Continuing our series of sermons on seven deadly emotions, let’s spend a little time thinking after fear. Most of us have fears. We fear illness, financial failure, family problems, people, and the list goes on. I want to limit this sermon to the fear of God.
Is anyone interested in this subject? Have some of you already shut me off? I realize that this is not the most popular topic in society. It isn’t even a common topic around many churches, but it is a common topic in the Bible. Even our Lord Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Why aren’t you interested in the topic? Your answer is a bit shocking, but perhaps honest, “How can you fear God if you are a practical atheist?”
What is a practical atheist? I want to know.
The person replies, “I am a practical atheist because God has little or no place in my life. The Psalmist describes me, ÔThe wicked man is one who has no room for God in his heart’ (Psalm 10:4). I didn’t come from a religious home. We never have made it a practice to attend worship services. Our family didn’t talk about God. If there is a God, He had no place in our lives. Christmas and Easter were holidays, but we did not celebrate them as our Christian friends do. Santa Claus and the Easter bunny were the central figures on those days. We looked forward to all those presents and the Easter egg hunt, but never learned a single Christmas carol, unless you call Frosty the Snow Man and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer carols. We knew them and sang them a lot.”
There are many children today who will be practical atheists tomorrow. There is no mention of God in their homes. They don’t know what a Sunday school is all about. They are taught that the human being is in charge of his own life. When the children ask their parents why their family doesn’t belong to a church, father and mother have a united answer: We are not religious people. We don’t need religion. Some people do.
Another person might reply differently to the question about fearing God. He calls himself a universalist. When you ask him if he has any fear of God, he chuckles and says, You know, I believe there is some kind of a higher power, but He is not one with whom you have a daily chat. The relationship with this divine power is not personal. He loves us all. If there is a heaven, we will all be there. I am convinced this world would be a lot better off if we stopped letting religion divide us. Why can’t we accept one another as we are and stop building these religious divisions in our world?
Since this is Reformation Sunday, let me tell you about Martin Luther, a man who feared God. He was born in Eisleben, Germany on November 10, 1483. That is nine years before Columbus set sail for the new world. He was raised in a family where God was feared. The Almighty had given the Ten Command-ments, and the Church had added hundreds of other laws and regulations that were to be obeyed. Examining his behavior in the light of God’s Law and the rules of the church, Martin was convinced he could never find favor with God, who was to be feared.
Martin had a brilliant mind. He was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to further his education. He became a student at the University of Erfurt where he studied law. But one night on his return from home to the university, Luther was caught in a thunderstorm. He feared for his life and prayed to St. Anna that if she would spare his life, he would leave the university and enter the monastery.
In 1505 Luther became an Augustinian monk, and in 1507 he was ordained a priest. His soul was filled with the fear of God. This was obvious when it came time for Luther to officiate at his first mass. It is reported that his body shook so badly, he could hardly complete the service. However, in spite of the fears that tortured the young man, he continued his studies, and in 1512 he was awarded the degree of doctor of theology and became professor of Bible at the University of Wittenberg.
It was while Luther was preparing his lectures of the students that God spoke to him very personally from the Scriptures. Through his studies in the book of Psalms, Galatians, and Romans, the still small voice came forth: “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written, ÔThe righteous will live by faith’ Romans 1:17.
There Luther met the God of grace who gave him the gift of salvation. We are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ Jesus, who has atoned for our sins. We are not saved by our good works. God’s grace had set Luther’s burdened soul free. His sins were forgiven and he was restored into a personal relationship with God. Peace replaced his fears. Assurance of eternal life replaced doubt about his eternal destiny. He now knew God as a loving heavenly Father who did not condone his sins, but forgave them. He was a God who sought to save His people and not to destroy them.
God’s truth was clear. “If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is when your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, ÔAnyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame'” (Romans 10:9-11). How could the church miss this message? The world needed to hear the Gospel, and Luther was about to do his part in making Christ, the all-sufficient Redeemer, known to the world.
The fear of God had been changed to the love of God in Martin Luther’s life, and so it has been changed in the life of every person who trusts Jesus as Savior and Lord. What Christ did for Luther, He is anxious to do for us.
In Christ the crushing emotion of fear has been taken from us. We join with the prophet and sing, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:2). Do you want to live without that promise?
Should I fear God? Yes, if Jesus Christ is not your Savior. Walking through this life depending on your own strength is frightening. Facing God in eternity trusting your own merits is terrifying. The Psalmist said it right: “The fool says in his heart, ÔThere is no God.'”
Whatever fear we have of God is one of awe, respect, and adoration. That is a healthy fear Ð one we have for our earthly parents.