From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 8 – Further advice on how we can become more faithful
The Bible regularly tells us to “fear the Lord”. It is a major theme and a very important issue. Here is an example. Joshua is speaking to the Israelites as they were about to enter the Promised Land:
14“Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River, and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15And if you be unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”Joshua 24:14-15 (RSV)
The phrase “the fear of the LORD” is confusing to many people. In particular, its purpose is not clear to them. Basically, the fear of the LORD involves realising who God is and how immense, powerful, and holy He is. It also involves recognising the reality of the fact that He is God and that He judges all people and punishes evil and wrongdoing.
If we are genuine Christians then we will not have to face His wrath at the Great White Throne judgment, provided we remain faithful to Him. However, see Chapter 21 in Book One of this series for an analysis of whether a real Christian can ever lose his salvation and end up at the Great White Throne Judgment and then the Lake of Fire.
But even if the judgment we have to face is the Judgment Seat of Christ, which is for saved believers, we should still fear it. I am not looking forward to that day. I fear it. I am keenly aware that there are many areas of my life which do not come up to the standard that God wants from me. Although God is patient and is working with me to get me to change, I cannot be complacent or presumptuous or assume that my own sin or unfaithfulness doesn’t matter. It does. It will have consequences, especially if I do not take it seriously or repent of it.
At the very least, it may involve the loss of rewards that I might otherwise have received. Even worse, it could lead to me being publicly rebuked by Jesus at the Judgment Seat. I fear that, and wish to avoid it. I want Him to praise me and reward me, not to scold me or to tell me what might have been, if only I had obeyed Him.
Perhaps the most painful thing of all would be to be told that my unfaithfulness had prevented me and/or others being effective in reaching the lost, such that men and woman went to the Lake of Fire as the indirect consequence of my own disobedience, laziness, selfishness or neglect.
I have not come across many other believers who share that concern, or who are even aware of the concept of the fear of the LORD, let alone gripped by it. It is rare today in the West. However, it is actually something which you should seek for and ask God to produce in you. It is for your own good. Many beneficial things will come from it. A lot of promises are made in the Bible to those who fear the LORD. It is therefore an advantage, not a handicap.
Perhaps the greatest benefit that comes from the fear of the Lord is that it helps us to remain acutely conscious of God at times when we are tempted to sin or to be unfaithful to Him. Our fear of Him can then jolt us back to our senses before it is too late and before we do wrong. Therefore, every day, indeed every moment, we must choose whom we are going to serve. The fear of the LORD will help us to make the right choice:
7The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;Proverbs 1:7 (NASB)
Fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Stay faithful for the long term – until the day you die
It’s hard enough just to begin to be faithful. However, it is much harder to continue. Staying faithful to God, year after year, decade after decade, until the day you die, is very difficult. Few can manage it. The greatest danger is the complacency that can arise after years of having followed the LORD. It is so easy to imagine, having come so far, and having remained faithful until now, that you are immune to temptation.
If you ever assume that, then you will begin to think that you can afford to relax your standards a little and ‘cut corners,’ or make small compromises. You can’t afford to do that. The later stages of a person’s life can be the period in which they become most likely to do this, such that they fall into sin and let God down. We must never let that happen to us. The only way to avoid it is to keep relying on God, and to ask for His help in avoiding presumption and in staying vigilant and alert. There is no place for a casual attitude, however well you may have done so far.