How Can You Love Christ and Fear Him at the Same Time?
[Editor’s Note: The first chapter of the book of Proverbs reminds us “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” But what does this “fear” involve for those of us living under the New Covenant—we who have been cleansed from sin by Jesus’ blood so that we now have no condemnation (Romans 8)? What does such “fear” entail for followers of Jesus who are abiding in him daily, drawing on his risen life, dwelling under the scepter of his love, totally at peace as those reconciled to the Father through the Son? This blog post promises to give you a whole new way to think about the surprising, invaluable role of “fear” for lovers of Christ everywhere.]
Amazingly, in 2 Corinthians 5:10-11 Paul describes the dynamics of his relationship to Christ by using the word “fear”:
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ . . . Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others (NIV, emphasis added).
The New Living Translation expands it:
Because we understand our fearful responsibility to the Lord, we work hard to persuade others (NLT, emphasis added).
The fact is that from the moment our glorious Redeemer—risen and victorious, ascended and exalted—assumed center stage among his disciples by his Spirit beginning on the day of Pentecost, the hallmark of every believer and every church should become “the fear of the Lord.”
But the fear of the Lord is nothing to be afraid of!
Instead, it is something to be welcomed—a virtue that should be highly prized by each of us in our daily walk with Jesus. It defines every believer who is truly alive in Christ and alive to Christ. Let me explain why.
Do You Take Jesus as Seriously as the Father Does?
The phrase “the fear of the Lord” appears quite frequently throughout Scripture. In its New Testament iteration, however, it might best be defined as “taking God’s Son as seriously as the Father does.”
This arresting outlook marked the early Church—profoundly so. Here are two examples from Acts:
The whole church and all who heard about these things [concerning Ananias and Sapphira] were filled with fear (Acts 5, NIRV, emphasis added).
The Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus heard about this [the seven sons of Sceva]. They were all overcome with fear. They held the name of the Lord Jesus in high honor (Acts 19, NIRV, emphasis added).
It was this level of soberness that caused a band of leaders in Corinth to deal surgically with persistent sin in their congregation. One of their members, refusing to break off sexual relations with his stepmother, had to be expelled. Here’s how Paul prepared them for the difficult step they had to take:
Shouldn’t you have thrown out of your church the man doing this? . . . So when you come together, I will be with you in spirit. The power of our Lord Jesus will also be with you . . . hand this man over to Satan. Then the power of sin in his life will be destroyed. His spirit will be saved on the day the Lord returns . . . Scripture says, “Get rid of that evil person!” (1 Corinthians 5, NIRV, emphasis added).
Clearly, the indwelling “power of the Lord” and the corresponding “fear of the Lord” became for them the primary impetus toward bold, righteous action.
No Fear, No Passion
“The fear of the Lord” properly describes John’s reaction in Revelation 1 when he beheld the Son in ascended glory walking among seven Asian congregations. The apostle fell at the Lord’s feet like a dead man before his Lord in wonder-filled trepidation—and stayed there until Jesus said to him, “Fear not.”
John’s response represented what Jesus intended to invoke from every one of the seven churches he addressed in Revelation 2-3. For example, he sought an attitude of “awe and reverence” by the way he confronted the Laodicean church:
Since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! You say, “I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!” And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked . . . I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference. Look! I stand at the door and knock (Revelation 3, NLT, emphasis added).
Simply put, he wanted them to take him seriously—as seriously as the Father who has declared about his Son that “in everything Christ is to have the supremacy” (Colossians 1). If there is no fear of him there will be no passion for him.
A Critical Test
In point of fact, Scripture calls churches everywhere to test, to regularly test, their ongoing corporate experience of “the fear of the Lord.” They must carefully examine themselves for evidence that they are consciously, intentionally, openly—including verbally—giving Jesus his rightful place among them as Lord of all. They must see evidence that they are taking God’s Son as seriously as the Father does.
When Paul sensed that a body of believers was moving away from a laser focus on Christ inhabiting them in fullness, the apostle became intensely concerned, urging them as it were: “Take this test!” Here’s his appeal:
Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you. He is powerful among you . . . take a good look at yourselves to see if you are really believers. Test yourselves. Don’t you realize that Christ Jesus is in you? Unless, of course, you fail the test! (2 Corinthians 13, NIRV, emphasis added).
To put it in other terms, churches need to find the courage to examine their life together along this line:
How have we recently demonstrated undeniable evidence that we take seriously our calling to live out the reality that the risen, reigning Son of God is daily moving and ministering within our congregation in order to involve us in his kingdom purposes?
That is a test worthy of some serious discussion, especially by our leaders.
The stakes are high. It impinges directly on how effectively we will “reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4, NIV).
The more we become convinced that Christ is ruling in our midst, the more we will share the ministries of his Spirit (in the words of Philippians 2) “with fear and trembling,” recognizing that Christ in his ascended glory is present among us “working within us to will and do his good pleasure.”
Let’s Be Intentional About This
With forethought and intentionality in our life together in Jesus, we need to keep taking him as seriously as the Father does. Practically speaking, our churches should always be double checking what’s going on in our congregations to be certain we are giving God’s Son the centrality and the supremacy, proactively, the way he deserves—in everything, at all times, and in every way.
With clarity of vision and full-hearted resolve, we must be vigilant to consistently give Christ the preeminence—openly, verbally, passionately—in every dimension of our Christian walk, such as:
- Exalting Christ in how we express ourselves in worship
- Making Christ the focus of our sermons and Bible teachings
- Sharing Christ in the times of Christian fellowship and conversations
- Seeking Christ as the prime agenda of all our prayers
- Discovering Christ through the insights we dig out of Scripture in our quiet times
- Pointing to Christ by the priorities we exhibit around our children
- Serving Christ as the motivation for our ministry to the poor
- Showing Christ in our testimony to our neighbors
- Honoring Christ by how we fulfill our marketplace roles
- Proclaiming Christ as the prime goal of our outreach to the nations
Every time Christians convene, instantly two dramas unfold, doing so simultaneously, and both of which combined should result in nothing less than “the fear of the Lord”:
- Whenever we come together we immediately find ourselves surrounding heaven’s throne where the conquering Lamb sits wonderfully exalted before us;
- Simultaneously this very same Redeemer-King, by his Spirit, sets up this very same throne smack-dab in the midst of our gathering, leaning in with his scepter to renew and transform our life together by his active, sovereign presence.
That means every time Christians gather, “the fear of the Lord” should cause us, first of all, to exhort one another along the lines of Psalm 24:7 (The Message):
Wake up, you sleepyhead people! King-Glory is ready to enter.
About the Author
Over the past 40 years, David Bryant has been defined by many as a “messenger of hope” and a “Christ-proclaimer” to the Church throughout the world. Formerly minister-at-large with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, president of Concerts of Prayer International (COPI) and chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee, David now provides leadership to ChristNow.com and to Proclaim Hope!, whose mission is to foster and serve Christ-awakening movements. Order his widely-read book at www.ChristIsAllBook.com.