By Elizabeth Prata
If you collapsed and were unresponsive, but woke only long enough to get two words out of your mouth to your ambulance driver, what would they be?
In December 2019, Pastor Tom Ascol was ministering to his congregation when he suddenly collapsed. He lay unresponsive on the floor. Some people were crying, most were praying. One was singing.
He was still unresponsive when they laid him in the ambulance. However, Ascol was coming to. He heard the ambulance personnel next to him swearing and cursing a lot. Tom still could not move. The EMT tried to get Tom’s wallet out, and struggled. Swore some more. Ascol looked at the man and whispered “Fear God.” The man had to lean close to Tom’s lips to hear him repeat it, but again Ascol said “Fear God”.
John MacArthur wrote: Famous last words can be tragic or inspiring. Not everyone has the opportunity to choose their last words carefully, but for those who see death coming, what message of wisdom, love, confession, or summation do they deliver with their final breaths?
Tom Ascol eventually recovered. He is fine now. But it brings to mind the following- If you were in a medical situation bad enough to think you were dying, and you could barely whisper two words to a sinner, what would they be? Ascol, a seasoned pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL, and President of the solid and well-known ministry Founders Ministries, didn’t choose to tell the man “Jesus loves you.” He didn’t choose to say “Repent and believe”. He encapsulated all the Bible, all the Gospel, all that there is from the beginning of wisdom to the end of our days- FEAR GOD.
Ever since that December when Jared Longshore, Ascol’s associate minister at GBC and podcast partner in Founders Ministries, related that story, (audio is below) I’ve been thinking about the fear of God. What is it? Do believers fear God? What does it mean to fear God?
Fearing God is the beginning, middle and end of it all. It encapsulates everything about the Gospel, everything about the Bible, the start of all we need to know about God.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10).
Our understanding of God as far as He has revealed Himself in His word, needs to be balanced. The love we receive from God gets all the attention these days, but fearing God has been left in the dust- forgotten. But both are important. “The Forgotten Fear: Where Have all the God-Fearers Gone?” by Albert N. Martin addresses what a godly fear is and why Christians should have healthy doses of it.
Martin’s book blurb states-
The fear of God is an important theme in the Bible, yet many Christians today overlook it or treat it carelessly. Fearing God is the soul of godliness, and those who claim to love God should desire to understand what it means to fear Him. The Forgotten Fear revisits this important topic. Author Al Martin first establishes the theme of the fear of God in both the Old and New Testaments, and then he defines what fearing God means. Finally, he addresses the practical implications of fearing God, showing its expression in the lives of Abraham and Joseph and providing instruction for believers today to maintain their fear of God and even increase it.
Table of Contents: 1. Predominance of the Fear of God in Biblical Thought 2. Definition of the Fear of God 3. Ingredients of the Fear of God 4. Source of the Fear of God 5. Relationship of the Fear of God to Our Conduct 6. How to Maintain and Increase the Fear of God 7. A Final Word to the Reader
Godly fear and love of God are not in opposition to one another. When we’re saved, we move from a terrified-of-judgment fear of God to a holy love in fear and trembling of God.
I can still hear the objections now: ‘but we’re children of God, we don’t need to fear Him! Doesn’t 1 John 4:18 say, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love” ?
All people on earth fear God. Fearing God as an unbeliever does involve punishment. It’s why Adam and Eve ran from God after they’d sinned and hid from Him. Unbelievers, unforgiven sinners like Adam, hide due to terror of judgment. The people in Revelation 6 are terrified of God “and they said to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the sight of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of Their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?‘” (Revelation 6:16-17).
Believers fear God too, but not fearing punishment. As Martin wrote in “The Forgotten Fear”:
“There are two basic aspects of the fear of God, …there is dread, and there is awe. The first aspect of fear drives us from the object of dread, the other aspect drives us to the object of awe. Our lord’s teaching makes it very clear that both aspects are included in a healthy fear of God-including this element of dread.”
Once you see fearing God in both the Old Testament and the New, you see how important it is and how often it is taught that we should fear God.
It’s the forgiveness of sins that is the linchpin whereupon we pivot from having a fear of God where we run away, to having a fear of God where we run to. Fearing God is the thread of belief for Christians from the start.
When the Lord instructed His disciples upon commissioning them, He said not to fear man “but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
The church in earliest days continued in fear of the Lord, and this was lauded. (Acts 9:31)
It’s the basis upon which we persuade people. (2 Corinthians 5:11)
It’s the undergirding of why we render service to God. (Colossians 3:22)
Why does Philippians 2:12 say work out our salvation in fear and trembling and does not say instead, work out our salvation in love? Because of the difference between dreading God in judgment and loving God for His forgiveness.
“The biggest difference between all man-made religions and the Christian faith of Jesus Christ is that man-made religion seeks to produce the fear of God on some basis other than forgiveness, or it promises forgiveness in a way that does not produce the fear of God“, Martin wrote.
In the Old Testament we read a lot about the fear of God, and it expresses itself in three ways. Fearing God was an expression of corporate Israelite religion, it is an expression of personal piety, and as an identification of a religious person, i.e., a worshiper of Yahweh. Joseph identifies himself as a God-fearer when he is reunited with his brothers (Genesis 42:18). Source The Lexham Bible Dictionary.
But fearing God is not restricted to the Old Testament. Easton’s Bible Dictionary defines it: “A holy fear is enjoined also in the New Testament as a preventive of carelessness in religion, and as an incentive to penitence (Matt. 10:28; 2 Cor. 5:11; 7:1; Phil. 2:12; Eph. 5:21; Heb. 12:28, 29).”
And what believer can be against carelessness, and against penitence? Is it not the fear of our holy God whose ways are so far above our ways and whose thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8) humbling and appropriate?
Matthew Henry wrote of Proverbs 9:10,
The heart must be principled with the fear of God; that is the beginning of wisdom. A reverence of God’s majesty, and a dread of his wrath, are that fear of him which is the beginning, the first step towards true religion, whence all other instances of it take rise.
Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 973). Peabody: Hendrickson.
Yes, He is our father, our friend, our brother, and we love Him. But we must also FEAR GOD as an integral part of our loving worship. It’s so important, and gives some insight perhaps as to why Ascol expended what could have been his last breaths on those two crucial words.
Good books on the fear of God are:
The Forgotten Fear: Where Have all the God-Fearers Gone?” by Albert N. Martin
The Fear of God: A Forgotten Doctrine, by Arnold L. Frank
The Joy of Fearing God by Jerry Bridges
Ligonier Devotional: The Fear of the Lord
Valley of Vision devotional: Openness
Sermon by Alistair Begg, The Beginning of Wisdom, Proverbs 9:10
57-sec video : What does it mean to Fear God?