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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.
Their historical record portrays perfectly for us our two choices when trouble comes into our lives.
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.
The fear of the Lord comprises two essential facts:
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 about 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.
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 as 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.
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, discipline, 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 with a loving means to live that way.
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.
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.
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.
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.
They chose to rely on themselves. What will it be for you?
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 not to 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.
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.
The crux of the matter, and what is really at issue here, is between belief and unbelief:
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.
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.
“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.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).