22 Feb Fearing God Reveals His Love?
What does love look like? These days, at least if we are in Target, we may be inclined to think it looks pink and red with lots of hearts. Fluffy, cuddly, warm. Maybe it even looks like diamonds for some of us. And even though we may be too smart to fall for that kind of look, I bet a lot of us associate love with something sweet, completely free of challenge or struggle or hurt. We believe the love that we have experienced–the kind with disagreements and sacrifice and mistakes–that’s not perfect love. If we could just get it right, perfect love looks and smells like a dozen roses… right?
Our culture has painted a Cinderella-like image around us in all three dimensions since the day we were born and called it “love.” Our culture has also painted a Jesus-like image: a man with gentle eyes hugging babies and petting fluffy sheep, and like the first, has called it “love.” If we aren’t careful, or if we don’t know any better, we can easily be swept up reflecting our picture of worldly love onto our picture of God’s love. But God’s love isn’t worldly love.
Worldly love happily adopts a God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,” but does not see one “who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the father on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7) as being very loving. Worldly love does not have room for righteous wrath, omnipotence, or justice (not when we are the offenders, at least). But unless we get to know these other characteristics of God, our picture of God’s love is weak and incomplete at best, perhaps even damagingly false. Studying and meditating on these characteristics instills in us a fear of the Lord. I’m here to argue that a proper and healthy fear of the Lord is required to unveil the truth and magnitude of his love.
Pastor Dave recently spent some time in service speaking about what it means to fear the Lord. If you missed it, you can catch the sermon here. His main point was this: fearing the Lord really does mean to fear the Lord. It is not limited to respect only.
“If we aren’t careful, or if we don’t know any better, we can easily be swept up reflecting our picture of worldly love onto our picture of God’s love.”
If you are stuck on the fluffy sheep painting of Jesus on earth, it can be difficult to understand why we are supposed to fear God. What is there to be afraid of? Well, as a guilty human being there is a lot to be afraid of when God hates sin. Remember that God “will by no means leave the guilty unpunished” (Exodus 34:7)? Maybe that sounds a bit more like bullying than terror to you, but if you keep reading scripture, you’ll see more of what God’s wrath against sin looks like. Take the book of Zephaniah, for example, one place where God communicates his plans for the day of judgement:
“I will bring distress on mankind, so that they shall walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the Lord; their blood shall be poured out like dust; and their flesh like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them on the day of the wrath of the Lord. In the fire of his jealousy, all the earth shall be consumed; for a full and sudden end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.” (Zephaniah 1:17-18)
If you say that isn’t scary, you are either lying or you are too prideful to think it would apply to you. Israelites throughout history believed this did not apply to them, but God sent Amos to tell them that God’s wrath is “as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him” (Amos 5:19)—no one can escape it.
Without fear of the Lord, you don’t even know who loves you. False teachings abound that imply God’s “New Testament” love gets rid of his “Old Testament judgement,” but God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The God who has the power to create and sustain all things still has the power to destroy it all, too. And he will do it too, to cleanse the earth of all evil. Only an evil God could allow evil things to endlessly prosper. This is the God we serve. And somehow, mysteriously, this is the God who loves us.
Apart from Christ, we are sinners who can expect to see God’s wrath. But when we are redeemed by Christ, our sin is removed from us. We become children of God. In the previously mentioned sermon, Pastor Dave likened a fear of the Lord to the fear a child has of his parent’s authority. A strong parent may bring seriously ugly wrath upon someone mistreating her child, but her child sees this as powerful protection rather than a threat. We have no need to run and hide from God when we are on his side.
When we know what God does to those who are against him, we rejoice. With our sin wiped clean and our hearts devoted to God’s will, God fights for us with this strength. He defends our hearts from the enemy and rids us of our flesh. But if a loving God was fluffy and weak like the world wants to say he is, why would any of us count on his protection? Without fear of the Lord, you have no reason to value his protection. Our fear of him allows us to trust who really fights for us.
Paul writes in Romans that “God shows us his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This is God’s greatest act of loving protection. So what exactly is it about a bloody, beaten man on a cross screams, “God loves you?” To put it plainly, that bloody, beaten man should have been you. It should have been me. It should have been all of us. But without fear of the Lord, you cannot see the love of Christ crucified.
What is love? “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13) We know Jesus took our place, but what was our place? It was in sin, against God, under God’s righteous wrath. When our view of God’s wrath is small, our view of Christ’s sacrifice is small too. Just some nail holes and blood and physical pain. But the reality and magnitude of God’s wrath puts into perspective the magnitude of his sacrifice on the cross. More excruciating than crucifixion itself, God recognized his own Son, for a time, as “against him” instead of us.
We must fear the Lord to even get a glimpse of the depths of his love for us. God’s love and grace and justice and power all work together to make God a complete and holy God worthy of worship.
“Without fear of the Lord, you have no reason to value his protection. Our fear of him allows us to trust who really fights for us.”
The author of Hebrews tells the church to “be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God pleasing and acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29). Don’t be mistaken–this verse is not talking about being shaken by worldly inconveniences, bad situations, or mean people. It is talking about being shaken by God himself. Through Christ, God has provided us safety as he shakes the rest of the unrepentant world to its knees. And what should be our response? Worship. A kind that includes reverence and awe: fear of the Lord.
I will leave you with this question for your own meditation: without fear of the Lord, is it possible to truly love him?Can someone love God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength if they do not acknowledge his power and authority? Is your obedience truly obedience if it lacks respect and a sense of seriousness about the one you are obeying?
Father God, you are worthy of being feared. You have unlimited strength and power, you love goodness and hate sin, you deserve every ounce of our respect and worship. Let us see your love for us in all its glory and wonder. Thank you for your mercy, for sacrificing your Son on our behalf so we might live and see your love. What a strange blessing it is to more easily remember your love than your wrath, Lord. Let us see you for who you really are and let us love you for who you really are. Amen.