A Life of Fear and Trembling

The following in an excerpt from my book, Before the Throne: Reflections on God’s Holiness. You can check out ordering information at our store.

A Life of Fear and Trembling

There are many ways to describe the Christian life. It can be said that the Christian life is one of joy. It can be called a life of love for God and others. The Christian life can be characterized as one of servitude to Jesus. And it can also be classified as one of fear and trembling.

Paul writes to the Philippians,

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure… (Philippians 2:12-13, emphasis mine).

This passage immediately follows Paul’s wonderful explanation of Christ’s humiliation in taking on the form of a servant, being obedient to the Father in all things, dying a criminal’s death on the cross, and now living again, exalted by God the Father so that one day every knee will bow before Christ, acknowledging that He is truly Lord of all.

Are you walking in the fear of the Lord? One day, all people will confess the Lordship of the God-Man Jesus Christ. The difference for the Christian is that we confess this now and seek to live our lives accordingly. So, one way to describe Christians is as those who fear Christ and tremble at His Word (Isaiah 66:2).

Now, I know, that’s not going to sell a lot of books. And that’s not necessarily the best of self-esteem boosters. But it is what the text says. Those who walk with the Lord are to do so in fear and trembling. Admittedly, it does need further explanation.

Charles Spurgeon is helpful here:

The fear of [Philippians 2:12] is that which makes a fear to offend so good a God—a hallowed, childlike fear, of which we read, “Blessed is the man that fears always.” A reverential awe of the Most High, a pious dread of offending—this is the fear that is to be cultivated by us. It is not the fear that is the enemy of full assurance, but it is the fear that is opposed to carnal security or recklessness.…and trembling. Is that the slave’s trembling? No, this belongs not to heirs of grace. They have a trembling which is akin to joy, for they “rejoice with trembling” (Psa 2:11). Before the Lord we do not tremble with fright, but we are moved even to quaking with a holy awe. Under a sense of the presence of God, we tremble lest we should sin, we tremble lest that presence should remove, lest we should grieve the Spirit and vex the Holy One of Israel. We know what it is to tremble with the exceeding joy and glory of the love of God shed abroad in our souls by the Holy Ghost.[1]

Therefore, when I say God is a God of unapproachable holiness, I do not mean that He is unknowable or unable to enter into a covenantal relationship with us. What I mean is that His holiness is such that we should be genuinely terrified of ever treating our relationship with Him in cavalier fashion. We must never present Him to others as One ready to sign an autograph just because you showed up and acted like you know who He is. We must not treat God the least bit flippantly—and we won’t if we really understand who He is.

The way local churches conduct worship services sometimes painfully promotes the idea that God can be approached any way we would like. We treat Him like our hip grandfather in the sky who is always willing to adapt to the latest fads in order to remain relevant for us. We are encouraged to come in “just as we are” with no real concern with Whom we are meeting.

We even cut out “too much” prayer or long preaching so as not to offend visitors in hopes they will come back. We are ok with diminishing the glory of God so as not to ruffle the feathers of those who might not even know Him. We minimize the Holy and seek to return to our carnal lives as quickly as possible.

The early church “walk[ed] in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit,” and as a result, “it multiplied” (Acts 9:31). Perhaps if local churches were more concerned about walking in the fear of God and less about offending a corrupted culture or the latest surveys or church growth tactics, we would see true multiplication.

A life lived in fear and trembling is concerned first and foremost about the glory of our triune God. We base our entire relationship with Him on the completed work of Christ, knowing that God is so holy that only the atoning work of Jesus allows us into His presence. Because of Jesus, we can draw near the throne of grace confidently, but may we never do so flippantly.

When we do not live the Christian life in proper fear of the Lord it reveals that there is a lack of awe of our holy God within our hearts. Charnock rightly observes, “Where there is no reverence of God in the life, it is easily concluded there is less in the heart.”[2] But the gospel produces within believers a holy reverence for God.

Are you living a life of fear and trembling?

[1] Charles Spurgeon, Spurgeon Commentary: Philippians, ed. Elliot Ritzema, Spurgeon Commentary Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014), 71.

[2] The Existence and Attributes of God, Vol. 1, 92.



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