Please open your Bible to the place, where it is written: “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.” This text in Acts 9:31 describes the state of the early church after the conversion of Saul. Two conditions are described; they walked in fear, and they walked in the comfort of the Holy Ghost.
Is it strange that such things be blended: fear and comfort? Are you normally in such a state as this, as was found in the early church? Does fear dominate your conscience, and are you comforted in the midst of this fear? Is the church of today in such a state? It used to be.
Today, it seems to me, most prefer to dwell upon the love of God, yet find no durable comfort in it. Love of the world pervades the visible church, instead of a hatred for sin. Fear of man prevails, and God is a convenience for Sundays and emergencies. There is no comfort in such a thing.
Many are persuaded today that the word fear really means respect. There is a type of superficial respect to God that does not affect how one lives. God is not in all the thoughts when the world and the belly are gods of the heart: this is a truly wicked place, where we glory in our shame. “For many walk, of whom I have told you often and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.” (Php 3:18-19)
And you, my friend, are not this way? How would those who know you describe you? Would they describe you as one who walks in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost? Is that, in truth, how you do live? It should be.
What does a lack of the fear of the Lord look like? It sins lightly, casually, and is either brazen or apathetic when confronted with sin. It sins carelessly, obstinately, persistently. While it trembles at the displeasure of men, and swoons in their praise, it is callous to God, unconcerned with being offensive to God, unconcerned for His pleasure. It says, “No one will know. No one is perfect. Don’t be so judgmental and legalistic!” It complains at exhortation, despises reproof and instruction, refuses to submit, seeks its own way, and justifies itself.
It is so common. Just look around you … and within you.
And what does the fear of the Lord look like? “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil.” (Pr 8:13) Fundamentally, it is a disposition to hate sin. It is a hatred of sin that moves one to depart from it: “by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil.” (Pr 16:6). The fear of the Lord will not disobey God, regardless of the consequences. It will seek to know God’s will and follow after Him. It loves instruction in holiness and the knowledge of God, of His ways and of His pleasure.
What moves us to fear the Lord as believers? Is it “a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries.” (Heb 10:27) This fear, this dread, is within whenever we are walking in any open, willful disobedience. This state is not common in believers but it certainly may happen from time to time. When it occurs it is not of extended duration such that the believer’s life is primarily characterized by this, nor is it ever full blown in any believer: believers are always half-hearted in their sin. (1Jn 3:9-10)
Instinctively, believers know of this fear even if we do not experience it directly. In coming to know God at all, as He is, we begin to understand how terrifying He can be. It is a knowledge of the terror of the Lord.
Paul said, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” (2Co 5:11) Knowledge of the terror of God not only resolves in us our tendency to sin, but moves us to exhortation in our communion with others. It is a knowledge of how our heavenly Father responds to sin.
God’s response to sin is violent. It is a deep rage, a profound hatred. It moves powerfully in the Almighty, whose very voice shakes the earth. Moses heard Him speak and said, “I exceedingly fear and quake.” (He 12:21) God spares none of His immense power in avenging Himself upon sin, or in exposing His passion against it. The thick dark blasts of an eternal Hell prepared for the devil and His angels await all who caress their sin, regardless of their religious profession. (Ps 125:5)
God’s hatred is toward the sinner himself, for this is the root of sin: “Thou hatest all workers of iniquity.” (Ps 5:5) There is no understanding of sin in God, no lenience for it, no compassion for it, and there is no tolerance for those who take pleasure in it. There is no acceptable place or time or occasion to engage in sin, and there is no place to be hid in it. God will seek out every spec of sin in His domain and utterly destroy it. The sin in you, and the sin in me.
When God begins to deal with sin in His creation, everything will be moved. When the time for His judgment is come, the Day of His vengeance, earth and heaven will flee God’s face for the terror of it, “and there was found no place for them.” (Re 20:11) When God looks with holy displeasure about the created realm, He will find every trace of sin and eradicate it mercilessly.
I recall one time as a youth defying my father, for the first and last time. He had given me strict instruction to refrain from climbing to the rooftops in our apartment complex. I promptly disobeyed and was discovered. Our eyes met, across the open courtyard, me on the roof, and my dad full in the window of his study, looking intently my way. He disappeared quickly from the window pane. I hastened to the ground and ran home to him.
He greeted me angrily at the door, “Get to your room!” I ran to the top the staircase.
Something foolish came over me at the top. I stopped. I thought. “Who is he to yell at me like that! Why should I let him push me around like this??”
I turned and glared at him. I said with my eyes, as though I were a million miles away and safely beyond his reach, “I dare you! Come on, Mister! I’ll take you on!” I was six years old.
Eye to haughty eye, he took one step, spanning four or five stairs, and was half way to me.
The hallway was large… I could not see around him. He filled it completely.
I don’t remember much after that.
But I will never forget his face.
A violent atheist is said to have found the face of God on his deathbed. Voltaire, who had publicly taunted and blasphemed the God of heaven for decades, is quoted at his last rasping breath, saying: “Oh! Thou much despised and blasphemed God, Hell were but a refuge … if it would hide Thy Face from me!”
Oh! The dreadful face of an angry God!
Men are crushed by the appearance of His holy face when He is at rest; no mortal can see it and live. (Ex 33:20) He destroys the wicked with the blast of His nose. (Job 4:9) Who can tell the strength of His holy arm? (Is 63:5) What will it be when He is rises from the throne filled with indignant rage, to take vengeance on His enemies? (Jer_46:10) We cannot even begin to fathom this.
He has prepared the environs of Hell to reflect His hatred of sin. It is dark and black. (Jud 1:13) It is filled with fire that is so extremely hot that no light springs from it. Such intensity is not known to exist naturally, not even in the sun! There is even a toxic chemical intensity to it (brimstone, sulfur) to torture the natural frame of those who dwell there. (Re 21:8) In this place He is preparing to crush and trample His enemies, everyone who sins against Him (Ro 2:8-9), in fantastic unending fury. (Is 63:3)
He is looking forward to that Day. (Is 53:4) We should be too. (Re 6:10)
It is only in Jesus Christ that one finds a haven from the wrath of God. It is there, hidden in the cleft of the Rock, deep in the pierced bosom of Jesus, covered and cleansed by His blood, that comfort is found, where we can bear the indignation of the Lord. All of the wrath due us for our sin was spent on Him Who died for us. That is the only safe place in the entire universe.
Yet let no one think to be in Christ that does not have a hatred for sin, a love for God, and a fear of displeasing Him. There are no stiff-necked Christians; no, not one. “Let no man deceive himself, he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil.” (1Jn 3:7-8) No man shall see the Lord without holiness, without following after holiness. (Heb 12:14)
The fear of the Lord… What is it? It is an internal disposition that produces emotions of fear, dread, and dismay at the thought of displeasing the eternal God. It is a deeply unsettling uneasiness at the potential of displeasing Him. This disposition makes it impossible to sin against Him lightly, wholeheartedly, persistently. It extinguishes carelessness and impudence and self-will. It drives one to seek the face of God in humility with a desire to know the will of God, to find God’s will, and then to follow and obey His will.
Certainly, the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever. (Ps 19:9) It moves one to depart from evil … to actually hate evil. (Pr 16:6, 8:13) There is absolutely nothing corrupt about it. It is the well-spring of wisdom, the beginning of it. (Pr 9:10)
The fear of the Lord is the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, evident in all those who are filled with Him. (Is 11:2) No one can be filled with the Spirit and not be filled with the fear of the Lord. When one is walking in obedience to the Lord, in deep reverence and careful obedience to Him as the early saints did, His Spirit comforts and caresses.
Certainly, in the fear of the Lord, there is comfort. It is the comfort of eternal safety, of strong confidence. (Pr 14:26) It brings the assurance of being grounded on the rock (Mt 7:25), the hope of God’s ultimate purpose being fulfilled in us, the joy of His name being magnified, the fullness of His good pleasure in us.
Learn to fear the Lord. Go to those who fear Him and company with them. (Ps 119:79) Meditate upon His matchless strength. Spend time thinking about His coming judgment upon men (Is 2:19), and remember how He spared not His own Son when dealing with your sin. (Ro 8:32) Ask Him for grace to fear Him. (Ps 34:11) Ask Him to reveal His terror to you, His fear, and seek to know it. He will.
“Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb 12:28b-29)