TruthTexts Article: Bedrock of Belief articles

Written and Posted by Timothy Smith

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The Bedrock of Belief


The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding

have all those who practice it. His praise endures forever! (Ps 111:10 RSV)    

Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One

results in good judgment. (Prov. 9:10 NLT)

“The Fear of the Lord” - What Does That Even Mean?

If you’ve looked at the opening Text Messages for this chapter, you might be saying, “Wait a second. Believing in Jesus is something I can do. But being scared of God? I don’t think I want any of that!” I agree with you. “Fear” seems to be the wrong word. Naturally, many words have more than one meaning, and “fear” also connotes awe, respect, and willingness to follow someone much more powerful than ourselves. It may surprise you to know that the phrase “the fear of the Lord” or some variation of it occurs over 100 times in the Bible that Jesus read, and many times in the parts that were written after Jesus. So it must mean something important, something that we should not ignore. Perhaps the more modern translation might be clearer for us: “Respect and obey the Lord! This is the first step to wisdom and good sense.” (Ps 111:10 CEV). In that translation, we see some of the other meanings we noticed earlier. Some examples from real life might be helpful, as we try to understand the Bible’s phrase, “The Fear of the Lord,” and why it’s so important.

As a high school teacher for almost three decades, I saw many a student struggle with authority. Some ‘young adult’ students react to authority with the same lack of maturity as a toddler screaming in the toy aisle of Walmart when mommy won’t buy him a toy. Other teenagers decide to drop out of school because they don’t like teachers bossing them around, and then find that real bosses are far worse! As I explained to many a class, teachers are trying to keep them in school so they can graduate, but bosses are more than willing to fire uncooperative people, because they’ve got a few dozen other people waiting for that job.

There’s a clue in that last paragraph, and it has to do with the nature of the relationship. In the last chapter, we touched on the fact that God welcomes us into His family. That fact defines what the Bible means by the “Fear of the Lord.” Imagine a police officer who has a couple of teenage children. She would never pull a gun on her son who didn’t make his bed, or arrest her daughter for coming home late on a school night. Her relationship with those two is that of parent and child. But should either of those children chance to witness their mother taking down a murder suspect, or stopping an armed robbery, they might develop a hearty new respect for the police officer that they know as “Mom.”

Time To Take Our Relationship With God Seriously

I think many people who claim to be followers of Jesus need a deeper respect for our God, the Lord of All. I will always know that my relationship with God is based on His love for me, the love that was shown by Jesus on the cross. But I can’t expect to have a close relationship with someone if I keep turning my back, doing the opposite of what that person wants, and treating our relationship as if it didn’t matter. We all know what a true friendship looks like. Intimacy with God is more important than our human relationships. And actually, that connection with God can help us to form more healthy and positive bonds with the people we love.

Once I went to a funeral for a family member, in a distant city. My wife was unable to attend because of the time away from work and the cost of the travel. In preparing for the funeral, one of my relatives, knowing that I am a follower of Jesus, said, “Now, don’t bother giving me any of your arguments for God. I can refute any of them with one hand tied behind my back!” He was right, of course. In the natural realm of one intellect against another, I was clearly outgunned. But I thought for a moment and replied, “I just remember the verse that says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” I paused, and then repeated, “Just the beginning of wisdom.” Finally, I added, “You notice that my wife couldn’t make it. You can’t see her, so you could possibly think that she doesn’t exist. But I know she’s real because I have a relationship with her. I can call her, and I can hear her voice. She and I have a close bond, so of course I know she exists! My belief in God is like that, even if it’s also something that you can’t see.” Both fear and fellowship; it’s an admittedly strange combination.

Fear and fellowship seem to be contradictory concepts. On the other hand, this is the God of the Universe we are talking about; how could we possibly have any kind of close, intimate relationship with such a Being? Jesus came to Earth to accomplish just that. In John 1:18, John observes, “No one has ever seen God. The only Son, who is truly God and is closest to the Father, has shown us what God is like” (CEV). But long before Jesus came, there was a beautiful and shocking illustration of both our fear of God and His desire for a close relationship with us. It’s the call of Isaiah to be a prophet. In Isaiah chapter 6, young Isaiah goes into the temple to pray, and has a vision of God on His throne, surrounded by flying angels. These angels were the real, strong, terrible, and good ones, who would take our breath away with fear and awe if we ever saw one. They’re not creatures you could ever confuse with cute little Cupid! Naturally, Isaiah immediately feels like he’s about to die. Moreover, he knows that he certainly deserves to die, realizing how guilty he and his people are before the perfect, Holy God.

What happens next is no less terrible than before, but in the midst of having to face an angel, Isaiah hears a question: “Who can I send? Who will go for us?” It’s not the voice of a cruel God, out for revenge. It’s a voice of sadness, even of longing. God is seeking closeness with His people, a loving relationship. But they have rejected Him. Isaiah immediately responds to God’s question with, “I am here, Lord – you can send me!” And God says that even if Isaiah goes and speaks for Him, the people will not listen, and they won’t be able to hear the truth, “lest they hear and believe, and let me heal them.” God is saying that the people will reject Isaiah, just as they rejected Him. There is great sorrow in God’s words. Isaiah cannot help but feel fear and awe with such a vision of God’s presence. But he also feels the longing and the sorrow in God’s heart when people turn away from Him. It is an amazing, life-altering encounter. (Is 6:5-10; read the whole chapter!)

Returning to the first chapter of John’s Gospel, we are taken back to before the universe was created, and then introduced to the Creator who now walked on Earth as one of us, the man called Jesus Christ. This time, it is not a mere prophet whom God sends, but the Son of God Himself. And like in Isaiah’s time, the truth is too often rejected. “He came into the world—the world He had created—and the world failed to recognize him. He came into His own creation, and His own people would not accept Him.” (John 1:10-11 Phillips) The very next verse explains what happens for those who do believe: “But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, he gave power to become children of God!” (v. 12 RSV)

Stupidly Stepping Away!

Many people around you will say that they believe in Jesus. Many of those might regularly attend church services or even be involved in some kind of ministry. Yet those same people so often do things that God tells us not to do, and hold attitudes and opinions that don’t line up with what they read in God’s Word. They live lives in which God has a little corner, but is certainly not the “Lord of All.” And lest I keep talking about “them,” I must admit that I often do the same things, whenever I begin to take a casual or shallow view of my relationship with God, or somehow choose to ignore what should be my closest relationship. I have stepped away from God’s joy and peace. (Why would we ever do that?) But life outside that relationship is a joyless mess, and the Spirit brought me back through repentance to relationship once more.

Paul remarked on this connection between belief and actions when he wrote to his young student Timothy, “But God’s truth stands firm like a great rock, and nothing can shake it. It is a foundation stone with these words written on it: The Lord knows those who are really his, and A person who calls himself a Christian should not be doing things that are wrong.” (2 Timothy 2:19 TLB) Our behavior as believers is determined by how much we honor and respect God and His Word, as well as how willing we are to let God’s Spirit guide us, and give us power. If we don’t honor and respect God, we won’t bother to let the Spirit live through us.

Years ago, I heard a “preacher parable,” a story to illustrate a point, about a mobster who attended a revival meeting and went forward to “get saved.” He was powerfully moved by the message. It looked to everyone around him that a miracle was in the making. But when he was told that he would have to leave his old life behind, the gangster said, “You never told me I would have to change!” And he angrily left the meeting, never to return. I don’t know if that parable is based on a real situation, but it certainly is typical! All those church people, religious people, that I mentioned earlier, and anyone else who wants the warm feelings of faith without troubling themselves with God’s commands – these people are treating God like some great, indulgent Grandparent in the Sky, who takes you out for ice cream and buys you toys. Those who want God’s blessings, and yet set limits on how much say He will have in their lives, need to know that God has no grandchildren. We have a first-hand relationship with God, or we have no relationship. And because we are firmly aware of His power and our weakness, He must have increasing influence on our thoughts and actions. That’s what the two sayings that Paul mentioned actually mean. God knows who His children are, and expects them to turn away from evil and follow His standards of behavior, because our love for Him has grown.

God treats us like sons and daughters, with all the blessings of heaven, but also with the duties and responsibilities of true children. In our own families, we had duties, we had rules to follow, and I’m sure we all had some responsibilities. And this is even truer in God’s family, where our inheritance is in heaven for eternity. Therefore, we need to take this relationship seriously. We need to “fear God,” to love Him with awe and respect, and stop treating Him like some cosmic Santa Claus who hands out presents without any real demands. God paid the highest possible price for our salvation. He has a right to tell us how to live. Paul explains, “You have been bought, and at what a price! Therefore bring glory to God both in your body and your spirit, for they both belong to him.” (1 Cor. 6:20 Phillips)

The Biggest Ox

Jesus asks us, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and don’t do what I say?” (Luke 6:46 CEV) If we are going directly against what He has told us to do, how can we claim to belong to Him? How can we claim to be part of His family if we never act like sons and daughters of God? I believe this is why the Bible spends so many verses describing respect for God and respect for His Word. Jesus told the people who had faith in Him, “If you keep on obeying what I have said, you truly are my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-33 CEV) Interesting how everybody loves to quote the part about truth setting us free, but then ignore the part about obeying and being disciples. Just knowing the truth does us no good, unless obedience follows! Jesus said that there was a surefire way to recognize who actually loves Him: “Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. My Father will love those who love me; I too will love them and reveal myself to them.” (John 14:21 GNT)

So having a healthy respect for Jesus and His Word is what loving Him really means. Not “Fear” in the common sense of being scared. But make no mistake: we should find our relationship with Jesus to be so wonderful, and living His way to be so fulfilling, that not obeying Him would be like replacing a delicious meal with a bucket of sand. Because Jesus lives through us in the power of the Holy Spirit, we now have the strength do what he requires. John, another eyewitness to Jesus’ life, and early leader in the Church, tells us: “Loving God means obeying his commands. And God’s commands are not too hard for us.” (I John 5:3 NCV)

The biggest struggle in life for a follower of Jesus is letting Him live through us. And the first job of a growing believer is to remember that we should. But Jesus insisted, “The burden that I ask you to accept is easy; the load I give you to carry is light.” (Matt. 11:30 NCV) The image here is of two oxen hooked to a wooden yoke, used to pull a heavy load. The biggest ox gets most of the weight.

Jesus is the “biggest ox” in this partnership. He is the strong one in our relationship, and He personally will help us to do what he asks us to do. He knows that if we ever tried to live His way, but in our own strength, we would find it to be absolutely, frustratingly impossible. He asks us to live like Him. But then He offers to live through us by the power of His Spirit, and to be with us every step of the way. The first step to “wisdom and good sense,” as we saw in the opening Text Message, is to have a deep, heartfelt respect for God and His Word. And then Jesus can begin to live His life through us. Then “His burden is light.”

Take Action!

Be sure to look up the verses in this chapter in whatever translation of the Bible is the easiest for you to understand.* Read the whole section that each verse came from, and make sure that the words I have said about them are true. Once you are sure that I have given you accurate information, ask yourself the questions. Finally, ask God to show you what you should do next.

What is your own definition of “The Fear of the Lord”?

Why was God sad when He called Isaiah?

What did He say would happen when Isaiah tried to preach?

What right does God have to tell you how to live?

What does John say happens to those who receive Jesus?

According to Jesus (in John 8:31-33) what makes us truly His followers?

Think of someone who believes that living up to God’s standards is always impossible.

What good news can you share with that person?

* I use many translations of the Bible in these articles. Any of them would serve to support the points made in the chapter. All verses with no listed translations are my own paraphrase; please check with your own Bible to be sure I got the right idea.

Please tell me what you’ve learned, and what I could add to strengthen this study!

– Timothy Smith,

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