When things in your life turn dark and difficult, how do you usually respond to those circumstances? When trouble comes, you will either experience guidance and protection from a biblical understanding and application of the fear of the Lord or a sinful fear will complicate and command you and your circumstances.
You may want to read:
- Legalism Is a Fear-Based Culture that Leads to a Complex Life
- Cynicism Leads to a Numbness toward Life
- Mind Mapping – A Detailed Study in Self-Reliance
A person who does not fear the Lord will succumb to the temptation of disobedience and hopelessness during times of trouble. In 1 Samuel 13:1-7 we see a vivid illustration of how a person can become disobedient and hopeless.
- The Command – In 1 Samuel 12:24 the Israelites were charged to fear the Lord, which was the only way for them to live well with God and others.
- The Conflict – In 1 Samuel 13:5 the Israelites began to experience conflict, as the difficulties were surrounding them.
- The Reaction – Their response to their trouble was not to fear the Lord, but to become anxious about their circumstances, as evidenced by their running and hiding (1 Samuel 13:6).
- The Result – Because of their wrong response to trouble, they went down a path of disobedience, which led to hopelessness and relational dysfunction (1 Samuel 13:7).
Their historical record portrays perfectly for us our two choices when trouble comes into our lives.
- We can choose to fear the Lord, as Samuel charged the Israelites to do.
- We can choose to fear our circumstances, as the Israelites did.
Fear the Lord?
This truth that all of us must interact with brings us to an obvious question: What does it mean to fear the Lord? This infographic may help.
- Fact One – God is a holy, omnipotent, reigning, and the terrifying Judge, who condemns all humanity to hell.
- Fact Two – God is a loving, approachable, and entreatable Father, who has provided a means for individuals to experience rescue and restoration.
To live well is to understand and rest in both of these truths. To hold to one without the other leads to spiritual and relational dysfunction. Let me illustrate by examining the first person in the history of humanity who ever struggled with a misunderstanding of the fear of the Lord—Adam.
Adam knew “fact one” about God’s holy judgment because the Lord was clear what would happen to him if he transgressed His law (Genesis 2:16-17). That is why Adam was terrified after he broke God’s law (Genesis 3:7-12). We observe this through his ill-conceived manipulations after he sinned.
- He hid his shame behind fig leaves.
- He ran from the Lord because he was afraid.
- He lied to God about what he did.
- He blamed his problems on this wife.
Adam was not a peaceful, satisfied, free, or restful human being because he did not know what it functionally meant to fear the Lord. He only knew what it was like to be afraid of God, but that is not a proper or full understanding of the fear of the Lord.
The person who only sees God as an arms-folded, peering over the glasses, stern Judge, does not know God the way He desires for us to know Him. That person—who thinks about God that way—has a distorted understanding of the fear of the Lord.
Adam was fast-tracking in the wrong direction. He was like the modern-day legalist, who sees God more of a Judge than a loving, soul-saving Father (Romans 8:1).
Adam and the legalist see the Lord as someone who is going to get them; it’s a punitive relationship. They live under a cloud of “bad things are just around the corner.” They have a cynical, hope-killing perspective on life.
The Grace Mistake
There is another group of people who are the antithesis to legalists. They are the folks who lean toward the love of God while ignoring His law. Typically, these people come from legalistic backgrounds.
It is difficult to talk to them about obedience, disciplines, and other “law sounding” things because no one has ever taught them the right perspective about the fear of the Lord. They lean toward fact two, not fact one.
They only had judgment, fear, condemnation, and obedience shoveled at them, which made them acutely aware that if they did not follow the rules there would be punitive actions in return for their lack of adherence to communal protocols or legitimate biblical morality.
At some point, some of them fought back by jumping out of the legalist ditch and into the grace ditch—a ditch that resists calls to holiness. Any attempt to talk to them about righteousness receives a reflective mantra of grace, grace, grace, which is code for, “You can’t speak to me about my lifestyle because you’re judging me. I live in grace now.”
Unfortunately, judgment is not what you were doing, but it is what they were hearing. The frustrated former legalist has only one filter for holiness, and it is a grace-saturated one that is devoid of gospel-centered expectations.
The sweet spot for all of us is to believe in and engage with a holy God, who expects us to live according to righteous standards while providing us a loving means to live that way.
Holy Judge, Holy Love
What Adam needed to know was that the same God who is a holy Judge is also a person who has provided the means for him to escape the damning judgments of sin: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).
God is not a God that we should run from because we are scared of Him. That is not what the fear of God means. We should make a B-line to Him because He is the only one who can deliver us, whether we’re talking about salvation or sanctification.
The healthiest perspective you could ever have about God is (1) to fully know that you are a condemned sinner and (2) that He has provided a way for you to be rescued and restored.
- God is a God of holy justice.
- God is a God of holy love.
Living in the truth of God’s holy justice and His holy love is what it means to fear the Lord biblically and adequately, and the more you understand this concept, the more you will move from terror, trembling, and dread to devotion, trust, and worship.
What Will You Do?
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
To reject a healthy view and adherence to the fear of the Lord will leave you unable to benefit from your relationship with Him.
- If you are afraid of him as Adam was, you cannot benefit the way that you should from the relationship.
- If you believe holiness does not matter, you will not benefit from the relationship.
And—to add to these ideas—without His help, you are left with only one option: rely on yourself or what we call self-reliance. Samuel appealed to the Israelites to fear the Lord, which was the door through which they would have found great help.
Life-Change Video on Self-Reliance
They chose to rely on themselves. What will it be for you?
- Will you rely on the Lord?
- Will you rely on yourself?
Saul chose to reject the fear of the Lord, as he relied on himself. This left him in a vulnerable position, which exposed his heart to doubt, fear, and hopelessness. The person who fears the Lord will experience peace, even when circumstances are unfolding in less desirable ways.
Be Warned – There are times in our lives when the Lord allows circumstances to unfold in such a way so we can see ourselves for who we are. That is what Paul was teaching the Corinthians, as he appealed to them to not be ignorant of the negative things that were happening to him and his team (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).
We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. – 2 Corinthians 1:8-9
Paul understood what God was up to and why He was up to it. The Lord made things impossible for Paul, which was his call to examine himself as to who he was trusting. Sadly, when the tests came for Paul, initially he was found to be a self-reliant man, but Paul repented. He learned how to rely on the Lord.
- Will you fear the Lord, which will guide you through your circumstances?
- Will you fear your circumstances, which will lead to disobedience and hopelessness?
The negative things that happen to you will show you where you have placed your faith. When things became difficult for the Israelites, they ran and hid in caves. They scattered. Adam had a similar response. Adam, Saul, and the Israelites took matters into their own hands because they were self-reliant people.
Will You Trust Me?
The crux of the matter, and what is really at issue here, is between belief and unbelief:
- Will you trust (believe) the Lord, which will be evidenced by doing things His way?
- Will you trust yourself (self-reliance), which will be evidenced by doing things your way?
Saul chose to reject the fear of the Lord, as he relied on himself. The person who fears the Lord will experience peace, even when circumstances are unfolding in less desirable ways. Saul was like an acrobat swinging high above the stadium floor while letting go of one bar and reaching for the other one. It is in that moment, between letting go of one thing and reaching for another, that brings fear into our hearts.
A Short Story
Biblical faith leads to authentic worship. Let me illustrate with another Bible story: It was on a dark and stormy night when Christ asked Peter to stop trusting himself and to rely on God (Matthew 14:27-32). Notice how Peter’s faith in God as his Deliverer led to personal and communal worship of God.
- Will I get off the boat and walk to the Lord (Matthew 14:27-29)?
- What will happen if I leave what I know and step into the unknown (Matthew 14:30)?
- What if I sink (Matthew 14:31)?
- Will God save me?
“O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” – Matthew 14:31-32
We all must learn to let go of our ways of doing things while reaching for a better way (John 14:6; Hebrews 1:4, 7:22, 8:6). Swinging from self-reliance to God-reliance can be a terrifying experience. If you are a Christian, you have already done this at least one time: you let go of Adam, and you reached for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17)!
Your sanctification is a continual letting go of your way of thinking about and doing things while practicing your faith in the Lord. Your real-life problems will either deepen your resolve to trust yourself (self-sufficiency) or train you to exercise a God-centered faith and practice.
Call to Action
- Will you take the time to explain to someone what the fear of the Lord means?
- How have you generally thought about the fear of the Lord? Have you leaned too much toward God’s judgment or God’s love? If so, what effect has that had on you?
- What would you need to do to have a right view of the fear of the Lord that embraces God as Judge over and Lover of your soul?
- What do you think life would look like for you if you had a right view of the fear of the Lord?
- Do you see how a wrong view of the fear of the Lord can truncate your relationship with Him, thus tempting you to rely on yourself?
- How do you generally respond to challenges: self-reliance or God-reliance?
- Will you discuss with a friend how these ideas apply to you?