Unstopping the Wells: Judgement of God and the Fear of the LORD
So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.Matthew 10:28-29
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.Proverbs 9:10
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.Ecclesiastes 12:13
He is seated at the right hand of the Father
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.The Apostles’ Creed
Another cardinal doctrine essential for revival is that of God as judge. The Apostle’s Creed declares of Jesus – “He will come again to judge the living and the dead.” Throughout the gospels, Jesus talks often about God’s judgment, often telling parables of the coming of the Kingdom that involve judgment.
This doctrine of the judgment of God upon sinful humanity has been lost and covered over by the work of the ‘post-modern Philistines.’ The idea of a holy and righteous God who calls sinful humanity to account and evaluates each of us according to our deeds is a doctrine that has fallen out of vogue. It is written off as “hellfire and damnation” preaching and associated with oldschool, fundamentalist religion.
I remember when I was on staff with InterVarsity at Brown, I would systematically avoid talking about anything related to judgment, hell, or the wrath of God. I was afraid it would sound unpalatable to starry-eyed millennials who believed they were fundamentally good and thought they would go out and change the world. (I don’t actually think my avoidance of the doctrine of judgment and human sin helped them or the world in the long run.) But it’s not just me, in our desire not to offend a world that doesn’t want to hear about it, the church has systematically avoided judgment talk for decades.
But read the Bible, and it is plain as day. God is the judge of the earth. He will not leave the guilty unpunished. He will hold every human being accountable. In the mercy of God, this judgment has already taken place. All our sins have fallen upon Jesus on the cross, and if we fear God, and surrender our lives to Jesus as King…we can and will be justified by Jesus. But for those outside of Jesus, judgment remains.
While the doctrine of the judgment of God was unpopular at Brown University, the alternatives are not good. The ‘Philistines’ have given us essentially two alternatives to a Biblical view of justice. The first is no judgment. From late modernity up until the mid 2010s, the western world jettisoned any notion of objective morality, based on God and his righteous judgments. In the place of Biblically grounded morality, our culture gave us, in Dale Keuhne’s words, 3 taboos. He wrote about this in an insightful book called Sex and the iWorld. Here they are:
- You can do anything you want as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, especially a minor.
- You can do anything you want with another person, as long as there is consent.
- You are not allowed to pass judgment on any other person unless they break one of the above two rules. But it is okay to pass judgment on someone who passes judgment for any other reason.
In this frame of morality, there is no judge. This system of taboos became so intuitive in the West, especially the more secular edges of the culture like New England, that the idea of God as the judge of the earth was obscured and lost.
It is no wonder then, that in the mid 2010s, what we witnessed was a giant pendulum swing. At this time, the zeitgeist in our culture shifted fairly dramatically, as evidenced by the MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, cancel culture and other similar movements. One of the things this reveals is that humanity needs justice – the human spirit cries out for it. We do not actually function well in a world without a judge. All of the sudden there was a revival of the idea of objective, external judgment. Instead of no judge, we went to a world with a million judges. Everyone with a Twitter account became a judge.
What we need is not a world with no judge or a world where everyone is a judge. What we need is to dig out the wells the Philistines have filled in and recover the doctrine that God, and God alone, is judge. This is a fearful thing, as we will stand before him one day, we will be held to account. And it is a great relief, because if God is our judge, we don’t need to worry about what others think.
For too long, the church has cared too much about what the world thinks. It is time to stop that. It is time to fear God, the just and merciful judge of the whole earth. Because as Martyn Lloyd Jones says, “fear Him, and you won’t need to fear anything else.” For too long we have lost track of this glorious doctrine of God as the judge. It is time for us to remember and recover it.
What makes you uncomfortable about the idea of God as judge? What do you find relieving about the idea of God as judge? Where do you fall on the spectrum of having lived as though there is no judge or a million judges? What does it look like for you to fear the Lord and Him only.
Let’s repent of our neglect of the judgment of God. Let’s acknowledge his role as our judge. Let’s give thanks that the penalty for our sin has fallen upon Jesus. Let’s ask God to bring his justice and mercy upon a world that has turned away from him. If there are patterns of ongoing sin in your life, repent and turn to God for mercy. If we say we have no sin, we lie and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin. Let’s pray for those called to teach and preach and lead Bible studies not to avoid the clear Biblical doctrine of God’s judgment. Ask God to free you from the fear of anything but God, especially the fear of man and the opinions of others.