I enjoy Francis Chan. He seems to be grounded in the word and straightforward and challenging in his teaching. Recently while preparing for youth group, I watched a short devotional video by Francis entitled “Basic : Fear God.” This is a devotional based off of that video. I am not wholly convinced by his words, but I do see a validity to them, and they have challenged me to look at my preconceived ideas of what “fearing God” means and see what the Bible says. Francis’ basic premise is that when scripture says “fear God,” it means it. It is not simply a reverence; it is what it says. Below are some of my musings as I wrestle with this concept. Is it true? What would that mean? What are the implications? Please pray for me as I wrestle with this and challenge you to do likewise.
King David said in Psalm 111:10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom....” What does that mean for those who never acknowledge this key aspect of God? Perhaps their picture of God is incomplete. I read Psalm 33:8 and it said something that interested me:
“Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the people of the world revere Him.” Psalm 33:8
I found this interesting because if “fear” is supposed to mean “reverence” or “awe,” why would David have written “fear” and “revere” God. If they mean the same thing, it would be redundant. Now in all fairness both of these terms in the Hebrew have meanings that span from fear to reverance. However, I trust translators of scripture, and in almost every translation they choose “fear” and “awe” instead of “revere” and “awe.” This leads me to believe that maybe Francis is correct when he says fear is a taught wrong. When you look in scripture and people meet God face-to-face, it typically ends up being face-to-ground. They hide their eyes because they are met face-to-face with their sin. They realize, "This is the God I serve; He is so huge, massive and perfect, and I am not." I think that upon seeing God or seeing the illuminated Christ, their sin was so apparent to them that they feared the consequence to come.
“ Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of uncleanlips, And I live among a people of uncleanlips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” Isaiah 6:5
“5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified.” Matthew 17:5-6
Now it is wholly possible that in these circumstance, these were actions and words of awe. But is it possible that it was fear? I believe this is also a possibility.
I think a healthy fear of the Lord stems from a healthy understanding of self and sin. We think of sin differently because of Jesus. It’s bad, but He has already paid for it, so it’s not that bad. But sin is bad! It’s evil, it tears us down, it tears others down, and it sidetracks us from the life God would have for us. If it takes fearing God to get a true understanding of sin, then I say bring on the fear.
I also think the fear of God comes from a place of humility. We live in a culture that doesn’t take a whole lot of things seriously. With trendy sayings like “Jesus is my Homeboy,” or “Mary is my homegirl,” even the most sacred things are taken lightly. This has translated to how many of us relate to God. We don’t relate to Him as the almighty creator. We relate to Him as our friend, our buddy, the way we relate to our friends at school. Now in one sense that is good because God has called us friends because of what Christ did. We have that closeness, but God is not “just another friend”; He is the almighty. He created the world, overthrew nations and will judge the world. He is something mighty, something greater. Acknowledging that and living like that’s true will only mean good for me and for you.
Here is the good news! God does not leave us there. He does not leave us coiled up in a ball in the corner. He says to Isaiah, "fear not," and sends an angel to tend to Him (Isaiah 6:6-7), Jesus says “do not be afraid” (Matt 17:7) to John. Fear is just the first stop in our relationship with God. Once we fear Him, once we see Him for who He is and see us for who we are, we can begin to follow Him the way He desires to be followed. Think about this. If you really saw God, if you really understood Him for even five seconds, do you think you would live the same way you are living now? No way! Your lives would drastically change. This is how a healthy fear of the Lord can be the greatest gift.
Once we know and fear Him, we can be relieved of that fear and empowered by His Spirit. Once we are empowered by His Spirit, we can follow Him, knowing that the strongest being in and out of the universe has our back and nothing can separate us from Him.
37 “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:37-39
A true understanding of these scriptures can be found in a healthy fear of the Lord. Once we let go of the arrogance that stops us from acknowledging Him, understand how sinful we are and what we deserve, and realize that He has paid for all that and called us sons and daughters, we can let go and be free to follow Him.
Maybe fearing God isn’t as frightening as we thought.
p.s. here is a trailer to the video devotional the inspired my musings.