Today’s post is by Chris Poblete. Chris is the Executive Director of the Gospel for OC, a network committed to bringing glory and honor to God in our neighborhoods and cities. Follow him via TGoC on Twitter and on Facebook.
There I was, listening to a sermon that a good friend had recommended to me. My friend was living in sin at the time, and he confessed that this particular sermon rocked his world. Naturally, I was excited to hear the message that so gripped my friend. But as I listened, the pastor went on to say, “I’m tired of grumpy ol’ fundie Christians judging this person and that person. In the Old Testament, that may have been okay, but try to find that in the New Testament. Try to find an angry Jesus in there.”
I was so bummed to hear these words. My jaw dropped, and my heart broke. Could this world use fewer self-righteous and judgmental finger-pointers? Of course. I’ll give him that. But once we imply that the God of the Old Testament is grumpier and rowdier than the mild God of the New Testament, we find ourselves sliding down a slippery slope to foolishness and a me-centered, anything-goes theology.
In Revelation 14, Jesus returns on a cloud with a sickle in his hand to reap the harvest. He’s accompanied by an angel with another sharp sickle. This angel is commanded to “‘…gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.’” Then we are told that “the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia.”
I didn’t know what a bridle or stadia is either. Apparently, though, when you do the math what’s described here is over 180 miles of a 5-feet deep bloodbath. The graphic imagery signifies the slaughter of the enemies of God. Indeed, these pictures should give us godly sorrow and anguish that others will have to suffer under God’s wrath in such way. After all, the apostle Paul echoes those sentiments (Romans 9:1-3). And yes, God is not wishing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). But this point is also clear: New Testament God is still angry about sin, and he will see to it that divine justice will have its day.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.”
In other words, if we want to know anything about God—his nature, his character, his kingdom, his people—then we have to start with godly fear. The eternal song of worship that appears throughout the Bible begins with the words Holy, holy, holy. Our God is to be feared because he is holy. Absolutely holy. He is completely perfect, transcendent, and set apart in every way.
R.C. Sproul comments on this in The Holiness of God:
On a handful of occasions the Bible repeats something to the third degree. To mention something three times in succession is to elevate it to the superlative degree. Only once in Scripture is an attribute of God elevated to the third degree. The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love or mercy, mercy, mercy or justice, justice, justice.
We need to get this, friends. After all, it’s the beginning of wisdom, isn’t it? Is God loving? Of course. Is he merciful and just? Absolutely. But if we want to know anything truthful about God’s love, mercy, or justice, then we need to start with his transcendent holiness. We need to start with godly fear.
When we begin with a statement like, “I believe that God is love,” and interpret all things through that filter, then our view of God will fall short. The same thing happens when we begin with a statement like, “I believe that God is just,” and interpret all the issues through that filter. Because man’s views of love, justice, and mercy are so inconsistent, this “downward up” approach to understanding God will also be inconsistent. What we need to do is begin with the holiness of God. Interpreting the attributes of God from this “God downward” approach will fuel our fear of the Lord and inform our worship and love for the Savior.
For the Christian, a godly fear of the Lord does not diminish the gospel of grace; it amplifies it. This reverential fear makes his grace more amazing, his mercy more grand, his justice more right, and his love more abounding.
John Calvin explains in his commentary on Psalm 22, “The fear which God recommends is not such as would frighten the faithful from approaching God, but that which will bring them truly humbled into his sanctuary.”
The deeper our understanding of what it means to fear a holy God, the better able we are to fear him as he should be feared, and the better able we are to worship him as he is to be worshiped.