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Posts Tagged ‘fear of God’


In my devotional reading these days I’m in Deuteronomy. Since all Scripture is useful to admonish, correct and train the righteous person to live uprightly (2 Timothy 3) we can learn lessons here about obedience.

Let me say that all of this must be understood in light of being a justified person, one who has experienced the redemption from sin just as Israel experienced redemption from slavery. This should not be seen as an attempt to gain life. The blessing of obedience for Israel was not eternal life, but remaining in the land. Gross apostasy would result in exile. For us it results in excommunication. Gross apostasy reveals a heart that was not transformed by grace.

While we are talking about obedience to the law, let us not think (as many erroneously claim about any such discussion) that we are sanctified BY the law. Just as the law has no power to justify (Rom. 6-7), it has no power to sanctify. The Law is the sign showing us what a sanctified life looks like. The power of sanctification is the Spirit who works in us to apply the work of Christ for us. Read the following in light of that or you will grossly misunderstand what I say.

Deuteronomy is the giving of the law to the generation that was going to enter the land. The last of the adult “rebels” who left Egypt has died for their unbelief and refusal to enter the land out of fear. Moses lays out God’s commands for them before he dies, unable to enter the land for his own unrighteous anger earlier.

And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the rules that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them. (5:1)

This is the process of discipleship which we must follow for ourselves and teach to those under our spiritual care. There is a progression here that we must keep in mind.

Hear => Learn => Do

We cannot do unless we first learn and we cannot learn unless we first hear. The end or goal is to grow in obedience to the One who loved us and gave Himself for us. If you think that is an OT thing, recall the Great Commission includes “teaching them to obey all I have commanded you.” That command is not limited to faith and repentance. Love is vague and Paul reminds us that the Law actually shows us the dimensions of loving God and others (Rom. 12). A desire to obey God rooted in faith, love and gratitude is NOT legalism.

To achieve this final goal, we need to recall the lessor goals or intermediate goals. Hear it! Read the Scriptures and listen to the Word preached and taught. There is no other way to hear.

Don’t “just” listen, but learn. Seek to understand the meaning of the law, what it does and doesn’t require or prohibit. Begin to store it in your heart (and memory) so you have a practical use of it. The Law is not for our times of ease, but the times of temptation. That is when we need God’s moral guidance. There will probably not be a Bible in the back seat of the car when needed, or the corporate boardroom or wherever you find yourself under temptation and in need of God’s moral guidance. You have to learn it.

Then of course apply it, by faith. Work it out knowing that God is at work in you to will and work according to His good purpose. You are not alone. When you struggle, cry out for help.

“Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments.” (5:29)

“that you may fear the LORD your God … by keeping all his statues and his commandments…” (6:2)

There is another ingredient to the obedient life. A healthy fear or reverence for God. At the moment they expressed such a heart, a sincere desire to obey God in all things. Such mountain top experiences don’t last. We obey what we fear (either positively or negatively) most. Obedience is a heart issue, as I recently reminded my children. They didn’t listen to their mother because they didn’t respect her as they ought. They ignore her far too often. They tend to fear missing out on some thing they think better than obedience. We do that too. Or we fear other people, and the list could go one for some time. We are to fear God above all. The measure of that fear appears to be obedience. Reverence isn’t just about showing up on Sunday to sing songs and pray. Reverence is about wanting to please Him all week long: worship thru service.

“And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, …” (6:24)

Moses returns to the question of obedience, and therefore fear. But see what He adds. God’s laws, and our obedience, are for our good. Sin is self-destructive, and often destroys others including the ones we love. Sin destroys relationships. Obedience only destroys relationships when others don’t delight in righteousness. It often takes a great deal of faith to believe this. God doesn’t give me moral guidance to destroy me but to protect me and do good to me. The Law, as Paul said, is good and holy. The problem is always me, or my sinful nature.

We can’t make others fear God. But we can pray God to grant them this fear, and this knowledge that God intends all this for our good. We should walk the path of obedience and talk to others about it. We should also talk about how to return to the path when we wander from it (which we will do). I’m not talking about perfection, but progressive sanctification. While we do not arrive in this life, we make progress as the Spirit teaches us to say “no” to ungodly desires (Titus 2) and “yes” to godly ones. The good purpose God works in you to will and work is faith in Christ, and a faith accompanied by faithfulness or obedience.

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One of the Mistakes Leaders Make is to shift from pleasing God to people “mere” people. This temptation is always there. There are budgets to be met, goals to achieve, etc. And all those require people.

One of my professors used to tell us that if you make your living from your faith you risk losing either your living or your faith. It was then that he’d say “Two car garage, two car garage.” Essentially we are tempted to fear man instead of fearing God.

“In ministry we will always have those who try to push, manipulate, and even bribe the leader into doing what keeps various people happy. … But the temptation to keep people happy is always nipping at our heels.”

It is there when people pressure you about how long you preach (I don’t have that problem anymore, aside from CavWife floundering if I’ve gone on a rabbit trail). It is there when budget time arises. It is there when people come to tell you how they think we should be worshiping (what song or style or …). It is there when people make special contributions. It is there!

10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I tryingto please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1

Paul felt it. He was under pressure from the church in Galatia on the issue of circumcision. Sometimes the pressure is about something of lesser importance. Sometimes, like in Galatia, it is a gospel issue. Either way, we are to remember that we are servants of Christ and therefore are supposed to do His bidding.

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Ed Welch has a new book out that looks much like an old book, When People are Big and God is Small, for a younger audience. God is Small. But that would be a superficial assessment.  Ed Welch continued to think about the fear of man, and the fear of God. He thought about the topics with respect to teens and young adults. The result was What Do You Think of Me? Why Do I Care?.  I’m glad he kept thinking about all this.

The book does have a different vibe due to the intended audience.  It looks less formal (including the questions for thought & discussion) and more “trendy”.  He encourages the reader to write liberally throughout the book. The sentences are less complex, reflecting a lower reading level. He continues to provide a lot of instruction from Scripture on the topic. He walks us through the texts so we understand what they mean and how they apply.

He breaks it down into 3 big questions: Who is God, who am I and who are they? He begins with talking about how it starts in the heart. And that we all have this problem (fearing people). We all give the opinions of people far too much weight in our lives. Toward the end of the book he talks about how with family we are not (very) self-conscious. But once we go out the door, most of us care far more about how we look and act. While this is good in one sense, so we don’t all end up on People of Walmart, it can run our lives. We give other people far too much power to control us.

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The Fear of God is one of those topics that is greatly neglected, much to our own hurt.  My sermon text this week includes God’s great test of Abraham to see if he feared God.  Though we hate to think of such a thing, I suppose God tests us often to see if we fear/revere Him or if we’ve given ourselves to an idol of some sort.

“There flows from this fear of God a readiness and willingness, at God’s call, to give up our best enjoyments to His disposal.”  John Bunyan

Additionally:

20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”  Exodus 20

They were afraid that God was going to stomp on them.  After all, they were sinners.  But Moses tells them not to fear, but to fear God.  Sounds strange doesn’t it.  We rob God of glory when we fear anyone or anything instead of Him (like when we love anyone or anything instead of or beside Him).  The fear, or reverence, of God is what was to keep them (and us from sinning).

“Moses draws a contrast between being afraid of God and fearing God. … Simply being afraid of God will lead to distrust and disobedience of Him.  But fearing God will keep us from sinning.”  Jerry Bridges

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In the next 2 chapters of his book, Gospel-Powered Parenting, William Farley covers the tools of discipline.  No, it isn’t about spanking spatulas, switches and the like.  Discipline is one of the tools parents use to instruct and guide their children.  The gospel does not eliminate discipline, but provides a foundation for loving, gracious discipline.

His starting place is Ephesians 6:4- “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  The 2 tools of parenting here are discipline and instruction.  To neglect either is to provoke your children.  We forget that discipline, from a biblical perspective, is an expression of love (Hebrews 12 which quotes Proverbs 3).  With our Father in heaven as our example, we see that love motivates discipline.  This is because the parent wants what is best for the child and seeks to protect the child from danger- including self-destruction.  We fail our children when we kid-proof our lives.  They must learn proper boundaries, and that there are consequences to crossing boundaries.

He gives a list of reasons why the gospel is the proper foundation for discipline:

  • It convinces us that indwelling sin is the real problem.
  • It convinces us that authority is a crucial issue in parenting.
  • It convinces us that the heart is the issue and we must seek heart change.
  • It convinces us that discipline can preach the gospel to our children.
  • It motivates us to fear God.
  • It helps us to grow in humility and sincerity.

When I worked for Ligonier I used to have a sign on my cubicle that read: It all leads back to depravity.  All of the customer service problems (and employee problems) were rooted in that.  The same is true for parenting issues.  Children do not need to be taught to do wrong- it apparently happens ‘naturally’.  We do have to work hard to teach them to do that which is good.  It leads back to depravity.   When we think our kids are basically good, we think all they need is a little info instead of a new heart that longs to obey, which is only promised in the gospel.

Discipline, or the lack thereof, also preaches.  We communicate whether or not disobedience is taken seriously, which can have disastrous results as adults (they can become irresponsible and unable to maintain relationships and jobs).  We also forget that if we don’t discipline them, God will.  By the time he does, they are far more entrenched in their sin and rebellion.  It will be that much more painful.  We are wise to discipline them while they are young.  We show a lack of love if we refuse to discipline our kids.

Farley brings the discussion back to the fear of God (the fear of a son, not a slave).  If we do not fear God, we will inevitably fear our children.  We will live for their approval and love in return.  We will not do the important but difficult things necessary to correct them and show them the right way.  The gospel shows us how deadly sin is, as well as God’s gracious work of adoption, which work to develop respect for our heavenly Father.

Farley does not delve into details.  He’s looking at the heart.  These are helpful chapters.

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In the Introduction, the author notes that 75,000 books on parenting have been written in the last decade.  We are apparently obsessed with parenting, and we apparently haven’t discovered how to parent well.

In Gospel-Powered Parenting, William Farley brings something different to the table.  He isn’t focused on technique, he’s focused on the hearts of the parents and their goals.

“The common denominator between success and failure seems to be the spiritual depth and sincerity of the parents, especially the spiritual depth and sincerity of the father.”

This is interesting in light of an Atlantic  Monthly article a young lady on the plane was reading recently, “Are Fathers Necessary?”  Every study (which the article thinks erroneous, without real data) I’ve read indicates they are (check out Life Without Father by David Popenoe.  This is why the wise church focuses on dads and tries to involve men in ministry to children (time to man up, guys: you are important to the kingdom!).

Success here is essentially defined as children who own the faith of their parents are are involved church members after leaving the home.  How they were educated is far less important than their witnessing “experiential religion”, as the Puritans would say, in the home.  And especially by dad (hmm, maybe those passages in the Bible aren’t shaped by ‘patriarchism’ but reflect how God often works in light of the covenant).

Initially, his claim that the Job 1 responsibility of Christian parents is to see their kids come to faith (he is a Calvinist, so he recognizes parents as a means, not the cause, of their faith).  It seems like all that matters is that if we get our kids to say the prayer, we’re done.  That would be reductionistic, and that is not what he means.  If we are powered by the gospel, and they believe it, many of those issues will be addressed but not in an idolatrous fashion.  Our children will learn how to manage money, persevere in difficulty, delay gratification, do their best in school (depending on their own intellectual capacity) and be good citizens and workers.  The gospel will produce the character necessary for those things if we recognize it isn’t just “fire insurance”

He begins with the assumptions each parent has in that process.  They are often unseen, but drive our parenting.  He lays out his assumptions.

  1. Parenting is not easy.  We are sinners, and so are they.  There will be plenty of failure to go around.
  2. God is sovereign, but He uses means.  We are not to be passive, but active, in light of His commands.  But we are also to be trusting in light of His promises and providence.
  3. A good offense (is better than a good defense).  Often we try to protect our kids, fearing the world will corrupt them.  As a result, we often raise legalists or rebels.  We recognize the battleground is their hearts and make the gospel the main issue to shape their hearts.  Love for Christ is the only real way to avoid the corruption of the world.
  4. Understand the New Birth.  Our kids don’t need the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism of our day.  They need to be born again- given spiritual life.  This is borne out by its fruit, not merely a decision.
  5. God-centered Families.  Most people have child-centered families, and sports or performing arts often crowd out manifestations of lively faith.  The kids learn they are more important than God, and worship is essentially optional.

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In Galatians 1-2 one of the dominant themes is the fear of man.  Paul, in lovingly yet boldly confronting the Galatians, and exposing the false teachers was living in the fear of God rather than the fear of man.  He was not accomodating the gospel to please anyone, recognizing the divine origin of that gospel.

On the other hand you have the account of Peter in Antioch.  He, again, succombs to the fear of man (his besetting sin, and lest you’re too hard on him- you’ve got some too!).  He shrunk back from fellowship with Gentile Christians and hypocritically followed the dietary laws out of fear, not conviction.  And Barnabas joined him.  Two important Christian leaders fell victim to this sin- and Paul displayed gospel boldness by confronting Peter publicly.

While not referring to these events, Milton Vincent talks about gospel boldness in A Gospel Primer for Christians.

“Boldness is critical.  Without boldness, my life story will be one of great deeds left undone, victories left unwon, petitions left unprayed, and timely words unsaid.  If I wish to live only a pathetically small portion of the life God has prepared for me, then I need no boldness.  But if I want my life to bloom full and loom large for the glory of God, then I must have boldness- and nothing so nourishes boldness in me like the gospel!

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