The Fear Factor

Could it be that in the church today, in order to recapture what might be perceived as a declining market, we have copied the Oldsmobile strategy?

Oldsmobile was an American automobile icon since 1897. It sold more than 35 million automobiles in its 107-year history. During the 1980s, however, Olds attempted to recapture its declining market by reinventing itself. You may remember the 1988 slogan, “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile.” They tried to reposition the elegant Olds as something different than what it was. That proved the beginning of the end, and it was phased out in 2004.

In our attempt to reinvent or at least remarket God to a declining audience, are we in danger of domesticating the Lion of Judah and emasculating the King of Kings?

Whatever happened to the fear of the Lord? Indeed, fear of the Lord is not an outdated, primitive view held by unenlightened and superstitious people who were just too ignorant to know better. It is a theme that runs throughout Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. Moses taught it, Paul preached it, and the early church got it. But somewhere along the line we have lost it—to our detriment.
What is the fear of the Lord? The word "fear" is a broad term that can mean anything from fright and terror to reverence and veneration. We often use the word fear to refer to our phobias, which run into the hundreds. It seems new ones are being discovered every day. Daily news and advertising continually prey off of our fears; real or imaginary. We are given the impression that just about everything in our lives is a threat or unsafe at one time or another. Hollywood feeds our fear with its love affair with end of the world “disaster” movies.

First, we must recognize that fear is a gift from God. When our lives are threatened, we feel fear. Healthy fear moves us to take action—protective action. Fear also keeps us (most of us) from taking risks beyond our ability. Parents wisely keep close tabs on young children near cliffs because they know that the “fear factor” is not fully developed. (The same could be said for older men who climb ladders!)

Some, like Timothy Treadwell, pay the ultimate price when they lose their healthy gift of fear. He lived among grizzly bears in Alaska for a number of years assuming they were his friends. One day in 2003 he and his girlfriend were killed and eaten by the grizzly bears he was no longer afraid of. Fear is a gift.

But the term “fear of the Lord” is more than simply being afraid or terrified of God. It has to do with “reverential fear," not mere fear of God’s power and righteous retribution, but “a wholesome dread of displeasing Him.”

The fear of the Lord begins with the understanding of the power and holiness of God. It is the way the Scriptures unveil who God is. In view of His power and holiness we stand in fear of his judgment. “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). The fear of the Lord should lead us to ask such questions as these: “How can I ever be right with God?” And, “Is there any hope for an immoral person to live in the presence of a holy God?”

The Gospel is the answer to man’s fear of the Lord’s holiness and wrath. This fear of the Lord is essential for salvation. It is the fear of the Lord that leads us to accept Christ’s work on the cross on our behalf. (It seems today that we are trying to present the Gospel with the love of God without the fear of God.)

When we come to God by grace through faith, the fear of punishment is eliminated. The fear of the Lord now becomes reverence, awe, and gratitude. Rather than shrinking from His presence, the fear of the Lord moves us toward Him with reverent confidence.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that, since Christ has become our high priest, “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). We are to come confidently, boldly, and expectantly but never casually.

This reverent fear of the Lord is the platform for our entire journey of faith. It teaches us that even though God wants a close relationship with us and He is our Father, he is never our “buddy.”

Let’s return to our question at the beginning, could it be that in the church today, in order to recapture what might be perceived as a declining market, we have copied the Oldsmobile strategy? What signs of this have you seen? From your perspective, what’s become of the fear of the Lord?

Contact Ron or learn more about his and his wife Mary's work with Navigator Church Ministries here.