It is common, in our age, to minimize the fear of God. Even those who take Godís Word seriously often define the fear of God as nothing more than awe or reverence for God. However, people who play down the fear of God in this way have forgotten, or never really experienced, what it is like to feel the condemnation of sin without having the assurance of forgiveness in Christ. On top of that, our entire society seems to have forgotten the wrathful side of God's nature, and many seem to equate the gospel with bland statements about God's love. The call to repentance is being demonized as intolerant, while the unrepentant are given a false assurance of salvation. In fact, some have become so hardened that they think that it would be wrong for God to condemn their lifestyle, or to send anyone to hell.

Five hundred years ago, the situation was quite different. At that time, the people of northern Europe had a real fear of God's wrath, but no assurance of His love or forgiveness. As a result, they had a real hunger for the gospel. Today, although people still need assurance of Godís mercy in Christ, many are not even aware that they are accountable to God. They have no concept of sin, and no sense of Godís impending judgement. Therefore, if our preaching is to be effective, we must first lay the groundwork for the message. In other words, before people can be expected to repent, they must know why they need to repent and what they need to repent of. Furthermore, it is not enough to simply tell them that they are sinners. If that is all you do, they may just yawn and say, "Oh I guess I have one or two." Instead, you need to continually remind them that wrong urges, lusts, thoughts, and desires are sin. And, I do not mean "little sins" (as if any could be little), but sins that if unforgiven will send their souls to hell (James 2:10). When there is a crime in the news, use it to remind them that they are not innocent. If the crime is rape, remind them that anyone who looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery in his heart (Matthew 5:28). If it is murder, remind them that hate, the desire to bust someone in the mouth, or the desire to hurt with words is also sin. If the crime is theft, what about goofing of on the job, padding an expense account, or misrepresenting something you have for sale? There are many ways in which we all are guilty of sin, yet most people excuse such sins and regard them as being of little importance. Therefore, we must help them to see that every unforgiven sin damns. There is no such thing as a venial sin.


For an unsaved person the fear of God means abject terror. In order to understand why, you simply have to realize what it would be like if you knew that you were condemned to all of the painful torments of hell, yet saw no way of escape. When a person in that situation truly fears God, he will not rest night or day until he finds peace with God. In fact, that is just how it was with Martin Luther. He was tormented night and day with a sense of his own guilt, until he came to know the peace that comes only through faith in Christ (Philippians 4:7). Furthermore, because Satan does not want us to find that peace, his agents offer a false hope and a false way of finding peace with God (Jeremiah 6:14).


When those who have no fear of God excuse their sins, justify their wrongdoing, and cover their iniquity, they are, by their actions, telling God that they love their sins, want to keep those sins, and have no desire to be delivered from their sins. In contrast, those who truly fear God will hate evil in the sense that they will stop covering it up, stop excusing it, and stop denying that they have done anything wrong (1 Corinthians 11:31). Because we see sin as something that holds us in bondage and will send us to hell if we are not delivered from it, we detest it (Psalm 97:10, Proverbs 8:13, Amos 5:15, Romans 12:9). And, for that reason, the fear of God is basic to our faith in Christ. In contrast, the world at large would rather be delivered to sin than from sin. They not only cannot see their need for salvation, but they only want to be delivered from the punishment of sin, not from sin itself. [NOTE: The self-righteous twist the hatred of evil into a hatred of those whom they regard as less righteous.]


Since those who truly fear God recognize sin as the tyrant that holds them in bondage, and faith as Godís assurance that Christ has freed them from that bondage, they will never assume that once they come to faith they are free to sin. Instead, they will be grateful that Christ has delivered them from sin, and will want every trace of it eliminated from their lives. In contrast, the self-righteous continually get it twisted around backwards. Because they see God as the tyrant and their own works as the source of deliverance, they often assume that their works are good enough to make up for an occasional sin or two. Nevertheless, if they really feared God they would admit their sin, and would know that their own works are worthless when it comes to salvation (Isaiah 64:6).

Those who truly fear God will be so glad to be free of sin that their actions will never say the opposite. In other words, they will never conduct themselves in a way that says, "I prefer the bondage of sin to the freedom I have in Christ." In fact, willful sin is totally incompatible with the desire to be delivered from sin, and could be viewed as a way of rejecting deliverance (Hebrews 10:26-29). [When I speak of willful sin, I am not referring to momentary lapses (harsh words etc.) but premeditated wickedness, such as Davidís adultery with Bathsheba.]


Those who have reached to the point where they see that nothing they do is truly righteous, will have a richer and clearer understanding of the gospel than those who have not. For it is only as we come to see that the law cannot make us righteous, that we can see freedom from the law as freedom from sin, rather than freedom from righteousness. The world simply does not understand that it is the law that makes us sinners, it is the law that brings condemnation, and it is the law that keeps us from being righteous. In fact, as long as we are under the law we will always fall short, no matter how hard we try to be righteous. [Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:20 and 7:18, 2 Peter 3:16.]

As believers, we want to please Christ in all that we do. However, because the law cannot make us righteous, we are not pleasing Him when we try to make ourselves righteous by keeping a list of do's and don'ts. On the contrary, every attempt to please Him through works is a denial of our need for Him, for if our works could please Him, there would have been no reason for Him to die on the cross. Therefore, the only way we can please Him, is to walk by faith, believing that the forgiveness we have in Him is what makes us righteous (Romans 10:4). Moreover, when we walk by faith the fruits of the Spirit will be manifest in our lives, and (without trying to make ourselves righteous) we can be loving and responsible parents, faithful spouses, honest and fair employers or employees, and good citizens.

If you find it hard to see your own sins, or difficult to understand how freedom from the law is freedom from sin, then you need to train you conscience to recognize the full extent of your own sinfulness (Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:10-23). When it come to the Ten-Commandments that may include understanding the difference between civil obedience (which has to do with the outward act) and spiritual obedience (which has to do with never having a sinful thought or desire). Once that is understood, it will be easier to understand how we are able to sin even when doing good, and why our righteousnesses are a filthy rags (Romans 3:20, Isaiah 64:6, Ecclesiastes 7:20). The righteousness of the law fulfilled in us only through being freed from the law in Christ (Romans 7:4-6), Romans 9:30-32, and 10:3,4).


If people are not responding to the gospel like they once did, perhaps part of the reason has to do with the fact that Godís love is being portrayed in a way that denies His justice, and His indictment of sin. While the law needs to be preached, it needs to be preached in such a way that points us to the Savior for righteousness, rather than to our own efforts. It needs to be preached in a way that will condemn man's righteousness, not promote it. For it is only as men come to see their sin that their hearts will be ready to receive the gospel.