We are to fear God. And we are to flee to God. And while those two things — fearing God and fleeing to him — may sound oddly contradictory, they’re not. In 2008, Pastor John preached on Psalm 103, a psalm with some pretty amazing statements about God’s love to those who fear him. Verse 11 says, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him.” And verse 13 says, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.” And verse 17 says, “The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him.” God’s covenant love is for those who fear him. The following sermon clip comes from Michael, who lives in the beautiful city of San Diego. Here’s John Piper expounding Psalm 103.
The only people that will eternally experience the love of God as the love of God are people who fear the Lord. Is that a separate and distinct requirement over against keeping covenant with Christ by trusting his new-covenant provisions? I don’t think so.
Desperate for Refuge
Here’s what I think fearing God means today. I think fearing God means that God is, in your mind and heart, so powerful and so holy and so awesome that you would not dare to run away from him, but only run to him.
In other words, fearing God is not another requirement. It’s the way you do covenant-keeping. It’s the way you receive Jesus. It’s the way you come to Jesus. You come reverently; you come humbly; you come without any presumption that you deserve anything or that he owes you anything. You come trembling. Or as we saw in Psalm 51:17, you come with a heart that is broken and contrite.
“Work out your . . . salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Tremble if you ever feel any inclination to leave this God. There is only destruction away from him. Oh, how we should fear to leave the Lord. Tremble in his presence that he will so graciously receive us, forgive all of our sins, and make an everlasting future. So many people do not fear their carnal departures. They don’t tremble.
So, my answer to how these two requirements fit together — the covenant-keeping one, where you fly to Jesus for his blood and righteousness and hold fast to him as your only hope, and fearing as the way you fly — is that your faith in this Christ and your flying to him, desperate and fearful that you would turn to any other resource, must be real. You can’t play games.
And the Bible is so amply plain that if you have come to him as Savior, if you have come to him as King, if you have come to him as Treasure, if you have flown to him with trembling that you could go any other place, it’s going to change your life — period. It’s going to change your life. It cannot not change you if it’s real.
“Fearing God means that he is so awesome to you that you would not dare to run away from him, but only run to him.”
We’ve been together long enough (although there are a lot of guests). You know I don’t believe in Christian perfection. It ain’t going to happen in this age. Not a single person will live a single day perfectly. Just get that away.
However, you cannot make sense out of the Bible if you don’t say, “Obedience to the commandments as a trajectory of life — repenting of failures, confessing sins, and getting back on — has got to happen.” In other words, the central requirement — covenant-keeping through faith in Jesus — has got to be real. And obedience is the evidence that it’s real. It’s the sign that it’s real. It’s the mark that it’s real. It’s the fruit that says the tree is real.
What Is Possible with God
Dads, we would lay our lives down, wouldn’t we, for that to happen in our children? Because if it doesn’t happen, they will cease to experience the love of God when they die. And they will experience only wrath from then on. It’s called hell. And they will cease to experience the righteousness of God as maintaining some kind of order and justice in the world. And they will experience the righteousness of God only as condemnation from the holy Judge forever, if our children do not experience covenant-keeping, fearing God, and the evidence of obedience.
That’s why we have families. That’s why fathers exist: to do the impossible and to bring our children to that place.