In this post, I’m kind of responding to one of the questions Scott raised in the comment section to one of our blogs. I say “kind of responding” because one of the questions he asked was “how do you overcome unbelief and doubt” and the answer I’m going to give in the next few blogs is really related to the question how do you develop a more robust fear of God?
At first glance, what I’m going to say about how to develop a robust fear of God may not appear to relate his question, but, in my judgment, my answer does very much relate. It is my conviction that the answer to the question “how do I develop a robust fear of God” is the same as the answer to the question “how do I get rid of my doubts and develop a strong faith”?
(Actually, the answer I’ll give in this series of blogs is also the answer to another question raised by a responder about how to overcome consuming lust.)
If Scott or anyone else is saying, “I really do want to develop or increase and sustain a more healthy, wholesome, robust fear of God (i.e., a strong faith in God). I really do want to be a truly God fearing person, i.e., a strong believer. Will you please tell me how I can become and remain that kind of person? I want it, I need it, but how do I get it?” my next few blogs should be very helpful. In these posts I want to point Scott and all of us who claim to be Christians to some biblical directives for doing the very thing the previous quote from Scott indicates he desires to have happen. If the fear of God (or a strong faith) is as important for us as Christians as the Bible clearly indicates it is, we might expect that God would give us information about how to develop it. And, indeed He has! In these posts we’re going to see that God has much to say about this aspect of developing, increasing and sustaining the fear of God in our lives.
I begin in this post with factor number 1 which is: to develop and sustain the fear of God you must have a change of heart. (Hang with me: this is only the first installment. There is more to come, but we must begin with factor number 1 because it is foundational to all the other factors.)
To understand how to develop and sustain a healthy, robust fear of God it’s important for us to note that we don’t just naturally fear God. With all that the Bible says about the majesty and glory of God we might be tempted to think that men would automatically fear God or have a strong faith in God.
Understanding who God is, what He has done and still does and the benefits that come to people who fear Him, we may be inclined to ask the same questions that Jeremiah and the people in Revelation asked: “Who would not fear Thee, O King of the Nations?” (Jeremiah 10:7); “Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Thy name?” (Revelation 15:4) It seems irrational, absurd, unbelievable that people would not automatically fear and reverence someone who is as great and majestic as God is, someone who has the power and ability that God has, someone who has done and still does what God has done and continues to do.
In reality, when you consider the greatness of God, there is nothing more reasonable than the fear of God. To not fear Him is the height of absurdity. Yet the Scripture declares and our experience illustrates the fact that men don’t naturally fear God. In God’s description of what characterizes the whole of the human race (Romans 3:9 – both Jews and Greeks are under sin) since the time of Adam, He says, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18). In this verse Paul is probably quoting an Old Testament text that says essentially the same thing: “There is no fear of God before his eyes” (Psalm 36:1). “There is no fear of God in this place” was the way that Abraham described the society in which he lived. The situation has not changed. The society in which we live in the twenty first century is still devoid of the fear of God. Unregenerate, unredeemed men don’t by nature fear God. Instead of fearing God, men automatically fear man (Proverbs 29:25; Romans 1:23, 25). By nature, men are more concerned with the approval of men rather than the approval of God (John 12:43).
If that is true, the question that naturally arises is: what must happen for men who don’t naturally fear or trust God to begin to do this? Thankfully, the Scriptures give a very clear answer to this question. God provides an answer through the inspired prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 32. In that message, God says this about the people whom He says He will make His people and for whom He will become their God (Jeremiah 32:38), “I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me always … I will put the fear of me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me” (Jeremiah 32:39, 40). For people to fear God, God has to supernaturally put that fear in their hearts. Earlier in Jeremiah, God has described the hearts of men before He gives them a new heart as being deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). Before God gives to men a new heart they oppose the God of the Bible, they resist and rebel against this God (Romans 1:18-25; 8:5-8; Mark 7:21-23; Ecclesiastes 9:3; Isaiah 1:5; Genesis 6:5). Sometimes this heart resistance and rebellion is covert and sometimes overt, sometimes violent (easily recognized) and sometimes more subtle and even disguised.
Nonetheless, the hearts (a word that is used metaphorically to describe our inner man, our soul, the non-physical part of us as human beings, the core of our being, the mission control center of our lives) of all men resist God and don’t fear God in the way described in the last message of this book.
For a person to truly fear God, some important internal changes must take place, changes that only God can make. This change is variously described in Scripture. Jeremiah indicates that for this change from a lack of fear of God to a fear of God to occur, God must perform heart surgery. He must give that person a new heart. He must change that person on the inside, at the very core of his being. In the book of Ezekiel, God describes this same indispensable operation in two passages: First, He does it in Ezekiel 11: 19, 20: “I shall take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh that they may walk in My statutes and keep my ordinances to do them.” Then He does it again in message 26:25-27: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes”. In both of these Ezekiel passages, God makes it clear that the problem with people in terms of their attitude toward and relationship with Him is a heart problem. They have a heart of stone and need a heart of flesh. What they need is a new heart, a new spirit; a heart of flesh. Their heart of stone (a heart that was impervious to God and His Word, a heart that was uncaring about God, a heart that was committed to an antiGod focus in life, a heart that was insensitive and inflexible, a heart that lacked the fear of God) needed to be replaced with a heart of flesh (a heart that was soft and impressionable and responsive, a heart that was sensitive, a heart that was tender and compliant to God and His Word). Ezekiel 26 refers to filthiness and idolatry. Where was the primary location of that filthiness and idolatry? The references to needing a new heart and a new spirit indicate that the change and cleansing that was needed was internal. Ezekiel message 14 mentions that the problem with people is heart idolatry (Ezekiel 14:1-9) and message 11:21 mentions that their hearts are going after detestable things and abominations (i.e., that which is an abomination to the Lord). The problem of man, then and now, is a heart problem. So the cleansing that Ezekiel 26 says men need is a cleansing that is not merely external, but primarily internal.
As with all of us, these people needed to be cleaned up on the inside; because that’s where the real problem was. For them to become God centered, God fearing, they needed to be cleaned up on the inside, they needed to receive a new heart, a new disposition, a new spirit, a new internal control center. No one fears God in the Biblical way until this has occurred. In his comments on this passage Matthew Henry has rightly said, “We cannot sanctify God’s name unless he sanctify our hearts, nor live to His glory, but by grace alone.” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Volume IV, Revell, New York, 962) Turning to the New Testament, we find the same truth about our need for an inner change before we can be rightly related to God and become God fearing people emphasized in many places. I Corinthians 6:9-10 describes what the Corinthians were like before they became Christians. They lived lives of debauchery and immorality, there was no fear of God before their eyes – they lived for themselves, they lived to please people, they did what they wanted to do, they had no regard for the God of the Bible, they had the hearts of stone of which Ezekiel was speaking. But Paul says something happened to them that changed them; he says, “Such were some of you” indicating that they were no longer living that way. What had happened to change their orientation to life? Verse 11 explains what made the change – they had been washed (cleaned up on the inside), they had been justified (declared righteous) through the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ on their behalf. And more than that, the change had occurred because they had been set apart by the Holy Spirit. They heard the Word of God and, as they did, the Spirit of God convicted them of their sin, brought them to repentance over their sin and to faith in Christ. Through the work of the Holy Spirit using God’s Word and through the atoning work of Jesus Christ they had been cleansed on the inside and the inside cleansing then manifested itself in their changed attitude toward themselves, toward sin, toward life and especially toward God. In the words of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, God gave them a new heart, a new spirit, a new disposition that enabled them to do what they could not have done previously. He replaced their old inner control center which was under the control of sin with a new inner control center under the control of God. Or in the words of Paul in his second epistle to the Corinthians, Christ had come to them through the Gospel and by the Spirit and had made them new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). As a result, they could bring glory to God and live a God fearing life (I Corinthians 6:19, 20; 10:31).
How can we develop the fear of God or a stronger faith in God? How can we overcome unbelief and doubt? The first requirement for developing and sustaining a God – fearing manner of life is being cleaned up on the inside, receiving forgiveness through the sacrificial death of Christ (I John 1:7; 2 Corinthians 5:21); being declared righteous by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Christ (Romans 3:24, 25) by faith in Christ alone. When that happens, a person becomes a new creature in Christ, receives a new heart and spirit which God provides for all who come to Him through Christ and becomes indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God who enables Him to live a God centered and God honoring life (Romans 8:9-13; I Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 3:17-19). As Peter puts it in I Peter 1, because a person is redeemed by Christ he should and can live his entire life on this earth as a God fearing person. Experiencing redemption from the penalty and power of our sin sets us free to live our lives in the fear of the Lord. (I Peter 1:17-19). This kind of a life is only possible for those who have been redeemed, but it is possible for all who are redeemed. John Bunyan explains, “This fear flows from a new heart. This fear is not in man by nature; the fear of devils they may have, as also an ungodly fear of God, but this fear is not in any, but where there dwelleth a new heart, another fruit and effect of this everlasting covenant, and of this distinguishing love of God. …So then, until a man receive a heart from God, a heart from heaven, a new heart, he has not this fear of God in him. … This fear of God must not be, cannot be found in old hearts; old hearts are not bottles out of which this fear proceeds, but it is from an honest and good heart, from a new one, from such an one that is also the effect of the everlasting covenant, and the love of God to men. He therefore that has not received at the hands of God a new heart, cannot fear the Lord.” (John Bunyan, The Complete Works of John Bunyan, Volume II, The National Foundation for Christian Education, Marshallton, Delaware, p.423.) This, then, is the first factor in answering the questions: how can I develop a strong, robust fear of God? How can I overcome unbelief and doubts? If you are serious about overcoming unbelief and doubts you must examine yourself to make sure you really have had a supernatural change of heart.
This is only one of many factors, but since it is a foundational factor to everything else I will say in future blogs I wanted to begin here in that here is where God starts. (God willing, we will move on to other factors in the near future.)