J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) once said that true Christians must stand guard as soldiers on enemy ground. The problem is that many love the world and do not fear God. They believe in heaven but they don’t truly long for it. They “say” that they fear God but they don’t live like it. They indulge temptation rather than fight it. They enjoy sin rather than confront it. And they compromise rather than conquer. The lukewarm church disdains the heat of conviction. Holiness, to them, is outdated and the fear of the Lord is old-fashioned.
The present condition of the church leaves one to wonder if the lack of the fear of the Lord is contributing to her spiritually dead condition: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:15-17). A healthy respect of God (fear) is what our culture, and the church, desperately need. Please don’t misunderstand: there are great churches doing wonderful things. God is still working through His people. I’m referring to the church collectively, as a whole, rather than “all” churches.
The fear of the Lord is mentioned frequently throughout the Bible as the beginning of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.” Many feel that we should avoid mentioning the fear of the Lord because it makes people feel uncomfortable. Just writing that sentence makes me feel uncomfortable. “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him…” (Psalm 147:11). Joshua encouraged the people to “fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness” (24:14).
It’s clear from Genesis to Revelation that we are to “serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11). Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Jesus spoke more on the fear of hell than on the glory of heaven. He thought it to be timely and urgent. “That makes me both love Him and fear Him! I love Him because He is my Savior, and I fear Him because He is my Judge” (A.W. Tozer).
The overall direction of the church away from the fear of the Lord is a sad reality. It is an indication that we may fear men more than God. Those who avoid teaching the fear of the Lord to soften the message are missing the balance. We are running from the very thing we need: “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come” (Revelation 14:7). Acts 9:31 says that the early church walked “in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.” Did you catch that: the church was powerful and multiplied because they walked in the fear of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Anointing and fear go hand-in-hand. Paul reminds us in Philippians 2:12 that we should work out (not work for) our own salvation with “fear and trembling.”
We must lovingly proclaim the fear of the Lord again in our pulpits if we are to experience genuine revival. Fear often motivates repentance. The fear of the Lord will cause an adulterer to seek forgiveness. It will motivate the prodigal to return. It will stop much of the violence that we see today. It will motivate pastors to spend extended time in prayer for anointed sermons. When the fear of the Lord is preached the world will repent: “Falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you” (1 Corinthians 14:25). A true fear of the Lord saves man from himself. We should take His commands seriously…not legalistically, but reverently.
Fearing the Lord isn’t the type of fear one would have toward an abusive father, but rather, it’s the type of fear that involves respect and reverence for God. For example, we fear jumping off a 100-story building because we respect gravity. Fear, in this sense, is good and God-given; it protects.
It is often through reverent fear that we come to Christ and redemption. The church cannot neglect, water-down, or avoid preaching the fear of the Lord in the hope of not offending, or securing an audience. The fear of the Lord offends, and rightly so. The goal of the church is faithfulness to God, not crowd appeal. The church, as a whole, may have forgotten the fear of the Lord, but it doesn’t follow that we should.
Shane Idleman is the founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Lancaster, Ca., just North of Los Angeles. He just released his 6th book, Answers for a Confused Church. The brief trailer is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsWh-yUdJJE&feature=player_embedded