The Joy of Fearing God, Jerry Bridges

The Joy of Fearing God, by Jerry Bridges

It is a command. It is a way of life. It is a lost treasure.

It is the fear of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 10:20-21 – “You shall fear the LORD your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen.”

All knowledge must flow from and start with our faith in God. Without this as our foundation, all of the knowledge and information we acquire will bring us no further than it did Michael Denton. Denton compassed incredible amounts of facts and formulated massive theories as to why Darwin’s theory of evolution did not explain the origins of our universe. Yet, even with all of this knowledge, he came to no conclusion because he did not take account of God. When we look at his book from the perspective of our belief in God, the facts that he gathered about the universe and Creation bring us to a place of awe and wonder and the greatness of our God.

This sense of awe and wonder towards God is the foundation of the concept of fearing the Lord. According to John Murray, “The fear of God is the soul of godliness.” He continues with a definition for the fear of God: “The fear of God in which godliness consists is the fear which constrains [compels or powerfully produces] adoration and love. It is the fear which consists in awe, reverence, honor, and worship, and all of these on the highest level of exercise. It is the reflex in our consciousness of the transcendent majesty and holiness of God.”[1] The fear of God starts with reverential awe, and is completed by an understanding of the love of God. John Calvin wrote, “All wickedness flows from a disregard of God…since the fear of God is the bridle by which our wickedness is held in check, its removal frees us to indulge in every kind of licentious conduct.”[2] The fear of the Lord is a filial fear, as the fear of a child towards a father. It is the total essence of a combination of respect for the infinite worth and dignity of God, admiration for His glorious attributes, and amazement at His infinite love. As Ferguson described it, the only true fear of the Lord is “that indefinable mixture of reverence, fear, pleasure, joy and awe which fills our hearts when we realize who God is and what He has done for us.”[3] We must come to the understanding seen in the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis when speaking of Aslan, “Is He safe? Safe, no. But He is good.”[4]

Up until reading this book, I had only experienced the fear of God as described on occasions few and far between. Typically, this would occur after an inspiring message (such as “How Great is Our God” by Louie Giglio), an exceptional time of study in Scripture, observing something stunning in nature, or after God did something miraculous in my life. I really have never had a “slavish” fear of God, but I do have a shallow fear of God where I am overly familiar with God. To show reverential awe towards God is something that I am slowly learning. Unfortunately, I have to admit that I have previously indulged in known sinful actions, thoughts, and words because I didn’t have a correct respect for God’s fatherly discipline. Just yesterday, I was taking a test individually from Dan Cooper and when I blanked out on several of the answers had the strongest temptation to cheat that I have ever encountered. It was only by the grace of God that I was able to think to the holiness of the God I claim to fear and have victory in endurance through the temptation.

In Jeremiah 32:38-41, we find that God has implanted a fear of Him in our hearts as believers. We are to have an undivided heart towards God. The closest thing seen in our culture to an undivided heart is the “workaholic” mentality of some business people. Though that may be somewhat unhealthy, it is that same singleness of purpose, plans, aim, and affections that we should turn towards God. With David, I pray that God would unite my heart to fear Him (Psalm 86:11).

How do we acquire the fear of the Lord? Having the fear of God is a process of training. We must work to have the fear of God as a dominant part of our mindset. It will require focus, commitment, practice, and perseverance.

The first action we must take is prayer. One concept under the topic of prayer that Bridges mentioned as a side note was that of praying over select Scriptures and asking God to work out their truth in my life. Though I am just starting to apply this since reading about it in the book last night, I can already foresee the power of this practice.

Secondly, we must consistently expose our hearts and minds to the Word of God (Deuteronomy 17:18-19). As we read, we can take the example of Paul when he was blinded on the road to Damascus and ask the questions: “Who are You?” and “What should I do?” In developing a sense of awe and wonder towards God, we should spend time in the Old Testament meditating on God’s evident holiness and sovereignty. John Bunyan wrote: “The fear of God flows from…a sound impression that the Word of God makes on our souls; for without an impress of the Word, there is no fear of God. Hence it is said that God gave to Israel good laws, statutes and judgments that they might learn them, and in learning them, learn to fear the Lord their God…For as a man drinks good doctrine into his soul, so he fears God. If he drinks in much, he fears Him greatly; if he drinks in but little, he fears Him but little; if he drinks it not at all, he fears Him not at all.”[5] As a supplement to our study of God’s Word, we should also read good books that create within us a deeper understanding of who God is. This, admittedly, is one of the areas that I feel I have benefited from immensely. This book by Jerry Bridges, as well as books by John Piper, C.J. Mahaney, George Whitefield, John MacArthur, and others have all added to and supported my own study of the Scriptures with the insights they have gleaned from God’s Word.

The third action required in developing a fear of God is to think great thoughts about God. This accomplished by meditating on passages such as Isaiah 40 which remind us of the grandeur of our God. When life doesn’t go our way, we must acknowledge God’s infinite wisdom and power in causing al things to work for His glory and our good in ways we don’t understand. Thoughts filled with the greatness of our God will lead us to realistic and humble thoughts of ourselves as well. This concept fascinated me in thinking of how knowledge and humility, the principle and character quality of this month, are all intertwined with the fear of God. I find it a beautiful thing how in God’s sovereignty I came to read this book just when we were studying knowledge and humility as an apprentice group.

God delights in us when we fear Him and hope in His love and faithfulness. Yet in all our efforts to bring the fear of God to the forefront of our minds, we will need accountability and support. Bridges suggests finding a friend to walk with us in our journey towards fear, that as Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, we would have another to help us up when we fall.

Jerry Bridges outlines five foundational and fundamental characteristics of a person who fears God. The first is that we live all of life under God’s authority. I am naturally a very independent person that resists authority. The key word there is naturally. As a Christian, the old is passed away and the new is given life. Thus, I am a servant of the King, living life under His authority not by force, but because I have seen who the King is in might, power, and, most of all, love. Yet, I must admit that I struggle still with authority. I don’t understand why authorities in my life seem to contradict themselves; why certain rules exist, or really, why God in His sovereignty allows some circumstances. But what I am learning is that when I rebel, not only is it always sin, it is sin in the worst form – that of saying that I am “above” God and the authorities that He has placed in my life. I am also learning to ask “What does the Bible say about this?” when I encounter decisions of morality. One area where I have been training myself to submit to authority according to Scripture is speed limits. I am a “chronic speeder” and as such, a “chronic sinner.” In accordance with Scripture’s command to obey our government authorities, I am training myself to always obey the speed limit, even when it seems ridiculous. My experience with the test yesterday challenged my thoughts over whether my obedience is prompted by the fear of God or by human morality. In most cases, unfortunately, I respond because of human morality rather than the fear of God in my life. I must learn to obey God because I love and fear Him.

The second characteristic of a man who fears God is obedience to God. The book of Ecclesiastes teaches how to live amid life’s tension, frustration, and disappointment, and it is summarized by Ecclesiastes 12:13 – “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” Charles Bridges, commentating on this passage, wrote: “Two short sentences sum up the whole – Fear God, and keep his commandments. The sentences are in their right order. The fear of God is the hidden principle of obedience…It is the work of the Spirit in the heart of the regenerate….It is not a legal principle of terror or bondage, but the genuine spirit of confidence – the delicate expression of filial love in the heart of the child of God – the holy fruit of forgiveness. Here we walk with our Father, humbly, acceptably, securely – looking not at an offended God with terror – but at a reconciled God with reverential love. All the gracious influences on the soul – cherished under the power of the Spirit – all flow out in godly fear towards him.”[6] Scripture speaks of not grieving the Spirit in our speech. My mocking, complaining, sarcasm, slang, critical and harsh words are sin. I am learning to stop questioning why the door forward seems closed and start examining myself for sin. If I am in sin, how can I expect God to continue blessing me? We so often focus on the “manageable sins” that we rarely commit and neglect the greatest commandments of loving God and loving people. We fear and love God by keeping His law. Over the last year, I have learned to recognize and deal with my sins of pride, selfishness, judgmental attitudes, etc. rather than only looking at the gross sins of society. We are fully responsible for our sin, yet fully dependent on God. He has commanded us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. This requires loving God and loving people. If I am going to love people, I must treat others as I would want to be treated. As I look back over the last several months and evaluate the way that I treat people, I am ashamed to say that I don’t treat everyone in the way that I would like to be treated. With several of the guys, I often disregard them because of their habits that irritate me, rather than loving them and bearing with them past the quirks (which I also have). In the case of others, I find that sometimes, because I do “like” a guy, I attempt to protect myself from getting close enough to be hurt through mocking and sarcasm. This is both not loving and sin. Therefore, I need to apologize to these individuals for the arrogant and prideful way in which I’ve been treating them. We must live by faith (Galatians 3:26) that we are accepted by God through Christ.

The man that fears God is characterized by living all of life in the conscious presence of God. (Jeremiah 16:17; Psalm 139:7-10; Jeremiah 23:23-24; Psalm 44:1; Jeremiah 17:10; Hebrews 4:13; Proverbs 4:23; Psalm 19:14) God commands us to keep our hearts with all diligence in the fear of Him. The heart is the entire conscious person, the reasoning and understanding, emotions, conscience, and will. We must evaluate our thoughts according to Philippians 4:8. Whatever does not measure up must go, for we are to “set our thoughts on things above” (Colossians 3:1-2). As I evaluate my thoughts, I know that the thoughts I have of rebellion, of deliberately breaking ranch rules, the complaining thoughts, the self-centered thoughts of depression, the critical thoughts – all of these are sin. I must train myself to think right thoughts. This begins with learning to keep the presence of God in the forefront of my mind and developing a grateful spirit. To go back to my recent “test experience,” I know that it is only the awareness of the presence of God (and the realization that if I did cheat, that I would not be able to rest until I went to Dan Cooper and had him fail me on the entire test for cheating) that allowed me to take a hold of the grace of God and walk in victory. Were I more consciously aware of the presence of God, I would not be so easily swayed towards the “soft choices” of lying, mocking, and sleeping in when I need to do my devotions in the morning.

Fourth, the God-fearer lives in conscious dependence on God. John Murray said “the fear of God means that God is constantly in the center of our thought and apprehension, and life is characterized by the all-pervasive consciousness of dependence upon him and responsibility to him.”[7] To depend on God continually is to pray continually. We are to pray without ceasing. Psalm 139 speaks of God designing our “inmost being,” meaning literally, the center of our emotions, moral sensitivity, and personality. He ordained exactly who we are before the foundations of the world. God has set life’s path for me, and thus it is not for me to stress and worry about, because I know that He is completely sovereign. I know that if I am to go to school next year and the years following, that God will provide a way. Regardless, this knowledge of God’s sovereignty should bring me to a place of constant thanksgiving. I am ashamed to admit that I am not nearly so grateful as I should be. I pray that God will, as He has replaced my heart of stone with a heart of flesh, replace my complaining, selfish heart with a heart of gratefulness.

The fifth characteristic of a man that fears God is that he lives all of life to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). God’s glory must be our primary aim in life. We are never “off duty” as Christians. Love to God and love to men should govern all our conduct. We were created to bear much fruit, which often means falling into the ground and dying. (1 Peter 4:11). Jerry Bridges wrote in an earlier book, Trusting God, “It often seems more difficult to trust God than to obey Him. The moral will of God given to us in the Bible is rational and reasonable. The circumstances in which we trust God often appear irrational and inexplicable.”[8] It is hypocrisy to “worship” at church without living a life of worship. A life of worship is a dedication of all you are, have, and do to God. Worship must involve an encounter with the glory of God and a fear of God. It must be sincere and from the heart, in harmony with what God has revealed about Himself in His Word.

The chief end of man (singular purpose) is to glorify God and love Him forever. In other words, God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him. (Psalm 27:4). Ferguson’s definition of the fear of the Lord rings true again: The fear of the Lord is “that indefinable mixture of reverence, fear, pleasure, joy, and awe which fills our hearts when we realize who God is and what He has done for us.”[9] (Psalm 63:1-4). When we learn to live in that, then we will reap the many blessings to fearing the Lord, including provision (Psalm 34:9-10), protection (Psalm 33:16-18; Psalm 25:12); and compassion (Psalm 103:8-18).

 


[1] Murray, John. As quoted in Bridges, Jerry: The Joy of Fearing God. Page 25.

[2] Calvin, John. As quoted in Bridges, Jerry: The Joy of Fearing God. Page 20.

[3] Ferguson, Sinclair. As quoted in Bridges, Jerry: The Joy of Fearing God. Page 27.

[4] Lewis, C.S. As quoted in Bridges, Jerry: The Joy of Fearing God. Page 23.

[5] Bunyan, John. As quoted in Bridges, Jerry: The Joy of Fearing God. Page 127.

[6] Bridges, Charles. As quoted in Bridges, Jerry: The Joy of Fearing God. Page 157.

[7] Murray, John. As quoted in Bridges, Jerry: The Joy of Fearing God. Page 192.

[8] Bridges, Jerry: Trusting God. As quoted in Bridges, Jerry: The Joy of Fearing God. Page 224.

[9] Ferguson, Sinclair. As quoted in Bridges, Jerry: The Joy of Fearing God. Page 255.

(Book report written December 2008)

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