The Fear of the Lord


By James Brown Jr.

“Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him, and the people did fear before the LORD.” –Haggai 1:12 

One of the most forgotten doctrines in the modern Church is the fear of the Lord.  The widely accepted statement goes something like this, “Jesus Christ does not rule in our hearts by fear, but by love.”

The problem in this statement is making fear and love conflicting.  However, no amount of rhetoric makes these terms incompatible.  It is the whole being of God who works salvation in the elect.  Justice and mercy are both necessary components.

Just because any particular trait can be used sinfully it does not negate the positive use.  There are leaders who use fear to deceive and abuse people just as there are leaders who use love to do the same.

Obviously, these are wrong and sinful uses and it is not true love or fear but manipulation.  Nevertheless, just as there is godly love there is godly fear.

Several years ago there was a popular slogan on t-shirts and car stickers which said “No Fear.”  While there is nothing inherently wrong with the statement it does all depend upon context.  So too does the theological, ecclesiastical and practical definition and use of fear depend upon its context.

Unfortunately, the “no fear” motto represented today implies an individualistic attitude lacking respect for authority.  The cultural context of our day demonstrates this “no fear” trait actually consists of no fear of God.

But this truly depicts the natural man who is born dead in trespasses and sins.  Paul said of all mankind in its fallen state, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18).

While this is true of the natural man who walks in the flesh, it is not true of the regenerate man who walks in the Spirit.

Rather than demonstrating the new man, the modern American Church has fallen prey to theological revision.  The works of the flesh have been redefined as spiritual.  Instead of godly fear, individualistic autonomy and in some cases anarchy is the defining character trait of the Church.

This high distain for authority is rampant in the Church due to pride and self-righteousness.  As a result, you can’t tell anyone anything.  Sinner and saint alike are consumed with a “know everything” and “blame everyone else” worldview.

This translates into a lack of a fear of God, fear of parents, fear of the Church and fear of civil government.

The reason for this is because we no longer stress Biblical fear.  Fear, when rightly provoked and responded to, produces good results.  The natural man rejects this way of thinking because it goes contrary to what feels good.  Fear is not a good feeling and always brings anxiety and many times a lack of confidence.

For someone to have no fear of the governance of gravity and to climb to the highest part of a rocky cliff and jump off is stupidity.  It is not courage or some other virtue but an ignorant lack of respect for governing authority.  You may think you know better and that you are above this universal law but the sudden impact at the bottom will destroy your theory of individual autonomy.  In this context fear is a healthy virtue.

At this point someone may object to my combining of individual autonomy and a lack of fear but it is self-evident individual autonomy must proceed a lack of fear.  This does not mean this is always wrong in man-to-man relationships.

A father should hold a healthy fear over his children but in most other cases with children not his own he does not possess this natural restraint except by pure tyrannical force.  A man may tell a young man in his community “I am a father and you are a son, go get your haircut.”  Now, the young man may in fact need a haircut but the authority level is insignificant to cause the young man to obey.  There has not been a proper development of an authority/subject relationship through proper fear and love.  The young man is not going to obey because there is a lack of fear and love.  He will assert his individual autonomy because of the lack of a proper authority and jurisdictional relationship.

The young many may or may not be autonomous in other relationships but he rightly asserts individual autonomy in this one because there is no fear.  The man may be physically bigger and stronger to coerce the young man but this is not true fear but a tyrannical bully.  There must be the proper jurisdiction of love and fear in the relationship.

In the book of Ezra, God had commanded the remnant of Judah to rebuild the house of the Lord after their 70 year exile.  God sovereignly caused them to return to their own land to restore that which had been destroyed because of their sin and the right judgment which ensued.

Yet, after they began the work in rebuilding the house of the Lord, the enemies of God and His people arose, as always, to hinder the work of God.  Because of the opposition of the enemies of God and His people, the children of Israel had ceased rebuilding the house of the Lord.  However, it was not the opposition or the restraints that was the true cause for the work to cease.  The problem was the children of Israel used this opposition as an excuse for their apathy and selfishness (Haggai 1).

This is always the case and the reason why people lash out against this message.  We attempt to blame others but the conviction of our sin is revealed when we respond in anger at others when the real issue is our own failure.

Most people never get past this and spend their whole lives making excuses instead of focusing first on the beam that is in their eye.  This is where hypocrisy comes from.  It is an attempt to justify ourselves because we are not obeying the Word of God.

This is why many will focus on the doctrines of man in order to prove others not as holy as themselves.  The law of God is made void because to focus on the holiness of God shows that we also are depraved and wicked.

But thankfully, the message of Haggai did not fall on deaf ears like the message of Jeremiah to the children of Israel 70-plus years earlier.  In this case, the people responded correctly.

When confronted with their sin they obeyed, which is another way to say they repented.  They were disobeying God’s command, God’s messenger confronted them with their sin with the Word of God and then they obeyed the voice of the Lord.  This is what repentance looks like.

What was different in their case than with their fathers?  Their fathers had disobeyed God and the Lord sent Jeremiah to confront them with their sin.  However, they persecuted and imprisoned Jeremiah.  They did not regard the message of Jeremiah but sought to blame him for their problems.

The answer to this question is found in Haggai 1:12.

“Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him, and the people did fear before the LORD.”

It was the fear of the Lord that caused them to respect, listen, and obey the prophet Haggai instead of imprisoning or killing him like their fathers had done unto other prophets (Matthew 23:34).

Although the commandment is just and man is responsible, because of his fallen nature man cannot obey by the power of his flesh.  It is the work of God within any sinner to change his heart in matters of justification and sanctification.  With the sinner coming to faith and repentance or the saint working out his faith and repentance, it is always “God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

Still yet, God uses means to accomplish His will.  One of these means that is so reviled today is fear.  God uses fear just as He uses love and the two are not contrary but compatible with each other.

We see the use of the fear of the Lord in Haggai chapter 1 and 2 to turn the hearts of His people.  Therefore, to understand the work of God among His people in Haggai we need to understand the importance of the fear of the Lord.

1. Knowledge begins with the fear of the Lord

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” –Proverbs 1:7 

Here is the reason for so much ignorance in the Church and society—they do not fear God.

Jesus declared that the Word of God was truth (John 17:17).  The majority of homes in America have a Bible and most Christians have multiple copies of God’s Word but the level of ignorance is at an all-time high in our society.

How could this be?  It is because there is no fear of God.  Man will not care what God has to say if there is no fear of God before their eyes.  This is demonstrated through vocal rejection or passive ignoring but the result is the same.  Both produce ignorance because knowledge begins with the fear of the Lord.

It is interesting the Scriptures do not say “Love of God is the beginning of knowledge.”  If the common doctrine being espoused today was correct you would expect to read such a statement in Scripture.  But nowhere is it to be found.

Why is this?  It is because fear must precede love.  Without proper fear there cannot be proper love.

Whether it is the knowledge of salvation or conduct, it always begins with Biblical fear.  This is why the gospel always begins with the law.  Unless a proper respect for authority is established there cannot be true knowledge.  Knowledge depends upon the fear of the Lord.

2. Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever.” –Psalm 111:10 

Sometimes we confuse knowledge and wisdom but wisdom is the ability to make right application of knowledge.  To have knowledge is necessary for wisdom and while they work together they are different.

Not only is the fear of the Lord necessary to have the right knowledge, the fear of the Lord is necessary to rightly apply godly knowledge.

The reason why the fear of God is necessary for these things is because they come from Him.  Man does not possess knowledge and wisdom.  While the corruption of man in the Fall brought sin and its curses, it is necessary to note that even in innocence Adam did not have the power to be wise. 

Therefore, if you do not have proper respect, honor and fear of God you are not going to receive anything from Him.  This is true in both respects.  First, God is not going to give you something you do not value.  Second, you are not going to seek something you do not value.

This is why the Scripture says in James 1:5, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God…”

Man in his pride and self-righteousness thinks he knows better than God.  It is only a proper fear that God is sovereign and holy and that man is finite and wicked that will drive a man to seek the knowledge and wisdom of God.

Man’s knowledge and wisdom only brings sin and damnation.  This is a fearful thing to those who acknowledge the truth about God and man.

Only God possesses wisdom and if we do not have a proper fear of the Lord we will not desire it but will continue to follow humanistic foolishness.

3. Righteousness begins with the fear of the Lord

“The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.” –Proverbs 8:13 

This point is the focus of a big debate presently going on in Christendom.  It is actually a debate over sanctification but is being expressed with terms and topics such as performance, legalism, antinomianism, grace, law and so on.

Much of this debate results from a misunderstanding of the moral law.  The law can point but cannot produce, condemn but cannot cleanse, and reveal but cannot fulfill. Yet, it is absolutely a necessary part of the gospel for it clarifies the perfect nature of God and the inherent sinfulness of man for the necessity of the gospel; it liberates society by restraining evil for the advancement of the gospel; and enlightens the children of God in how to please God for the testimony of the gospel.

This mass confusion leads to many representations of the false doctrine of antinomianism.  Although we are being accused of legalism, which is attaching power to the law to produce righteousness, this is not what we are stating.

It is neither the law nor the works of the flesh that have power to produce righteousness but the regenerating power of God.  Yet, as we said earlier, God uses means.  The law is a means to bring about righteousness through Jesus Christ in that is reveals the depravity and hopelessness of man.  God uses this as a means to drive the elect to Christ.

The fear of the Lord is also part of this process.  Neither can the fear of the Lord produce righteousness but a proper fear of God is the beginning of it.

Simply being scared of God does not establish faith and repentance, however, everyone to whom faith and repentance has been granted does have a fear of God.

4. What is the Fear of the Lord?

If the fear of the Lord is this important, then what is it?  This can be difficult to answer, especially today since it is being so distorted.  But the answer is simple if we would just accept the authority of Scripture.

Strong’s gives three definitions for the Hebrew word ארי [yare’] used in our text in Haggai 1:12.1

The first definition of the Hebrew word translated fear in the King James and feared in the English Standard Version is “fear.”  That may seem redundant but sometimes there is no better word to describe what you mean then the word you are using.  Plus, this is why the translators translated ארי fear was because that is the meaning. 

Let’s be honest, many times we go looking for a Hebrew or Greek definition is because we are hoping it does not mean what we know it means.  We are looking for loopholes rather than to be able to properly exegete the passage.  The problem is not that we do not know what the Scripture says but our desire to suppress it.  Sure there are books and portions of Scripture that are hard to be understood (2 Peter 3:16).  Harder passages do involve more intense study but the foundational issues in Scripture are not rocket science.  We choose not to accept them because they go against our sinful nature.

This is what we mean by the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.  If we do not see God infinitely bigger than us we will not seek or accept the knowledge of God.

Second, Strong’s says it “morally means to revere.”  Fear implies respect and honor which is not to say that just because you fear someone that you respect and honor them.  However, in most cases if you fear them you at least give outward respect.  At any rate, a proper respect of someone with authority over you includes fear.

Third, Strong’s defines fear “casually as to frighten.”  This is the definition we are probably most familiar with or the one that dictates the way we generally use the word.

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines fear as “a painful emotion or passion excited by an expectation of evil, or the apprehension of impeding danger.  Fear expresses less apprehension than dread, and dread less than terror and fright.  The force of this passion, beginning with the most moderate degree, may be thus expressed fear, dread, terror, fright.  Fear is accompanied with a desire to avoid or ward off the expected evil.  Fear is an uneasiness of mind, upon the thought of future evil likely to befall us.”

So you see how the fear of the Lord would direct the publican to pray, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13).

There are two types of theological fear that I want to mention, not that there are no other types or even sub-topics under these two headings, but I believe this will help you to understand the fear of the Lord.

A. Slavish Fear

First, there is slavish fear.  According to Webster, slavish fear is the “effect or consequence of guilt; t is the painful apprehension of merited punishment.”

“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh…For to be carnally minded is death…Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.  So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” –Romans 8:5-8

Here in Romans we see the slavish relationship of man to God.  We are slaves to our flesh and therefore slaves to sin.

This slavish relationship breeds slavish fear.  Because God is just and holy and we are unjust and wicked man fears the wrath of God.  From the most hardened atheist to the most sorrowful addict is the fear of death.  This is inherent in all men because all are sinners.

Every man is aware there is a God or a higher being to which we are accountable.  They may not know who this God is but they are knowledgeable of this fact.  Therefore, they live in guilt and fear because they understand they are slaves to evil.

This is a slavish fear due to God’s holiness and our wickedness.  We are enslaved to the guilt of our sin, the power of our sin, and the wages of our sin.

This does not mean we have a true fear of God but a fear of damnation.  The slavish fear of man does not mean he loves God or righteousness but in his love of self he fears the punishment of his crimes.

Today there is a concerted effort by many within the Church to release man from this very necessary fear.  In order to do this 1 John 4:18 is used improperly.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.”

John is not speaking about the release of slavish fear for those outside of Christ nor is he speaking about the right kind of fear for the Christian.  He is speaking about the removal of slavish fear to those who are the children of God.

Yet, for those who are outside of Christ, slavish fear is a reality and a necessity.  Jesus clearly states in Matthew 10:28, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell”

B. Filial Fear

We know there is a distinction of different types of fear because John is speaking of fear being cast out but Hebrews 12:28 declares:

“Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:” –Hebrews 12:28 

The love of God in demonstrating His grace to sinners casts out our slavish fear but as Christians we are to serve God in reverence and godly fear.  This is filial fear.

The unregenerate man should have a slavish fear.  It is proper and natural because we are slaves to sin.  But the regenerated man no longer fears God as a slave fears a master but as a son fears a loving father.

Webster defines this filial fear among the saints as “the fear of God is a holy awe or reverence of God and his laws, which springs from a just view and real love of the divine character, leading the subjects of it to hate and shun everything that can offend such a holy being, and inclining them to aim at perfect obedience.”2

Speaking of the New Covenant to come, Jehovah declared in Jeremiah 32:40, “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.”

Speaking in more detail about this everlasting covenant, Jehovah states in Jeremiah 31:33, “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

This fear in their hearts (Jeremiah 32:40) is a direct result from the conviction of the law written in their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33).

Although slavish fear is to be diminished through the grace of God, this filial fear is to be established in the Christian just as a son or daughter is to fear their parents.

“Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father, and keep my sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.”

Slavish fear is a fear of damnation and eternal destruction.  Filial fear is a fear of chastisement.  Damnation is wrath that stems from hatred and results in destruction.  Chastisement is wrath that stems from love resulting in reconciliation.

Therefore, our fear rests in our desire to please the Father, glorify the Son and not grieve the Holy Spirit.  This is filial fear that comes from the filial love God has for His children.

A lack of understanding in these areas has produced some dangerous doctrines, attitudes and actions in the three institutions of the family, church and civil government.  Love is being regarded as a virtue without virtue because filial fear is being taken out of the equation.

Because of this, love is being defined and practiced as a virtue that lacks requirements, standards, discipline and correction.  It is producing rebellious children, autonomous saints and anarchist citizens.

It is impossible to have filial love without filial fear.  The Scripture is very clear on this.

“For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.” –Proverbs 3:12 

“He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” –Proverbs 13:24

The disobedient children of God were drawn back to obedience because they feared the Lord.  This filial fear produced three positive qualities in their lives.

I. Produces the Right Spirit (Haggia 1:14)

First, the fear of the Lord produced a right spirit within them.  Because of their desire to please their Heavenly Father and the correction promised in Haggai 1:10-11.

“Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit.  And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labour of the hands.”

Chastisement causes us to consider our ways which was the message from the Lord to the children of Israel in verses 6-9

“Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste?  Now therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways.  Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.  Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways.  Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the LORD.  Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the LORD of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house.”

Contrary to God’s Word, the children of Israel had decided it was not time to rebuild the house of the Lord.  They had come under much opposition and as a result the king of Persia ordered the rebuilding to cease (Ezra 4).

Haggai reveals the opposition against them became an excuse to seek their own comfort and needs rather than put God first (Haggai 1).  The message of the Lord was the same expressed years later when Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

Yet, it was the fear of the Lord that helped shape a right spirit within them.  While instructing the Levites of their responsibility to God, Jehoshaphat said in 2 Chronicles 19:9, “Thus shall ye do in the fear of the LORD, faithfully, and with a perfect heart.”

Proper fear will create a right spirit within the heart of God’s children.  Instead of worrying about their own needs the children of Israel sought first the kingdom of God because they had a right attitude.

“Better is little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble therewith.” –Proverbs 15:16 

II. Produces the Right Vision (Haggai 2:3, 9)

Second, the fear of the Lord produces a right vision.  Many times we look around us and our sinful hearts cause our eyes to have an improper worldview.  We see the prosperity of the wicked and become envious.

“For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” –Psalm 73:3

But a proper fear of God produces clear vision.  This is why we are told in Proverbs 23:17, “Let not thine heart envy sinners: but be thou in the fear of the LORD all the day long.”

The reason for this commandment from our Heavenly Father is revealed in Psalm 73.

“Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.  But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped.  For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm.  They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.  Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment.  Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish.  They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression: they speak loftily.  They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth.  Therefore his people return hither: and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them.  And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High?  Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches.  Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.  For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning.  If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I should offend against the generation of thy children.  When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me;  Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.  Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction.  How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors.  As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image.  Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins.  So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee.  Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand.  Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.  Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.  My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.  For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee.  But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all thy works.” [emphasis mine]

We become so near-sighted we cannot see beyond the present.  But God warns us not to become envious of the prosperity of the wicked because their end is destruction.  Only the fear of the Lord produces right vision in order to see and understand this.

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.” –Proverbs 9:10 

III. Produces the Right Strength (Haggai 2:4-8)

Third, the fear of the Lord produces the right strength.  Righteousness is not an inherent quality of man.  Because of the Fall, man has inherited a sinful nature from Adam.  It is only in regeneration we are given a new nature from God.

Within this new nature is peace from the evil conscience to which we were bound in slavish fear.  But this new nature is not arrogant but humble before God.  Therefore, our slavish fear is replaced with filial fear.

This fear of the Lord produces the right strength to depart from evil.  The fear of the Lord and repentance go together.

“Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.” –Job 28:28

When we have a right spirit, this proper attitude will cause us to see properly which then produces the right strength for repentance.

Obviously, these things are granted unto us by the grace of God and the fear of the Lord does not work alone in our sanctification.  However, it is a part of it and this necessary working of the fear of the Lord in our lives is being rejected by many Christians producing damning effects.

Conclusion

Our approach to this topic must not be through our natural man or the philosophy of the world but by the Word of God.  The Scripture is very clear on this matter and to reject it is dangerous.

If we just stand on mercy we become antinomian; if we just stand on truth we become legalists.  We must teach the disciples of Jesus Christ both mercy and truth centered on the fear of the Lord.

“By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil.” –Proverbs 16:6 

This is a life and death matter.  Psalm 19:9 tells us that “The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever.”  This doctrine of the fear of the Lord and its effects are eternal.   It is very clear in Scripture there can be no effectual sanctification in the lives of Christians without it.

Yet, what is more serious than this is that there is no salvation for those who reject it.

“The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death.” –Proverbs 14:27 

To deny the fear of the Lord is to reject His Lordship, it is to reject the necessity of repentance and turn God’s grace into a license to sin.  This fountain of life is a necessary component in our salvation and sanctification.

“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” –Philippians 2:12 

“Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:  For our God is a consuming fire.” –Hebrews 12:28-29

“Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” –2 Corinthians 7:1 

“Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.” –1 Timothy 5:20 

Objections

1.  To uphold the fear of the Lord is to deny eternal security.

This seems to be a prevailing fear among modern Evangelicals.  This concern is misconstrued because it fails to understand the doctrines of grace, uses the wrong terminology and demands a synergistic definition of the fear of the Lord.

Because we have been inundated with a chaotic and unsystematic doctrine of salvation, today’s Evangelical is all over the place in his understanding of grace.  He speaks of free grace but defines salvation that is dependent upon man and God helping perform the work.

Without understanding the doctrines of grace in its complete form, when one doctrine is pulled out and focused upon it creates massive theological confusion.  Such is with the concern about “eternal security.”

Neither does it help when the wrong term is used.  It is not the eternal security of the believer but the perseverance of the believer.  The security is in the sovereignty of God the Father, the atoning work of God the Son and the power of God the Spirit.  Because this security is inherent in the work of God the believer will persevere in the faith.

Therefore, one must understand the sovereignty of God, the total depravity of man, the unconditional election of God, limited atonement, irresistible grace before they can ever understand the believer’s security in God’s grace.

Yet, this grace does not just simply make him secure to live however he desires but will cause him to persevere in the faith.  In this faith the believer is granted repentance that as the children of God we will walk before him in fear.

2.  Fear causes bondage to legalism.

Legalism is the boogeyman of the 21st Century Church.  Because legalism is being redefined in unbiblical ways, we need to understand the true nature of legalism.

First, legalism is the addition of any works by man for justification.  It does not matter the type of works.  Any effort by man to gain favor as being righteous is legalism.  But we must be careful to understand that this is only in regard to justification.

Man is unjust and cannot justify himself by doing good works to offset the bad.  He is fallen and depraved and to be remitted of sins can only be an act of God’s grace upon the sinner.

Therefore, a proper distinction must be made of good works for justification and good works that are produced in sanctification upon those who have been justified by grace.

Second, legalism can also be the additional of man-made doctrines and commandments.  These deny the righteousness of God according to His standard and exalt the righteousness of man based upon man’s standard.

While the first is always heretical the second may not be.  Sure, the second is unsound doctrine but its degree of danger, falsehood and consequences vary.

Legalism must also be understood according to slavish and filial fear.  Slavish fear will always produce legalism in the heretical form.  Men who are under the wrath of God will always seek to justify themselves by denying their depraved nature.

Slavish fear will deny God’s sovereignty and man’s depravity in order to produce a standard of righteousness sinners can attain.  It is not godly fear that produces legalism but the slavish fear of a condemned criminal.

Godly fear cannot produce legalism because it can only seek to please God.  It is subject to God’s authority, standards and doctrine.

“Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” –Psalm 2:11 

Sources:

1.  James Strong, The Comprehensive Concordance of the Bible [World Bible Publishers, Inc: Iowa Falls, Iowa]

2.  Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language [S. Coverse; New York, 1828]