Sunday, September 18, 2022

The Right Kind of Fear

In the scriptures the word “fear” may be used to describe the reaction a person might be expected to have in response to at least three different situations.

If surrounded by enemies fear would be equal to terror. David said, “Fear is on every side ... they scheme to take away my life.” On the other hand Moses commanded respect to be shown to parents by saying, “Every one of you shall fear* his mother and his father”, and Jeremiah was advocating reverence as being rightfully due to the Lord when he exclaimed, “Who would not fear you, O King of the nations? There is none like you, O Lord.”

When we read in the New Testament that “perfect love casts out fear”, it obviously does not mean a Christian should throw the idea of due respect to the winds and become chummy with God, thinking of him as a pal. Fear of the Lord is still “the beginning of wisdom” and “by it one turns away from evil”. If we want to be holy, the right kind of fear is one of the things we must cultivate.

The Meaning of Holiness

Believers in Christ are called saints or holy ones. W.E. Vine wrote:

“It is not an attainment, it is a state into which God in His grace calls men; yet (they) are called to sanctify themselves (consistently with their calling, 2 Tim. 1:9), cleansing themselves from all defilement, forsaking sin, living a holy manner of life ... and experiencing fellowship with God in His holiness.”

This personal cleansing and forsaking — or practical holiness — is our subject. You cannot convince me you are a saint by his calling if you are not at the same time also yearning to become more like the holy one you say is your Savior. Peter charges us to act as:

“… obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.”

Eminent and Immanent

We do not often use these words but we should think deeply about their meaning. Christ is both, in fact. Firstly, God has exalted him far above all so he is pre-eminent. Secondly, he is ever with us and so also immanent. We confess both, but fail at times to live our lives in the light of the fact that the Lord of all is also Lord of us in a special way. And this one who is everywhere and thus immanent, graciously comes to and abides with his own in a unique way. In practicing the presence of the Lord we who are completely set apart from the world in Christ will become increasingly set apart (holy) in behavior.

So how may we go about practicing his presence?

Practicing His Presence

Our minds can easily become overwhelmed by thoughts that we intended to consider perhaps for only a moment — to become angry, to gossip or lust. We open the door to see who was knocking, so to speak, and find a visitor has entered and taken over control and it seems impossible to get rid of him; we keep on thinking about the same things over and over. This is a common human experience and often the outcome of what we have heard someone talk about, have read, or watched on television. This ability to imagine doing something we consider (sinfully) desirable that has invaded the mind is fuel for our sinful flesh, rendering it impossible to make good moral choices.

Have you noticed that this sort of thing does not usually, if ever, take place when you are in the company of that spiritually minded friend in the Lord? His/her presence protects your mind from straying; you respect them so highly; in a way you fear them. Alas, they cannot always be with you ...

Would it help if you could imagine the Lord Jesus ever standing by your side? For a while it might, but the influence of that fantasy would fade. How would it be if you believed that Holy One was with you and by his Spirit dwelled within you? You have good reason to do so.

Increasing Holiness

Before Jesus physically left his followers he told them it was actually to their advantage for him to go away. He would ask the Father, and the Father would give them “another Helper”. (He chose the Greek word for “another” that meant another one exactly like himself.) He would stay with them and be in them. In this way, he would be with them to the end of the age.

I suspect that toward the end of the nineteenth century Henry Law must have been thinking along these lines when he wrote:

“The Lord Jesus received is holiness begun; the Lord Jesus cherished is holiness advancing; the Lord Jesus counted upon as never absent would be holiness complete.”

The potential to be increasingly holy in conduct is already yours.

— Colin Anderson, “Fear to be Holy”, October 2013

* Too often these days we hear of people who were abused by one or both parents. In such cases it is understandable if the mention of fear along with the word “father” might recall moments of terror. But the way the Holy Spirit has chosen to express things will not change. Scripture does not separate the idea of fear (respect) from human fatherhood or from the fatherly role of God. Malachi 1:6 makes this clear. The latter involves an awe expressed in reverence, worship, unquestioning submission, and separation from every form of evil.

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