our all-sufficient Savior. So beloved, as we come to the fear of God in this day and in this time in our age, we're coming back to that which is the fountain from which we find our courage and the fountain from which we will not only survive but thrive going forward. Guaranteed on the authority of God's word.
Now, by way of review, we have said over the past week on last Sunday and on Tuesday, we've said that there are 2 basic senses in which we need to understand the fear of the Lord if we're going to call it together and have it be a coherent piece in our mind and the first sense of the fear of God is the sense that it applies to unbelievers, those who are sinners, maybe to some of you today who have not repented of your sin and put your trust in Christ. Here's what the fear of God means for sinners: the fear of God for sinners describes the terror that arises when a sinner understands that God is a threat to their well-being. When you understand the spiritual reality of life, when you understand that you are a man or a woman or a child who has broken God's law and that you are guilty under the law of God and that God is a judge who vindicates his law and does not let a jot or tittle pass, that no sin goes unpunished or unseen and you realize that the wrath of God abides on all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, when those things start to become clear in your mind, there is a sense of terror that falls upon you because you say, "I am under the wrath of God and this cannot come out well for me." It's a fear of God. It is respecting his law. It is respecting his role as a judge and recognizing that guilty before that Judge on your own merit there is no hope for you and the only thing that lies ahead is a destination of hell and judgment as the eternal consequence of you violating the eternal law of an eternal God. Only eternal punishment can vindicate the breaking of an eternal law. So the fear of God describes that terror and when that starts to sink in and you start to say, "Oh my, this is really bad." That's the fear of God for sinners.
Now, on Tuesday evening, we talked about the fear of God from the perspective of a Christian. From the perspective of a Christian, the fear of God has changed. We recognizing our guilt, we have fled to Christ for mercy. We have turned from our sin and we have put our trust in Christ who bore the eternal punishment of God against sinners in his body on the cross. As a substitute, he bore the wrath of God in his body and suffered the stroke of the penalty of the law of God on our behalf so that when we put our faith in him, the guilt of us is transferred to him and his righteousness is transferred to our account so that we stand secure. We stand forgiven. Our sins are washed away and we no longer fear the terror of the judgment of God because we understand that 1. The Lord Jesus Christ has borne that wrath for us and God does not pour out his wrath twice on the same individual. Christ is our substitute, has taken that wrath, borne it for us, come forth out of the grave showing that he had triumphed over sin and death and hell and now we who are joined with him are free from the fear of the punishment of God. That is a wonderful reality. That's why the Gospel is good news.
But beloved, and it's so important for us to understand this, that doesn't mean that every aspect of the sense of a fear of God has been removed from the believer. While we don't fear God's eternal judgment anymore, Scripture as we saw on Tuesday, still teaches us that there is an appropriate fear of God for his people to live by and we defined that fear like this: for the believer, the fear of God is the wholehearted life of loving humble worship that you render to him in response to his saving mercy in your life. The fear of God is a life response. It is an acknowledgment of submission, of gratitude, of humility before the throne of God which showed mercy to you and we saw that and detailed all of that from Scripture on Tuesday. I'm just summarizing here; I'm not going to repeat what we already taught a few days ago.
The question for today is this for those of us that are Christians: how is it that you develop a healthy fear of God? Where do you nourish that fear so that your life is an appropriate response to the saving mercy of God? Where does that come from? How do you feed it? How does it grow? I want to just point you in a couple of directions and by the end of the message, you're going to say, "Well, that was really simple." What I would encourage you in advance is, don't despise the simplicity of it. The simplicity of it is actually from Scripture as we'll see, is actually profoundly deep and one of the things that I love about God, about Christ and about his word is that the things that give us clarity, that give us confidence, that show us the way forward, are things that a child can understand. You don't need a theological degree to understand these things that we are looking at here today and yet these are the things that are available for us to feed a healthy fear of God.
What can we say about it? Two points this morning. I'm going to make it really simple, maybe even fairly brief. First of all, the God fearer, the one who fears God, pursues Scripture. The one who fears God is a man or a woman who seeks after God's word. It is so very simple. It is so very clear. God's word is the instrument that teaches us to fear God. A person who is reading God's word, is meditating on God's word, is consistently and faithfully placing himself under the teaching of God's word, is a person who is going to develop a fear of God. Someone who stands apart from God's word, stands apart from the teaching of God's word when his people gather together, who is inconsistent and erratic in his participation in the life of the church or is inconsistent and erratic in his devotion to God's word, is somebody who is going to stumble, who is going to struggle, who is going to be consumed with the things of this life rather than a fear of God. It's all very clear. It's all very, very simple that God's word is the source of that which promotes the fear of God. Think about it: it couldn't be any other way. What else could teach us the fear of God except something from God himself? We're not going to think of that on our own. We need the mind of God to inform our mind so that we ourselves, our minds are conformed to the mind of Christ and the mind of Christ is consistent with the fear of God.
Let me show you just a couple of quick passages. Turn over to the book of Deuteronomy 4, back in your Old Testament. Deuteronomy 4:10 has this very significant statement that deals with our theme here this morning. Deuteronomy 4:10 says, "Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when the LORD said to me," this is Moses speaking, of course, you know that, "'Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My words so they,'" unto this purpose, "'so that they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.'" God speaking through Moses told his people, "Listen to my words because my words will instruct you in the fear of God." And when you understand the fear of God, it will instruct you in your daily life and it will spill over in the way that you lead your family and the relationships that are around you. If you are sitting here today and you are conscious of the fact that you're not a God fearer, you realize that this is not, that the fear of God is something that doesn't mark your life, I can already tell you that you're not a person who has been engaged in God's word on a consistent basis. Whether you're a Christian or not, whether you simply faltered and have grown lukewarm and lost your first love or whether you've never been born again, you can always mark a person who is growing cold if you get into their lives, if they would be honest with you, their Bible looks like this, not like this because God's word teaches the fear of God.
You know, I heard a...it was told to me secondhand, somebody that had been coming to our church for a while and been reading God's word and engaged in it said something very sweet, something that was right on. This was not said to me personally but it was relayed to me. They said, "I'm changing and I don't even understand why." Well, I can tell you why: it's because the sanctifying influence of God's word is at work in that heart and it's a testimony of a tender heart that is receiving God's word and responding to it and believing it and it is having a transforming impact on that mind, on that heart. That's what God's word does. God's word conforms us to his image. It's not some mystical experience that you have to go and seek out. We don't need some false gift of tongues to bump us up into another spiritual level. We just need to be serious on a day by day basis, on a life my life basis, of just receiving God's word whether that's reading it or listening to sermons or, you know, somehow feeding yourself God's word on a consistent basis, that's where the fear of God comes from.
Listen to what God said, he said, "Assemble the people," like we are here today, "Assemble the people, that I may let them hear My words," not just as an end in itself but so that, with a purpose, with a transforming reality that says, "so they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth." As you drift away from God's word, you drift away from fearing him. You drift away from that which is wisdom and knowledge. So in a room of this size with so many people in here, I can speak really candidly without picturing or naming anyone by name. I am very encouraged by what is happening in many, many lives in this room. I see you responding to God's word. I know that it's a priority in your life and I'm grateful for what the Lord is doing because I know that as you are responding to God's word, he is teaching you, the Spirit of God is teaching you the fear of God. And that which you used to trivialize in, that which you only gave lip service to, now is an earnest matter of priority to you. Praise the Lord for that. That's what's supposed to happen.
By contrast, there are those in this room who are just careless and inconsistent and erratic and I understand that you can put on a face for an hour on Sunday but I've got to tell you as a pastor, I would not be faithful and this has been on my heart for so long to say and I have held it back and I'm not going to hold it back anymore: your inconsistency frightens me. It concerns me. Not because of numbers inside the walls of the church but because of what it means long-term for your life. Your inconsistency is building cracks into your life that you don't see. Your erratic approach to God's word is just like releasing termites into the interior of your house, just eating away, eating away and a few years down the road, you'll wonder why you've got a collapsing structure around you which is a metaphor for your collapsing life. You wonder, "Where did it happen?" and you'll never make the connection because it was just so gradual and hidden and inconsistent and you thought everything was okay while termites were eating away at the foundation of your life. So it's not to...it's for your sake that I say these things, not for mine. It's for your sake that I tell you the word of God is where you find the fear of God and if you are just casually engaged in God's word, if you can go for weeks without meeting with the people of God and you can go for days on end without giving attention to the word of God, listen, nothing good is going to come out of that and I wouldn't be much of a shepherd to you if I didn't say that plainly so that you could understand it.
Look at Deuteronomy 4:10 again, "Let them hear My words so they may learn to fear Me all the days." Flip it on the other side, "If they are not hearing my words, they will forget the fear of Me." So beloved, we hold up the word of God to you as an invitation to blessing, as an invitation to the fear of the Lord. Take the Bible that is on your lap and open it and read it and gather with God's people when it is taught. I want you to know the fear of the Lord. I want you to know the blessing that comes from that. I want your life to stand the test of time. I want the judgment seat of Christ to be a day of honor and blessing and reward to you. That's why we emphasize these things.
Look over at Psalm 119 which teaches a similar principle and basically just remembering what our principle is that God calls us to the fear of God and the question is how do we nourish that? How do we cultivate it? And we're seeing that God's word is what instructs us and directs us in it. Psalm 119:38 says this, it reads just a little bit differently in the English Standard Version but the same principle is there. Psalm 119:38 says, "Establish Your word to Your servant, As that which produces reverence for You." That produces the fear of you. It is God's word which establishes the fear of God in our hearts and no fancy lights, no fog machines in the background, no loud music, none of that produces the fear of God. It may stimulate your emotions but it does not teach you the fear of God that comes from the word of God and the word of God alone. That's why, listen beloved, there is a reason for the way that we do things: that's why the pulpit is front and center in this worship center. It's a major statement when a church and denominations push the pulpit off to the side and put something else in the center of it. They are making a statement by where they place the pulpit. We place the pulpit front and center. It's the focal point of our worship center because the word of God is the focus and the center of it and so whenever you see and I remember a pastor telling me this 30 years ago, whenever you see a pulpit pushed off to the side, that's a danger signal. He went on to become a superintendent in a denomination and he said, "You tell me if you ever hear of one of our churches doing that because I want to address it personally." Well, that's exactly right. He got it. The word of God is central and it's not just central in a church, beloved, it's got to be central somehow in your own life.
So we develop the fear of God from exposing ourselves to Scripture but there is another way that we develop the fear of God. There is another thing that can be said about the one who fears God and it is this and point number 2 here this morning is: the one who fears God pursues sanctification. Pursues sanctification. Practical godliness, people who are growing in their walk with God, who are turning away from sin and pursuing the love of God and the fear of Christ, people like that are manifesting the fear of God. They are manifesting that wholehearted life response that we spoke about. That life response of humility under the word of God and that says even as Josh said in his baptismal testimony, I'm going to summarize it here that after his conversion, there was an evident change in his pursuit of God's word and it conformed and you could see and he could see a conforming of his life to the standard of Scripture. Not in perfection but the direction of his life was now toward God's word. It was away from sin to the point that he separated from prior relationships that were critical to him for the sake of going after this God who had saved him. Well beloved, that's the way it is. There is nothing unique and dramatic in that sense. There is nothing unique about that testimony. That's the way it is for every Christian. There is a separation from sin that takes place and a separation from sinful relationships even when it causes pain, even when it causes sorrow, because the surpassing priority is to honor this God who saved us from sin.
So the God fearer, to put it another way, is not someone who tries to straddle the fence, who has one mask that they put on for the people of God on Sunday and another mask actually taking the mask off and living completely differently Monday through Saturday. You can recognize a God fearer by an integrity, a consistency of approach in his life that the heart direction is toward Christ, is toward obedience and not just drinking in sin because you can get away from it.
Well, look at the book of Job here. We'll see a few illustrations here, biblical illustrations. The book of Job, just before the book of Psalms and the very first verse, Job 1:1. Job 1:1 speaks of Job and in this context, remember that the point here is that the God fearer is one who pursue sanctification, sanctification being that separation from worldliness. "There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job," verse 1, "and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God," and what did that mean for him? "Fearing God and turning away from evil." There was a conscious orientation of his mind that he would not follow after evil, instead he would turn away from it. There was a decisive mindset in place in his heart that sin and evil was not what he would give himself over to. There was a clarity of conviction. There was a certainty of direction that was nonnegotiable in his heart that said, "I will turn away from evil. I will be one who fears God instead."
Look at verse 8, chapter 1. You get it from the mouth of God himself. The word of God teaching the fear of God which teaches us to turn away from evil, God himself says it right here. Verse 8, he says, "The LORD said to Satan, 'Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.'" I want you to see how these 2 things are like bookends; they are 2 sides of the same coin. To fear God is to turn away from evil. To turn away from evil is to manifest the fear of God.
Chapter 2, verse 3, after Job's trials had begun. Job 2:3, "The LORD said to Satan, 'Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man fearing God and turning away from evil.'" Now watch this those of us that are going through deep waters right now, going through severe struggles and all of that. Notice this about Job and you know the trials that Job went through: lost his children, lost his wealth at this point, would soon lose his health later on. And in the midst of the struggle, in the midst of the sorrow, in the midst of the collapse of his external world, what could be said about him? "'And he still holds fast his integrity, although you incited Me against him to ruin him without cause.'" Here was Job in his prosperity fearing God and turning away from evil. When all of that was taken away by the permission of God, by the purposes of God, when all of that was taken away, he was the same man on the other side of it. God said, "He still holds fast his integrity. He is still fearing God. He is still turning away from evil," showing that his fear of God was not for the sake of personal advantage but because of the inherent worth of God and the change in his external circumstances did not change the cornerstone defining priority of his heart. The fear of God, turning away from evil.
So the fear of God, Scripture teaches us, the fear of God can be manifested by one who is turning away from evil, is one who is pursuing sanctification, one who is seeking to live righteously in his life and not simply being swept along with the currents of the world or his own flesh. To be sanctified means to be set apart. To be set apart must mean something. It means to be set apart from our world environment, our world thinking and even the lusts and the desires of our own sinful ways. We separate from that. Where does that come from? What motivates that? One writer said this, where does that kind of godliness come from? One writer said this and I quote, "The fear of God is the soul of godliness." The fear of God is the soul of godliness. Show me a man who loves sin and I can show you a man who does not fear God.
Now, this pursuit of sanctification takes 2 aspects that I want to bring out for you, 2 ways to help you think about it. First of all, there is an inward turning from sin. An inward turning from sin. There is a conscious orientation of your desires away from sin and toward righteousness. In other words, we could say it this way, beloved: you don't stumble into the fear of God. You don't accidentally fall into it like you find a dollar bill on the street, "Oh, I wasn't looking for that but there it is." No, there is a volitional aspect to it it. There is an act of your will that pursues sanctification and the reason that you move your will in that direction is because you fear God because you say, "He is worthy of my reverence. He is worthy of my love. He is worthy of my obedience therefore I am going to direct my life toward that which pleases him rather than drifting and staying where I am at in a life that displeases him." You engage your heart. You engage your mind. You think about these things. This is where it comes from. It is very liberating, actually to say, "No, I'm at war with these desires. I am at war with this world." There is an inward turning that must take place and, you know, when people find themselves struggling with sin usually what they try to do is try to take external measures to deal with it. Here's my strategy and it involves do's and don'ts and things like that. Well, that never goes too far. It lasts for a while but it never goes too far. What you have to do is you've got to start further back. You've got to start with the orientation of your heart. You've got to start with this inward turning from sin. And you can set yourself on the path of fearing God as a Christian by making conscious, decisive commitments in your heart.
Look at chapter 8 of Proverbs. We'll go back to Proverbs now, Proverbs 8. The idea that sanctification is simply letting go and letting God has been pretty much discredited over the past several decades and I say good riddance to that lousy theology. The Apostle Paul said, "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." There is an effort to be made. There is a direction to be taken. Not to add merit, not to force God to reward you but the reality of having a new heart means that you apply yourself to this new life. Proverbs 8:13 says, "The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way And the perverted mouth, I hate." So there is this negative aspect to the fear of the Lord that a man, you know, maybe you get alone for an hour or 2. You go out in the country or go up on a deck someplace where you're just able to think and think about your approach to life and what it is that you care about and what motivates you and you step back and you think about the greatness of God and the greatness of salvation and the reality of the fear of God and you settle it in your mind, "You know, here I am 20, 30, 40 years into my life and I'm just drifting spiritually. You know, it's time for me to be different decisively." And to say, "You know, God helping me, I am going to be a man, I am going to be a woman who hates evil, who hates sin. I reject the boastful pride of this life. I reject my perverted mouth and I reject those who bring their perverted mouth and try to bring influence upon me as a result of it." You just decisively reject it. Turn away from it. And this comes because you are thinking through things on a profound level. Thinking about who God is and his position and thinking about yourself in relationship to him and realizing the brevity of life makes this all pretty urgent. You start to realize, "You know, some of these places where I hang out, these are inconsistent with the fear of God. I'm not going back there again. Some of these things that I do, some of these things that I say, some of the programs that I watch, these things aren't cultivating the fear of God. They are just dead weight on my spiritual back. I am casting them off. I hate them now." Fear of God producing decisive decisions, a decisive mindset that says, "I don't have all that much time in this life. I'm not going to squander it pursuing evil. Whatever time God gives me, I am going to devote to pursuing the fear of God," and has practical day by day consequences with what you do. It determines educational choices that you make. It determines friends that you want to live with. It determines who you want to marry. All of these things.
You know, our church is small and enough that I can talk this way: brothers, sisters, I'm pleading with you, I am begging you to take these things to heart and to take them seriously. I'll spare you the theatrics of literally getting on my knees but I'm begging you on the authority of God's word for the sake of Christ and for the sake of the good of your own soul, I am begging you to fear God and to act upon it in the way that we are describing here.
Turn over to the book of Matthew 5:3-4 says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." Here again you see it, the God fearer is one who hates sin, who mourns over it. Not just and I have said this a time or 2 and I'm glad I'm going to say it again especially in light of the emphasis of our conference that is coming up, we need to keep something very special in mind. Do you know what repentance looks like for you? Do you know what repentance means for you? Repentance for you has very little to do if anything to do with actually hating the sins of society. It's not repentance to say, "I hate the sin that I see in society," if you are not simultaneously and more urgently saying, "I hate the sin that is in my own heart." True repentance hates your own sin. True repentance hates your own indifference and mediocrity and so it's not enough for us to decry the sins of society and a rogue Supreme Court if we're not even more mindful of the fact that, "I hate the sin that is in my own heart and I am turning away from it." There is this danger. I am very mindful of it in light of our conference coming up. I am very mindful of the danger of developing a spirit of self-righteousness. We don't want to go there. You hate your own sin. There is plenty there to keep you busy with hating sin. There is plenty to keep you busy hating your own sin.
The God fearer turns away from sin in his own life, not simply critiquing that which is outside him somewhere else but making the first target of his opposition to sin the sin in his own heart, the sin in his own life, the sin in his own family. That same writer that I was quoting earlier, John Murray, said this and I quote again, "The Christian knows that sin is displeasing to God and he is keenly sensitive to the demands and judgments of his holiness. Humility, contrition, lowliness of mind are of the essence of godliness. We must embrace the fear and trembling which reflect our consciousness of sin and frailty." In other words, there is a tenderness of heart about a true Christian that says, "I'm still not all that I should be. There is still sin in my own heart. There are still illicit desires that I resist and fight," and it brings us to an inward turning from sin and a lowliness and a humility of mind that rather than making us boastful and arrogant, makes us walk in gentleness and in a repentant spirit.
You see, for the past 30 years, politicians and others have been happy to jump on a pseudo-Christian bandwagon because it seemed like the political winds were blowing in that direction. Now the political winds are blowing differently and we're going to see who was really in the vehicle with us anyway or those who just jump off because they wanted political results, they wanted political power rather than the genuine humility and lowliness of mind that belongs to the true Christian. I'm grateful actually, for this day that makes that separation and that cleavage evident. That there is a cleavage between cultural Christianity on the one hand and the true reality of biblical Christianity on the other. The biblical Christianity that realizes that the path that Christ walked was one of suffering and sacrifice; one of lowliness of mind and obedience rather than one that elevated him to a human throne, an earthly throne in his first advent. Well, let's praise God for that. This will bring purity to the church when the bugs jump off because they were never of us to begin with. Well, what does that have to do with anything that I'm saying here today? It has a lot to do. It has a lot to do with it because what I want you to see is that what the fear of God produces is an inward turning away from sin and that's not the path of applause and congratulations from the world, it's the path of lowliness of mind and humility before a holy God that says, "Yes God, I tremble before your word. I tremble enough to turn away from my sin. Yes God, I love Christ enough to orient my life around him, to make decisive choices that are consistent with honoring him with the short life you have given me and turning away from the other things."
Secondly, if there's an internal turning from sin, there is also an external turning toward obedience. The external turning toward obedience. And while you're in Matthew, let's just look at one thing here also because it's not just external, there's an internal. Chapter 6, verse 33, to turn away from evil is to turn toward righteousness, right? Matthew 6:33 says, "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." There is this conscious ongoing orientation toward a seeking of the righteousness of God, seeking the priorities of his kingdom, the priorities of his church. Seeking the love of Christ and seeking to reflect him and make him known. All of these things that captivate a godly heart, a God-fearing heart that says, "That's what I want in life. That's what my desires are. That's what I want to pursue." There is a clarity. You think through these things and you establish your priorities in light of God's word. That's what we're saying. So the fear of the Lord prompts obedience in your life. It's not simply an emotional state of mind. It's not simply a condition of mind that thinks thoughts about God without any relevance to how you live. That's what I want you to see. It's not just subjective. It is character forming. It is volitional. It is choosing your path and following it.
Look at Proverbs 16:6, did I say that already? No one will say. I have now. Proverbs 16:6, that's where we're going now. Proverbs 16:6, "By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for, And by the fear of the LORD one keeps away from evil." I knew a man many years ago, different region, different church, has nothing to do with anybody in this room but this was a man who was prominent in his local church. He was known in many circles for his Christian service but eventually as sadly happens all too often in our age, he was caught in adultery and it came out that this had been a pattern for years. Two-faced hypocrite. What we need to see is that the measure of his spiritual life had nothing to do with his external service in the church at all. The true measure of his spiritual life was found in private where he was when no one was looking and where he was, was someplace ugly. I had the opportunity to address him one time and he was an older man and so that was always a little bit awkward but I told him, I said and I'll call his name Frank. It wasn't Frank but to be frank, I don't want to give his real name. I said, "Frank, this isn't complicated. Do you know why you fell into adultery? You fell into adultery because you do not fear God. I don't care how much you have taught. I don't care what your ministry has been. You fundamentally do not fear God because the fear of God is known by turning away from evil." It's not complicated, you know, and I understand that people wonder, "How could this happen? How could a man preach and teach and be an apparent servant of the word and live life like that?" Well, the answer is: he doesn't fear God. Whatever else he may do on an external basis, he doesn't fear God if he doesn't fear God enough to turn away from sin because the fear of God is preeminently known by its willingness and its commitment and its action in turning away from wickedness.
There you go and this fear of God, we're going to look at one final biblical example here that we will spend a few moments on, this fear of God produces obedience even when it seems to be against your own self-interest. Turn over to Genesis 22. I want to show you something from the life of Abraham. Genesis 22 and we'll go through this passage real quickly. We'll go through many verses to make one simple point. Genesis 22:1-3. You will remember that God called on Abraham to offer up his own son as a sacrifice. Genesis 22:1-3, "Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, 'Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.' He said, 'Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.'" The word of God informing Abraham on what to do and it seemed contrary to his own self-interest and it seemed inexplicable by what the promises of God would have led him to expect at this point in his life. But what did he do? Verse 3, "Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him." So he is obeying even though the command was so unusual.
Verse 4, "On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. Abraham said to his young men, 'Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.'" Verse 6, he's continuing to walk in the direction of obedience rather than questioning in disobedience. Verse 6, "Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, 'My father!' And he said, 'Here I am, my son.' And he said, 'Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?'" Isaac is starting to do the calculations and saying, "Something is missing in the equation here. This is making me just a little bit uneasy."
Verse 8, "Abraham said, 'God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.' So the two of them walked on together." And the story reaches its climax in verses 9 through 11, "Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son." This is a dramatic moment. The dagger is just waiting to be plunged. We are on the cusp of redemptive history here. "But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, 'Abraham, Abraham' And he said, 'Here I am.'" Here is our point for this morning: after Abraham had walked for days in this direction under the command of God to sacrifice his son and his obedience had gone clear to the point of raising his hand against his only son and what did the angel of the Lord say to him? "Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know," what? "That you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me."
Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his own son at the command of God, his obedience unto the point of death was a manifestation, God said, of the reality of his fear of God. His fear was manifested by his obedience and so we don't measure, you don't want to try to measure your fear of God by some kind of internal feeling that you have. Your feelings come and go and are affected by all kinds of influences that have nothing to do with biblical reality. Beloved, it's your obedience that manifests the reality of the fear of God in your heart. It's your lack of obedience that is symptomatic of where you have strayed and what I want you to see, beloved, is that this has a unifying sense in helping you understand what is going on in your spiritual life. If you continually are only treating the symptoms, "Oh, I shouldn't cuss." Or, "Oh, I shouldn't do this or that," and you say, "Well, how can I stop doing that one thing?" understand that those sinful patterns in your life are a symptom of something else. Doctors don't just treat symptoms, they want to get to what's causing the symptoms and what we're seeing here today is what causes the symptoms of sin in your life are rooted in something amiss in your fear of God.
Now, I want you to be encouraged today. I believe that our church is marked by, known by people who fear the Lord. I believe that with all my heart and I love you for it. This is fundamental, beloved, that's why we spent 3 messages on it. This is fundamental. This shapes life. Do you fear God like this? Maybe you're an unbeliever and you realize, "I don't even know God and I am really afraid." That's a good thing if that fear would motivate you to come to the Savior, the one who made a blood atonement on the cross, the Lord Jesus, for sinners slain, sinners just like you, sinners who have ignored God and gone their own way now being awakened. He says, "Yes, come to me and I will deliver you from your sin. I will deliver you from that terror and receive you into my family." Won't you come to him?
Let's bow in prayer.
Father, your word says that the reward of humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, honor and life. You're a God who rewards those who fear you. I pray for each one in this room that they would indeed fear you and that you would help us, Father, process these things deeply in our hearts, to orient our lives toward your word and toward the obedience of God. Help us to follow Christ with a humble confidence that he will reward us in the end. We pray in the name of our saving and loving and sanctifying Lord Jesus. Amen.