My last post (“Falling Away”) is approaching “avalanche” status (by my low standards anyway) in terms of the number of views. In one day, it has received seven times the average number of views that most of my posts receive in a week. It makes me wonder why? I think the reason is very simple. In the post, I touch on a problem that’s epidemic in much of today’s evangelicalism – whether or not we openly acknowledge it. Here’s the problem as I see it: We’re not quite sure what conversion looks like anymore, and (even if we are) we’re not quite sure anyone has the right to insist upon it.
Far too many people in today’s evangelicalism are content with what can only be described as a notional (head) belief. And sadly, far too often their misplaced confidence is fueled by what they hear from the pulpit.
There was a day (I’m thinking in terms of centuries ago) when pastors and preachers gave a lot of attention to the subject of conversion. But those days are long gone. By and large, those men have been dismissed as legalists or extremists. And their teaching has been designated unhelpful – perhaps even hurtful.
I want to “suggest” (we need to be nice, after all) that much of our confusion over what it means to be converted – what it means to be a Christian – stems from the fact that we no longer know what it means to fear God. The expression is used over 300 times in the OT, and it occurs throughout the NT.
“Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways!” (Ps. 128:1). But what does this mean? It’s far easier to describe than define.
The fear of God begins with the realization that God is great and I am not (Job 11:7–9). (That is an understatement.)
“Can I find out the deep things of God?” I can’t “find out” the One who dwells in unapproachable light – the One whom no-one has ever seen or can see. My mind can’t contain the One whom the universe can’t contain. I’m but a small child, standing on the beach, trying in vain to hold the ocean in my bucket.
“Can I find out the limit of the Almighty?” I have a greater chance of holding the stars in the palm of my hand, of measuring the mountains on a scale, of gathering the oceans in a bowl, of balancing the world’s skyscrapers on a needle, than I do of finding out the limit of the Almighty. It’s higher than heaven. It’s deeper than sheol. It’s longer than the earth. It’s broader than the sea. Heaven is high, but limited. Sheol is deep, but restricted. The earth is long, but bounded. The sea is broad, but contained. God is unlimited, unrestricted, unbounded, and uncontained!
This infinite Being “looks on the earth and it trembles; he touches the mountains and they smoke” (Ps, 104:32). A mere glance from God produces earthquakes. A mere touch from God produces volcanic eruptions. If slight impulses from God cause such devastation, what would be the effect of the full manifestation of His power?
This infinite Being “determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names” (Ps. 147:4). Some astronomers have estimated that there are as many stars in the universe as there are grains of sand on the earth’s beaches. Here are two marvels: God can compute that number; and God can invent that number of names. His judgements are “unsearchable” and His ways are “inscrutable.” His knowledge is inexhaustible.
I’m amazed when I consider God’s simplicity. He’s undivided, meaning His every thought and every action involves the whole of Him. He simultaneously gives total and undivided attention to everything and everyone.
I’m amazed when I consider God’s sovereignty. He’s the first cause of every action, motion, impulse, thought, and breath. I don’t move apart from Him. I don’t breathe apart from Him. He rules and reigns fully and completely. His reign is unchallenged, unhindered, and unending.
This infinite Being awakens admiration, inspires humility, and merits obedience. I tremble before Him, for He “will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Eccl. 12:14). A day is coming, when He will deal definitively with sin. He’s a perfect judge, whose knowledge of the evidence is unsearchable and whose power to execute sentence is unrivalled.
I tremble when I realize that I’ve placed myself where this infinite Being deserves to be – on the throne. And I tremble when I realize that this infinite Being has placed Himself where I deserve to be – on the cross. By sovereign grace, He has made me one with His beloved Son. As a result, I enjoy the benefits of the cross. His forgiveness supersedes my sinfulness! His merit eclipses my guilt! And His righteousness hides my vileness!
I’m overwhelmed (another understatement). My soul is struck with awe and reverence. From this deep sense of awe, I’m inclined to do what pleases God and avoid what displeases God. In a word, I’m inclined to “walk in his ways” (Ps. 128:1).
That’s what it means to fear God.
We dare not miss this. The question of the moment isn’t: Have you asked Jesus into your heart? It isn’t: Have you said the sinner’s prayer? It isn’t: Have you been baptized? It isn’t: Have you heeded an altar call? It isn’t: Have you written a date on the inside of your Bible? It isn’t: Does your mother assure you that you’re saved? It isn’t: Has some pastor in the past pronounced you saved?
Here’s the question of the moment: Do you fear the LORD God Almighty and walk in His ways?
“It is this God, majestic and holy in his being . . . who has disappeared from the modern evangelical world” (David Wells). The result has been absolutely devastating. We’re spiritually impoverished, because we’ve reduced God to our size. And this has resulted in the decay of our inner lives. It has resulted in the secularization of the Christian faith. It has resulted in the decline of moral purity and integrity in the church. And it has resulted in widespread confusion as to what it means to be a Christian.