Solomon writes in Proverbs 1:7 that the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge. In Proverbs 9:10, he says it is the beginning of wisdom. The closest and most concise direct scriptural definition is Proverbs 8:13: “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.”
But, what does that mean, you may quickly ask?
The absolutely perfect moral character of God described as holiness, purity, perfection, honesty, integrity and much more, is unchanging, and demands the utmost respect and reverence of mankind. It is impossible for God to lower His own moral standards to man’s level.
Romans 3:23 does say, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” you fully realize, right?
Thus, when man begins to hate evil, he is stepping up to a new level of understanding of his relationship with God and how this fits in with the world around him. However, as we know all too well, that raging, relentless and savage cry of our flesh to love sin is an ever-present matter in our lives.
The fear of God is more closely aligned with a fear of being alone, without God. Or rejected by God—which makes the promise of Psalm 34:7, one of great comfort to the humble believer:
“The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them.”
And true wisdom is knowing that being on God’s side in life’s travels is of utmost importance; the beginning place of wisdom. The respect and reverence for God’s righteousness that we often associate with the fear of God takes on new meaning when we realize how easy it is to turn away from the Lord to our own fancies (though we really know better).
Thus, Solomon also writes:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
I think “ways” in this verse means more than pathways—but attitudes, motivations, purposes and decisions.
Psalm 103:7 says: “He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel.” (One only sees the actions of God from afar, not His ways.)
In Romans 1:18-32, Paul writes of the end results when mankind rejects the presence of God from their lives, and the lusts of their flesh ravage their total beings, bringing them to a horrible end.
The context of Proverbs 1:22-33 also details how it spins out:
“For scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge. Turn at my rebuke; surely I will pour out my spirit on you. I will make my words known to you. Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded; because you disdained all my counsel and would have none of my rebuke, I also will laugh at your calamity.
I will mock when your terror comes. When your terror comes like a storm, and your destruction comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you, then they will call on me, but I will not answer. They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, they would have none of my counsel and despised my every rebuke.
Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, and be filled to the full with their own fancies. The turning away of the simple will slay them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them. But whoever listens to me will dwell safely, and will be secure, without fear of evil.”
It is no wonder, then, that Jesus would include in the model prayer He taught the disciples, the phrase, “but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13), and Jabez, that obscure individual of ancient Israel would lodge a request with God to “keep me from evil that I might not cause pain” (1 Chronicles 4:10).
Let’s recap the unfolding pattern of spiritual growth that a believer experiences in a “normal” Christian life that leads to a healthy “fear of God” concept in daily life.
A person hears the gospel, is convicted of his sins, turns to Christ for forgiveness, repents and is born-again. Lots of details and finer matters of doctrine go into all of that, but Titus 3:4-7 seems to sum up the process to this point:
“But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
Paul identifies the believer’s position, then, in this manner: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Peter then writes: “As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2). In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul challenges them on their carnality—living by the works of their flesh:
“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able…” (1 Corinthians 1:1-2).
The writer of Hebrews also writes in chapter five of that audience’s lack of growth beyond the “milk-for-babes” stage and identifies it in verse 14 as a lack of application of the truths of the Word of God: “But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
As a believer “puts off the old man and puts on the new man by the renewing of his mind” (Ephesians 4:22-24), in the leading of the Holy Spirit into all truth (John 16:13), he will discover that the old man, the carnal flesh of his former life, can contribute nothing, absolutely nothing, to his relationship with God. As a matter of fact, the robes of self-righteousness are as filthy rags in God’s eyes.
We believers spend unreasonable amounts of time trying to get our old man of a sin nature, which is spiritually dead but not in the grave, to behave and act religiously and it just does not work! Like the thin, fine line between love and lust, we seem to hover over it like a tight-rope walker until we finally understand Paul’s statement in Romans 8:5-7:
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
In the previous chapter, chapter 7, Paul had captured in detail his own struggle with the failure of his flesh to submit to the law of God, whereupon, he uttered these words of extreme desperation, followed by his total submission and abandonment to God: “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin” (Romans 7:24-25).
Therefore, I submit that the fear of God, in its true sense, kicks in when a believer is absolutely convinced that he is totally empty in himself of any spiritual quality acceptable to God, that he is totally capable of submitting to the lusts of his flesh, his eyes, and of his pride of life (1 John 2:16).
And, once at that point, he cannot bear the thought of God turning away from him in sorrowful disgust. Though He was not a man born with original sin, perhaps the greatest cry of anguish at such a separation was that from Jesus at Calvary: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34).
The late Lorne Sanny, former president of The Navigators and successor to its founder, Dawson Trotman, used to say, “Few end well,” and it does appear so as we see the “falling away” of end-time prophecy. And Paul’s admonition of 1 Corinthians 10:12 rings out like a resounding trumpet blast:
“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall!”
We cannot let this topic go, however, without the promises of hope that Jesus, Himself, has made, indicating His loving kindness and tender mercies toward those who would believe in Him. In Matthew 12:20-21, He quotes from an Old Testament description of Him in Isaiah: “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench…,” and then, in Hebrews 4:15-16:
“For we do not have a high priest who cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (MKJV).