Following is an excerpt from Chris Poblete’s Book ‘The Two Fears’. In the chapter ‘Defining the Two Fears’ he describes the difference between holy and unholy fear.
How do we really tell, in a particular situation, if a fear we face is holy or unholy? To me, Charles Spurgeon offers the simplest, cleanest, most useful distinction when he talks about holy fear driving us to God and unholy fear driving us away. In other words, holy fear says, “Whatever else may be going on, no matter how bad it looks, I know my salvation in this situation lies in God.” Unholy fear says, “God can’t or won’t help you with this problem – at least, not in the way you might prefer – so you had better find some other saviour, some other means of escape.”
Let’s look at the difference between holy and unholyfear from several slightly different angles to try round out the picture:
• Holy fear compels us to run to God as our only hope. Unholy fear drives us away from God and toward whatever false saviour seems close at hand.
• Holy fear is the relationship of a child to a good and loving father. Unholy fear is the relationship of servant or slave to an unking and unpredictable master.
• Holy fear is based in a family relationship that you treasure and want to cultivate. Unholy fear is based in a merely legal relationship that you dislike but can’t escape.
• Holy fear sees God as your Father who is loving and omnipotent. Unholy faer sees God as either not Father, not loving, and/or not omnipotent.
Holy fear acknowledges power that God has over us, but that acknowledgement is informed by the knowledge that we are his beloved children. Holy fear rules over all other fears and sends us running to the Lord as our only true hope.
The Way of Escape
Understanding the difference between the two fears will go a great distance to give us the tools we need to move away from unholy fear and toward holy fear. Godly fear reminds us that God is bigger, more powerful and more trustworthy than any circumstance our fallen world ahs to offer. It reminds us that God’s provision in Jesus was great enough to justify us before him. It reminds us that his mercy is great enough that we may safely run to Him and rightfully expect Him to welcome us with open arms. It reminds us that God is faithful to His character and His promises. Godly fear reminds us that God is our only hope.
Asaph finally realised this about halfway through Psalm 73 when he wrote , “But when I thought how to understand [the prosperity of the wicked], it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went in to the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end” (Psalm 73:17).
What happens in a sanctuary? You meet God. You draw near to Him. You behold Him for who He is. And you worship. The remedy for all sinful fear is reminding ourselves who God is, what He has done, and what He will do, so that we might turn to Him in worship.
Chris Poblete “The Two Fears” (Pages 64-66)
Christian speakers and authors often tell us that the fear of God is really just an ‘awe’ that we feel for God and it is not really a fear. I disagree wholeheartedly. In these last couple of weeks I have spent time alone with God and discovered a godly fear that I have not had before. That fear, even in its most infinitesimal measure, is enough to spark not just worship but stunned silence. When you are confronted with the God of the universe and all eternity, there are literally no words in any human language to describe what you see (metaphorically). I want more of that. I believe that true godly fear is not just awe, people who say that reduce God to something like a human being who is given respect and awe like the President of the United States. God made the whole universe from nothing and yet was made by nobody, needs nothing, is complete, perfect, holy and changeless in his total power over everything. Yet we blame God for being unfair, uncaring and unknowing. We reduce Him to an easily digested phrase, and His fear to something which in the end is not even biblical. Don’t try and describe the fear of God. Instead, read Scripture and recognise what God says about the fear of God. Here are some starters.
My son, if you receive my words,
And treasure my commands within you,
2 So that you incline your ear to wisdom,
And apply your heart to understanding;
3 Yes, if you cry out for discernment,
And lift up your voice for understanding,
4 If you seek her as silver,
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
5 Then you will understand the fear of the LORD,
And find the knowledge of God.
6 For the LORD gives wisdom;
From His mouth come knowledge and understanding;
7 He stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
He is a shield to those who walk uprightly;
8 He guards the paths of justice,
And preserves the way of His saints.
9 Then you will understand righteousness and justice,
Equity and every good path.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
6 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct[a] your paths.
7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and depart from evil.
8 It will be health to your flesh,[b]!
And strength[c] to your bones.
How many times have I cried out to God, “If God loved me He would have stopped this from happening”. Yet, I also know that to blame God for anything is to have an incomplete understanding of His blamelessness and utter innocence of all wrongdoing. It is easy to become disenchanted, depressed even, by the circumstances you live with. Sometimes things happen which make absolutely no sense, and we have all been sent into stunned disbelief when something comes to us out of left field, something we didn’t expect and which leaves us floored, literally. Sometimes the pain is too much to process all at once, and it can fester and grow if we are not careful. Job understood the pain of loss compounded by the dismay of illness and disillusionment on top of everything else. He had lost everything he owned and loved and his own wife told him to ‘curse God and die’. A real understanding of God begins with a genuine fear of His power, His control over our lives, and His utter mercy towards us. Job finally understood who God was only after he had confronted God on His apparent unfairness and been profoundly chastised by his maker.
“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear,
But now my eye sees You.
6 Therefore I abhor myself,
And repent in dust and ashes.”
God is not opposed to honesty, only pride and rebellion. Only when we get to know Him more will we learn to both fear and love Him in proper proportions.
I have spent huge tracts of time being bound by unholy fear. When I was a teenager, I went through panic attacks, and it wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I really understood what that was about. I know about fear and it’s stranglehold on your minds, will and emotions. I also know about how fear of man can warp and distort your faith. People become bigger than God. Pastors, elders, older Christians you trust and look up to can be worshipped by individuals and congregations to the point of treating them as though they were like God. My former pastors and their minions expected their congregation to actually address them as though they were God. Their messages were ‘God’s word to you’. They were insane. A genuine fear of God would have produced a proper relationship not only with God but with their church and fellow believers. This holds for all of us. We can only relate to others with the mind of Christ in order to be one with them. Yet, so many Christians these days see God as only loving, or kind or gracious and forget that he is all-powerful, righteous, utterly holy and perfect as well. Scripture tells us that the demons believe and tremble, clearly they have more sense than most of us.
19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!
Genuine holy fear of God is not something I have been familiar with. It took a couple of readings of Chris Poblete’s excellent treatise on this subject and much meditation and prayer for me to even begin to understand what it was. Yet, as I said, even the tiniest glimse of God’s immensity and power is enough to make you understand why even the demons tremble. We should all be trembling and learn to appreciate that if our God can cause us to fear Him, He is also big enough to deal with every single one of our little bitty problems. Because our problems tend to shrink down to their proper size when we see everything through the lens of scripture and the eyes of God.
I pray that everyone who reads this finds the fear of God. Chapters two and three of Proverbs are perfect places to start meditating on God’s word and bathing your minds in the truth of His character. Not only that, but these words inform us regarding the nature of God’s blessings. He rewards those who diligently seek Him and He provides such benefits as health and long life to those who fear Him.
Ask God for a holy fear of Him, as strange as it sounds. I have done this myself and found that He really does give you what you ask for. It has taken a lot for me to come to this place. And I have only just begun to fear Him! I was saved at the age of 13, and have figured for the longest time that I knew all about what being a Christian was all about. I was completely wrong. I was also full of the pride of life and my own righteousness. I tell you all that a genuine fear of God, the trembling kind, not the ‘God is so great’ kind, was the only thing to kick my unreality in the pants and broom my attitude to the kerb. We all need some reality checks, and the revelation we experience in God’s word is the best way I know to literally ‘blow our minds’ free of the worldly thinking and religious mindset which has plagued the church for centuries, and our own individual lives.