Series: Spirit-Led or Purpose-Driven? Part 6
Title: Forgetting the Fear of God
by Berit Kjos, February 2004
(Thanks for including links to previous 5 parts)
Long before David wrote his treasured Psalms or Solomon penned the Proverbs, Job knew the secret of wisdom and friendship with God. In the midst of excruciating pain and loss, he said, "Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding." Job 28:28
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," echoed the wise men who wrote Psalm 111:10 and Proverbs 9:10.
Centuries ago, God's rebellious and presumptuous people thought they could follow their own sensual inclinations, participate in the rituals of their idolatrous neighbors and sacrifice their children to gain personal favors -- without losing God's favor and protection. Even the priests thought they were following His ways. They were wrong. Our holy God, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, warned His foolish and presumptuous people,
"Therefore I will number you for the sword,
And you shall all bow down to the slaughter;
Because, when I called, you did not answer;
When I spoke, you did not hear, but did evil before My eyes,
And chose that in which I do not delight.” Isaiah 65:12
Pastor Warren has little to say about such godly fear -- the blessed fruit of a deep awareness that God is our Judge and Avenger as well as our Father and Love. God's anger and wrath don't fit into today's affirmative, seeker friendly church environment.
Since Today's English Version, like the J. B. Phillips version, may be considered a translation rather than a paraphrase, the differences below may be less distinct. Yet, they illustrate a reluctance among many contemporary Christian leaders to use the word "fear" when referring to God. While we certainly must (by His Spirit) reverence our holy and almighty God, this more "positive" word removes any subtle (or embarrassing) reminder that our loving Father is also a "jealous" God -- an uncompromising Judge who has little tolerance for our lukewarm "obedience" and self-pleasing "worship."
KJV: "The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant." Ps 25:14
NKJV: "The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him, and He will show them His covenant." Ps 25:14
NIV: "The Lord confides in those who fear Him; he makes his covenant known to them." Ps 25:14
Living Bible: "Friendship with God is reserved for those who reverence him." Psalm 25:14a
KJV: "The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy." Ps 147:11
NKJV: "The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his mercy." Ps 147:11
NIV: "The Lord delights in those who fear Him; who put their hope in his unfailing love." Ps 147:11
Today's English Version: "He takes pleasure in those that honor Him; in those who trust in His constant love." [page 71]
In other words, the word "fear" clashes with today's attempt to market God to the postmodern masses. To a lesser degree, so do the words "righteous" and "merciful." Both remind us of our sin and inadequacy. They bring the discomforting suggestion that God indeed is "holier than thou" -- an unpleasant notion for those who prefer to believe that God is and thinks like me.
Instead, Pastor Warren introduces a more likeable God -- a smiling father who resembles today's permissive parent rather than the righteous and merciful God of the Bible. Whether you are part of God's family or not, Warren speaks confusing half-truths that assure you that --
- "the moment you were born into the world, God was there as an unseen witness, smiling at your birth... your arrival gave him great pleasure."[1, page 63]
- "You are a child of God, and you bring pleasure to God like nothing else he has ever created. The Bible says, 'Because of his love God had already decided that through Jesus Christ he would make us his children -- this was his pleasure and purpose."[1, page 63-64]
- "God enjoys watching every detail of your life, whether you are working, playing, resting, or eating."[1, page 74]
Do you feel good about yourself yet? Do you feel comfortable before your holy God?
Perhaps we feel too comfortable. Maybe our holy God doesn't "enjoy watching every detail" of our lives. Although His Word assures us that He delights in us when we trust and follow Him, it also shows us that He grieves over our foolish choices. And if we indeed have been "born again" of His Spirit, we would grieve with Him whenever we obey our own lusts rather than His Word! We would repent -- turn around and run back into His arms!
Yes, He waits for us. Yes, our patient and merciful Lord continues to love us deeply and eternally. Yes, in Christ, all our sins were nailed to the cross. But He doesn't minimize and excuse our natural rebellion as we do. Instead, he tells us to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure." Philippians 2:12-13
The New Testament brings some sobering reminders of a side of God we often prefer to forget. Take the story of Ananias and Sapphira. They were part of the early church community where people shared their belongings with each other. You probably remember the story:
"Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, 'Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?... Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all...
"Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter answered her, 'Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?' She said, 'Yes, for so much.” Then Peter said to her, 'How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.' Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband. So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.
"And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people....Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly. And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women...." Ac 5:1-14
God didn't hesitate to judge a sin that we might easily overlook. After all, Ananias made a generous contribution to the church, didn't he?
But God's standard for holiness among His people is far higher than we are led to believe in our churches. He wants a purified Body, a holy Bride -- washed and cleansed by His shed blood. Seeker-services that bring the world into His sacred places compromise His revealed purposes. So does consensus-based fellowship between believers and unbelievers, between His purity and the world's profanity.
In the early church, God's judgment [above] spread "great fear." The surrounding community showed two typical kinds of responses. While "the people esteemed them highly," only those whom God was drawing to Himself were added to the church. "None of the rest dared join them." It doesn't sound like today's marketing strategies, does it?
The problem is not that Pastor Warren left out the "the fear of God." He can't possibly teach all God's instructions in one book. The problem is lack of balance. By emphasizing God's delight in "every detail of your life" through most of the book while rarely mentioning God's anger, holy standard or judgment, he virtually denied the less comforting side of God's nature.
While God's love is unconditional, His promises are not. Most are linked -- often in the same passage they appear -- to guidelines and conditions for their fulfillment. But those conditions and warnings are generally left out. As presented in this book, many of God's promises to those who -- by His grace and Spirit -- follow Him become, instead, universal and unconditional assurances to everyone who reads the book. No need to "mourn" our sin, "tremble at His Word," or repent of our addiction to contemporary thrills, for everyone is okay in the eyes of Him who "passionately" loves all of us as we are.
But God calls us to know and follow His ways, not ours -- and to deny ourselves and let the "flesh" be put to death. In our weakness, He will enable us! Our goal must be His goal: that we would be holy as He is holy. Pastor Warren affirms that truth, but by softening God's revelation about Himself and His ways, he distorts our understanding of holiness. By trivializing the authority of God's Word, he bends our view of God's high standard for our lives in Him. Finally, when he quotes (in various forms) God's promises while ignoring His much-needed warnings, he builds presumption, not genuine obedient faith. Many readers would hardly even know what to obey!
They won't find answers when they turn to the discussion questions in the back of the book. Those questions are patterned to fit today's consensus process. This process for conforming individuals to the group's views, involves guidelines such as:
- Don't offend anyone by taking an uncompromising stand on truth or facts.
- Don't use words such as "I know" or "I believe." Instead use words such as "I think" or "I feel" which show your willingness to compromise and bend your views to fit the group consensus. [See Twisting Truth by Group Consensus]
- Show respect and appreciation for all positions, even those that clash with the Bible.
Most of the questions fit this pattern. Subjective and open-ended, they invite feeling-based opinions, not Scripture-based truths. And some of the questions beg answers that fit today's communitarian ideals more than God's truth.
True to form, the first two questions begin with "What do you think...." and "What do you feel..." None looks to the Bible as a reference point. None encourages the reader to seek answers from God's Word.
The natural outcome of this comfortable, relational dialogue is a group synthesis of the various opinions. In the end, everyone would feel good about themselves, about each other and about God -- no matter how He might be portrayed. No cost, no self-denial, no separation, no offense! Postmodern Christianity fits right into the changing world system. (This relational process will be discussed more fully in the next two parts of this series.)
Remember, His ways are not our ways! He is the sovereign King of the universe! To know and follow Him, we need to fill our minds with His true Word, not popular interpretations or feel-good group affirmations. Our wise and wonderful Lord says,
"He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.... If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words...." John 14:21-21
Next: Part 7 - Unity and Community
1. Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002). See "Driven or Led?"
2. Pastor Warren does mention God's wrath on page 232, but without a prior explanation of what might be considered "sinful." Instead, the reference to "wrath" fits into the relational context of "service" and "helping others" -- a Biblical command that is now being conformed to the global concept of community service and "service learning." This kind of organized "service" focuses on felt needs and dialogue and often rules out spiritual needs and Biblical truth. This will be explained more fully in later parts of this series.