Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been considering the godly sense of biblical fear in Christ: a reverence of God that sees His holiness and grace and draws us closer for submission to His will. But studying a biblical theology of fear would not be complete without looking at the response of fear without Christ.
We began two weeks ago with an article on Studying Mindfulness in Christ: a Biblical Theology of Fear (Psalm 1 and 2) and then a follow-up workout video on Exercising Mindfulness in Christ: a Biblical Theology of Fear (Psalm 1 and 2) because God’s Word tells us the true wisdom begins with fear – a proper fear of the Lord, that is. And since mindfulness notes the interaction of our spirit and body in relationships with others, we noted some specific ways in which godly fear prompts our spirit to posture our body before the Lord and others: kneeling or bowing to kiss the Son and rejoicing with trembling.
Worldly “wisdom” also begins with fear – but without God – and therefore with very different results. Genesis 3 reveals how that type of fear plays itself out in the downward slide of turning away from trusting God to trust in our own wisdom, defining “good” and “evil” for ourselves. Let’s pay particular attention to how ungodly fear prompts physical postures toward God and others.
For the sake of brevity, I will refer to fear that does not (or not yet) revere God as “godless fear” – “godless” because the person does not (or does not yet) trust God as their advocate through His grace for their holiness and joy in Him. I recommend re-reading that last part again slowly. For grace without holiness is mere license to continue sinning, and the mere appearance of holiness without grace and joy in Christ is religion empty of His power and our true change. Godly fear sees His holiness and Jesus’ grace, and will “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” (Psalm 2:11)
First, godless fear hides our sin instead of initiating confession. You may have heard that the first result of sin is shame, since Adam and Eve saw their nakedness and covered themselves. But in verse 10, Adam clearly says they hid because of their fear. Godless shame is based in fear that only sees God’s punishment, not the real hope of His grace (1 John 4:18). If we think our sin is greater than God’s grace, we will still hide from Him and each other spiritually and physically. We will retreat to more alone time in a private room, behind a computer; we will walk or drive by ourselves instead of with others; we will make excuses to leave time with family to nap or go to bed before or after our spouse; we will busy ourselves with work so as not to have more difficult intimate time with others or God; we will fill our bodies with stimulants to drown out any feelings of fear with lots of music, food, exercise, virtual realities of movies and games, activities, and more. We will be afraid that if we reveal our true self, others would reject us – and worse yet, God would, too. But Isaiah 55:1-13 reminds us that God is not retaliatory like we are. He is gracious.
Second, godless fear blames others instead of owning our rightful blame. Even though Eve had sinned first, the Lord addressed Adam first as the head of the family (1 Timothy 2:13-15). Yet, Adam tried to blame Eve for his abdicated leadership…and God for giving her to him. And Eve blamed the serpent, even though she, like the serpent, took part in the twisting of God’s words about what was truly forbidden (compare Genesis 2:16-17 and Genesis 3:1-3). The blame game goes one vicious step beyond hiding our guilt: it unjustly puts it on someone else. Sure, all three of them were guilty of specific rebellions, but each one should have taken their own responsibility. Godless fear desperately tries to divert attention from our guilt by pointing at someone else. Watch our gut reaction the next time our conscience or someone even hints at our fault. We might try to change the subject by pointing out their faults instead; we might bring up past failures, or sarcastically ask about their next excuse for not performing to our standard – as if our performance is beyond question. We might try to emphasize the intensity of their sin and ignore the frequency of ours or the frequency of theirs and ignore the intensity of ours. We might try to build alliances with others to see us as “good” and only them as “bad”. And we certainly won’t pray genuinely. We can’t. The most we might muster is a memorized pray, void of our true heart, even thought the Psalms clearly show us that God invites us to bring our whole heart to Him – guilt, fear, and all. But blame doesn’t seek to reconcile the relationship and solve the problem. It seeks mere self-protection and, therefore results in further isolation.
Third, godless fear points to our own works, not God’s grace. Did you notice that God replaced Adam and Eve’s fig leaves with His own coverings of animal skins? (Genesis 3:21) This reminds us of two things. 1) We cannot cover our sins by our works. As the Lord had warned in Genesis 2:16-17, the punishment for disobeying Him is death. But 2) we can rest in the covering that God provides. The animal skins show that He will accept the death of another in our place, another foreshadowing of Jesus’ work of perfect sacrifice in the place of our rightful punishment. Yet, Cain brought his works to God, and verse 11 of Jude tells us that his goal was selfish gain, not satisfaction in God Himself. Fear without respect for God’s holiness and grace immediately turns to faith in our own works, expecting to be rewarded because we esteem our works as worthy.
Fourth, godless fear turns away from God. When Cain saw that the Lord esteemed his brother’s sacrifice of another’s blood and had no regard for Cain’s hard work, his face fell. Notice that God’s Word doesn’t say “he fell on his face”, which is a typical posture of submission and worship throughout Scripture. He simply looked down, away from the Lord of heaven. Godless fear and godless pride are two sides of the same coin of self-focus. When our human nature can’t have it’s way, it wants to turn away altogether. This is another reason why we need God’s invasive love of grace to change us. The heart that loves self will not love God who will not tolerate any other on His throne of glory.
And unless God intervenes to change the person, godless fear eventually attacks. Godless fear has less and less regard for God or even any consequences until it has no fear at all and attacks any opposition.
In Genesis 4, we see that Abel seems to have learned and embraced the message of God’s grace. Cain, on the other hand, selfishly tried to buy God’s favor by presenting the fruits of his hard work (see 1 John 3:12 and Jude 11). And when the Lord had no regard for Cain’s offering, his fear turned to anger, self-centered dejection, and murderous jealousy. We might think that’s extreme, and it is. But godless fear’s foolish trust in our own work is one of the main themes of man’s response to sin. Finally, in Genesis 4:20-24, we see Cain’s lineage remembered for amassing property, excelling in music, and fashioning impressive tools. Sounds okay, right? But look at the heart of self-focus in Lamech, the seventh generation through Cain (seven denoting completion). Lamech felt so entitled to God’s forgiveness that he boasted of murder and expected ten times the protection that God mercifully gave to Cain. Compare that godlessness to the godly fear of Seth’s line who “began to call upon the name of the Lord.” (Genesis 4:26) And Enoch, the seventh in the line of Seth revealed an exponential growth just as the seventh line through Cain, but from a completely different fear with a completely different result. Enoch had a godly fear of the Lord that drew him to walk with the Lord, prophesy for Him, and even be taken directly to be with Him without dying first (Genesis 5:24, Hebrews 11:5, and Jude 14-15).
Godless fear hides, blames, points to self, turns away, and attacks. Godly fear sees His holiness but also His grace, calls on Him for help, serves Him, walks with Him, and is eventually taken to be with Him forever.
Next week we begin with an article on a biblical theology of godly grief from Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12.
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